Mindy Crawford is the Executive Director of Preservation Pennsylvania and the author of Historic Pennsylvania: A Tour of the State’s Top 100 National Landmarks. A part-time job typing National Register Nominations in 1982 turned into a long career for Mindy. Before joining Preservation Pennsylvania in 2006, she worked for 24 years at Historic York, Inc. (becoming the executive director after four years).

Mindy serves on several other history and preservation organizations: The National Alliance of Preservation Commissions (NAPC), the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association, The Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad Preservation Authority, and Main Street Hanover.

In her spare time, you’ll find Mindy exploring the Lincoln Highway and other old roads looking for great roadside architecture and searching for the perfect souvenir snow globe. You might also find her wearing seven layers of period clothing to participate in Civil War dancing or living history events with her husband, Rodney.

Read her love letter to a favorite Pennsylvania place.

I must confess that I feel very guilty writing a love letter to one specific place. After all, I’m the Executive Director of Preservation Pennsylvania and we work with wonderful historic places in 67 counties across the Commonwealth. Our Pennsylvania At Risk list alone includes places that are near and dear to my heart, such as the Lincoln Motor Court. And I recently wrote a book about Pennsylvania’s National Historic Landmarks that forced me to make agonizing decisions about which 100 of our state’s 169 NHLs to include. How could I pick only one place that has truly captured my heart?

Still, I can’t help myself. You are the one I choose. Let me digress a bit and explain why your story delighted me. You see, not many museums are known for being “outdated.” Perhaps that’s too harsh a word. But, you see, as a lover of history, your reputation as “a museum of  a museum” made me fall in love.

“A Museum of a Museum”

The lecture hall at the Wagner Free Institute of Science welcomes visitors of all ages to learn about topics including seashells, dinosaurs, snowflakes, poison, garden science, and the popular lantern slide lectures. Photo Credit: Tom Crane, courtesy of the Wagner Free Institute of Science.

Founded in 1855, the Wagner Free Institute of Science is a rare surviving example of a Victorian-era scientific society. Philadelphia merchant, philanthropist, and amateur scientist William Wagner opened this private museum, research center, library, and educational facility to exhibit his personal collection of natural history specimens gathered on his travels. His personal mineral collection, one of the oldest in the country, and his extensive fossil collection have been on display since the museum opened in 1865. The regional entomology collection still includes the handwritten curator’s labels.

Your impressive open three-story exhibit hall houses an extraordinary collection of mounted birds and mammals, shells, dinosaur bones, and the first American saber-toothed tiger, discovered on a museum-sponsored expedition to Florida in 1886. Artifacts are displayed in cherry-wood and glass cabinets and maintain their original layout providing a rare view of a Victorian-era science museum. The exhibits represent one of the largest systematically arranged collections on display in the country. The collections are still in active use as a key educational tool of the Institute’s free science programs and a resource for scholarly research.

View of the historic exhibit hall at the Wagner Free Institute of Science, Philadelphia. Photo credit: David Graham, courtesy of the Wagner Free Institute of Science
Valve illustration. Some of these valves are still in use as part of the Wagner system. Click the image for the vintage manual.

Historic Heating System

In 2011, as I read an award nomination about upgrades to your building’s systems, the detailed description of your heating system fascinated me. Patented in 1906, the Broomell Vapor system has been heating your lovely space since 1907. It was state-of-the-art when it was installed and has been working since that time. The system was modified over the years to upgrade it to work better until finally some of those modern upgrades caused the system to fail and even start a fire in 2009. Surely, this would be the end for this piece of equipment.

Much to my surprise and delight, when you were faced with your underperforming 1907 heating system and the need to meet 21st-century performance standards, you found a way to restore it, returning it to its intended mode of operation while installing two high-efficiency boilers and controls (for redundancy and energy savings), proving that the most historically sensitive solution was the best for the environment as well. What a perfect outcome for this rare “museum of a museum!”

The restored Bromell heating system included a redundancy: operating two boilers each for the museum and the library offering backup in case one fails. Photo courtesy of the Wagner Free Institute of Science

True Love

While Preservation Pennsylvania was pleased to present you with an award for Sustainability in Historic Preservation in 2011, your excellence was recognized in 1990 with designation from the Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark.

You continue your mission as one of Pennsylvania’s most distinguished scientific institutions. When I step inside your lovely building, I feel as if I’ve been transported in time to my favorite era. I am devoted to you and hope that we shall remain dear friends for a long time.

About the Wagner Free Institute of Science

Established in the mid-nineteenth century to provide free science education for the people of Philadelphia, the Institute is not a reflection of the past, but the past itself, visible and vital, as it continues to pursue the mission of its nineteenth century founder, William Wagner.

While the Wagner is currently closed due to COVID-19, please visit their website to learn more and plan a visit to this amazing place when it re-opens.

Historic Pennsylvania: A Tour of the State’s Top 100 National Landmarks

Is available for purchase from Preservation Pennslyvania. Published by Globe, Pequot and illustrated throughout, this is a guide for both the road-tripper and armchair traveler.

While there are many historic sites across the state, only a small number have been designated by the Secretary of the Interior as National Historic Landmarks (honoring their exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. Of Pennsylvania’s 169 NHLs, the book features the most intriguing (and publicly-accessible) ones, providing interesting anecdotes about famous homes and churches, man-made wonders set amid the splendors of nature, and the remains of our mighty industrial past.

Click here to order.

For inquiries about speaking engagements, please contact us.