Lance and Robin Van Auken

Lance and Robin Van Auken

I’m Robin Van Auken, a writer and a public archaeologist. Most days I work on writing, and I’ve authored more than a dozen books. Topics range from nonfiction history to fictional novels.

I teach American Archaeology at Lycoming College, Williamsport, PA, and direct multi-year, public archaeology projects, working with hundreds of students and volunteers, and educating thousands of visitors. I also teach Communications/Media Writing at Lycoming College, and direct its summer youth program, Lycoming College for Kids and Teens.

With my husband, Lance Van Auken, I operate Hands on Heritage, a consulting firm that helps its clients discover, explore, celebrate and share their cultural heritage through a variety of unique projects. Offering a range of historical research and interpretive services, we can help you tell your story in the format that suits your needs, while adhering to the highest standards of historical practice.

1507, 2016

Devil’s Den provides Lycoming College students with window into prehistoric river

The Devil's Den in Florida is a dramatic freshwater spring, and popular for scuba diving and snorkeling. To reach the Den, visitors must descend narrow, limestone steps to the karst. Lycoming College Nautical Archaeology [...]

1605, 2016

Solo Camping as a Writing Retreat

I spent a week solo camping, as a way to kick start my writing this summer. I viewed solo camping as a "Writing Retreat." My Constant Companion: Chubbers, an Australian Shepherd-Husky Mix. Confession: [...]

505, 2016

O’Sullivan and Civil War Ephemera

Interested in the ephemera of the Civil War? The National Archives has released thousands of documents and photographs from the American Civil War, and Wikimedia Commons is organizing them. Civil War Photo: Captain Harry [...]

1904, 2016

Kids Dig ‘Arch in the Park’

Muncy Historical Society, Northcentral Chapter 8, Lycoming College Unite to Offer One-of-a-Kind Archaeology Experience to Area Youth MUNCY -- Arch in the Park is a hands-on heritage program designed by students for students. Organized by [...]

3003, 2016

Grit Chronicles: Suffrage in Williamsport

On occasion, I share historic news reports and here's one of interest, in honor of Women's History Month. People don't often think of Suffrage as a community effort, but without commitment on the local level, [...]

2402, 2016

Our Milestone: 35 Years Together

We celebrated a milestone in the Van Auken family: our 35th wedding anniversary. I made a short video for my sweetheart that summarized some of the adventures we've had this past year, and I'm looking [...]

3112, 2015

Muncy Heritage Park Offers River Access

Muncy Heritage Park offers river access. MUNCY — River enthusiasts, canoeists and kayakers have another gorgeous access point to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, this one overlooking a significant historic site: [...]

2811, 2015

Get a Great Night’s Sleep

Have you, your family, or a friend ever had difficulty sleeping? For years, I've struggled with going to sleep and remaining asleep. I would lie awake for hours, agonizing over my "To Do" list or [...]

2109, 2015

Small Changes Ripple Outward

I spent a delightful 12 minutes today watching a Ted Talk by Shawn Achor, a psychologist who teaches about positivity and its effect on happiness. Shawn Achor(Photo courtesy Alexismbr, Wikimedia Commons) Not only [...]

1909, 2015

Hands on Heritage: Keeler Company

Hands on Heritage: Keeler Company The E. Keeler Company, manufacturers of boilers, etc., conduct Quo of the old industries of the city. The business was established in 1864 by J. Heathcote & Company, who conducted [...]

1709, 2015

Hands on Heritage: Market Square

Hands on Heritage: Market Square This 1875 photograph shows the southwest corner of Market Square in downtown Williamsport. Bustling with downtown traffic despite the muddy thoroughfares, Williamsport's booming lumber trade summoned entrepreneurs eager to capitalize [...]

909, 2015

Ask a Curator Day

We're all curious about what goes on behind closed doors, and that's true for museums and galleries and historical societies, as well as private residences. Spencer F. Baird, the first Curator of the National [...]

2005, 2015

Kickstart Your Writing with a Retreat

Crystal Lake Lodge I've been on a hiatus from my fiction writing career. It wasn't intentional; I let other tasks and chores get in the way, and failed to prioritize. My writing is [...]

