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.
Pennsbury Manor's Brews & Bites brewing demonstration, using fresh hops from the site garden, was presented from Pennsbury's reconstructed Kitchen House online only this year due to the pandemic. Pennsbury Manor / Photo, Leah Jeffers

Pennsbury Manor’s Brews & Bites brewing demonstration, using fresh hops from the site garden, was presented from Pennsbury’s reconstructed Kitchen House online only this year due to the pandemic.
Pennsbury Manor / Photo, Leah Jeffers

Here we are again. As of mid-July, PHMC’s Trails of History sites and museums remain closed to the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Special events and programs, including Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum’s Herb & Garden Faire, the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum’s Bark Peelers’ Festival, and Somerset Historical Center’s Mountain Craft Days, have been canceled. Grounds reopened with restrictions in May and June as Pennsylvania’s phased plan went into effect. This has allowed the public to experience some of what our sites have to offer and to learn some history as well, thanks to outdoor exhibits, informational signage, and cell phone tours.

A recent data analysis by Colleen Dilenschneider (“Data Shows Increased Credibility of Museums During the Pandemic,” Know Your Own Bone, July 8, 2020, colleendilen.com) showed that museums strengthened their already high credibility with the public during the period from April to June. “Critically, museums ‘met their audiences where they are.’ During the shelter-in-place orders especially, they were online. In several small ways that have resulted in a big national impact for the industry, many museums, zoos, and aquariums kept their passion front and center and sought out opportunities to educate and inspire virtually.” Despite the absence of in-person programs and events, PHMC’s Trails of History staff have continued to fulfill their missions to share Pennsylvania’s history with the public.

 

 

Educational Programming for Youth and Adults

Ephrata Academy is a lecture series offered by Ephrata Cloister; the title is a nod to the 1837 Academy building on the site that served as a school for the householder families in the area. Topics for the series have included a history of the Ephrata community and an exploration of religious philosophy and its influence on architecture at the site. Lectures are recorded and made available on Ephrata’s YouTube channel. Cornwall Iron Furnace also adapted its lecture series for online viewing.

Collaboration among sites has been a new benefit of online programming. Staff at the Erie Maritime Museum and the Pennsylvania Military Museum posted back and forth on Facebook using Morse code and have cohosted Zoom lectures on naval history. I’ve also noted an increase in sites promoting each other’s virtual events to their audiences, helping to build the overall visibility of the Trails of History.

 

Summer Camps and Special Events Go Virtual

In addition to providing a slate of online programming for elementary, teen and adult audiences (including a virtual trivia night), the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania adapted its popular summer camp to the digital realm. As with the in-person version of past summers, the online version has been at capacity. Drake Well Museum & Park, which had to cancel several onsite events as well as its Discovery Days summer camp, also developed an online camp program. Both museums scheduled live sessions with staff, along with hands-on activities that students could work on at home on their own schedules.

The cancellation of special events this summer and early fall caused sites to, once again, show their ability to adapt. At Pennsbury Manor, an on-site Juneteenth celebration (in concert with the African American Museum of Bucks County) and the Brews & Bites food and beverage event switched to online delivery. Ephrata Cloister moved a planned reunion of householder descendants to Zoom. And the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum created a series of videos with demonstrators from the Bark Peelers’ Festival to help fill the gap.

 

Amy Killpatrick Fox is a museum educator in PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites & Museums. She writes a weekly blog also called Trailheads at patrailheads.blogspot.com.