PHMC Highlights presents stories and information about PHMC programs, events, exhibits and activities.

PHMC staff members Amanda Shafer, webmaster, Karen Galle, historic preservation specialist and coordinator of the state historical marker program, and Dean E. Winkelspecht, data applications developer, completed several important improvements and upgrades to PHMC’s Web site. A new state historical marker database includes improved graphic design along with options to browse or search for specific markers. Shafer and Winkelspecht facilitated several initiatives to the Web site that improve access to information for both professional researchers and the general public. These include a new archaeology community, agricultural history context, architectural field guide, cemetery recordation and preservation information, school building preservation updates, and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New Deal.


In August, children, ages six to twelve, discovered the wonders of a natural history and fine arts museum opened in 1827 by the Harmony Society, a highly successful religious communal society. The 2008 annual summer camp, “Tracking Nature’s Clues,” at Old Economy Village, Ambridge, Beaver County, featured hands-on activities about weather, astronomy, tracking animals, bird watching, and the Plains Indians encountered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Holly Dofner, assistant to the site administrator, and young camper Sarah Adalbert, encountered the museum’s ferocious-looking (but now inanimate) bear as part of the learning experience. In the early nineteenth century, the United States claimed few museums, especially west of the Allegheny Mountains, and the Harmonists invited the public to visit their museum, charging ten cents for admission.


Governor Edward G. Rendell presented Larry E. Say, site maintenance foreman at the Drake Well Museum, Venango County, with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in May. “His hard work and dedication have greatly enhanced the appearance and efficiency of operations at the Drake Well Museum, the historic site of Pithole City and Oil Creek State Park,” the governor said. Say helped design and construct a building housing an exhibit explaining oil transportation and significantly reduced costs by personally installing displays and creating audio recordings. He organized a crew of Pennsylvania Conservation Corps enrollees to work on this and other projects. Say is responsible for cost savings of more than $200,000 on these initiatives. Also attending the awards ceremony at the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg were Susan Beates, Drake Well Museum curator, and Barbara Franco, PHMC executive director.


Don Giles, PHMC photographer, applied his talents to help create contemporary versions of cartes de visite, immensely popular as photographic calling cards in the mid-nineteenth century, for the Pennsylvania Past Players. The troupe of forty actors portraying Civil War-era figures was created by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, in association with PHMC, to increase public awareness of resources in the Commonwealth related to the Underground Railroad and the American Civil War. Giles photographed his subjects at Harrisburg’s John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion, administered by the Historical Society of Dauphin County. Giles — whose photographs frequently appear in Pennsylvania Heritage and on PHMC’s website — provided the photography for a series of cartes de visite designed by Kathleen E. Alsvary and Jeff Decker, creative professionals with PHMC’s Publications and Sales Division.


William McShane, a senior history major at Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, spent his summer as an intern at the Pennsylvania State Archives researching the Commonwealth’s early environmental and conservation history. He focused on Mira Lloyd Dock (1853–1945), an early environmentalist, botanist, crusader, and educator. Between 1895 and 1920, Dock led campaigns to beautify cities, clean up polluted waterways, restore forests, and assisted in the founding of the Mont Alto Forestry School, Franklin County. McShane’s manuscript about Dock has been accepted for publication by Pennsylvania Heritage and as a reference for PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums. The internship was made possible through a grant to the Pennsylvania Heritage Society from the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Professionals (PAEP). PAEP is a nonpolitical, interdisciplinary organization of individuals working in environmental management, planning, impact assessment, environmental protection, compliance, research, engineering, design, and education.