Pennsylvania’s Beginnings

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Pennsylvania. I think it is a freakin’ magnificent state. Does it have flaws? Yes, of course it does. It doesn’t stand out as a modern jewel of progressive liberalism, it doesn’t have any famous exports like potatoes or cheese, no glitzy seaside resorts, no Yellowstone or Yosemite. But, perhaps I am biased, but I still think it’s the greatest state in the Union.

All the specifics for why I think it is so great, I will save for another blog. Suffice to say, I think it’s great, which you may be able to tell by how often you may see me poking around the state’s history and culture. Its history, in particular, I find of special interest. Most people that live here don’t give a hoot about our state history, but I think an argument could be made for Pennsylvania being the most important as well as most interesting state in our nation’s history, and it is not just blind ethnocentrism to suggest that would also make this state one of the most important stops in world history.  Them’s no small shakes.

Ever since I moved into New Jersey, right across the state line from Philadelphia, I’ve been keenly aware that although our state as well as our nation began in that big city across the river, there was a blighted and forgotten city not far away known as Chester, Pennsylvania, where our state’s founder, William Penn, first stepped ashore onto his new land  (He’d been in the New World for awhile at that point, but mostly in New Jersey).  I knew there was a marker in that falling-apart city that commemorated his landing, and for a Pennsylvania-lover like me, it was a must-see.  But I kept putting it off.  Having been briefly and quickly through Chester a few times, I knew it was not prime real estate; it is in fact not much better than Camden, New Jersey, which I chronicled here and here.  Not that I’m afraid of a blighted city, it was more of there being not much else to do there.

Well, today I was on my way from one place to another that took me through Chester on a day when I had nothing else to do, so I hopped off the highway and set about finding the marker that denoted the very start of our colony.  And despite the fact that I was prepared for it to be in a slum, I was still shocked by the level of poverty going on there.  I only managed to snap one picture as I was driving around, before I found the marker.  This is that picture:

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It didn’t take me long to find the marker and the small “park” around it; its address is Penn and Front street, and if I have learned anything in my travels, it is how to find places in river towns with addresses on Front Streets (just drive toward the river, where you will find Front Street, then pick a direction.  If you chose wrong, you’ll know soon enough.  Then go the other way).  I was not surprised to find a tiny park in an unremembered industrial part of the broken-down city.  I was not surprised to be the only human being there for the approximately 45 minutes I stayed.  I was not surprised by the sense of sadness I had that the world has passed these memories by, coupled with a true happiness that such monuments still exist at all.  I was not surprised by the weight of time crushing me as I attempted to picture what the area must have looked like then, what these people were like, what they thought about this land and if William Penn could ever have envisioned me, standing in the exact same place he did, incredibly distant in the future.

Below is some video I took of the monument area, for any who are curious, and below that, some pictures.

The modest park as seen from the street; the marker is at the end of the brick walkway.

The modest park as seen from the street; the marker is at the end of the brick walkway.

At the entrance to the park, a placard about the historical role of Delaware County, PA.

At the entrance to the park, a placard about the historical role of Delaware County, PA.

The marker commemorating William Penn's first steps in Pennsylvania

The marker commemorating William Penn’s first steps in Pennsylvania

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From behind the marker, looking back at the street.

From behind the marker, looking back at the street.

I walked around the brick wall behind the marker and snapped this shot: a factory to my right, the Delaware River (upon which Penn would have sailed), and the Commodore Barry Bridge, which of course came hundreds of years later.

I walked around the brick wall behind the marker and snapped this shot: a factory to my right, the Delaware River (upon which Penn would have sailed), and the Commodore Barry Bridge, which of course came hundreds of years later.

10 Responses to “Pennsylvania’s Beginnings”

  1. I’m with you on the idea of history and Pennsylvania, at least as it relates our country and the rest of the Union. Having moved to WI from a town that got shelled by hostile, slave-owning secessionists, I sometimes feel like any state not involved in the Civil War is kind of just pretending to be part of the country.

    Sure, WI joined in 1848, but 1848 isn’t 1787, and these guys out here were still trying to figure out how to milk a cow when we were decades into modern democracy – come on!

    Now, I will take the natural beauty of WI over that of PA almost every time. Of course, both are very pretty states; that’s not to take away anything from PA.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      I have often wondered how folks from the “newer” states feel about the 13 colonies and the earlier states that were around for the Civil War. Do you think we are viewed differently? And while I’m very happy to live a place with the history it has, I’m also curious about the history in a place like Wisconsin. I bet there are some very interesting remnants of frontier outposts, with barely-remembered histories that, while far less consequential than PA’s, are undoubtedly just as interesting.

      • a lot of people here know i’m from PA, but I’ve yet to have a conversation about that part of history with anybody but my wife. this is off topic, but one thing that strikes me regularly is HOW FAR I now live from Washington, DC. so I can vouch to consciously feeling distant from that history now, and I can’t say I like it. not that I obsess on it, of course.

        • sethdellinger Says:

          I have had that thought about DC! We definitely take for granted being so close to it. Kyle, if you’re still reading these comments (Cory, Kyle’s from California) are you ever consciously aware of being FAR from your country’s capital?

          • Kyle Sundgren Says:

            Certainly. All the founding of our country was so long ago and we’ve come so far I don’t even really consider my territory to be part of that history. We were Mexico or Native America still. I identify with gold miners and Mexico more than colonies and New England personally.

            • sethdellinger Says:

              Yeah, of course you do! California, in the 1770…what, completely untamed wilderness, right? Maybe literally a handful of very adventurous Europeans. That doesn’t mean the history of those places west of the Mississippi isn’t incredibly interesting, but yeah, it’s hard to connect it to the history over on this side. I can imagine the history of the western states could be a lot of fun to dive into because a lot of it is probably pretty foggy, not having been recorded the way the East’s was.

  2. It is such a melancholy place.

  3. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    I will report you to the FBI the next time you shoot video on a cell phone portrait style. Landscape! Your eyes are not stacked on top of one another!

    Other than that this is very cool and sad all at once.

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