Joseph Priestley House

Northumberland, Pennsylvania

When Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) is remembered today, it’s usually for his 1774 discovery, in England, of oxygen. Few know he was a noted theologian, political progressive, and prolific author whose scientific contributions include the development of the modern timeline, the carbonation process, the identification of carbon monoxide and other gases, early experiments in electricity and an early understanding of the inter-relationship of plants and animals mediated by gases: oxygen and carbon dioxide and the role of sunlight in photosynthesis.

He counted Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Watt among his friends. Yet Priestley was also a controversial figure whose views were so odious to some of his countrymen that his house, Fair Hill in Birmingham, was burned in a riot in 1791, and he and his family fled to London and then left England in 1794. Priestley spent the last ten years of his life in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where he continued his work in science, religion, and education. But even in this democratic republic his liberal ideas were frequently received with intolerance, and the peace that he so ardently desired was often elusive.

Joseph Priestley House and laboratory is an historic site that preserves and interprets the contributions and significance to American history of Joseph Priestley.  As a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Chemical Landmark, the site features Priestley’s manor house with its laboratory.  In the nearby Pond Building can be found the Joseph Priestley Timeline, a series of panels that present accomplishments during different periods of his life.


Charter Day and Priestley Birthday Celebrations March 11

Posted January 9th, 2018

Priestley House will open for the 2018 season on Sunday, March 11, 2018  from 1 to 4 pm with clebrations of Commonwealth Charter Day and Priestley’s birthday.    Chemistry demonstrations at 1:30pm and 2:30 pm.

Free admission.

Joseph Priestley’s Letters to the Inhabitants of Northumberland and its Neighborhood

Posted December 13th, 2017

Joseph Priestley reached out to his Northumberland neighbors in 1799 book
Sunbury Press Inc. has released a modern edition of a 1799 book that scientist/clergyman Joseph Priestley published to rebut propagandist William Cobbett and other 18th century critics who faulted his views on politics and religion. Priestley lived in Northumberland, Pa., at the time.

Released as a paperback, the new volume retains the title of the original – “Letters to the Inhabitants of Northumberland and its Neighborhood” – that was published by Northumberland printer Andrew Kennedy. The new volume features modernized typography, spelling and punctuation.

The reissue of the book was sponsored by the non-profit Friends of the Joseph Priestley House, which operates the state-owned Joseph Priestley House in Northumberland as a museum. Three members of the Friends organization – Deb Bernhisel, Susan Brook and Tom Bresenhan – transcribed the letters using OCR text from Google and a scan of the first edition.

“We are delighted to release this new edition,” said Bresenhan, who coordinated the effort. “The Friends of Joseph Priestley House plan to release an updated version of other books written by Priestley while he lived in Northumberland.”

World famous for discovering oxygen, Priestley was 60 when he left England in self-imposed exile in 1794, bound for Pennsylvania. He took up residence in the village of Northumberland, and intended to devote his remaining years in pursuit of new scientific discoveries and in writing about religious and political themes. Instead, Priestley frequently came under attack and devoted much time and energy to answering his critics.
“It is commonly said that when much dirt is thrown, some will stick,” Priestley said in one letter.

“When he found himself increasingly unpopular and misunderstood by the people of his new hometown, Priestley responded by writing these letters,” said Northumberland author John L. Moore, who edited the revised book and wrote the foreword. “He explained his political and religious beliefs, but also told how, why and when he had become an honorary citizen of France; listed the reasons why he admired the U.S. Constitution; and justified his decision not to become a U.S. citizen.”

Copies of the book are available at the Joseph Priestley House and the Northumberland County Historical Society, Sunbury, Pa. They may also be ordered online from Sunbury Press, an independent publisher based in Mechanicsburg, PA and  in print or digital form from



Posted November 13th, 2017

The Susquehanna River Valley Heritage Alliance and PPL Electric Utilities are excited to announce the winner of their 2017 Time Traveler’s Passport Program. Keely and Aubrie Hostetter of Milton were the grand prize winners from the drawing. To qualify they visited the Lewisburg Post Office, Fort Augusta and Hunter House Museum, The Hotel Edison, Milton Historic Downtown Walking Tour, and World of Little League Museum and Official Store.
Under the umbrella of the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau and founded in 2010, the Susquehanna River Valley Heritage Alliance is comprised of historical societies and museums from Snyder, Northumberland, Union and Lycoming counties.  The alliance developed the 2017 Time Travelers Passport Program with the help of a $1,000 grant from PPL Electric Utility to celebrate and promote the region’s heritage at local historical sites and museums.

Keely Hostetter, center, receives grand prize from PPL Electric Utilities Regional Affairs Director, Tracie Witter (left) and Andrew Miller (right), Executive Director of Susquehanna River Valley Visitor Bureau.

Per PPL Electric Utilities Regional Affairs Director, Tracie Witter, “The members of the Susquehanna River Valley Heritage Alliance are to be commended for working on their second annual Passport Program.  PPL Electric Utilities is proud to support this local heritage initiative for the second year. This collaborative effort will bring our fascinating local history to life for children and adults alike.”
People who visited five or more participating historical sites and museums, and had their passports stamped through August 31, 2017, were eligible for a drawing to win the Grand Prize which includes four complementary tickets to the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Franklin Institute, plus a $500 prepaid credit card for

an overnight stay, meals, gas, and retail purchases.
Participating historical sites and museums included: Dale/Engle/Walker “1793” House, Elias Church/Elias Center for the Performing Arts, Fort Augusta and Hunter House Museum, The Hotel Edison, Joseph Priestly House Museum, Mifflinburg Buggy Museum, Milton Historic Downtown Walking Tour, Muncy Historical Society, Packwood House Museum, Post Office Artwork and Sculpture from the New Deal (Lewisburg Post Office, Mifflinburg Post Office, Muncy Post Office, Milton Post Office, Selinsgrove Post Office, and Northumberland Post Office), Slifer House Museum, and World of Little League Museum and Official Store.