1305, 2015

Crash Site Remains Worst Airline Disaster in Lycoming County History

Allegheny Airlines Flight 371 crash site One man's quest to memorialize the victims of the worst airline disaster in Lycoming County history, the crash of Allegheny Airlines Flight 371 on Bald Eagle Mountain, [...]

3004, 2015

Just Below Your Feet

Just Below Your Feet is Stephanie Bowen, right, and Sara Griggs A year ago, during American Archaeology Field School, one of my students asked about Cultural Resource Management in Pennsylvania. I told her [...]

2604, 2015

Ricketts Glen State Park

Ricketts Glen State Park in Benton, PA, is a haul up to the top of a mountain, but it's worth it!

1409, 2014

Grub Hub Camp Kitchen

Grub Hub Outdoor Camping Kitchen If you're in the market for a camp kitchen, you should be looking at the Grub Hub Outdoor Camping Kitchen. This amazing, patented contraption is easy to setup [...]

2106, 2014

Outdoors with Jerry Zeidler

I first met Jerry Zeidler while on assignment for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. At the time, he was a  Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation officer and I visited his office for background on an article. We chatted and became [...]

1707, 2013

Lost No More: Alvira and the Ordnance

In 1942, after America entered World War II, its citizens were asked to sacrifice much for the war effort. Gasoline, sugar, butter and silk were rationed and entire communities rallied behind scrap and tire drives. [...]

2904, 2013

Heritage Downloads

My History Is America's History This free eBook, "My History Is America's History: 15 Things You Can Do to Save America's Stories," is a guidebook to help families and individuals to explore family history and [...]

2404, 2013

Public Archaeology

Public Archaeology As a historical archaeologist, I work with museums and non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, public and private schools, and avocational archaeology groups.  Services I offer include: Field trips Field schools Hands-on [...]

1103, 2013

The Advocates Marched On

March is Women's History Month, and to celebrate, here's an awesome chronicle from the Library of Congress on Suffrage: 100 Years Ago Today: "A Declaration of Independence We Celebrate," The Washington Herald, March 3, 1913 [...]

2702, 2013

Social Applications

If you are considering adding social media and other interactive elements to your public relations and marketing plan, here is a comprehensive list of the more popular and effective applications. The bottom line is that [...]

2702, 2013

WordPress Tutorials

So you want to use WordPress but not sure how to go about it? Wordpress WordPress is a popular CMS used by companies, large and small, as well as individuals. There are two [...]

2702, 2013

Google Apps & YouTube

Google and YouTube If you're not using Google, then you need to consider all that this amazing company has to offer. Most amazing of all is that it is free, open-source and easy [...]

801, 2013

The Man Who Invented the Future: Jules Verne’s Legacy

Jules Verne It's been more than 100 years since the world mourned the passing of Jules Verne, "the man who invented the future." He died March 24, 1905 in Amiens, France. I've been [...]

501, 2013

Man of Grit: Dietrick Lamade and the Williamsport Grit

Man of Grit: Dietrick Lamade and the Williamsport Grit By Robin Van Auken   A newsboy delivers Grit to a rural customer. Americans recall the Grit Sunday newspaper with nostalgia. For more than [...]

610, 2012

‘Last Flight Out’ Is A State of Mind

Which way to go? When leaves begin to fall and the temperatures drop, my thoughts generally turn towards sunny locales and my favorite sunny spot, Key West. If you’ve been there, you know [...]

2304, 2012

Stewards of the Past

Loch Ness, Scotland I thwarted my husband’s vacation plans. Days before he purchased tickets for a Caribbean cruise, I suggested Scotland. In the blink of an eye, I wasted months he spent researching [...]

1804, 2012

Books by Van Auken

  "'Play Ball!' is a delightful walk down the storied history of Little League Baseball. For those of us who played the dreams of your youth, it brings back mighty memories. For those of us [...]

