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

Literature in Stone: The Hundred Year History of Pennsylvania’s State Capitol

Edited by Ruthann Hubbert-Kemper and Jason L. Wilson
Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee, 2006; 384 pages, cloth, $29.95

The Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee knows how to celebrate a milestone, dramatically evidenced by its publication of Literature in Stone: The Hundred YearHistory of Pennsylvania’s State Capitol, an extravagantly illustrated chronicle of one of the most beautiful buildings in the United States. Anything less would have been wholly inadequate.

Literature in Stone is one of those rare books that will be savored and cherished long beyond the anniversary which it had accompanied. It opens at the very beginning of Pennsylvania’s history with an introduction entitled “Our Legacy from William Penn,” describing the founder’s vision for his colony in the New World, a settlement offering religious tolerance and freedom from political persecution to all who followed him to this new land of promise and prosperity. Given this solid foundation, the first chapter traces the history and locations of the Commonwealth’s early seats of government and capitol buildings, from Chester in 1682, to Philadelphia the following year, to Lancaster in 1799 and, finally, to Harrisburg in 1812.

The book chronicles the history of the building in Harrisburg designed by Stephen Hills that housed the state legislature and various state departments until destroyed by fire on February 2, 1897 – seventy-five years and a month to the day after its dedication on January 2, 1822.

The epic story of the present-day State Capitol, arising like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes is a dramatic saga involving thousands of individuals whose lives were touched by the building of the magnificent structure: legislators, governors, artists, craftsmen, artisans, stonecutters, decorators, carpenters, newspaper reporters, judges, lobbyists, and ordinary folk who traipsed its hallowed halls, their walls adorned with opulent fixtures, decorations, and paintings, and floors covered in the rich mosaic tiles created by Henry Chapman Mercer of Doylestown, Bucks County. This is a compelling narrative of the men and women who played an intimate role in erecting and decorating one of the most splendid public buildings in the country, among them architect Joseph M. Huston, muralist Edwin Austin Abbey, artist Violet Oakley, and stained glass master William Van Ingen.

Literature in Stone brims with revealing illustrations of the master artists and artisans and their handiwork, as well as rare and vintage images of the building site before, during, and after construction. As an added bonus, the book includes a copiously illustrated section devoted to the painstaking restoration of the State Capitol during the past twenty-five years by the Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee, which will note its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2007. Individuals interested in twentieth-century politics, architecture, fine and decorative arts, vintage photographs, historic preservation and yes, scandals and scoundrels,will undoubtedly find this lavishly designed volume to be nothing less than a “must have.” The book’s title, incidentally, is taken from an 1895 booklet by Houston, the architect, who buried a copy in the piers of one of main dome pillars, deep in the subbasement, on January 5, 1903, just as construction was beginning.

 

A Bicentennial Postcard History of Williamsport

By Richard L. Mix and Miriam S. Mix
Lycoming County Historical Society, 2005; 160 pages, paper, $25.00

To observe the two hundredth anniversary of Williamsport’s founding, in 1806,the Lycoming County Genealogical Society has published A Bicentennial Postcard History of Williamsport the graphically celebrates the north-central Pennsylvania community’s history and heritage. Ephemera, particularly the penny postcard that was wildly popular at the opening of the twentieth century, tells much about civic pride, community boosterism, and public perception. With well more than one hundred vintage postcards – complemented by photographs, drawings, and documents – the book presents Williamsport’s history through images of municipal buildings and public works, commerce, industry, daily life, schools, parks and recreation, neighborhoods, churches, and transportation. Many of the old postcards have been reproduced in color, which lends an undeniable charm and period feel to the images. In addition to discussions and depictions of local landmarks, including the Academy of Music and the Lycoming Opera House, and important personages, such as Michael Ross and Peter Herdic, the book includes chapters devoted to the region’s nineteenth-century lumber boom, Williamsport’s historic Market Square, Dickinson Seminary, West Branch Canal, and Sylvan Dell Park. Each image is accompanied by explanatory text – more a brief narrative – offering historical background and context rather than merely an identifying caption. Readers interested in Pennsylvania’s industry (especially lumbering), transportation (canals, railroads, and trolleys), and architecture (residential, commercial, and religious), will find A Bicentennial Postcard History of Williamsport to be as engaging as it is visually informative.

