Harrisburg, Pa. (WHTM)– The Pennsylvania State Museum was founded in 1905, and became part of the State Historical and Museum Commission in 1945.
The circular building on 3rd and Forster Streets that now houses the museum was constructed in the early 1960s, as part of an expansion of the Capitol Complex which also included the Archive Building.
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The circular design means whatever floor you’re on, you’ll always find your way back to your starting point.
Your day at the museum starts outside the building, with a map of the state outside the main entrance.
Once you step inside, one of the first things you see is a giant chicken peep. It’s part of Curiosity Connection, full of places where little kids can run around, look, touch, and explore. It also has some very inviting benches for exhausted adults.
Going up the escalator (the museum has some of the coolest escalators in town) you arrive at Memorial Hall, dominated by an enormous statue of William Penn. Behind the statue you can see a replica of Penn’s 1681 charter for the commonwealth.
On the opposite wall is a collection of flags that have flown over Pennsylvania, from the Union Jack to the Stars and Stripes, and even the flag of the Penn family.
On the same floor, you’ll find one of the museum’s newest exhibits, A Place for All, telling the history of three integration efforts in Pennsylvania after World War II. Stories of resilience, bravery, and strength, from a college, to a suburb, to a swimming pool.
On the second floor, Transportation & Industry shows the history of getting from point A to point B in the state, from horse-drawn covered wagons to canals (one of the models reveals that container ships are not a new idea) to railroads to cars (including some that were made in PA) and an exhibit on the Pennsylvania turnpike which includes one of the original toll booths. There’s also an exhibit of Pennsylvania-made airplanes, including a Piper J-3 Cub built in Lock Haven and declared the official aircraft of Pennsylvania in 2014.
Objects of Valor is a room filled with state-related Civil War artifacts, ranging from the elaborate (and very large) Peter F. Rothermel painting of Pickett’s Charge, to uniforms and weaponry, and a simple wooden pump, which came from Harrisburg’s Camp Curtin, the largest Union camp of the war.
The Anthropology and Archaeology Gallery has hundreds of Native American artifacts. It’s currently being updated with advice from the Native American community.
On the third floor is the Life Through Time exhibit, ranging from the earliest life in the seas to a diorama of a carboniferous era forest, also called a “coal forest” because much of our coal comes from strata of that time. Animals in the forest include Arthropleura, an eight-foot-long millipede. (Things were different 300 million years ago.) There are exhibits about dinosaurs, a mastodon skeleton, and the Hall of Mammals. One of the original museum exhibits, it opened in 1968 and got a makeover in 2018. (They have a side exhibit about the renovation.)
There are many, many more items on display than we could show in the video. There are many other exhibits, both permanent and temporary, that we haven’t touched on. But if you’re new to Pennsylvania, or want to learn more about the state’s history (or prehistory for that matter) the Pennsylvania State Museum in downtown Harrisburg is an excellent place to find out more about the Commonwealth.