Friday, September 25, 2009

Friends to Staff Reopened Priestley House Temporarily

In an article in the Daily Item, Sunbury, PA, dated two hours ago it has been reported that the Friends of Joseph Priestley House have just signed an agreement with the State of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commissipn to reopen and staff the Priestley House with volunteer members starting Octover 3.  The Friends will also financially support certain aspects of keeping the site open.  This came about due to the budget cuts that forced the Commission to have closed the site earlier this year on August 14.  The agreement was announced last evening at the annual dinner of the Friends.

This arrangement will allow the public to have access to this important historic landmark and museum until a more permanent arrangement can be found.  Both the state Historical and Museum Commission and the Friends are to be commended for the improvement to the situation.

There has been a press release issued by the Central Pennsylvania Susquehanna River Valley Vistitors Bureau on this in addition to the notice on the Joseph Priestley House website

Let's hope that a practical solution for perminent funding of the site can be found.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Friends Report Progress on Operating Priestley House

Susan Brooke of the Friends of Joseph Priestley House reports: "We  are very close to an arrangement that will let us open this fall, with a proposal to hold our annual Heritage Day (costumed event, with chemistry demonstations,) on Nov. 1 as previously scheduled. We meet with the state staff  this Thursday to finalize."
Stay tuned for more information later this week.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Erasmus Darwin and those pesky little critters in the stones

I was doing my usual aerobic gardening work today --I had 8 tons of boulders delivered to the house the other day and I spent the day today breaking them into smaller pieces to border some beds and paths I am building. That sure is hard work. The sledging just gets you real quick, but it's the lifting and hauling the resultant pieces that absolutely does you in. I got about 3 tons broken and moved today in about 6 hours.

What is interesting is the kind of rock it is. It is local field stone. Looks like some was coral a long time ago and the rest is some sort of igneous type rock. Neither of these rocks break real easy. Call me prejudiced, but I would take the good old Connecticut potatoes any day of the week over this stuff out here. I really like the field stones out in Connecticut. So much so, that I brought some of them out here with me when we moved here. The movers weren't too happy about that. One of the rocks is about 600 lbs.

Anyway, there I was breaking open these rocks and you could see that there were these animal fossils preserved in some of them. Nothing to write home about, but still, there they were. My mind went to a passage I read somewhere in one of the Joseph Priestley books I had read that Erasmus Darwin had also been intrigued by the fossils he was finding in the rocks. Don't forget that in that (mid 18th century England) epoch it was still believed by Western culture that the Earth had been created by God some 6,000 or so years ago. The fossils don't fit in real well with that theory. Darwin (this is Charles' grandfather) was on the right path. He was convinced that the history of the Earth was far greater than that postulated by the Church. What Erasmus did not get, though, but his grandson Charles would, was that these primordial creatures would some day 'evolve' into all the living things that we see on the Earth today.

It is very humbling to think of how creative and observant these early scientists of the Age of Enlightenment were. And, they were so brave to tell the world about it in spite of any repercussions that might result from these heretical ideas. We can dismiss this as being obvious, but they did not have the understanding that we now have about the development of the planet.

In fact, Charles Darwin waited many many years after conceptualizing his theories about evolution and natural selection before he ever published his results. He knew that the publication would have profound effects upon the world and would affect the religious deeply because it appeared to contradict the Church's teachings.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Letter to Governer Rendell about Joseph Priestley House

Dear Gov. Rendell:  

I would like to address the matter of the closing of the Joseph Priestley House in Northumberland, PA by the PA Historical and Museum Commission on August 14 of this year.  

While I am not a PA resident, I have followed with intense interest the developments this year. The site is a true national treasure and should be treated as such. I do understand the budgetary constraints that have plagued PA this year. I also do understand that the Friends of Joseph Priestley House are attempting to negotiate a way for them to operate the site. I think the Friends are a fine group (I am a member), but they do not have the real resources to do justice to the site.  

I propose, as an alternative, that you consider working with the U S Park Service to see if the site can be converted to a National Historic Site. If that were to occur, the site could be operated by the U S Park Service at no cost to the state of PA and still be made available to visitors. I know that the U S Park Service has just purchased the land for the memorial for United Flight 93 in PA, so there must be some discussions going on with the U S Park Service ongoing.  

This would be a wonderful compromise under the circumstances. It might even add additional tourism to PA if the site were made a National Historic Site of the U S Park Service since there are many people who want to tour U S Historic Sites (there are less than 100 such sites in the country). Thank you for your consideration of this proposal.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid Forwards Request to National Park Service to Make Joseph Priestley House a National Historic Site

I received a letter from Senator Harry Reid that was very encouraging.  Sen. Reid met with Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, the other day and, unfortunately, I had not written to Reid beforehand.  After writing to Reid, Reid responded that he was going to forward my request to the National Park Service.  It will be interesting to see what comes of this.

