News presents briefs about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

Rare Discovery

After their September 11, 1777, victory in the Battle of Brandywine, British General Sir William Howe and his troops captured and occupied Philadelphia. It was not long, however, before General Howe realized he faced a challenging supply problem. He was surrounded by General George Washington’s Continental Army and, more importantly, the Royal British Navy could not bring supplies up the Delaware River to the city because two American forts protected the river. Fort Mercer was located on the New Jersey side and Fort Mifflin was situated near the mouth of the Schuylkill River on the Pennsylvania side.

As part of the defenses of these forts, large spikes known as chevaux de frise (the singular of which is cheval de frise) were placed in the river to prevent British ships from supplying Howe’s army. A cheval de frise is a log up to twenty-nine feet long with an iron spike on the end used to puncture the hull of large sailing ships. The spike was notched to hold fast after it punctured the hull. These spikes were secured in a square frame or box weighed down with rocks to hold them in place. More than fifty chevaux de frise were implanted at an angle in the Delaware River near Fort Mifflin to thwart British attacks. However, after six weeks of careful maneuvering, the British navy was able to move hundreds of cannon to bear down on Fort Mifflin. On November 10 the British began one of the largest bombardments of the war. The defenders struggled valiantly, giving Washington and his army adequate time to escape to Valley Forge. Five days later Fort Mifflin was abandoned and fighting around Philadelphia ended for the winter.

On November 10, 2012 – 235 years to the date of the British bombardment – members of the Anchor Yacht Club, Bristol, Bucks County, recovered evidence of the conflict during clean up of the Delaware in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic tropical storm season and the second costliest in the history of the United States. While pulling up boat moorings they encountered what was initially thought to be a log. It was tangled in a mooring chain, most likely during the storm, in about 28 feet of water and approximately 150 feet from the shoreline. The artifact was waterlogged and did not float so it most likely rolled along the river bottom during the storm and then became entangled in the chain. Closer examination revealed a sharpened iron tip at which point club members contacted a local historical society for assistance.

After the battle of Fort Mifflin many chevaux de frise remained in the river until 1784 when most were removed. In the past six years two have been recovered in the Fort Mifflin area, a third is in private hands in New Jersey, and now the fourth has been found at Bristol. Because this cheval de frise was discovered thirty miles upstream from Fort Mifflin archaeologists and historians are baffled. How did it find its way there?

There are historic documents locating many chevaux de frise along the river near Philadelphia but none close to Bristol. Earlier examples recovered were incomplete – the log shafts were broken or missing their spikes. This amazing archaeological find has motivated historians to investigate the possibility of another line of defense in the Bristol area.

The Anchor Yacht Club had done a remarkable job in protecting the artifact from further damage, but because it was recovered from the waters of Pennsylvania it is the responsibility of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), the Commonwealth’s official state history agency, to ensure that it is properly preserved. The yacht club had initially positioned the cheval de frise so that it was covered by water for most of the day but exposed during low tide. It is extremely important that it does not dry out quickly because it will crack and deteriorate. In order to avoid problems with ice and spring flooding, on January 30, 2013, it was moved six miles to Pennsbury Manor, Morrisville, administered by PHMC.

As a temporary measure at Pennsbury the object was wrapped in plastic with water added every other day to reduce the destructive drying process. The cheval de frise has since been transported to East Carolina State University in Greenville, North Carolina, where it is being meticulously conserved using chemical treatment with a resin material and controlled air drying. The metal spike will be treated with a protective coating to prevent
further deterioration.

This spectacular Revolutionary War object will be studied and eventually shared with Commonwealth residents and visitors. Upon completion of the conservation process, expected to take approximately one year, the cheval de frise will be returned to Pennsylvania in 2014. PHMC is currently seeking a venue for its long-term exhibit in the greater Philadelphia area.


Washington Crossing Upgrades Center

In partnership with the Friends of Washington Crossing Park, PHMC recently held a grand opening of the Washington Crossing Historic Park’s renovated visitor center, culminating years of painstaking planning and construction. A modern, more energy-efficient facility now welcomes visitors to the 500-acre
historic site where General George Washington and his ill-equipped and demoralized troops launched their famous crossing of the ice-choked Delaware River on December 25, 1776. The American forces made a surprise attack on Hessian soldiers at Trenton, New Jersey, a victory that reinvigorated them at a critical point during the American Revolution.

