More Updates from the Trails of History

Activities continue apace as the summer doldrums make their appearance. (Well, lah-di-dah.) Why not enjoy a nice air-conditioned museum or a walk through a shaded garden? The July program listings have it all.

A special, short-term exhibit has opened at the Ephrata Cloister and will continue through mid-September. You may know that the religious community at Ephrata was known for, among other things, its printing press. One of the books printed there (in 1748-49) was The Bloody Theater (more commonly known by its subtitle, The Martyrs' Mirror), an important book of faith for Anabaptists. The new Visitor Center exhibit showcases ten copies of the Martyrs' Mirror and is open during regular hours, Monday-Saturday, 9 am-5 pm, and Sunday, noon-5 pm. (You can learn more about the book in a Trailheads post from 2012.)

A copy of The Martyrs' Mirror from Ephrata Cloister

In other Ephrata news, the Ephrata Cloister Associates are offering a day-long bus trip to New York City on Saturday, August 1, to explore the immigrant experience. Tour Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum, with stops at Chelsea Market and the High Line in between. Cost includes bus, entrance fees, guides, and an after-hours reception at the Tenement Museum. Find out more on Ephrata's website or register for the trip via Eventbrite.

Somerset Historical Center just opened a new exhibit, "The Barn: Icon of Somerset County Rural Life." The exhibit, which runs through October, explores the design, construction, and use of barns throughout county history. This is particularly timely, since the PA General Assembly has designated 2015 as The Year of the Pennsylvania Barn.

Earlier this year, museum staff installed a Somerset County barn star outside the changing exhibit gallery.

Three new behind-the-scenes tours have debuted at the Railroad Museum of PA. Available by advance reservation only, these tours provide guided access to areas that are generally off-limits to visitors. They require an additional fee beyond general admission; proceeds help to support the museum's preservation efforts. More info and instructions on how to book your spot are on the website.

Interior of Lotos Club, a Pullman-built car (Railroad Museum Facebook page)

For those of you who enjoy the Twitter, please mark your calendars for this year's #AskACurator day, Sept. 16. PHMC curators participated for the first time last year and we hope to have an even more stellar line-up this year. We'll provide more info as plans are formulated. In the meantime, be thinking about what you want to know about our sites, especially the numerous and varied collections we care for.

What's Going On?

So much to do on the Trails of History this month. Be sure to check out the July program listings to make your plans. Remember, July is National Anti-Boredom Month. Only you can prevent boredom, but we can help.

Independence Day Weekend was abuzz with activity on the Trails of History. On July 3, a team of horses, driver, and wagon from Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum provided transportation for the Moravian Trombone Choir during the (nearby) Lititz parade (photo below by AKF).


On July 4, visitors to Washington Crossing Historic Park enjoyed military demonstrations, a reading of the Declaration of Independence (Andrea Pearlman Richards shared her photo to the Crossing's Facebook page), and the christening of a newly restored replica Durham boat. The Pennsylvania Military Museum offered one of its Kids Day programs, where children can try on military items from the education collection.

Family photo ops at the PA Military Museum on July 4
included a genuine military jeep (from Facebook)
It was a beautiful Sunday at Conrad Weiser Homestead on July 5 for the annual Patriotic Concert, which featured the famous Ringgold Band. Over 100 veterans signed in, each receiving an American flag and a certificate; all names were read as part of the program. In total, more than 450 people were on hand for the event.

(Top) Veterans sign in so they can be recognized during the program
(Bottom) Spectators enjoy music by the Ringgold Band, founded in 1852
(photos courtesy Friends of Conrad Weiser Homestead)
In other news...

In late June, representatives of the United States World War One Centennial Commission visited the State Museum, the State Archives, and the Pennsylvania Military Museum. Among other activities the Centennial Commission is partnering with Saving Hallowed Ground to document existing monuments related to "The Great War," while their mission also includes the development of a national WWI memorial. During this centennial period (2014-18), the Military Museum has increased their attention to Pennsylvanians' experience in WWI (already a substantial part of the museum's focus), and the PHMC has a committee working on commemoration of both World Wars (2016 is the 75th anniversary of U.S. entry into WWII).

WWI Centennial Commission and Saving Hallowed Ground volunteers at
the PA Military Museum's 28th Division Shrine (via @phmc on Twitter)

Archaeological excavations have been going on this summer at Eckley Miners' Village, focused on what is known as the back street, home to the least well-paid workers. The work at Eckley is an extension of the Lattimer Archaeology Project, under the auspices of the Dept. of Anthropology at the Univ. of Maryland. The crew have found a number of interesting artifacts that shed light on the daily lives of mining families. During this year's Patch Town Days event, which was pretty rainy, they shared info with visitors and welcomed them into the on-site lab where they are processing the artifacts unearthed. To learn more about the Eckley dig or the earlier work in nearby Lattimer and Pardeesville, check out the Lattimer Archaeology Project blog.