2402, 2012

Canfield Island

Canfield Island overlooks the Susquehanna's West Branch Canfield Island is a recent addition to the Susquehanna shoreline, having been added during the 19th century during Northcentral Pennsylvania's lumber boom. But, before sawyers toiled [...]

2402, 2012

The Heritage Trail

Archaeologist James Bressler visits Riverfront Heritage Park named in his honor. A stroll along the James P. Bressler Heritage Trail on Canfield Island is invigorating and educational. It's also tranquil, this quiet spot [...]

1411, 2011

Hobie Makes Kayaks

Hobie Mirage Kayaks Hobie, a leading catamaran design company, expanded and introduced a line of sit-on-top kayaks, fishing kayaks and float cats. One of its more useful boats for use on local creeks, [...]

108, 2011

School Days

Working with Muncy Historical Society and the students (past and present) of Muncy Jr/Sr High School, historian Robin Van Auken created a 30-minute DVD oral history project that features 35 alumni and current student interviews. [...]

3107, 2011

Pennsylvania’s Forests

Pennsylvania Route 554 Pennsylvania’s forests reflect a history of choices — from peaceful coexistence between humans and the forests to the massive harvesting of the forests in the late 1800s. Pennsylvania’s borders encompass [...]

3107, 2011

Lumber Heritage

Woodhicks The Lumber Heritage Region holds a key to the rich heritage of Pennsylvania’s forests–from the struggles of the pioneers to the cut-and-run practices of the early lumber industry to the conservation efforts [...]

2806, 2011

Mighty Susquehanna

The Susquehanna is a shallow river that flows about 440 miles, from Cooperstown to the Chesapeake Bay. Nearly 200 years ago, canals were used to transport goods and people instead of the river. Canal boats [...]

2806, 2011

Shawn Gardner

Shawn Gardner Artisan Shawn Gardner, of Fair Chase Designs, presents on prehistoric technology and Native American art. This is presentation is suitable for people of all ages, including families and school-aged children. Gardner [...]

2806, 2011

Barbara Barnes

Barbara Barnes' art vessels reflect a keen appreciation for nature in shapes and colors. She uses interactive glazes, often firing multiple times until she gets the results that mimic the hues of earth, flora, fire [...]

2806, 2011

Joy McCracken

Joy McCracken Joy McCracken is a spinning and weaving expert. McCracken demonstrates the craft of creating fabric from animal hair to students. One of her specialties is drop spindle spinning, an early technique [...]

2706, 2011


The New Canoe She’s gone. Dan picked “To Blave” up one bitter, cold day in April and headed for Wisconsin. He sent us a note; he and his son finally went sailing after [...]

2706, 2011

Muncy Historical Society

Muncy Historical Society   Muncy Historical Society and Museum of History, a not-for-profit, all volunteer organization founded in 1936, focuses on preservation and conservation of the rich history and heritage of Muncy and [...]

2706, 2011

A Monument to Exodusters

DUNLAP, Kansas -- On a lonely, country road in Dunlap, Kan., a monument to the memory of Exodusters soars. An engraved stainless steel plaque stretches between two pillars of limestone and marks the family [...]

2804, 2011

Moving On

We sold our Precision 15K, an excellent starter sailboat. Hold on, I have to wipe a tear from my eye. It moved to Wisconsin. A local judge there wants to use it on [...]

2304, 2011

Lakes are Great for Beginners

The temperature simmered in the mid-90s last Sunday, but it did not deter the sailors from a rendezvous at Rose Valley Lake. As the bass boats trailered out, sailboats took their spot. There [...]

804, 2011

Van Wagner

Van Wagner Since he was a child, Van Wagner has been singing, strumming, rambling, and picking his way through the hills of Pennsylvania. With more than 100 original songs under his belt, and co-production of nine albums, Van has developed a unique style of musical expression. He has performed several times in Europe as well as all over the United States. His style is a hybrid of influences from bluegrass to blues. His songs tell the story of growing up in rural America. Coal mining, iron milling, lumbering, religion, and farming all work their way into Wagner’s songs. His hometown of Danville Pennsylvania is often the focus of his songs. Danville’s people, places, and rich history continue to inspire Wagner to write about small town life. […]

2703, 2011

The Brady Legend

Conflict between American Indians and white people escalated during the last two decades of the 18th century. War -- both declared and undeclared -- made for "dark and gloomy days," according to historian John F. Meginness in his 1,268-page tome, "History of Lycoming County" (1892).

