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Writing desk notes Pennsylvania history, one signature at a time

August 25, 2014

Filed under Collections, Community and Domestic Life

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This desk is made of walnut with a slanted top and hinged writing surface. The underside of the desk is peppered with dated signatures from legislators who served during the mid-to-late 19th century.

Attached to the underside of the writing surface is an unsigned paper label inscribed with the following information:
“This desk was one of the first, placed in The Pennsylvania ‘House of Representatives’ Harrisburg, Pa. when the Capitol was newly built in 1820 – (or about.) Presented to R.A. Hazleton when desks were changed, under ‘The New Constitution’ in 1873”.

Hazleton was appointed insurance department clerk by J.M. Forster, the state’s insurance commissioner in 1873. Hazleton held that position until his death in 1886. A native of Canton, Bradford County, he was active in several organizations in Harrisburg, including a local “Harmonic Society” and the Grace United Methodist Church choir.

Collections Advancement Project Curator Jennifer Gleim nominated the desk as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure because it provides a record of the legislators that used it over a period of 35 years. In addition, the desk is one of few physical artifacts that remain from Pennsylvania’s first capitol building.

Architect Stephen Hills designed and built Pennsylvania’s first capitol building, a project initially completed in 1822. Over the years, the capitol was expanded several times, including in 1873 when the paper label states this desk was removed from the building. The building served the commonwealth until it was destroyed by fire in February 1897.

If the note attached to the desk is accurate, the desk escaped a fiery demise and survives to offer us a small piece of history from Pennsylvania’s early capitol.

A note attached to the underside of the writing surface indicates that this  desk escaped a fiery demise and survives to offer us a small piece of history from Pennsylvania’s early capitol.

A note attached to the underside of the writing surface indicates that this desk escaped a fiery demise and survives as a small piece of history from Pennsylvania’s early capitol.

 

About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.