PENNSYLVANIA was explored by the Dutch in the early 1600s, settled by the Swedes forty years later, and claimed by the British in 1664. Charles II of England, who owed a debt to the Penn family, rid himself of the potentially troublesome young William Penn, an enthusiastic advocate of religious freedom, by granting him land in the colony in 1682. Penn Jr immediately established a “holy experiment” of “brotherly love” and tolerance, naming the state after his father and setting a good example by signing a peaceful cohabitation treaty with the Native Americans. Most of the early agricultural settlers were religious refugees, Quakers like Penn himself and Mennonites from Germany and Switzerland, to be joined by Irish Catholics during the potato famines of the nineteenth century.
“The Keystone State” was crucial in the development of the United States. Politicians and thinkers like Benjamin Franklin congregated in Philadelphia – home of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – and were prominent in articulating the ideas behind the Revolution. Later, the battle in Gettysburg, in south Pennsylvania, marked a turning point in the Civil War. Pennsylvania was also vital industrially: Pittsburgh, in the west, was the world’s leading steel producer in the nineteenth century, and nearly all the nation’s anthracite coal is still mined here.
The two great urban centres of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, both lively and vibrant tourist destinations, are at opposite ends of the state. The three hundred miles between them, though predominantly agricultural, are topographically diverse. There are more than one hundred state parks, with green rolling countryside in the east and brooding forests in the west. Lancaster County, home to traditional Amish farmers, the Gettysburg battlefield and the Hershey chocolate factory, minutes away from state capital Harrisburg, draw visitors by the thousands. Finally, in the far northwest, Lake Erie provides the state’s only waterfront, centred upon the eponymous town.