We’ve written quite a bit about PA SHPO’s Baseline Survey initiative over the last three years. We’ll be sharing even more in 2024 when we publish our Year 3 results but – spoiler alert! – I can say that we will have added over 16,000 NEW resources in 55 counties to PA-SHARE by the time this initial effort is completed.
We had identified a list of priority resource types to help guide the survey work. One of those priorities was to find and record the older and historic places that housed fraternal/social organizations. This broad category includes places like Masonic lodges, Odd Fellows halls, and Elks clubs as well as veterans’ organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) posts.
I was looking through the data recently and, given that we recognize Veterans’ Day this week, I thought I’d give our readers a look at what we’ve collected so far for two of the most popular veterans groups of the last century.
The American Legion was chartered by the US Congress in 1919 as a patriotic service organization to veterans and active servicemembers. The Legion grew from a meeting in Paris, France in 1919 by the American Expeditionary Force after the end of WWI. Over the course of the 20th century, the Legion played significant roles in establishing things like the U.S. Veterans Bureau (1920), the GI Bill (1943), the American Heart Association (1946), and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982), among many other achievements.
American Legion posts can be found across Pennsylvania in cities and boroughs, often cited prominently on a main thoroughfare in the heart of the community. Constructed typically between the 1920s and the 1950s, American Legion buildings occupied buildings once used for another purpose or were purpose built to house the organization.
Today there are about 800 active posts across the commonwealth, meaning that we’ve captured only a small portion of these community institutions. You can learn more about the American Legion in Pennsylvania on their website.
To date, 75 American Legion posts were added through baseline survey, bringing the total number recorded in PA-SHARE to 111. Several posts have been documented in Clearfield, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Northampton, Schuylkill, Washington, and Wayne counties, with at least one in several more.
Veterans of Foreign Wars is an organization of US veterans who fought in wars, campaigns, and expeditions in foreign land, water, and air. Its roots can be traced back to the Spanish American War (1898) and Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) an an aid and advocacy organization for veterans returning home with no medical or financial support.
In Pennsylvania, the Foreign Service Veterans was founded in Pittsburgh in 1901 and is one of the three original groups of what became Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States in August 1913. You can learn more about the VFW in Pennsylvania on their website.
VFW posts across Pennsylvania come in all shapes and sizes. In some instances they share a building and in others they grew from houses, commercial buildings, or were purpose built for the organization. There are about 120 active posts in Pennsylvania and likely more former posts that no longer serve that function.
To date, 39 VFW posts were added to PA-SHARE from baseline survey, bringing the total to 55. 13 posts were documented in Luzerne county alone, with a few or more also identified in Clearfield, Mercer, Perry, and Susquehanna counties.
We’ve scratched the tips of the iceberg in terms of capturing all of the older and historic places that are associated with these two groups that serve our country’s vets. Identifying these places help tell important stories about our communities, commonwealth, and country.