Summer 2009

Volume XXXV, Number 3


Executive Director's Letter
Barbara Franco

PHMC Executive Director Barbara Franco provides an honest and open analysis of the potential impact of the 2009–2010 state budget. At press time, proposed cuts in the budget could have a direct and significant affect on all operations of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

From the Editor
Michael J. O'Malley III

Editor Michael J. O'Malley III gives his personal recommendation to explore the Pennsylvania Energy Trail of History as exciting destinations throughout the summer season.


Our readers contribute thoughtful and insightful observations about past editions of Pennsylvania Heritage and offer their praises (and criticisms) for the editorial staff.

Wish You Were Here!

A 1909 nostalgic and colorful penny postcard, transported by postal carrier into New York City with a one cent stamp, and colorfully illustrated with a flashback of Phoenixville in Chester County, the old Phoenix Iron Works, and the dam on the Schuylkill River.

A Modest Fountain on the Square
Bill Double

Perhaps little historical thought is given to the practical side of animal power before steam and gasoline energy. Author and photographer Bill Double has given thought to this topic and a most interesting perspective to quench the thirst for Philadelphia's history. In 1869, one man, Dr. Wilson Cary Swann, witnessed the mistreatment of horses in the sweltering heat of Philadelphia's summer, as hundreds of equines succumbed to thirst and exhaustion working all day in the hot sun. That year, an estimated 35,000 horses hauled passengers, delivery wagons, carriages, and streetcars through Philadelphia's narrow streets. Dr. Swann convened a group of individuals at his home to "consider the propriety of forming" the Philadelphia Fountain Society. They agreed to erect drinking fountains throughout the city, to be practical rather than decorative, and to provide humane relief to physical needs rather than aesthetic sensibilities. You'll also learn about a separate animal rights group that joined the cause that same year. Not everyone appreciated the effort, but thousands of pedestrians, horses, drivers, and even dogs, had their parched throats relieved at the fountains, most memorably at Washington Square, where one extant fountain still sits curbside as a reminder of the network of fountains.

From Erie to Antarctica
Paulette Dininny

Mention the names Roald E. G. Amundsen of Norway, Robert F. Scott of England, or Richard E. Byrd and great explorers of Antarctica come to mind. The name Paul A. Siple, a native of Erie, may not. And yet, Siple's tremendous contributions to the exploration of and knowledge about the planet's frozen continent is indisputable. In fact, Siple became one of Byrd's closest friends and most reliable members of his team, starting when Siple, an Eagle Boy Scout, won a national contest among the Scouts for which the incredible prize was to accompany Byrd on his maiden exploration of the continent. The enthusiastic, innovative Siple, using knowledge gained as a Boy Scout and from training on board the dry docked U.S. Flagship Niagara, volunteered for tasks in Antarctica that hardened veterans avoided, and solved many problems of survival on the southern icecap. His lifelong dedication and repeated trips to Antarctica earned him respect, not only as a novice, but later as a leader of scientific expeditions during International Geophysical Years and as a mentor to younger explorers and scientists in later years. His inventions and tools include improving cold weather clothing, preventing debilitating trench foot for soldiers in World War II, and winning the Army's Legion of Merit award in scientific achievement. Anyone who has relied on the wind-chill factor in local cold weather reports all over the country has been touched by one of Siple's innovations.

Exploring the Pennsylvania Energy Trail of History
Michael A. Bertheaud, Howard M. Pollman

When it comes to energy resources and powering the industrial revolution, the Commonwealth has had significant impact on the world. From the first commercially drilled oil well in the world to the first commercial nuclear generating plant in the country. Pennsylvania's Energy Trail of History in its own context can be found at historic sites administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). The PHMC has organized seventeen of its sites into a trail examining Pennsylvania's contributions to natural resources and energy that begins at the port of Erie, with day sails on board the U.S. Flagship Niagara, followed by visits to museums related to the history of oil, anthracite coal, and lumber; colonial understanding of solar and heat energy for cooking and comfort; the use of animal, water, and wind power in agriculture and industrial uses; the golden era of railroads; the colonial advanced understanding of scientific and manufacturing techniques; an energy tour of the State Museum of Pennsylvania; the roles of energy, man, and machine in the modern military; and a step back to pioneer days when the only occupants of present day Pittsburgh were defenders against the French and Indian War. Details and Web links to all historic sites are provided.

