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.

Best Years of My Life

My family lived in Phoenixville from 1927 to 1938, and the brief history of the community [“Chester County: View from Foot of Main Street, Showing Dam, Phoenixville, Pa.“] in the Summer 2009 edition was of special interest. Also, the article following it, “A Modest Fountain on the Square” by Bill Double, generated more memories of my formative years during the Great Depression. I hope I can add to the information presented in these fine articles in your always interesting, elegantly produced magazine.

One very important development in Phoenixville’s history was the opening of Valley Forge General Hospital during World War II. In operation for more than thirty years, it joined Walter Reed as one of the two U.S. Army hospitals east of the Mississippi and cared for about two hundred thousand casualties of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The site is now the campus of Valley Forge Christian College, a fitting transition.

The hospital and community were also settings for an emotionally moving 1951 film, Bright Victory, starring Arthur Kennedy, who received an Academy award nomination. Although not included in the feature’s comprehensive list of Phoenixville’s past industries, there is one I have good reason to remember: the Weiland Meat Packing Company. It processed large quantities of pork into products such as sausage, scrapple, hot dogs, bacon, and lard. The owner, his wife, and five children lived in an impressive house at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Gay Street, diagonally across the avenue from our rented row home. I got to know the two older boys and we sometimes played together. Evidently class distinctions among kids were not important to parents then.

The Weiland family’s large lot extended along Gay Street to Nutt Road. There, on an island in the intersection, was a structure with a large basin flanked by two drinking fountains. I do not know if this was a spin-off from the Philadelphia Fountain Society’s admirable efforts, but I have this memory of the inscription plaque: “Drink, Thirsty Traveler, and at This Fount Refresh Thy Spirit with Thy Body’s Need.” The fountain base is still there, no longer functional, and minus the top part with the plaque. The basin, however, is filled with lovely flowers — another fitting transition.

Thank you for taking me back to the best years of my life.

John F. Reilly
Manheim Township, Pa.

 

Energy History

I would like to point out an important omission in the Summer 2009 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage which had Pennsylvania energy history as its theme. There is no mention of the Murrysville Gas Well located east of Pittsburgh. I quote from the state historical marker erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission: “First gas well in county, and one of the world’s most productive. Drilled, 1878. Caught fire in 1881, burning for years with tremendous roar and brilliance. Later was controlled and piped to Pittsburgh. Site lies 500 yards S.E. near railroad.”

It was George Westinghouse who suggested the gas be transported to Pittsburgh and used by steel mills for fuel, thus beginning the modern natural gas industry in the United States. The well at Murrysville became the center of a dispute in late 1883 between owner Obadiah Haymaker and an investment group from Chicago which sent a mob of fifty armed men to seize the well. During the confrontation, Haymaker was killed by the mob whose members were later arrested, with many serving long prison terms. Control later passed to J. Norton Pew and the “Haymaker” well became part of the foundation of what later became the Sun Oil Company. This important site is worthy of any recounting of Pennsylvania’s energy history.

Thomas W. Headley
Greensburg, Pa.

Thomas W. Headley is executive director of Westmoreland Heritage, a partnership of organizations and individuals dedicated to expanding historical tourism in the region and supporting efforts to educate Westmoreland County residents about their history and heritage.

Dedicated July 13, 1960, the roadside marker for the Murrysville Gas Well is located on U.S. Route 22, between Trafford Road and Reed Boulevard in Murrysville, Westmoreland County.

 

Errata

Several mistakes marred the captions in Paulette Dininny’s outstanding feature in the Summer 2009 edition, “From Erie to Antarctica.” On page 20, a caption accompanying a photograph of explorer Paul A. Siple incorrectly identified two individuals as Richard L. Chappell and Admiral Richard E. Byrd. The individuals are not Chappell and Byrd, and their identity remains a mystery. The medal illustrated on page 17, one of numerous medallions produced for Antarctic expeditions between 1928 and 1960, is not the United States Antarctic Expedition Medal as described, but is, in fact, the United States Antarctic Expedition Committee Medal, “To Commemorate the Achievement of the Byrd expedition, 1928-1939.” The misattributions were made by the editorial staff and not by the author. The editor sincerely regrets these errors.