Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

County Courthouses of Pennsylva­nia: A Guide

By Oliver P. Williams
Stackpole Books, 2001 (244 pages, paper, $19.95)

An admitted “full-fledged courthouse junkie,” the author traces his interest in county courthouses, courthouse squares, and their immediate surroundings to a curiosity piqued by plaques, monuments, and fountains bearing witness to some aspect of local history. His resulting book, County Courthouses of Pennsylvania: A Guide, emphasizes the more historic buildings, interpreting them architecturally, historically, politically, and not infrequently, socially, with the intent of helping visitors (and readers) appreci­ate the significance of each structure. The guide describes many courthouses using an adaptation of the procedures outlined for documenting buildings nominated to the National Register of Historic Places (which is administered in the Commonwealth by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Bureau for Historic Preservation). The premise of the guide is quite basic: the joy of seeing each building is enhanced by knowledge. The author contends the first thing to know about courthouses is that they were (and are) built with public funds, and their designs are chosen and approved by people who stand for election; hence, in a sense, this is a guide to a particular category of political art and architecture. It is about what communities, primarily counties and county seats, have thought what their public buildings, memorials, monuments, murals, and statues should look like at particular places and times. Public art tends more to follow prevailing fashion than to be innovative. Local elected officials are rarely great risk takers, particularly in the area of public aesthetics, which means they often copy what politicians have built in other areas. The result is that courthouses built during a particular period tend to share a number of design similarities. The author further believes that public buildings are influenced by their functions, and so a modicum of knowledge of government and its emergence over time aids in better understanding the architecture. What follows the introduction, which also includes a discussion of architectural styles, is an alphabetized guide – from Adams to York Counties – of the sixty-seven buildings in the Keystone State housing county governments. Each entry contains a description of the courthouse, its history, information about the architect and builder (if known), building materials, and significant works of art. The author writes in an intelligent and easily accessible style, often punctuating his interpretation of county histories with anecdotal information, which is as intriguing as it is illuminating. County Courthouses of Pennsylvania concludes with a timeline of extant buildings by style, a glossary, a listing of sources, and an index. This guidebook will be especially appealing to individuals interested in architecture, county government, and historic preservation.


Sweet Land of Liberty: The Ordeal of the American Revolution in Northampton County, Pennsylvania

By Francis S. Fox
Penn State University, 2000 (212 pages, cloth, $29.95)

It is often said that the American Revolution was a conservative rebellion, but in many parts of the British colonies the Revolutionary War was anything but conservative. Sweet Land of Liberty: The Ordeal of the American Revolution in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, follows the war in the Commonwealth’s backcountry through the experiences of eighteen men and women who lived in Northampton County during these years of turmoil. This account may startle readers for whom the American Revolution symbolizes the high-minded pursuit of liberty. In 1774, Northampton County was the second largest of Pennsylvania’s eleven counties, comprising more than twenty-five hundred square miles, three towns (Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton), and some fifteen thousand residents. When war broke out, militias took control. Frontier justice replaced the rule of law as zealous patriots preoccupied themselves not with fighting the British but with seizing local political power and persecuting their pacifist neighbors. As war fever gripped Northampton County, inhabitants who refused to join the militia were ostracized and denounced as enemies of the county. Radicals in the county silenced residents who hoped Congress would negotiate with Great Britain. When the rebels closed Pennsylvania’s courts, a select committee of Northampton citizens vowed to maintain law and order in the county. Hearsay and anecdotal evidence marked these proceedings. Individuals whom zealous patriots had identified as suspected Tories were arrested and jailed. This committee issued summonses and dispatched squads of armed militiamen to apprehend persons who disregarded its authority. It extracted confessions, levied fines, and published the names and offenses of the guilty in Philadelphia newspapers. Vigilante justice thrived in Northampton County – and the Revolutionary War burst forth seemingly overnight. Committee members ruled the county with courts of inquiry and armed guards. Extremists marched to their own drummer. Undeclared martial law spread fear throughout the county. Sweet Land of Liberty brings the American Revolution to life with sketches of individuals caught up in it. Among these participants were Lewis Gordon, a longtime servant of the king, who could not find his way in the storm; Isaac Klinkerfuss, a Hessian soldier, who found a bride and a home in a hostile territory; Eve Yoder and Esther Bachman, who refused to be evicted from their homes; Joseph Romig, who stood up to local tyrants, only to be denounced as a traitor; and John Wetzel and John Ettwein, who engaged in a struggle that exhausted both men and left their followers worse off for it. Seldom is the story of the American Revolution told from the vantage point of common folks, let alone those in the backcountry, but Sweet Land of Liberty takes their stories to present the war and its impact on Northampton County in a new light for today’s readers.


