One of my fondest memories as a young man some forty
years ago soon after moving my family to North Central Pennsylvania was the raspy voice of Pete Wambach, a well known news paper and radio personality who each week would announce "It's a Beautiful Day in Pennsylvania". Pete would tell his listeners and readers historical stories, usually of a small rural community and the significant role they played in the history of the Commonwealth and our Nation. Pete never had to look very hard to find wonderful stories to share, the depth of our state's history is unequaled. I'm proud to say that when I moved to South Central Pennsylvania my wife introduced me to Pete and his family and although he has passed, we remain friends with his wonderful family.
Pennsylvania boasts a broad range of natural, human, and cultural resources. It is home to diverse environments and ecosystems, with mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, fertile farm land comprising dynamic rural, suburban, and urban landscapes. The commonwealth’s population, with its diversity, skills, and strong work ethic, and Pennsylvania’s history and cultural heritage are incredibly rich.
Rural communities in particular have played and
continue to play a central role in state and national history. According to the Center for Rural
Pennsylvania, citizens living in diverse small and medium-sized rural communities account for twenty-seven percent of the total population of the state, with 48 of 67
counties defined as rural.
Small towns in rural Pennsylvania are essential to quality of life in the state. They provide food, energy, and valuable ecosystem services that benefit not only citizens living in the immediate area but also in surrounding regions. They are economic and cultural centers with powerful histories that extend from storied local traditions to the critical role of many rural Pennsylvania communities in influencing issues of national importance, such as immigration and labor advocacy. These small towns are invaluable assets to all Pennsylvanians.
Pennsylvania has a beautiful landscape, and
intrastate travel is a wonderful way to visit and appreciate what small towns have to offer. Examples of the unique communities range from Northumberland, home to the National Historic Landmark and National Historic Chemical Landmark, the Joseph Priestly House; to Ridgway, which hosts an annual Chainsaw Carver Rendezvous to celebrate the traditional craft; to Waynesburg, home to Waynesburg University, which offers doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate programs in more than 70 academic concentrations and supports three adult centers in the Pittsburgh region; to Wellsboro, the entry point to the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon; to Butler, which in 2012 the Smithsonian ranked as one of the top twenty best small towns to live in within the United States. Small towns like these are
the heart and soul of Pennsylvania.
Small Pennsylvanian communities carry history with them through time. Contributing to a rich culture, the history of these towns reflects not only the passage of time, but also the development of community connections. These areas of the commonwealth each have a unique personality and culture, framed by their
individual histories. Each distinct town with its unique culture acts as one component of rural Pennsylvania,
complementing the state’s culture as a whole.
While the rural communities in Pennsylvania have distinct economic, social, and cultural histories, they also share a number of valuable characteristics of small towns. These communities are often characterized by close-knit social and community pride that provide residents support, access to local knowledge, and a cultural identity. These communities reflect the continuing role of place in shaping self-identity and sense of efficacy. Moreover, rural towns can also be important settings for collective action and agency.
Yet, small towns in rural Pennsylvania face
complex and significant challenges relating to environmental, economic, political, and social sustainability. A central policy challenge going forward for Pennsylvanians is fostering the vitality of our small towns and places in rural and non-metropolitan areas.
If you are ever curious you can drive North, South, East or West and you will find a beautiful rural community with warm welcoming residents and a captivating history. Pennsylvania is still unequaled.
Bill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org