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The Personal Papers of James D. Van Trump

The strongest impression I got about Jamie as a Pittsburgh figure was from the letters and cards he received during his time in the hospital after his accident in 1978. He received over two hundred cards from people he had never met, who knew him from his appearances on the Al Julius KDKA television program and from his public appearances at various events. I even saw a letter referring to him as “Mr. Pittsburgh,” in reference to his knowledge of local history and architecture. ––Emily Dahlin, Duquesne University intern archivist

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PHLF Co-founder James D. Van Trump

Thanks to the dedication and expertise of Duquesne University graduate student Emily Dahlin, various personal correspondence, memoranda, and miscellaneous ephemera have been added to PHLF’s James Van Trump Collection. Jamie Van Trump (1908 – 1995) co-founded PHLF in 1964 and served as its first architectural historian. The materials that Emily organized date from 1948 to 1991, with the bulk of them being from 1970 to 1991.

Emily Dahlin’s description of her experience in organizing Jamie’s personal correspondence follows:

“As part of Duquesne University’s Public History program, I completed an archival internship at PHLF from the fall of 2015 through mid-January 2016, working on the personal correspondence of Co-founder James Van Trump. I was drawn to interning at PHLF because I am interested in architecture and historic preservation, and I had hoped to work with archival materials relating to Pittsburgh architecture and prior PHLF preservation projects. My primary goal in completing this internship was to be able to work on an archival project at its earliest stages and see it to completion. I had never had the challenge of working on an unprocessed collection from the beginning of the process, and I was eager for the opportunity to process the Van Trump collection.

“The correspondence and personal papers were housed in five large boxes and were, I soon found out, completely unorganized and unprocessed. The correspondence ranged in date from 1941 to 1991, and had sat untouched in a storage unit until very recently. The boxes contained a wide variety of items, including letters and memoranda, greeting cards, postcards, legal documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, and various ephemera. This task required that I read every individual piece of correspondence, which was the main reason why the project was so time-consuming. After several weeks, I was able to select over two hundred pieces of correspondence for preservation by PHLF, and recommended several other documents for donations to other institutions, most notably a collection of material related to the Second World War, which PHLF has donated to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Oakland.

“On a few occasion during my internship, I was asked to assist with educational walking tours for elementary and high school students, and for adults. I found these experiences to be valuable, as they allowed me to experience how PHLF works with the community and acts as a public voice for history and preservation. I learned a lot from my experience on the education tours about how community outreach works and the different ways in which history and architecture can be incorporated into a number of different programs and school lessons. Overall, I feel that my experiences at PHLF had a very positive impact on my understanding of the public history field, and I am grateful to have had the experience.”

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