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by Bob Brooke



They came in droves–Swedes, Welsh, Germans, English, French–bringing with them their own unique belief in God. Together they forged a new life and eventually a state that has become a microcosm of America. Pennsylvania has been a mecca for nonconformists and social experimenters ever since the days of its founding by William Penn.

The keystone of the thirteen original colonies, hence it's nickname "The Keystone State," it typifies the America that was a magnet for immigrants. From 1643, when Swedish-Finnish colonists settled on Tinicum Island in the Delaware River, Pennyslvania has always attracted the downtrodden.

To collect a large claim he had against the English crown, William Penn, a Quaker, asked Charles II for a grant of land in the New World where Quakers and other non-conformists could live with freedom of religion. Penn set up his colony near what is now Chester in 1682. Penn purchased land from the Indians with such fairness that all lived in peace and harmony until 1755, the start of the French and Indian War. For the name of his new city, Penn chose Philadelphia, meaning "City of Brotherly Love," the same as that of an early Christian city in Asia Minor.

Penn’s English Quakers were soon followed by a large number of Welsh who gave names to places like Radnor, Gwynedd, and Bryn Athyn. The established Swedish colony merged with them. Next came the Germans who settled in Germantown, north of Philadelphia, establishing the first manufacturing center in the New World.

The Scotch-Irish, the descendants of Scots who settled in Northern Ireland, followed the Pennsylvania Dutch–from their description of themselves as deutsch. Coupled with Penn's ideas and the laws he devised to make them a reality, the Pennsylvania colony quickly became successful. It became a formidable commercial center, using the ports on the Ohio river, Lake Erie and the Delaware river to trade with Europe and the colonies.

The early settlers chose names for their towns that reminded them of their homelands or took the names Indians had already given them–Punxutawney, Hollsopple, Wilmerding, Hop Bottom, Wapwallopenwaht. What other state can boast post offices in places named Shicksshinny or Loyalsock, Normalville or Neshaming? Puzzletown, Applevold, and Forty Fort are all part of the 15,000 towns and villages crammed into Pennyslvania’s 45,000 square miles.

The highest concentration of immigrants settled in the Delaware Valley, with Philadelphia as its hub. Spread over the southeast corner of the state like spokes of a wheel, taking in four counties–Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery–it became a mercantile and agricultural center. Though its communities have lost their pastoral character to shopping malls and tract housing, these villages have retained their charm in their old churches, meeting houses, fieldstone mills and mansions, and public buildings.

These communities have not only preserved historic buildings but open spaces. The rolling landscape of Valley Forge National Park has been frozen in time much as it was during that heroic winter encampment of Washington's patriot army in December of 1777. But the bulging limits of Philadelphia now press this historic campground. Around its northern perimeter flows the big, fast-moving Schuyllkill (pronounced Skook'l) River, now paralleled by the four-lane, sometimes faster-moving Schuylkill Expressway into Philadelphia.

Other reminders of the Revolution crowd this corner of Pennsylvania. Brandywine Battlefield Park lies 30 miles southwest of Philadelphia. Here, the Battle of Brandywine took place on September 11, 1777, when Washington and his outnumbered army tried unsuccessfully to prevent the British from taking Philadelphia. This is also the home of the Brandywine School of artists, led by Howard Pyle, N.C. and Andrew Wyeth, who have painstakenly recorded life in the countryside around them.


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