Geocache me if you can

Somerset Historical Center, the PHMC site where I spend most of my time, is home to two geocaches. For those of you unfamiliar with this, a geocache can take various forms but is usually a sturdy container with small items to trade and a logbook to sign when you find the box. Geocaches are hidden by their owners for searchers to find, using GPS coordinates and other helpful hints. (For more basics on geocaching, go here.)

Intrigued by the whole idea, I did some research to see how many other sites on the Pennsylvania Trails of History have attracted the interest of geocachers. I started with the official website of geocaching and learned that as of late October, there were more than 930,000 active geocaches around the world. I also learned that a similar activity, called letterboxing, has been around since the 19th century (popular in the U.S. since the late 1990s). Letterboxing uses narrative clues and (sometimes) compass headings, rather than GPS. Letterboxers create and use personalized rubber stamps to record their finds. These are greatly simplified explanations (as those of you already involved in these activities will have noted)—if you’re interested, check out the websites for loads more info on getting started. The websites also include logs where searchers can report on caches and boxes they’ve located (or not located).

As best as I can tell (the websites don’t always spell out the location precisely, since that would spoil the fun) many of our sites have either a geocache or letterbox hidden on the property. Daniel Boone Homestead, Pennsylvania Military Museum, Bushy Run Battlefield, and Graeme Park are just a few of the sites where you can search (please visit during open hours). In some cases, the cache is close to the site and relates to the history (and entries on the tracking websites make reference to our museum)—Erie Maritime Museum, Joseph Priestley House, and Drake Well Museum fall into this category. Cornwall Iron Furnace is an Earthcache—a place for folks to learn about geoscience and the earth’s geological processes. The Pennsylvania Lumber Museum’s Sustainable Forestry trail is part of the Allegheny Geo Trail, a project organized by the Oil Region Alliance. You can find info on caches and letterboxes at or near PHMC sites (or any other location for that matter) by entering the street address or zip code into the search engine on the relevant website.

Geocaching and letterboxing are great ways to explore Pennsylvania, its heritage, and its natural beauty. Perfect matches with the Trails of History.


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