Hands-On History: The Shooting Stars of Drake Well

Much like other important industries in the Commonwealth - coal, iron, steel, timber, and railroads - the production of oil in northwestern Pennsylvania was fraught with danger. Among the perils petroleum speculators faced were fires, explosions, and fatal jams while shipping crude oil to market on waterways. With so many dangers, why then would anyone want to intentionally throw a torpedo full of nitroglycerin down an oil well to cause an explosion? That's exactly what they did when drillers "shot the well" in order to crack oil bearing sandstone to release trapped oil in the drilling process. So closely guarded was this method of oil extraction during drilling that armed guards were hired to protect patent interests, charging exorbitant fees to drillers to have wells shot. The term "moonlighting" actually came from those who illegally violated patens by lighting up wells at night with nitroglycerin explosions. One company, the Otto Cupler Torpedo Company, emerged in the twentieth century as the surviving company capable of conducting controlled explosions in oil wells. The company's most recent owner helped recreate this spectacle at Drake Well Museum. Shooting the well continues to entertain visitors at the Titusville museum during specially staged shows.

A Place in Time

Our Documentary Heritage: Holtwood Hydroelectric Power Plant
Willis L. Shirk Jr.

Archivist Willis L. Shirk Jr. of the Pennsylvania State Archives points to the archives' collection in Record Group 6, Records of the Department of Forests and Waters, and the series 6.45, Water Resources Inventory, Including Reports, Correspondence, Photographs and Maps, 1913–1920. Within this collections are the records of the creation of the Water Supply Commission whose purpose was to regulate encroachments on most of the Commonwealth's waterways. In other words, the construction of dams marked the end of the era of rivers being considered public highways and instead began the era of hydroelectric power for the energy needs of Pennsylvanians.

Pennsylvania Heritage Society ® Newsletter

The latest news from PHS - a quarterly calendar of special events, special trips, tours, and exhibits at PHMC sites throughout Pennsylvania. In addition, attention is brought to special partnerships between the PHMC and Sheetz, Inc. of Altoona, and Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania as well as news of the launch of Pennsylvania Civil War 150, the first stage of planning for the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.

PHMC Highlights

News from behind-the-scenes at PHMC, including the unveiling of the Civil War Trails initiative; special statewide television broadcasts of lectures featuring authors and PHMC historians on the Pennsylvania Cable Network, recorded on location from the Pennsylvania State Bookstore; an the loan of a Gatling gun from the Pennsylvania Military Museum to the Anthracite Heritage Museum to showcase the Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902; Old Economy Village horticulturalist Dean Sylvester's workshop for growing perennials and propagating plants from cuttings; and a recap of the Annual Energy Expo held at the Commonwealth Keystone Building in Harrisburg.


Once again, Editor Michael J. O'Malley offers his insightful and intelligent book reviews.

Lost and Found

Learn which of Pennsylvania's precious historic treasures have been lost forever and which have been preserved. In this issue, a Lackawanna County a colliery that once employed ten thousand men, 1,100 mules, and 275 locomotives is lost. An underground oval vehicle track in Allegheny County that tested exhaust gases from to simulate tunnels is extant.

Marking Time: Oldest Producing Oil Well

Northwestern Pennsylvania was not only the location of the world's first commercially drilled oil well. It is also currently the location of the world's oldest continuously producing oil well. Focusing on the PHMC's and our magazine's "Energy: Innovation and Impact" theme for 2009, this installment focuses on the state historical marker for the "Oldest Producing Oil Well." McClintock Number 1, two miles north of Oil City. This well places it's owner, which happens to be the PHMC, in the position of being an oil producer, although the revenue from selling souvenir samples from the well is miniscule.

Sharing the Common Wealth

A nineteenth century loom reproduction is one of the magnificent wooden weaving devices found at Old Economy Village in Beaver County. This authentic recreation matches those used by the Harmonist Society, who settled Old Economy Village and earned much of the community's revenue though their trade and marketing enterprises.

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