Bound to Be A Soldier: The Letters of Private James T. Miller, 111th Pennsylvania Infantry, 1861-1864

Edited by Jedediah Mannis and Galen R Wilson
University of Tennessee Press, 2001 (244 pages, cloth, $30.00)

An untutored Pennsylvania farmer, James T. Miller (1831- 1864) was thirty-one years old when he left his wife of four years, Susan Ann Main Miller (1829-1919), and their three children in Warren County to serve in the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. Although his writing was far from polished, he was nevertheless blessed with descriptive and evocative powers that shine through the letters he wrote home to his family. The editors note that Miller wrote many more letters than those that survive, conceding that all letters concerning some major campaigns and battles in which he took part are lost. As a conventional Civil War history, Miller’s letters are woefully incomplete. He did not offer a detailed analysis of military maneuvers; he was not a tactician. He gave no chronology of Civil war events or even a history of the 111th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry; he was not a historian. Nonetheless, his letters captivate and engross. They reveal a fascinating personality as Miller reflected on how he happened to be in the middle of war. The letters unfold an enigmatic series of contradictions: this is key to the correspondent’s charm. He brought stories to life with heated descriptions of family conflicts, yet remains utterly detached from the larger drama of war, falling back on a cerebral understanding of service, duty, and patriotism, memorized by rote. Miller had no difficulty expressing anger and pride, but he fiercely guarded any embarrassment or disappointment he felt when reduced to private after a brief stint as a corporal. After joining the 111th Pennsylvania Infantry, James T. Miller saw action at Gettysburg, Cedar Mountain, and Chancellorsville. He died at the 1864 Battle of Peachtree Creek, just before the fall of Atlanta. Drawing readers close to his heart and mind, this collection presents a powerful sense of an ordinary soldier’s experience. in its entirety. His descriptions of his fellow soldiers before, during, and after battle are particularly striking. Equally compelling are his thoughts about home-including anxiety over his separation from his family as well as his fury at his brothers, who had bought their way out of military service. Bound to Be A Soldier: The Letters of Private James T. Miller, 111th Pennsylvania Infantry, 1861-1864, presents a common person’s critique of military policy and civilian society during wartime in a rough-hewn style that breathes life into historic events.


Making Houses, Crafting Capitalism

By Donna J. Rilling
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001 (261 pages, cloth, $45.00)

In the decades following the American Revolution, as Philadelphia became a center of political and economic power, the city experienced extraordinary population growth, increasing from sixty thousand to four hundred thousand inhabitants be­tween 1790 and 1850. By tracing the business strategies of several hundred house builders during this period – a medley of tradi­tional craft workers, emerging entrepreneurs, and hustling speculators – Making Houses, Crafting Capitalism dissects the com­plex process by which thousands of row houses were constructed and sold, and shows how craftsmen were at the cen­ter of this dramatic physical and economic expansion. Simultaneously assuming the roles of craftsmen, entrepreneurs, supervisors, and demi-architects, the master builders of Philadel­phia survived much longer as independent business owners and were more influenced than their peers in other cities of Jackson­ian America. Facing an ever-changing economic and urban landscape, and encouraged by wealthy Philadelphia families to undertake the financial risks associated with construction, small capitalists exercised great flexibility in their business practices. Early nineteenth-century Philadelphia house artisans also formu­lated an important new strategy: they acquired credit and built on speculation. Such practices drew them deeply into a competi­tive and volatile economy, and artisans in the Philadelphia construction trades responded as spirited, innovative entrepre­neurs who plunged wholeheartedly into the dangers and rewards of capitalism. When credit flowed, they competed for contracts to build ten, twenty, even forty houses at a time. When business slowed during the economic depressions of the period, they ferreted out small jobs, repairs, renovations, and custom work. Making Houses, Crafting Capitalism, follows the work of en­trepreneurial builders, from the procurement of bricks and mortar to the eventual marketing of finished houses. By tracing these activities, the author demonstrates the diverse ways that capital markets, worksites, raw materials, and the real estate business changed over six decades. The author opens the world of artisans to reveal their creative impact on the Philadelphia economy and the ways they exploited the shifting organization of work and capital to secure their financial independence. The practices of the aggressive craftsmen profiled in Making Houses, Crafting Capitalism, will undoubtedly enrich and complicate the ways students and scholars think about small producers and their role in America’s nineteenth-century economy.