Letters presents readers' comments and reactions to specific articles in Pennsylvania Heritage, the initiatives of PHMC, and other developments in the historical, cultural and museum communities of Pennsylvania.

Green Thumbs Up!

“Green Thumbs Up!” to Pennsylvania Heritage for the story on Pennsylvania gardens [“Old World Influences of Pennsylvania Gardens” by Myra K. Jacobsohn, Spring 2005]. ram most impressed by the gardens that the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission manages, particularly those at the Weiser Homestead. I drive by the property several times a year but never thought of visiting it – until now! My wife and I have made plans to spend a day in that beautiful setting.

Harold L. Nevins
Pottstown, Pa.

The Conrad Weiser Homestead, Womelsdorf, Berks County, home to the eighteenth-cen­tury diplomat and peacekeeper, encompasses a picturesque park-like setting designed in the late 1920s by John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, the country’s first prominent landscape architect, who designed New York’s Central Park. For information about visiting the Conrad Weiser Homestead, tele­phone (610) 589-2934, or visit the Conrad Weiser Homestead website.

 

Thanks for your article about Pennsylva­nia gardens. I now have a few day trips with my fellow gardening pals on the schedule for summer. We’re doffing our garden gloves and kneepads for sensible shoes so that we can leisurely enjoy some of the gardens you featured in the beautiful Spring 2005 issue.

Maryanne Richards
Philadelphia, Pa.

 

Combining Pennsylvania history and natural history is a welcome meld – as delightful and diverse as a meadow mixture. Congratulations to the author and the magazine staff for bringing the gardens of Pennsylvania indoors until the high season comes in. Welcome, Summer!

Anna May Losos
Pittsburgh, Pa.

 

And They’re Off …

I thank and commend the author, the editor, and the entire editorial and production staff for turning out such an interesting and informative story about horse racing in Pennsylvania [“And They’re Off! Pennsylvania’s Horse Racing Tradition” by Curtis Miner, Spring 2005]. I am keeping the magazine in a safe place and will refer to it whenever a question or query about Pennsylvania horse racing comes up.

Bob Curran Jr.
New York, N. Y.

Bob Curran Jr. is vice president, corporate communications, for The Jockey Club, founded in 1894. With offices in Manhat­tan and Lexington, Kentucky, The Jockey Club is dedicated to the improvement of thoroughbred breeding and racing.

 

Your article on horse racing in Pennsyl­vania could not have been more timely, as we just began restoration of what was the Speedwell Stock Farm, which raised standardbred horses from 1856 to 1898. The article answered the question, “Why standardbreds?” Unfortunately, it also raised two new questions: “Why did they start raising horses when it was illegal to race them?” and “Why did they stop when it was legal again?” Answers will have to wait, though, until we have completed restoring the 1760 mansion (which will open as a bed and breakfast in 2006) and have some free time again. There are not many remnants of the stock farm. The magnificent stone – end barn – at 152 feet, it was claimed to be the longest barn in Lancaster County – burned down in the 1950s. The quarter-mile practice track is now our driveway, while the half-mile track is being reclaimed by woodlands. In the paymas­ter’s office, a faded set of rules for the operation still hangs on the wall. Rumor has it that Middleton, grandsired by Hambletonian 10 (1849-1876), leading speed sire for many years, is buried by the race track.

Gregg Hesling
Elizabeth Township, Pa.

 

Look to the Future

It’s hard to believe the Pennsylvania Academy is observing its bicentennial this year because I always think of it as a.n institution that’s progressive, vision­ary, and “new,” certainly not an organization that is stuck in the past. Thanks for the article that explores its history but, just as importantly, illustrates how each generation of teachers, students, and curators look to the future for inspiration [“Two Hundred Years and Counting – The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts” by Cheryl Leibold, Spring 2005).

Pearl M. Gillis
Philadelphia, Pa.

 

A friend just sent me the magazine issue containing Cheryl Leibold’s article on the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. It was terrific, bringing back memories of when I lived in Philadelphia in the 1960s and 1970s and frequently visited its galleries. I always enjoyed overhearing the art students discussing trends and tastes in art, and I wonder where they are and what they’ re doing today. Thanks for bringing me “home” with this article.

Myrna Freeman
Miami, Fla.

 

The Pennsylvania Academy has always impressed me with its great exhibitions, but I have a new-found appreciation of it after reading the article you published on its bicentennial. From its humble beginning and humbling setbacks, it has grown to become a school and museum of international renown. I can only imagine what the next one hundred years will bring.

Martin J. O’Sullivan
Camden, N.J.

 

Camptown Races

As curator of the Wyalusing Valley Museum and the Bradford County Historical Society, I want you to know that I really enjoyed your piece on Stephen C. Foster and his stay in Athens and Towanda [“Marking Time,” Spring 2005]. From what we can tell, Foster’s song “Camptown Races” is about a horse race that was run between Camptown and Wyalusing – communities exactly five miles apart! The Camptown races are still run today, but by humans and not by horses and the contestants run through the woods of the Camptown area and not the distance from Camptown to Wyalusing. Although Foster did not stay in the area very long, he certainly put our communities on the map and is an influential part of Pennsylvania’s history and heritage. Thank you-and, oh, yes: Happy Birthday, State Museum!

Kenneth H. Mapes
Wyalusing, Pa.

 

I am writing with regard to the recent feature on Stephen Foster. I have an interest in cultural geography, and teaching the geography of Pennsylvania has allowed me to pursue various cultural topics with regard to the state. One topic I am interested in is the use of surnames to indicate the cultural origins of people who came to Pennsylvania. I found the Foster article to be quite interesting. I learned of him in secondary school. Recently I’ve enjoyed a wonderful compact disk of his songs performed by Yo-Yo Ma and many other artists, including, folk, country, and blues singers. I have a hard time believing that Foster’s parents were German as stated in the introductory paragraph. His name and theirs are either British (English, Scots-Irish, or Scots) or Irish. It is my understanding that Lawrenceville was founded by someone from Ireland. Additionally, the music and songs written by Foster were surely out of the musical traditions of the British Isles. I’m not a Foster scholar, but I did want to point out the incongruence between the statement that the composer’s parents were German and all those British names, including his wife’s.

Ruth I. Shirey
Indiana, Pa.

Ruth I. Shirey is a faculty member of the department of geography and regional planning at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

 

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), of Scots-­Irish ancestry was the son of William Barclay Foster, born in Berkeley County, Virginia, in 1779 and Eliza Clayland Tomlinson Foster, of Wilmington, Delaware. At the age of sixteen, William B. Foster traveled to Pittsburgh, where he became a prominent merchant and politician. The composer’s grandfather James Foster was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. The editor regrets the error and thanks this render for the correction.