A worker’s gear from the Battle of Homestead Archives & Special Collections.
Community Spotlight—Battle of Homestead Foundation
The Community Spotlight series features the efforts of Rivers of Steel’s partner organizations, along with collaborative partnerships, that reflect the diversity and vibrancy of the communities within the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.
By Gita Michulka, Contributing Writer
Battle of Homestead Foundation Expands Reach with Digital Archive
A core tenet of the Battle of Homestead Foundation’s mission is to promote “a people’s history” of southwestern Pennsylvania’s labor movements and in particular to memorialize the 1892 Battle of Homestead. Though the organization has rich reserves of memorabilia from the past century and a diverse program series to share these stories and collections, they do not yet have a physical museum in which to showcase the collection of workers’ ephemera.
Thanks to funding from a Rivers of Steel Mini-Grant, the Battle of Homestead Foundation (BHF) Archives team is working on expanding their reach another way—a digitized version of the organization’s collections.
“We have a lot of information that we want the public to be aware of and want them to be able to use for research,” says Cassidee Knott, archives administrator at BHF and the lead on the Mini-Grant-funded digitization project. “Being able to put these things on the internet really makes us more accessible not only to our local community, but on a national scale as well.”
“Right now, we’re housing a lot of union-based items,” she continues. “Our three primary collections belong to Mike Stout, Charlie McCollester, and Mark Fallon, and really vary from material items like t-shirts, union banners, union buttons, photograph slides, and then of course a lot more paper items. Charlie’s collection especially is full of paper items in relation to some of the books that he’s written.”
BHF is an organization that is about as grass roots as the labor movements that inspired it. It was founded and is run by citizens, workers, educators, and historians, all of whom share a passion for preserving the history of Western Pennsylvania’s laborers. McCollester is a founding member of the Battle of Homestead Foundation; McCollester, Stout, and Fallon all currently serve as board members there and have direct ties to Homestead, its steel mills, and unions.
“Homestead was home to a steel mill that is extremely important in the larger scope of American history—that is certainly true,” says Dr. Jacqueline Cavalier, BHF Archives and Special Collections Committee Chair. “However, Homestead also has a story to tell because of people from many different backgrounds who lived here, who worshipped here, who ate and drank here, who were educated here, who engaged in public service here, and the list goes on. Those stories are equally important, and our organization is committed to preserving and sharing those stories as well.”
Knott is eager for the collections to be ready, but is quick to point out the care that is going into the digital conservation of each item. “It’s been slow and steady—it is a big undertaking. Right now, we’re currently working with three people: myself and two of our interns. [We are] just scanning these items and making sure they are processed correctly. So it’s very nitty-gritty work, but it’s going to have a big payoff.”
The BHF Archives team has partnered with PA Power Library to create the final full digital collection, which will be accessible through the BHF website.
“Something that’s big for me, especially having a master’s in public history, is that public element of having the community know and be involved and having access to these items,” Knott notes. “Because it’s wonderful to have these collections, and we have these rare buttons and we have, you know, political banners and union items. And that’s all well and dandy to say yes we have it. But then sharing it, getting it out there—these items really do belong to the community, and I know our donors have that in mind when they’re donating these collections.”
“The Battle of Homestead Foundation is committed to preserving those stories and experiences that are available to all of us as an inheritance from those who came before us,” Cavalier agrees. “We utilize these experiences in hopes of having a better understanding not only of the past but of the future as well, particularly with respect to work. Our goal with the archives project is to tell the important story of work and the worker and to share the experiences of those individuals and groups who shaped the community in many, many ways.”
The BHF Archives & Special Collections currently provide ongoing labor education to students and citizens, research opportunities for scholars, and public history programs for the larger community, among other resources. To learn more about the BHF Archives and Special Collections visit battleofhomestead.org/board_committee/archives.
About the Mini-Grant Program
Rivers of Steel’s Mini-Grant Program assists heritage-related sites and organizations as well as municipalities within the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area to develop new and innovative programs, partnerships, exhibits, tours, and other initiatives. Funded projects support heritage tourism, enhance preservation efforts, involve the stewardship of natural resources, encourage outdoor recreation, and include collaborative partnerships. Through these efforts, Rivers of Steel seeks to identify, conserve, promote, and interpret the industrial and cultural heritage that defines southwestern Pennsylvania.
The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area is one of twelve supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Funding is provided via DCNR’s Community Conservation Partnerships Program and the Environmental Stewardship Fund to Rivers of Steel, which administers the Mini-Grant Program. The Battle of Homestead Foundation is one of eight organizations who received Mini-Grant funding through this program in 2022.
Gita Michulka is a Pittsburgh-based marketing and communications consultant with over 15 years of experience promoting our region’s arts, recreation, and nonprofit assets.
If you’d like to know more about community projects supported by the Mini-Grant Program, read Gita’s recent article about Dragon’s Den.