This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXXIX, Number 4 - Fall 2013
Read introduction below timeline
The year 1914 was notable for a number of reasons. Germany declared war on Russia and France. Joyce Kilmer wrote "Trees." Henry Bacon designed the Lincoln Memorial. Mack Sennett produced Making a Living starring Charlie Chaplin. Irving Berlin composed Watch Your Step. The Federal Trade Commission was created. Walter Hagen won the U.S. Golf Association Open. The patent for airplanes was granted to the Wright Brothers and not to competitor Glenn Curtiss. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) was established.
Here at home in the Keystone State the first members of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (PHC), predecessor of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), held their inaugural meeting at the Union League of Philadelphia on March 21, 1914, recognized as the date of the Commission's formal organization. (Governor John K. Tener had signed an act establishing PHC in July 1913 but the appointees did not meet until spring of the following year.) Not long after its creation PHC launched an ambitious historical marker program, the first of which was the installation and dedication on September 11, 1915, of sixteen tablets chronicling the various stages of the September 11, 1777, Battle of Brandywine. To date PHMC has erected more than twenty-three hundred state historical markers throughout the Commonwealth.
In 1916 PHC began its groundbreaking archaeological and anthropological studies and investigations of Native Americans in the Susquehanna Valley. The excavations were followed by the publication of the Commission's second official report containing the findings and laying the foundation for PHMC's publications program - which contributed more than one hundred titles to the understanding of the Keystone State's history, culture, and art - and now includes a website offering family-friendly articles, new scholarship, and news of PHMC activities and events.
Next followed the acquisition of significant historic sites and the building of thematic museums that make up the popular Pennsylvania Trails of History®. Historic sites include national treasures such as Old Economy Village, Daniel Boone Homestead, Eckley Miners' Village, Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, Ephrata Cloister, and Cornwall Iron Furnace. Museums present the history of the Keystone State's anthracite, railroading, lumber, military, maritime, and petroleum industries for visitors of all ages and backgrounds. The Commission's flagship museum, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, opened in 1965 as the William Penn Memorial Museum.
Expanding responsibilities and initiatives during PHC's nearly three decades of service to Pennsylvania residents and visitors prompted reorganization and a name change to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1945. PHMC ramped up the state historical marker program, changing markers from bronze plaques affixed to boulders to the familiar blue and gold freestanding markers along streets and highways. In the 1970s PHMC became a key player in the preservation of historic buildings, structures, sites, objects, even entire neighborhoods and villages. Its responsibilities have burgeoned and include advocacy, preservation of rural land, economic development, tourism, and neighborhood conservation, among other exciting initiatives.
As staff reflects on PHMC's century of service to the people of Pennsylvania and beyond, it looks also to the future as advocate, steward, and teacher, showcasing the Commonwealth's historical and archival treasures for one and all.