The Bucks County Courier Times shared video of Pennsbury Manor's first week of Colonial Camp, and it looks like fun. If you're in the area and missed it this week, Time Traveler Camp (for grades 5-7) starts this Monday, July 20, and Colonial Camp II (for grades 1-4) starts July 27.

The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal

Be sure to check out the July program listings for events and activities on the Trails of History this month.

Today's post comes from Ryan Zsifkov, currently studying at East Stroudsburg University for a master's degree in history (he holds a BA in history (minor in anthropology) from Penn State). Ryan is serving an internship at the PA State Archives as part of the PHMC's Keystone Summer Internship Program. Thanks, Ryan, for sharing your research with Trailheads readers.

Map showing Pennsylvania's canals and rivers

The Pennsylvania Canal, a mostly forgotten piece of history, was at one time a significant component of the Commonwealth’s economy and an essential mode of transportation throughout the state. Spurred onward by competition from New York and the forward-thinking imagination of Pennsylvanian leaders, merchants, and industrialists, the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal was in existence for nearly seven decades before falling into disuse in the latter half of the 19th century.

Delaware Canal above Upper Reans Eddy
(Record Group 6, PA State Archives)
In 1817 the State of New York began a revolutionary project to connect its eastern ports and the Hudson River with Lake Erie and Buffalo in the west. The Erie Canal heightened fears among many Pennsylvanian merchants that New York would become even more prosperous and appealing and would threaten commerce in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania responded by building the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, which connected Philadelphia in the east to Pittsburgh in the west. This enormous undertaking was completed in several sections, requiring a substantial investment of capital from the Commonwealth. By 1834, after decades of planning and construction, the canal was in use transporting millions of pounds of goods along its scenic routes throughout the state.

Using waterways as a mode of transportation was not a new idea. In fact, William Penn had proposed using them when he had the Philadelphia region surveyed for settlement, choosing the city's location at least in part to be near the Delaware and the Schuylkill. Prior to the Main Line Canal smaller companies had built an increasingly intricate system of canals throughout the state, but most only connected relatively local waterways. The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal connected the east to the west, allowing goods from the ports in Philadelphia to be easily distributed throughout the State and to travel as far as Pittsburgh.

Canal at Narrowsville, PA
(RG-6, PA State Archives)
The Commonwealth's rugged terrain and rivers presented obstacles throughout the construction of the Main Line Canal. A complex array of locks and gates were constructed, similar to those already in use in England and elsewhere in the United States. A standard lift-lock had gates on either end. When a boat approached needing to move from lower to higher elevation (for example), a sluice gate opened to drain water from the lock chamber to the level of the water on which the boat was floating. The lock's lower gate opened to allow the boat to enter and then closed behind it. The water level in the lock chamber was then raised to the level of the water in front of the upper gate and the gate would open, freeing the boat at the higher level. [Editor's note: the website for the Schuylkill Canal Association has an animation of how locks work.] Creeks and other waterways that presented obstacles were bridged via aqueducts and culverts. To maintain an adequate supply of water to the canals numerous dams were constructed on the rivers feeding into the canal. In areas where there were great distances between two lift-locks, stop-locks were constructed to halt the flow of water so that sections could be drained for maintenance to keep the canals operable.

Lock at Schuylkill Junction
(RG-6, PA State Archives)
Millions of dollars were spent on maintenance for the lift-locks, aqueducts, feeders, dams, bridges, and workmen’s wages. By the end of the 19th century canals had been mostly displaced by the railroads. Many of them were bought out by railroad companies and fell into disrepair. As the Pennsylvania Railroad expanded, the cost of maintaining both the rail lines and the canals became far too great. The beginning of the end for the canals came with the widespread use and increased manufacturing of steam locomotives. Increasingly efficient locomotives took much of the trade from the canals; by 1890 all but approximately 144 miles of Pennsylvania’s canals were abandoned and left to succumb to the forces of nature.

Overflow, Delaware Canal
(RG-6, PA State Archives)
The Pennsylvania Canal was once one of the most impressive and intricate networks of its kind in the United States; in its heyday it was integral to both intrastate and interstate commerce. With 19th-century pick axes and tools Pennsylvanians labored tirelessly to complete approximately 1,250 miles of canal waterways. Today very few remnants of the canals remain; however if you are willing to trek off the beaten path and know where to look the remains of old gates and lock houses can still be found. As you drive along the many highways and back roads throughout the Commonwealth be sure to keep an eye out for historical markers indicating the locations where the iconic Pennsylvania Canal once stood.