Trailheads presents information and details about the exhibits, events and programs hosted by the historic sites and museums on PHMC's Pennsylvania Trails of History.
Cornwall Iron Furnace

Preserved at Cornwall Iron Furnace, this large wheel activated the bellows that blasted air into the furnace during the iron-making process. PHMC/Photo by Craig A. Benner

America’s first significant industries date back to the 18th century with the iron plantations in Pennsylvania and the development of the factory system in New England textile mills. Preservation of our industrial heritage, however, is a fairly recent phenomenon, beginning for the most part after World War II. Prior to the war, federal programs and even private initiatives were designated primarily to protect heritage reflecting important people and events, often focusing on the homes of presidents, Colonial Era buildings and significant battlefields.

In Europe during the war, urban and industrial areas were heavily bombed and many important historic buildings were lost. The cleanup of war-devastated areas brought increased recognition to previously neglected industrial sites, some several centuries old and noted for their impact on the formation of global industrialization. In the 1950s a growing legion of dedicated British “industrial archaeologists,” as they came to be known, began identifying and documenting sites that played important roles in the industrial revolution to ensure that they would be protected and preserved. The ideas of the industrial archaeologists spread across Europe and North America in much the same manner that industrial practices had centuries earlier.

As Europe was rebuilding in the late 1940s and ’50s, Midcentury Modernism was taking hold in the United States. Modernism can be defined in the postwar era by new economic growth that fostered new concepts and styles by largely rejecting classicism and traditional ideals. The movement was met in the 1960s by growing liberalism and social openness. Within this era came new funds to promote the study and preservation of previously overlooked areas of history, such as slavery, gender, labor and industrialization. In 1969 the National Park Service created the Historic American Engineering Record to document significant industrial sites in the United States. Saugus Iron Works in Massachusetts was added as a National Historic Site in 1968, and while Hopewell Furnace in Berks County, Pennsylvania, was saved by the National Park Service before the war, much of its preservation and reconstruction began afterward.

Influenced by these Modernist ideals, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) experienced a period of significant expansion in the 1960s and ’70s with an increased focus on industrial sites. By the end of the 1970s the PHMC sites and museums that would become the Industrial Heritage Trails of History were well established (also see Trailheads: “Midcentury Modern Trails” by Amy Killpatrick Fox, Spring 2015).


Cornwall Iron Furnace

Cornwall Iron Furnace of Lebanon County was put into blast in 1742 and was an important iron producer until 1883. It was donated to PHMC in 1932, but most of its significant commendations came in the postwar period. In 1966 it was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States government for exemplifying the type of charcoal furnaces that produced most of America’s iron until the 1850s. In 1976 the site was designated an ASM Historical Landmark by the American Society for Metals, and in 1985 it became a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Drake Well Museum

A replica of Edwin L. Drake’s engine house and derrick at Drake Well Museum. Drake Well Museum/Photo by Melissa L. Mann

Drake Well Museum

The well drilled by Edwin L. Drake (1819–80) in Venango County is considered the first commercially successful oil well in the United States. The oil strike that occurred there in 1859 led to an oil boom in northwestern Pennsylvania that lasted for several decades. In the early 1930s the American Petroleum Institute (API) raised money to reconstruct and commemorate Drake’s original well and built a museum and library. In 1934 API donated the property and buildings to the commonwealth. Like Cornwall, much of the development of the site occurred after the war, when a new museum was built in 1964 and historic operating pumps and jacks were installed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The museum and exhibits were significantly updated in 2012. Pithole City, an oil boomtown in Venango County, was recognized for its value to industrial heritage by a former PHMC commissioner who purchased the desolate site and donated it to the state in 1961. It is presently operated by Drake Well Museum (see A Place in Time: “Pithole City”).


Anthracite Heritage Museum and Scranton Iron Furnaces

The Scranton Iron Furnaces were at the heart of the founding of Scranton in Lackawanna County. Built by Scrantons, Grant & Co. (later Lackawanna Iron & Coal Co.), the furnaces began operation in 1842 and were some of the earliest to successfully smelt iron ore with abundant local anthracite coal. The furnaces continued operating at that location until 1902, when the company moved. PHMC took ownership of the abandoned furnaces in 1969. Although the Anthracite Heritage Museum was proposed about the same time, for the purpose of interpreting and preserving the region’s rich heritage, it took five years to fund, design and construct before opening to the public in 1975.

Eckley Miners' Village

Eckley Miners’ Village. Photo by Bode Morin

Eckley Miners’ Village

Originally called Fillmore when it was founded in 1854 by the Council Ridge Colliery, the anthracite mining town of Eckley in Luzerne County was ultimately named for noted mining engineer Eckley B. Coxe (1839–95). It was a company town, or “patch,” like so many others in the region, and at its height it housed up to 1,500 people. Although historically most of its residents were miners, laborers and their families, the village remained an important residential enclave through the 1960s, even after much of the mining in the region had slowed down. In 1968 Paramount Pictures leased the village from its owner as a set for the movie The Molly Maguires, and in the process of preparing the site for filming the studio buried power lines, covered roads and restored houses to their 1870s appearance. In 1970 the renewed 19th-century village was purchased by the Anthracite Historic Site and Museum Corporation and donated to PHMC. It was then converted into a historic site. Over the next five years many of the buildings of Eckley were stabilized and restored. In 1975 a new visitors center and museum building was officially opened to the public.

Pennsylvania Lumber Museum

Sawmill and log holding pond at Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. Photo by Kyle R. Weaver

Pennsylvania Lumber Museum

Pennsylvania Lumber Museum sits on 160 acres in Potter County. The site is dedicated to the story of harvesting and conserving the state’s lumber resources. The effort to preserve the history of the lumber industry began in the 1960s when the Penn-York Lumberman’s club began collecting artifacts and holding an annual Woodsman’s Carnival. In the late 1960s the club began working with PHMC to develop a museum dedicated to the industry. It officially opened in 1972. The museum was expanded and renovated in 2013–15.

Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

A 1928 Reading Company turntable at Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Photo by Kyle R. Weaver

Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

The Railroad Museum in Lancaster County was developed to preserve significant components of one of Pennsylvania’s most important industries and interpret the role of railroading, railroad technology and rail workers. Initially focusing on rolling stock and locomotives, the museum expanded its collection policy to include archival materials and smaller three-dimensional objects. In the early 1970s PHMC began plans to open a new museum that broke ground in 1972 and officially opened in 1975, becoming the first state-owned railroad museum in the country. The museum expanded display space in 1995 and renovated entrance areas in 2007.


Bode Morin is the site administrator for Eckley Miners’ Village and guest author for this edition of Trailheads.