The renovation, representing a $5 million investment by the Commonwealth, includes additional space for programs, exhibits, and upgraded visitor amenities. Two cannons from the park’s collection that were moved to Harrisburg during the renovation were returned to the historic site in time for the opening.


Bigger, Bolder, Brighter

The State Museum of Pennsylvania recently installed a state-of-the-art Spitz SciDome XD system in its planetarium, providing five times the brightness and display capabilities of the former projector. The new system offers full-dome video presentations and real-time astronomy simulation for educational presentations. SciDome XD is produced by Spitz Incorporated, a planetarium manufacturer and distributor located in Chadds Ford, Delaware County. Since 1945 the firm has undertaken dome theater and planetarium installations throughout the world.

“Our new planetarium XD projector is bigger, brighter, and bolder,” says David W. Dunn, museum director. “XD stands for extreme definition and this is a spectacular upgrade to a beloved museum feature.”

“Our returning visitors are astounded by the enhanced clarity and definition,” adds Linda Powell, planetarium director, who is upgrading the museum’s show library to supplement new offerings. “Many favorite presentations are back this year and they’re clearer than ever before.”

In addition to the XD planetarium experience visitors will find new interactive kiosks exploring astronomy. “Viewspace,” a direct feed from the Space Telescope Science Institute located on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, features the latest missions and studies involving a network of telescopes, including the famous Hubble Space Telescope. “NASA Space Place” offers up-to-date information on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s research and exploration initiatives. To complement the planetarium shows and kiosks The State Museum’s popular collection of moon rocks is highlighted in a recently installed exhibit.

Go to The State Museum of Pennsylvania website for planetarium shows and times.


Lumber Museum Groundbreaking

A groundbreaking ceremony for a sizable addition to the visitor center at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, Galeton, Potter County, was recently hosted by PHMC and the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum Associates. Approximately seven thousand square feet will be added to the building nearly doubling its existing size of eighty-seven hundred square feet.

The additional space will include a handicapped-accessible entrance, expanded exhibit galleries, and a state-of-the-art collections storage area. The renovated visitor center will house offices, meeting space for community groups, visitor amenities and services, library, and museum shop. The new addition, like the original facility built in 1972, will feature rough-sawn board-and-batten hemlock siding,which was used at many logging camps, and stone cladding. The new entrance will be lowered to the parking lot level and include an elevator to a gallery on the main floor above.

The project also includes a new fire suppression system and a new roof. A heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and humidification system will be a significant component of the $5.4 million project. The system will ensure stable temperatures and relative humidity levels critical to maintain collections.

Learn more about the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, which interprets the colorful heritage of the Keystone State’s prosperous lumber boom years when white pine and hemlock were the wealth of the nation, by visiting the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum website.


Archaeology Workshops

The Archaeology Section of The State Museum will present its annual Workshops in Archaeology on Saturday, November 16, at the museum. Entitled “Archaeology of a Troubled Nation, 1775-1865,” the program offers the public an overview of archaeological discoveries in the Commonwealth during a
challenging era in the nation’s history, spanning from the Revolutionary War through the American Civil War. Archaeology provides an opportunity to enhance or correct the historic record and uncovers evidence of the daily lives of individuals and events often omitted by historians.

Presentations will include an examination of the evidence of living conditions for American soldiers camped at Valley Forge during the harsh winter of 1777-1778 to the secret network of the Underground Railroad. “Archaeology of a Troubled Nation” gives attendees an opportunity to learn about Pennsylvania’s rich archaeological heritage and the pivotal role the Commonwealth played in the development of the nation.

