Forests Have Always Been a Play Place for Children in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s forests comprise some of the best places to relax and see grand natural¬†views in the state. In the 1920s, over 1.3 million acres of Pennsylvania was covered in forest. Though this may seem like a lot, it was actually a small amount compared to 100 years earlier, when forests covered practically every square mile of space in the Keystone State. A voracious lumber industry decimated the Pennsylvania forests in the 19th century, leaving 5 million barren acres known as the “Pennsylvania Desert.”

In the early 20th century, prominent Pennsylvanians finally took notice of their dwindling forest spaces and began took efforts to preserve them. “Why not restore Penn’s Woods?” Governor William Sproul asked in 1920,¬†“why not let these mountains contribute once more as they have done in the past to the wealth, prosperity, and beauty of Pennsylvania?” Sproul was joined by other champions of Pennsylvania’s forests- Joseph Rothrock and Gifford Pinchot– and created a Department of Forestry and dozens of state parks and forests.

Pennsylvania’s forests were never empty natural spaces, they have always been full of people and activity. Before European colonization forced them westward,¬†Pennsylvania’s woods were inhabited by the Shawnee, Erie, Iroquois, Susquehannock, Lenape, Delaware, and Munsee tribes. European settlers used Pennsylvania’s forests to build homes, industries, and entire communities as they spread across the state. By the early 20th century, no other state had more people living in rural areas than Pennsylvania. And most of those rural Pennsylvanians lived in or around forests. Striking a balance between harvesting protecting these forests makes Pennsylvania the perfect place for any hunter, hiker, or nature lover of any age today.

Below are a few pictures of Pennsylvania children who played and lived in the forests of Pennsylvania. Some of these are taken in State Parks, built to preserve the state’s forests, while others are from logging camps and other unprotected natural areas. All paint a picture of a vibrant play place where there were plenty of things to do for any kid. All of these photographs were taken from the Pennsylvania State Archives, Record Group 6.20: Department of Forests and Waters, Public Relations Office, Photographs and Negatives 1890-1971. Please cite the State Archives if you copy any of these images!

Promised Land Lake

“Promised Land Lake,” Delaware State Forest, Pike County, 1928, P.E. Gottshall
“Wading,” Hammersley Region, Clinton County, W.T. Clarke
The Kiddies Have Been Playing
“The Kiddies Have Been Playing,” Near Betula, McKean County, W.T. Clarke
Playing Among the Trees
“Playing Among the Trees,” Penn State Forest near Milroy, July 2 1924, J.S. Illick

No School Today
“No School Today,” Near Betula, McKean County, W.T. Clarke
Lunch in the Woods
“Lunch in the Woods,” Near Hull, Potter County, W.T. Clarke
Enjoying the Open Air
“Enjoying the Open Air,” Hammersley Region, Clinton County, W.T. Clarke
Colerain Public Camp
“Colerain Public Camp,” Spruce Creek, Huntindgon County, 1928, P.E. Gottshall
Bathing in Childs Park
“Bathing in Childs Park,” Delaware State Forest, Pike County, July 23 1932, H.E. Clepper
Among the Mountain Laurel
“Among the Forest Laurel,” Mont Alto State Forest Park, Franklin County, June 26 1924, J.S. Illick
A Forest is a Play Place
“A Forest is a Play Place,” Restless Oaks, McElhattan, Clinton County, June 24 1922, J.S. Illick
A Forest is a Play Place 2
“A Forest is a Play Place,” Restless Oaks, McElhattan, Clinton County, June 24 1922, J.S. Illick




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