Picturing PA highlights moments in Pennsylvania history through photographs in the extensive collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Peering northwest at the Lehigh Valley Railroad and surrounding farmland from Wyalusing Rocks, several hundred feet above the Susquehanna River in Bradford County, these four observers are likely Federal Writers’ Project field workers.

A spectacular lookout first revered by the region’s native inhabitants, Wyalusing Rocks is an outcropping of red sandstone located along the Warrior’s Path, a historic corridor extending between New York and the Carolinas, once traveled by members of the Iroquois Six Nations as well as those who sought to decimate them.

This c. 1937 photograph was created for Pennsylvania: A Guide to the Keystone State, which was published in 1940 as part of the American Guide Series, a product of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project that employed thousands of writers, teachers, historians and artists during the Great Depression. The American Guide Series resulted in publications documenting each of the 48 states.

The 659-page Pennsylvania guide was researched and written by commonwealth residents and was cosponsored by the Department of Public Instruction (now the Department of Education), the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (now the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission) and the University of Pennsylvania. It highlights the commonwealth’s history, culture, industries, and select cities and towns. It also details suggested auto tours of the state and relevant points of interest. Tour 1, which proceeds westward from the Delaware River to near the Ohio border along the path of present-day Route 6 (named one of the most scenic drives in America by National Geographic), features Wyalusing Rocks, situated 13 miles southeast of Towanda, the seat of Bradford County.

More significantly, however, the Writers’ Project in Pennsylvania generated an abundance of research materials chronicling specific regions, counties and ethnic enclaves, many not used in the final book, including this photograph. The Pennsylvania State Archives holds the original working files of the state project, containing photographs, transcripts, manuscripts and maps, which can be found in Record Group 13.108.


Josh Stahlman is an archivist at the Pennsylvania State Archives.