 

Pittsburgh and the Appalachians: Cultural and Natural resources in a Postindustrial Age

Edited by Joseph L. Scarpaci with Kevin J. Patrick
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006; 264 pages, cloth; $30.00

Few American cities reflect the challenges and promise of a twenty-first-century economy better than Pittsburgh and its surrounding region. Once a titan of the industrial age, Pittsburgh flourished from the benefits of its waterways, location, and natural resources – bituminous coal to fire steel furnaces, salt and sand for glassmaking, gas, oil, and just enough ore to spark an early oil industry. Today, like many cities located in the manufacturing triangle that stretches from Boston to Duluth to St. Louis, Pittsburgh has made the transition to a service-based economy.

Pittsburgh and the Appalachians: Cultural and Natural resources in a Postindustrial Age presents a collection of eighteen essays that explore the advantages and disadvantages that Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and the surrounding region face in the new global economy, from the perspectives of technology, natural resources, workforce, and geography. It offers an extensive examination of the processes and factors that have transformed much of industrial western Pennsylvania during the past half-century, and shows how other cities can learn from the steps Pittsburgh has taken through redevelopment, acquisition of green space, air and water quality improvement, cultural revival, and public-private partnerships to create a more livable, economically viable region for present and future populations.

Pittsburgh and the Appalachians includes more than seventy-five illustrations, among them drawings, maps, charts, and vintage photographs,in addition to references accompanying each chapter.

 

These Just In…

A number of new and recent books about Pennsylvania history have been received by Pennsylvania Heritage‘s editorial staff, which has not had the opportunity to review them, but wishes to share news of their availability with readers.

“Rememb’ring our Time and Work is the Lords”: The Experiences of Quakers on the Eighteenth-Century Pennsylvania Frontier, by Karen Guenther, published by Susquehanna University Press, 2005; 251 pages, cloth, $52.50.

Musical Service: The Life and Times of the Franklin Silver Cornet Band, by Peter A. Greene, published by Xlibris Corporation, 2006; 421 pages, paper, $21.24.

The Life of Benjamin Franklin, Volume II:Printer and Publisher, 1730-1747, by J.A. Leo Lemay, published by University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005; 648 pages, cloth, $39.95.

Gettysburg Remembers President Lincoln: Eyewitness Accounts of November 1863, by Linda Giberson Black, published by Thomas Publications, 2005; 80 pages, paper, $8.95.

The Vendue Masters: Tales from within the Walls of America’s Oldest Auction House, by Roland Arkell and Catherine Saunders-Watson, published by the Antique Collectors’ Club, 2005; 200 pages, cloth, $35.00.

The Pennsylvania Celebrities Cook-book, edited by John E. Schlimm I1 and Steven K. Troha, published by Stohn Books Inc., 2005; 189 pages, paper, $13.95.

Keep A-goin’: The Life of Lone Star Dietz, by Tom Benjey, published by Tuxedo Press, 2006; 356 pages, paper, $19.95.

Witness to Gettysburg:Inside the Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War, by Richard Wheeler, published by Stackpole Books, 2006; 273 pages, paper, $19.95.

Images of America: Minersville, by Ronald M. Coleman and Joseph E. Szeliga, published by Arcadia Publishing, 2006; 127 pages, paper, $19.99.

Insider’s Guide to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, by Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, published by the Lobe Pequot Press, 2006; 274 pages, paper, $17.95.

Metropolitan Philadelphia: Living with the Presence of the Past, by Steven Conn, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006; 274 pages, paper, $19.95.

Images of America: New Hope, Lahaska, and Buckingham, by Nichole Y. Stella and Jenifer L. Stella, published by Arcadia Publishing, 2005; 128 pages, paper, $19.99.

Pennsylvania Elections: Statewide Contests from 1950-2004, by John J. Kennedy, published by the University Press of America, 2006; 203 pages, paper, $31.95

Devastation on the Delaware: Stories and Images of the Deadly Flood of 1955, by Mary A. Shafer, published by Word Forge Books, 2005; 452 pages, paper, $19.95.

Images of America: The Lehigh Valley Cement Industry, by Carol M. Front, Joan Minton Christopher, and Martha Capwell Fox, published by Arcadia Publishing, 2005; 128 pages, paper, $19.99.

Ned Smith’s Game News Covers: The Complete Collection, introduction by Scott Weidensaul, published by Stackpole Books, 2005; 144 pages, paper, $24.95.

Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910, by Kali N. Gross, published by Duke University Press, 2006; 280 pages, paper, $21.95.