About the Rachel Carson Homestead & Association
Song for Rachel – Walkin’ Jim Stoltz
This National Historic site is where Rachel Carson was born and lived her first 22 years, where her sense of wonder was nurtured, and where the seeds of her environmental ethic were planted.
It is maintained by The Rachel Carson Homestead Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and Pennsylvania charitable corporation established in 1975.
The Mission of the RCHA is
to Steward Rachel Carson’s historic birthplace
to Educate about her life
Promoting her Sense of Wonder and Environmental Ethic.
A brief history follows:
The birthplace and early home of Rachel Carson was built as a four-room farmhouse around 1860 in the Pennsylvania German “four over four” style. https://www.phmc.pa.gov/Preservation/Field-Guide-for-Agricultural-Resources/Pages/House-Types.aspx
The paint was worn: from a distance the wood-frame house almost looked like a log cabin at times. The Carsons purchased the house, with its apple and pear orchard, and a total of 65 acres overlooking the Allegheny River in 1900. Robert and Maria Carson immediately began selling off lots to people wanting to build new homes. Carsons’ intent was to build a new home for themselves, with modern conveniences, most likely including indoor plumbing, better heating, and electricity.
The Carsons’ priority shifted from a new home to immediate family needs. Their daughter Marion was 10 and son Robert 8 when Rachel was born here in 1907. Editor Paul Brooks noted about Rachel, “…when she became a celebrity, she was quite willing to answer the inevitable questions about her early life, and how she came to settle on her eventual career.” Her parents had moved to an old farmhouse in Springdale, in the lower Allegheny Valley near Pittsburgh several years before Rachel was born. “Though it was not an active farm, it had cows and horses and chickens and – more important, to Rachel – woods and fields to explore. From her earliest days she was encouraged by her mother to become aware of the beauty and the mystery of the natural world. ‘I can remember no time when I wasn’t interested in the out-of-doors and the whole world of nature,’…”
The Carson family needs eventually included making Rachel’s education a priority and reality.
After high school and completion of her undergraduate degree at Pennsylvania College for Women (PCW, now Chatham University) in Pittsburgh, Rachel began work on her Master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. Maria left Springdale with Rachel. Robert, and Rachel’s sister Marian, along with Marian’s two daughters, joined them shortly afterward.
The house remained fundamentally as the Carsons found it, deteriorating when they left Springdale, and rented then sold it. It was in disrepair, with broken windows and a leaking roof, when a young woman, Angeline Sober, bought the house in 1937. She was hired as an English teacher at the local high school. A single woman — female teachers were not permitted to be married and retain employment (this was true until around WW II) – Sober lived with her mother. Angeline added rooms and facilities, setting up the house for boarding, eventually residing with several other female teachers.
Miss Sober wrote about Springdale history. She also followed Rachel Carson’s career. When Rachel found success in 1951, Sober was thrilled to be living in the house of a famous author. She researched and recorded what we know of the house and its furnishings – almost none of which remain. Eventually Sober wanted to leave the house as part of Rachel’s legacy.
Miss Sober reached out to Mrs. Evelyn Hirtle George, from neighboring Cheswick. Like Rachel, Mrs. George, “Evie,” had also graduated from PCW as a biology major. Evie contacted Mrs. Ruth Jury Scott, an early environmentalist from Pittsburgh. Ruth Scott had written to Rachel Carson, leading to an invitation for Ruth and her husband to visit Rachel in Maine. Scott was adamantly anti-biocide, anti-herbicide in gardening as well as an animal rights activist. Carson and together they invited Mrs. Agnes Kinard, a Pittsburgh attorney, and eventually Mr. Edmond Boyle, a teacher and member of the Springdale Borough council to found the Rachel Carson Homestead Association, Inc., (RCHA) as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and Pennsylvania Charitable Corporation, in 1975. Kinard and Boyle focused on other interests, while Ruth and Evie reached out to Miss Beulah Frey, a biology teacher, Carson fan, and gave time to develop and present programs at the Homestead.
The three women, Miss Beulah Frey, Mrs. Evelyn Hirtle George, and Mrs. Ruth Scott, developed the first environmental education curriculum for Pennsylvania. More than that, for many children and young people in the area, each with a tremendous knowledge of nature and generous desire to share, enthusiastically fulfilled the mentor role that Rachel Carson wished for every child:
A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with a good fairy… I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength
If a child is to keep alive his important sense of wonder without any such a gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
Rachel Carson, Nurturing Your Child’s Sense of Wonder, 1958 – emphasis added
Mrs. Evelyn Hirtle George, an educator and administrator, effectively ran the RCHA for nearly twenty years, ensuring the house was maintained and providing education including summer day camps. Over the decades, the nonprofit board of directors has continuing to adapt the programs and activities within its mission.
Every member of the RCHA, from 1975 to present, owes a debt of gratitude to those who served before us, and who will continue to serve in the future. We are also grateful to those who “keep the doors open” through financial and in-kind donations as well as their invaluable time.
– More about the RCHA and its History.