Four Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Pennsylvania.

There are many things every life-long Pennsylvanian knows about our vast and wooded Commonwealth. While many can’t wait to escape the state for greener pastures, many more of us have this moment where we just fall in love with our state even more. Yes – that is entirely possible, even in a state such as mine. With leadership such as ours. Pennsylvania’s always been a polarizing place – whether we agree with what goes on or not. It’s been a polarizing place for years. Today’s blog post, inspired by a book called PENNSYLVANIA’S ALLEGHENY MOUNTAINS written by Dave Hurst, will cover four things everyone gets wrong about Pennsylvania. Let’s take a look at a few of them now:

The Allegheny Mountains aren’t actually mountains.

Mr. Hurst touches upon an interesting fact right in the book’s introduction: The Allegheny Mountains aren’t actually mountains at all. Wait. What? Then why have I been calling them such my entire life? I suppose, to someone with an untrained mind, our curved hills can certainly look like mountains. Mr. Hurst makes this point as well. I, myself, have gotten lost in old maps of Southwest Pennsylvania. Especially those of the North Shore. It’s part of the City of Pittsburgh today, but it was once known as “Allegheny City.” And that has its own crazy history – a blog post for another day. Let’s take a look at a few points Mr. Hurst makes about these so-called mountains.

  • “Allegheny” spellings on maps The Alleghenies didn’t escape the confusion of early Pennsylvania, where so many borders, names and places continuously changed on maps drawn by many different countries. According to the introduction, the French used “Allegheny,” and the English used “Allegany.”
  • Old World settlers decided to build their new homes here “because the Alleghenies reminded them of similar hills and mountains in Wales, Ireland, Ruthenia and other Old World homelands.” (pg. 13).
  • One merely needs to talk the hills of small town Pennsylvania to see how the Industrial Revolution affected them. Giant dams once held (or rather, barely) back the water of 1700s Johnstown. Canals were carved throughout the entire state, from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Foresting and mining towns dotted the landscape everywhere a natural resource could be harvested for use.
  • “Increasingly, these ridges are becoming recognized for their natural and cultural heritage-based recreational opportunities.” (pg. 13).

Contrary to popular belief, the Alleghenies aren’t part of the Poconos. In fact, eleven – yes, eleven – mountainous regions cross through and converge in Pennsylvania: the Allegheny Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, the Bear Pond Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Conewago Mountains, the Endless Mountains, the Moosic Mountains, the Poconos, the South Mountain and, finally, Town Hill. It’s easy to see how the industry moguls of the nineteenth century could look at the land and see its potential, and how we can still see their potential today.

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are close to each other, right?

source: Google Maps

In what universe? Sorry, but I must laugh whenever I hear anyone ask this. If one wants to drive via I-76 E, it’ll take toll booths and just under five hours to cross the state. If one wants to go via I-76 and I-70 via Baltimore, Maryland, another hour will be added to the journey. The trip takes even longer via I-80.

Pennsylvania is much bigger than many folks realize. Pittsburgh and Philly have to completely different histories, completely different demographics, and completely different demographics. Employment cultures are also very different: Pittsburgh is more blue collar, while Philadelphia is more white collar.

Here’s a cool fact about Philadelphia: the city was, for a short time, the US capital in the late 1790s. However, it was never meant to be Pennsylvania’s state capital. That honor was reserved for Harrisburg:

Why is Harrisburg the Capital of Pennsylvania?

At the end of the day, it was geographic factors that led to Harrisburg becoming capital of Pennsylvania. In the minds of politicians and policymakers, it made sense for the capital to be located as close to the center of the state as possible, allowing the easiest access from all areas. There were no planes or cars in those days, so transportation to and from a capital always needed to be a consideration.

Philadelphia may be the largest population center in the state, but it is located in the far southeastern corner, roughly 360 miles from Erie, PA, up in the northwestern corner. It would take close to two weeks to make the journey in the era of the horse-drawn carriage.

Harrisburg, on the other hand, is a full 100 miles west of Philadelphia toward the center of the state, and its location directly on the Susquehanna River made it easily accessible by ship. This meant most were able to reach it in a day or two if necessary.


How to pronounce Carnegie.

Love the man or hate the man, his name is EVERYwhere in Pittsburgh. It’s on libraries, museums, science centers, and heck even a town in the Pittsburgh area is named Carnegie. This industry mogul of the mid to late 1800s has an extraordinary number of books written about here. A few suggestions are linked below:

The Carnegie Building, Carnegie College, Carnegie Community Centre, The Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut are all just a fraction of the places named after the philanthropist. None of that tells us anything about the etymology of the man’s last name.

In an attempt to deter discrimination in the New World, many immigrants changed how their last names were spelled or pronounced when they came through Castle Garden and, later, Ellis Island. This included many Scottish names, which was Carnegie’s heritage. As with anything, region can have everything to do with how someone’s name is pronounced. “True Pittsburghese” speakers tend to over emphasize either the “r” or the “ne.” In an article on the Hartford Courant’s website, columnist Rob Kyff writes, “As for how to say Carnegie,” “the guy” himself placed the accent on the second syllable. As Webster’s New International Dictionary explained in 1934, “The pronunciation with ‘ay’ [kahr-NAY-gee] was that of Mr. Carnegie himself, but as the Scotch “ay” is ‘stopped,’ that is, pronounced with no terminal glide, it sounds like ‘eh’ [kahr-NEG-ee] to many. So “Carnegie” is indeed properly pronounced “kahr-NEG-ee.” As Charles Elster writes in “The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations,” “No pronunciation maven with a reputation to lose sanctions first-syllable stress [of ‘Carnegie’].”

Clear as mud? Perfect. Let’s take a look at the last point of today’s blog post:

There’s nothing to do in PA? I beg to differ.

Anyone who’s done any research into any town in Pennsylvania will know that small town life is in full swing this summer, almost no matter where you go. From one end of the state to the other there are towns, big and small, filled with things to do.

  • Pittsburgh: Live from Fallingwater: Stephen Towns and Kilolo Luckett, Pittsburgh Black Music Festival, History Uncorked: Night at the Museum, Summer Fridays at The Frick: The Magic Mansion, bike lanes and city parks, the Carnegie Science Center, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Kennywood, Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium, et al.
  • Philadelphia: Museum of the American Revolution, The African American Museum in Philadelphia, Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest, Parks on Tap, Summer Scavenger Hunts, Festival of Fountains at Longwood Gardens, Free Museum Days, Phillies (baseball) home game, Downtown Oxford First Friday Summer Block Party, et. al.
  • Hersheypark: Concerts at the Herhsheypark Stadium, MeltSpa, Hershey Theatre, et. al.
  • Hollidaysburg: Farm tours, Summerfest, Full Kilt concerts, Summer Drama Camp, Chimney Rocks Park, Everett Railroad, Canoe Creek State Park, 321 Gallery and more.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

So don’t write off Pennsylvania when the time comes to plan your next vacation, and don’t let any misconceptions you may have about Pennsylvania keep you away. Did you think the Alleghenies were actual mountains? Have you been mispronouncing Carnegie’s name wrong all this time? Don’t worry – we Pennsylvanians won’t hold it against you, for long!

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Budding #historian. Writer of #adventures and #sciencefantasy. Lover of mushrooms and libraries. Fan of #chocolate, #books and Pennsylvania history.

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