Additional offerings include an artifact identification session and an opportunity to visit two Civil War exhibitions specially developed to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the bloody four-year conflict that spanned from 1861 through 1865. Objects of Valor: Commemorating the Civil War in Pennsylvania, installed in an extensively refurbished gallery, retains Peter Frederick Rothermel’s epic narrative painting Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett’s Charge as the centerpiece of the exhibition. The exhibit showcases treasures from the museum’s collections including objects which have not been seen by the public for decades.Stories from the Homefront: Pennsylvania in the Civil War – utilizing materials from the popular traveling exhibit The Pennsylvania Civil War Road Show to make them even more accessible to residents and visitors – is also on view.

Registrants are invited to share their own discoveries with staff members of PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation who will assist them in recording archaeological sites, an essential task in preserving the Keystone State’s archaeological heritage. At the close of the sessions a reception in the museum’s Anthropology and Archaeology Gallery will give attendees, presenters, and staff a chance to meet.

The deadline for registration is November 8. Fees for early registration are $20. A discounted fee for members of the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation,Pennsylvania Archaeological Council, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, and students is $15. Admission at the door is $25 and no discounts will be available.

To register, make checks payable to the Pennsylvania Archaeological Council and mail to: Workshops in Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, 300 North St., Harrisburg, PA 17120-0024. For additional information contact Kurt W. Carr at 717-783-9926 or; or Janet L. Johnson at 717-705-0869 or To learn more, visit This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology.


From the Homefront

Fought from 1861 through 1865, the American Civil War pitted the North against the South in the deadliest war in the nation’s history. It restored the fractured country, abolished slavery, and increased the power of the federal government. While the July 1-3, 1863, Battle of Gettysburg was the only major military engagement fought in the Keystone State, Pennsylvanians in every county were transformed by the war and affected by its outcome. Pennsylvania residents experienced the war personally, responding in various ways: they were inspired to action; they courageously offered aid; they comforted grieving families who lost sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, and nephews; they worked in factories, mines, fields, and forests to supply the war effort; and they waited anxiously. When the fighting ceased they realized how the war had forever changed their lives.

Nearly 338,000 Pennsylvanians – most eighteen to thirty years old – risked their lives fighting for the Union. Several thousand joined the Southern side, such as Wesley Culp, originally from Gettysburg who had moved to Virginia. He fought against his own family and friends at Gettysburg and was killed on Culp’s Hill, named for his family’s nearby farm. Whether they enlisted for patriotism, duty, money, or were drafted, soldiers served for periods as brief as three months and as long as several years. Drummer boys as young as seven years old marched into battle with their regiments. Women went to war as battlefield nurses and camp aides while others, disguised as men, enlisted in the military. While most of the Commonwealth’s citizens supported the Union cause, political positions, religious beliefs, and racism fueled opposition to the war.

The Union might not have prevailed without the assistance and support of Pennsylvanians on the home front. Citizens helped fund the efforts by purchasing war bonds. Medical professionals and volunteers cared for tens of thousands of ailing soldiers and sailors on the battlefield and in hospitals throughout the Commonwealth. In the absence of sons and fathers, women managed families, farms, and businesses.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, The State Museum of Pennsylvania just opened Stories from the Homefront: Pennsylvania in the Civil War which graphically illustrates the Commonwealth’s significant roles in helping the Union to vanquish the Confederate States of America. The exhibit utilizes components of The Pennsylvania Civil War Road Show, a high-tech mobile museum that traveled throughout the Keystone State during an eighteen-month tour in 2011 and 2012. The traveling exhibit attracted 110,000 visitors at thirty-five stops in twenty-eight counties and a visit to Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Stories from the Homefront includes display panels, objects, and rare images drawn from The State Museum’s extensive military collections. The combination of interactive exhibits and original Civil War era artifacts and imagery gives visitors an exciting opportunity to explore the state’s critical role during the four-year struggle.

Museum-goers will learn of the contributions of industry, the sacrifices of soldiers on the frontline, and the women and children who toiled on farms and in factories. Lesser-known stories of Camp William Penn near Philadelphia the largest training camp for the United States Colored Troops, and the explosion at Allegheny Arsenal, Pittsburgh, that killed more than seventy workers, most of whom were women, make this a compelling attraction.

Stories from the Homefront: Pennsylvania in the Civil War complements the museum’s recently opened exhibit entitled Objects of Valor: Commemorating the Civil War in Pennsylvania.