Letter From Founder and Executive Director
proud of who you are. Be proud of your heritage, because that gives you the muscle”. This statement made by President
Abraham Lincoln. Our Home, Our Struggle, sums up the spirit of those living in the Laurel Highlands and America. The Laurel Highlands have a long heritage of pride and muscle, evident throughout the ongoing
building of our village and its reflection.
Long used as a passage by Native Americans traveling between the east coast and the Ohio Valley, the Laurel Highlands Village
area continued to be of vital importance after European settlement, becoming an economic and cultural crossroads. As a base
point for a growing America immigrants, the Laurel Highlands Village
area has welcomed countless immigrants to begin a new life in America. In the 19th century workers arrived to build coal mines, steel mills, the Allegheny railroad, and farming. Many stayed to live and work in the neighborhoods.
By the late 19th century, rapid industrialization and urbanization had
transformed the largely Czech, German, Croatian, Polish, and other eastern European working-class neighborhoods into a national
center of labor activism. Poles, Croatians, Lithuanians, Italians, and members of other ethnic groups settled in the area,
and all have left their imprint. Now the Laurel Highlands Historical
Village tackles one of the largest endeavors anywhere in the United States
- to build a village which will incorporate many ethnic groups as they lived and played in their sixteenth century
community, prior to their heirs coming to the new land. During the sixteenth century our forefathers arrived, engaging
in a struggle for political representation, educational reform, social justice, and workers' rights.
Laurel Highlands Historical Village staff and neighborhood partners have
joined forces to build this ongoing effort. It is an effort to tell the story, to reenact, to be engulfed in…to
discover your past. Gathering in meetings large and small, residents and staff
are working together to build the s one-of-a-kind sixteenth century historical village which will support the many ethnic
groups who built the communities we live in today. Techniques such as group dialogues
brought together past and present residents to explore shared experiences. These discussions, on topics ranging from the role
of the Czech sokols, the Portage Railroad, Native Americans, Polish coal miners, labor organization by the United Farm
Workers and the experiences of early immigrants, were an important step in creating the exhibition.
In another innovation, the founders have placed focus on the environment
and terrain, allowing various ethnic groups to pick their building sites. In some locations we have high barren grass lands,
and yet only feet away we have a dense lush very early forest starting its new growth. Boy Scouts from the region in
the near future will help to maintain our village and utilize its capabilities in a positive manner. Founder and community
activist Ronald J. Shawley created the Laurel Highlands Historical Village logo.
visiting our village will be cast back in time. Within the walls of Laurel Highlands Historical Village
visitors will be able to reenact their heritage, and gain a better understanding of their ethnic roots. Children will engage
in educational seminars and hands on learning. Students from area colleges and universities will participate in ongoing theatrical
performances. Use of interactives to engage the visiting children has marked the village exhibitions and Our
Home, Our Struggle is no exception. Sites of Struggle presents people and places important in the
labor history of the village, while Festive Foods introduces foods typically eaten by the Native American,
Czech, Mexican, Polish, Croatian, German, Italian and other European peoples who have lived in the Laurel Highlands over the centuries. Children
will also enjoy our sixteenth century playground featuring Jacobs Ladder, Mini Jousting, Log Walking, and the Wild Labyrinth.
Programs will complement the exhibition using art, theater, music, and
even food, along with lectures, panel discussions, and tours to introduce many different facets of the village past and present.
We welcome you our fellow Americans, to help in our efforts as we continue
to build this community, in which we will preserve our various ethnic backgrounds and teach the next generation
where we all began.
& Founding Member
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|Many crafters in our village preform lost arts, sharing and teaching the arts to our youth
The Laurel Highland’s
Historical Village, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 2003 for the purpose of promoting an appreciation and understanding
of the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of the Laurel Highland’s region which, historically, has served as the home
of many immigrants who arrived in the nineteenth century and earlier to work in the coal mines, steel mills, on the railroad,
and as farmers. The underlying rationale for the Laurel Highlands Historical
Village is that the more residents, and particularly the youth understand their unique, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic heritage
and how it has contributed to building strong communities. The commitment is to worktogether to preserve the area’s
diversity and to strengthen the communities which have emerged over the past century.
Much like how other historical
venues such as Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia have evolved into major tourist attractions,
the Laurel Highland Historical Village seeks to recreate – in Western Pennsylvania - an ethnic-centered heritage village
which will reflect what life was like in the early life of the Laurel Highland’s region while, most importantly, showcasing
the contributions of many ethnic groups to the progress of the region. The Laurel
Highlands Historical Village – created on tract of farm land – will be complete with authentic buildings,
gardens, and other related economic and work-related features common to the Laurel Highland’s area during the pre-industrial and the industrial period.
We will showcase how people of that time period made their living such as glass blowing, blacksmithing, coal mining
While the Laurel Highlands
Historical Village will serve as an educational and cultural venue for all age groups, primary consideration will be given to meeting the educational enrichment needs of children and youth. A key program of the LHHV will be, for example, an Enrichment Day Camp for Children designed to provide
opportunities for personal growth and the development of self-esteem. This camp will teach children self-discovery
of their heritage, the opportunity to engage in discussions with ethnic leaders from the community, and for building friendship
and relationships across ethnic groups. We envision the Village becoming an important
and much needed extracurricular environment that will help to foster learning and success in today's youth. To help implement the educational component of the Laurel Highlands Historical Village, the organization
plans to utilize, as tutors, discussion facilitators, and instructional leaders, students from area higher educational institutions
such as University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Finally, the Enrichment Day Camp will
fill an important need for today’s children to experience life outside the city and to engage directly with the natural
environment; an opportunity increasingly disappearing as a result of urban sprawl.
When the Historical Village
is fully developed, it will include space for shops, merchants and artisans who will provide not only opportunities for purchases
of ethnic foods, local crafts, and theme-based merchandise but also p an additional educational opportunity for visitors to learn about the early life and commerce
of the Highland’s region and how it has shaped an important region in the history of the U.S. We believe this component, as well as the other features such as an actual “working” farm and
the Historical Village’s open air environment will position the Laurel Highlands Historical Village to become a major
tourist destination for much of the eastern seaboard of the United States, thereby adding a new dimension to the local region’s
economy; much the same way other theme parks have done in other regions of the United States.
In summation, the Laurel
Highlands Historical Village
is an idea whose time has come for fruition in Western Pennsylvania.