I don't know if it is that we just passed the slowest part of the year in August and nothing happened, or if something is going on with respect to the Joseph Priestley House and it is not being reported by any of the media.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Restoration Begins on One of the Oldest Modern Computers

I just found this article about the WITCH computer at Bletchley Park which they are going to attempt to restore. It is a 1950s era machine based upon telephone relays and vaccuum tube technology.  It is an interesting read.
I will try to post additional information on this as I have time and I find it. There appears to be very little out there and I can see inaccuracies all over the place.

There is now a considerable amount of information out there about this restoration project:

Here is a subsequent article about the WITCH developments during 2009

Here is the subsequent article about the WITCH developments during 2010

Here is the article about the WITCH during 2012

When completed, the WITCH will be the oldest working computer.  This is a monumental project.
If you look at the detailed reports above as to what actually has to be done to resurrect this fossil you would not want to get started on it.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Joseph Priestley House Update

This blog continues comments and activities concerning the closing of Joseph Priestley House on August 14 and the various attempts to reopen it.  For continuity it is recommended that you start with the earliest post first. Please click on the label "Joseph Priestley House" at the left.

I have received three more correspondences on this topic:

The first was included in the "Postings from Priestley House" Newsletter of the Friends of Joseph Priestley House, Number 44, Summer 2009, which states:

"New Responsibilities Ahead for Friends
The friends Board is discussing a Management Agreement with PHMC [Pennsylvania Historical and Museums Commission] that could result in increased responsibilities for the Friends.
Ownership & Maintenance. PHMC will retain ownership of the site and cover major maintenance, exterior painting, electric, gas, water, sewer, and lawn care and snow removal.  The Friends would be responsible for the interior painting.
Insurance.  Friends will be responsible for liability insurance for anything conducted at the House (which we now have) as well as negligence insurance regarding the structures and contents (which we don't now have).  We may be responsible for the insurance for collections currently on loan from other sites.
Custodial Care. Friends would be responsible for custodial care of the facility -- that includes general housekeeping, light bulbs, toilet cleaning, etc.  A curatorial assistant would be available to respond to the injury or damage to artifacts.
Security.  Friends would be responsible to provide periodic security visits to [the]site and entrance for emergency responders and lock up after they leave.
Programming.  Friends are responsible for all events at the site including tours.  Special events at the site may include alcohol such as wedding receptions."

I have also received an email from: 
Amanda Shafer
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Commonwealth Keystone Building
400 North Street, Plaza Level | Harrisburg, PA 17120-0053
Phone: 717.525.5368

"In the past years, the PHMC operated the Joseph Priestly House for about $140-160 thousand per year on a Wednesday through Sunday schedule. However, the cost to run the site in the future depends on many factors such as when the site is open, the number of programs held, maintenance and ticket/membership pricing.  While the Joseph Priestley house is temporarily closed, the PHMC is seeking other management options in order to keep the site protected and available to the public. Thank you for your interest in our sites. I have also forwarded your comments to the Executive staff."

The third correspondence is a letter from Congressman Dean Heller (R- Nevada)

"As you know , the National Park System owns and administers all of the current 86 National Historic Sites. Congressional legislation authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to designate an area of historical significance that is worthy of remembrance as a National Historic Site.  Current National Historical Sites include the home of Abraham Lincoln, the Vanderbilt Mansion, and the home and woodland property of John Muir.

I understand your admiration for Joseph Priestley's accomplishments. A famed philosopher, historian, and educator, he is most noted for his scientific achievements including the discovery of oxygen and nitrogen.  Throughout his lifetime, Joseph Priestley published more than 150 works on topics ranging from religion to electricity. You can be sure that I will keep your thoughts in mind should any legislation related to this topic come before the House of Representatives."

While I am not privy to the details of either the negotiations between the Friends and PHMC nor the line item costs for running Priestley House, the portion that Friends would be contributing would, I assume be less than the cost that PHMC would still be undertaking.

Surely, the U S Park Service would consider these costs to be a pittance compared to what they spend at their 86 other locations. They spent $9 Million this week alone to acquire the land they need to make the United Flight 93 National Historic Site Memorial in PA.  In spite of all the good intentions of all those involved, I still maintain that the National Historic Site alternative would be the best long term solution for the Joseph Priestley House.

Please contact the Secretary of the Interior and other government officials to express your opinion on this matter. Below is a copy of the body of my letter to Secretary Salazar:

Mr. Ken Salazar,

U.S. Secretary of the Interior

1849 C Street, NW

Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Salazar:

On August 14, 2009, the State of Pennsylvania closed the Joseph Priestley House & Museum due to funding problems within the state.  The State owns the property and has a budget of about $150,000 a year to keep the site open.

While the Priestley House is recognized on the National Register of Historical Places, it is considered, by some, to be a true National Treasure.  The closing of the Priestley House is an immeasurable loss for our National Heritage. Please consider converting the Priestley House into a National Historic Site as part of the National Park Service so that it may be properly preserved and opened to the public once again.


Dr. Sliderule

You may also want to contact:

Barbara Franco
Executive Director Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission
 State Museum Building
 300 North Street
 Harrisburg, PA 17120.

Make sure you read my previous blogs on this subject. Click on Joseph Priestley House on the labels to the left.