2703, 2011

Historical Mix-Up

Richard and Miriam Mix, experts on regional history as well as America's past, authored a book, “A Bicentennial Postcard History of Williamsport,” which contains colorful postcards and illustrations of pre-World War I Williamsport and the region, and was published by the Lycoming County Genealogical Society just in time for the City of Williamsport's bicentennial in 2006.

2703, 2011

Widow Smith’s Walk

While Michael Ross was settling the City of Williamsport, selling parcels of land to frontier families and immigrants, another enterprising resident of the West Branch Valley was being hoodwinked from her home and business. [...]

2703, 2011

A Heroic Duo

Rachel Silverthorn warns the settlers (WPA mural) While Gen. George Washington's Continental Army fought the British, settlers along the Susquehanna River also considered themselves at war with the displaced Indians. Conflicts escalated daily. [...]

2703, 2011

Long Reach

Coin found at Long Reach Archaeology Dig Historic preservation is an admirable, though difficult, goal to obtain. Preservation works best in communities that have programs managed at the local government level. In 2003, [...]

2703, 2011

Rewards for Indian Scalps

During the tumultuous years leading up to the French and Indian War, early settlers in Northcentral Pennsylvania had two choices: They could leave the fertile valleys of the Susquehanna, or take their chances with sporadic Indian raids during which farms were destroyed and entire families would be slaughtered.

2703, 2011

Indians of Susquehanna

Indians of Susquehanna Prehistoric Indians skillfully managed the natural bounty of the Susquehanna River region by living in accordance with the seasons. They hunted, fished, gathered nuts, berries and other wild foods, and [...]

2703, 2011

Lycoming County: Williamsport Firsts

Scott Barn in The Narrows, Lycoming County Williamsport, Pennsylvania is a small metropolis with a dramatic history. Famous throughout the world for its impressive forest products, it once boasted more millionaires per capita [...]

3101, 2011

Knots and Some Do Nots

Learn how ot handle lines properly There’s value in sailors learning how to properly tie a knot because a bad thing can happen with poorly tied knots: The boat could drift away. A [...]

309, 2010

Birthplace of ‘Grit’

Famous in the 19th century for its lumber products, Williamsport, Pennsylvania is a small mountainous town. Situated on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, its residents enjoyed easy access to virgin forests of hemlock [...]

907, 2010

Sunday Grit: A Newspaper Legacy

Sunday Grit Make room on the shelf for another book about local history. Written by author Robin Van Auken and published by Ogden Newspapers, parent company of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, “Sunday Grit: A [...]

2806, 2010

Boat No. 2

  I admit it — I’ve been waffling. There are so many awesome boats available and every time I go to a boat show I fall in love with a new one. Or [...]

1106, 2010

My History Is America’s

The Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial, located at the City Dock in historic Annapolis, is the only memorial in the country that commemorates the actual name and place of arrival of an enslaved African. The [...]

1106, 2010

My History Is America’s

If you've ever wanted to know who you are and where you came from, you're not alone. More than 100 million Americans are looking for their roots, a remarkable explosion in genealogical research inspired, in [...]

3105, 2010

Newport in the Winter

Newport, RI NEWPORT, RI – Seagulls surf the bitter wind off Narragansett Bay as a lone lobster boat chugs home. By January, the blue bay in Newport, the “Sailing Capital of the World,” [...]

3105, 2010

Head for Mile Marker Zero

KEY WEST— It is time for the annual migration of snowbirds. Houses are secured, SUVs are packed, and neighbors are waved farewell. Those fortunate enough to have a lifestyle that allows them to [...]

3105, 2010

Snorkeling the Tortugas

DRY TORTUGAS – If you can swim – okay, if you can float – then you can snorkel and the best snorkeling in North America is at Dry Tortugas National Park, nearly 70 [...]

