A Sense of Place

Franklin, Pennsylvania. The place I was born seems to participate in what is sometimes labeled “sacred geography.” No one really knows why people imbue certain places with a sense of particular significance, but we all do. Whether it is world-famous tourist sites or our humble hometowns, there are places for us that possess an emotional resonance that other places lack. By the time I was an adult I was eager to get away from my hometown, to stretch myself and see if there was more to this world than these ancient green hills were willing to disclose. But still I return. When something brings my town into prominence, it somehow still impacts me. In the second season of the X-Files Mulder and Scully came to Franklin. Of course, the episode was not filmed here, just set here. But that was enough. My small hometown had been validated. It is part of my personal sacred geography.

I recently learned about WestPA Magazine. While it still has a way to go before becoming mainstream, it needles into that sense of belonging that refuses to let me go. Reading about the grandeur that once settled over this town feels like reading my own biography at times. Last night, for example, I learned that one of the first steps of female equality—a small step, but we all must begin to walk somewhere—took place here. One of the inheritors of the oil wealth that originally put this region on the map was Charles Joseph Sibley Miller. He hosted two presidents on his yacht, partnered with John Astor and William Vanderbilt on a business venture, and had his car personally delivered by Louis Cheverolet. Although largely overlooked by history, Miller purchased a hot air balloon in which he took his wife, Mary Prentice Miller, for a ride, making her the first known woman aeronaut in history. One small lift for a woman, one giant lift for womankind.

There seems to be no scientific basis for sacred geography. It is simply something that we sense. I left my home region, the birthplace of the oil industry, a site of some importance in the Revolutionary War, to pursue a more tenuous, if abstract career track. And still I come back and find myself amazed. I suspect our sense of sacred geography evolved along with our penchant for territorialism, our desire for private property, and our need to find sanctuary of some kind. I can stake no claims for the accomplishments of those who settled this region, but for me it will always be a touch-point for sacred geography. When I make my occasional returns, it feels as though I might still belong.

2 thoughts on “A Sense of Place

  1. Jim W.

    Having lived in the Pittsburgh area as a young child and moving to Oil City in the 5th grade I can say that I have two distinct regions I can refer to as “being from”. I considered my years in Venango County not always the best and for a long time I ignored my Venango ties and always said I was “from Pittsburgh”. However, as I grow older, I can look back and see that much of what I considered “bad” was simply normal parts of growing up and some was even of my own making. With my ever growing love of history I can look back at Franklin, Oil City and Venango County and find a deep appreciation of its vastly rich historical past, (Thank you for sharing even more here by the way.) its incredible beauty with deep woodland, and scenic rivers & streams. It has its faults as all places do, but now when I return I feel a deep sense of pride. I’m a product of “Oil Country” and when you think about that it’s actually pretty cool! Great entry Steve!


    • Steve Wiggins

      Thank you, Jim. It seems that sometimes you need some distance to gain perspective. Having lived in four other states now, as well as in one foreign country, I am discovering just how much a part of me this region is. I can honestly say I’ve found nowhere else like it. Sometimes you need to run away to grow closer–one of the many paradoxes I’ve come to embrace.


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