Encampment Highlights American and Local Heritage
by Joe Savrock (December 2009)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – An 18th Century-style encampment was held Dec. 4–5 at the Penn State Arboretum. According to organizer David Saxe, associate professor of social studies/citizenship education, the event commemorated the 250th anniversary of the discovery of local landmarks by Captain James Potter.
The encampment was the culmination event of Saxe’s Heritage Education Interpretation course. Students in the class, whom Saxe dubs “The 1st Battalion of the Penn State Regiment of Foot,” presented historical sketches from the colonial days. “The students set up camp Friday afternoon,” he said. “The encampment was laid out according to British military requirements, complete with dining fly tent, eight regulation British Bell Back tents, and cooking arrangements.”
The ten participating students planned, set up, and struck the camp, and then conducted interpretation talks as characters from central Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War period.
Saxe and most of the students spent the night on site, sleeping in tents. “It was 23 degrees in a moonlit night, with snow in the morning,” he mentioned.
The encampment took place amid the backdrop of the Arboretum’s 42-acre Hartley Woodlot, which has withstood development in the centuries following Potter’s pioneering activities. The early influx of settlers to the region led to eventual development and deforestation of large chunks of land. However, the Hartley Woodlot was untouched, and today it remains as an unspoiled representation of the past. The woodlot, according to Saxe, “features a number of old-growth trees, some dating to the 18th century.”
Saxe plans to use Penn State’s Arboretum for future activities. “It will be ideal as a teaching-research laboratory for education students to learn and practice professional-level interpretation techniques and skills as sanction by the National Association for Interpretation,” he said. “In addition, the Arboretum will serve as a preservice/inservice teacher center for French and Indian War living heritage programs.”
Potter was an officer in the Pennsylvania Provincial (British) militia. He was considered to be a hero of the French and Indian War as well as the Revolutionary War, serving as one of George Washington’s generals in the Philadelphia campaigns and at Valley Forge. Potter was a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention that drafted Pennsylvania’s First Constitution; later, he served as the Commonwealth’s vice president (lieutenant governor). Potter’s grandson, Andrew Gregg Curtin, was Pennsylvania’s governor during the Civil War era.
Potter is widely credited with the discovery of Mount Nittany, as well as Nittany Valley, Penns Valley, and other locales throughout the Centre County region. He is the namesake of the village of Potters Mills and General Potter’s Highway (Rt. 322) in Centre County.