3105, 2010

Where Is the Best Boat Show?

MIAMI BEACH – The traffic had stalled on Collins Avenue, also known as A1A. Drivers didn’t seem to mind; their eyes were glued on the mega yachts moored in the nearby canal, part [...]

3105, 2010

Visit Annapolis Offseason

The Maryland State House is the oldest in continuous legislative use in the United States.  Visit Annapolis Offseason ANNAPOLIS, MD – If winter winds on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island aren’t your cup [...]

3105, 2010

Which eReader Do You Need?

The eReader is emerging as a true friend of the reader: they're useful, entertaining and you can have thousands of eBooks on your virtual bookcase without taking up valuable space. If you don't know much [...]

3105, 2010

Consider Trailer Sailing

  Living in Northcentral Pennsylvania is advantageous for land-locked sailors. In addition to several large lakes and reservoirs nearby, boaters can use the Finger Lakes of New York. Trailering a boat from Williamsport [...]

3105, 2010


Daysailing can be a solo activity or a sport, such as racing around the bouys Daysailing, also called dinghy cruising, has been described as "a magical way of exploring new coastlines and experiencing [...]

3005, 2010

Swallows & Amazons

Barbecued Billygoats! You mean you haven't read Swallows and Amazons or any of the other books in the 12-volume series? Technically, we're all supposed to read these books when we're children, but if [...]

304, 2010

Man of Grit

Grit employees "Grit" began as a Saturday supplement of Williamsport’s “Daily Sun and Banner,” published in 1882. It was a short-lived venture and, in 1884, Dietrick Lamade bought the enterprise. Lamade, a German [...]

2703, 2010

‘Madame’ Montour

New World history is filled with tales of frontier adventure, and here in the Susquehanna Valley, one of the most interesting tales is that of "Madame" Montour and the lost village of Otstonwakin. Her life is [...]

1502, 2010

Learn to Sail the Right Way

Learn to Sail Captain Gardner Lloyd of Flagship Sailing We made the decision to learn how to sail and to purchase a sailboat in 2005 so we took Basic Keelboat (BKB [...]

702, 2010

Easy on the Hooptedoodle

Making your writing last and last and last Elmore Leonard's Rules for Writing Don't write what the reader will skip over anyhow. Never open your book with weather. Never begin with a prologue [...]

205, 2009

Thinking Like Leonardo

'Leda' from Leonardo's sketchbook I've been pondering the concept of a New Renaissance. On the topic, Parade magazine's resident genius Marilyn Vos Savant once wrote she would: "... found a school for art [...]

2112, 2008

Greenwich: Where Time Begins

GREENWICH, England – This is where East meets West. This also is where Time begins and when the New Year begins, this is where the first clock chimes the midnight hour. Each day [...]

2112, 2007

Your Ticket to Rome

ROME, Italy – Despite best intentions to relax and to slowly wander the city and ruins, a visit to Rome is guaranteed to cause anxiety because there is so much to see and [...]

2806, 2007

Tony Smith’s Small Boat

ANNAPOLIS, Md — Tony Smith, designer and builder of the 28-foot Telstar trimaran and the 35-foot Gemini catamaran, has retired and has hit the road — as promised — traveling the countryside with his wife, [...]

811, 2006

Finding a Small Boat

We purchased a Precision 15K in March 2006 after investigating small, trailerable boats that we could tow with our Chrysler Sebring. We can only tow 1,000 pounds, so the boat had to be [...]

702, 2006

Getting Published Requires Homework

Getting  Published So you're one of 20 million Americans who want to write a book. If you've already written a manuscript, chances are you're looking for agent representation. As an editor, I've had [...]

512, 2005

Small press publishers fill the niche

Dedication and faith are the foundations of many small press and independent publishers. By printing primarily what interests them and focusing on authors they trust, this group is growing rapidly. Whereas many major [...]

2406, 2004

Small Publishers in the Making

  If you've thought of small publishing houses as recent developments in the print world then you might be surprised to learn that the small publisher has been around for centuries. Some of [...]