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

Historic Houses of Philadelphia

by Roger W. Moss
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998 (256 pages, cloth,$34.95)

Sumptuous, a word frequently used by restaurant reviewers and critics of haute cuisine, aptly describes Historic Houses of Philadelphia, the latest fare by Roger W. Moss, known widely for his books on Victorian era architecture and ornamentation. Fifty historic houses, mansions, and historic house museums of the greater Philadelphia area (including nearby New Jersey) are show­cased in this tantalizing selection. The book features more than one hundred and fifty striking photographs by Torn Crane, whose work has appeared in Architectural Digest, House and Garden, House Beautiful, and Interior Design. Readers will discover – and redis­cover – familiar landmarks such as the Betsy Ross House and the Bishop White House in center-city Philadelphia; Lemon Hill and Sweetbrier in Fairmount Park; Stenton, Cliveden, and the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Germantown; Andalusia and Pennsbury Manor on the banks of the Delaware River; and a host of historic properties in Chester, Montgomery, and Bucks Counties. Armchair travelers will also discover lesser known historical and architectural delicacies, from the circa 1775 Todd House in Philadelphia to Bryn Mawr’s Harriton, built in 1704. Historic Houses of Philadelphia brings the region’s most impressive museum homes to life. The only comprehensive readers’ tour of the area’s rich array of his­toric residences open to the public, the book is complete with maps, visiting information, and historical background. Entries for each attraction open with basic facts – proper name, location, date of construction, and architect – followed by a description placing the house in its architectural, historical, social, and cultural con­text. Each entry includes information about the historic property’s architectural style, the individual or family for whom it was built, the important events connected with it, and characteristics and furnishings that make it remarkable. Cedar Grove in Fairmount Park, for instance, may be considered by some to be of modest ar­chitectural interest, but its noteworthy collection of original objects belonging to the city’s prominent Paschall and Morris families sets it apart from other historic houses in the park and elevates it to a special category of house museums whose original furnishings survive in context, truly a circumstance regrettably rare in America. Historic Houses of Philadelphia is an extraordinary visual feast of landmarks originally constructed as residences and now operated and interpreted for public education and enjoyment on a regular schedule and without prior appointment.


Smokestacks and Black Diamonds: A History of Carbon County, Pennsylva­nia

by Joan Campion
Canal History and Technology Press, 1998 (300 pages, paper, $29.50; cloth, $39.50)

In the deep wilderness valley lay forests, rivers, streams, and rising mountains – a rugged, beautiful terrain. Then came the discovery of “black diamonds” – rich deposits of anthracite that swiftly transformed the region to a crucible of industry and a des­tination for waves of immigrants embarking on a new life in America. At the heart of this region, intersected by the Lehigh and Mahoning Valleys, is Carbon County, home to a succession of great industries that helped create modern America: coal mining, zinc, canals, railroads, and the garment and textile trades (see “Carbon County: Stone Coal in the Switzerland of America” by Michael J. Knies, Winter 1989). Smokestacks and Black Diamonds is a highly evocative account of Carbon County in both words and pic­tures, as well as a genuine celebration of the history and development of the events and the people that chiseled their in­delible imprint on the region. Several contributors collaborated on this book, and the clarity and insightfulness of their descriptions bring all the stories to life. The book opens with familiar historical events, people, and institutions, such as the discovery of coal, Colonel Jacob Weiss, canal builders Josiah White and Erskine Haz­ard, railroad magnate Asa Packer (see “‘Your Future Depends on Yourself’: Asa Packer as the Self-Made Man” by Lorett Treese in the fall 1998 issue), the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, and the ele­gant St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. An essay, “When Old Mauch Chunk Was Young,” is accompanied by an exquisite late nine­teenth-century engraving of the community, known since 1953 as Jim Thorpe, which shows the steep mountains and picturesque valleys that inspired the epithet “The Switzerland of America.” Other chapters deal with the impact of the coal trade on the region and its economy, the building of canals and later the railroads, and the tragedies of the Molly Maguires, the Jeanesville Mine Disaster, and the Lattimer Massacre in neighboring Luzerne County. Seem­ingly every aspect of Carbon County’s history is covered – from the earliest days to the present in communities as diverse as Palmerton, Lehighton, Packerton, Weatherly, Lansford, Nesque­honing, Weissport, Summit Hill, Bowmanstown, Parryville, Andreas, Normal Square, Beaver Meadows, New Mahoning, and Aquashicola. But that would not be sufficient to make Smokestacks and Black Diamonds such a memorable work. It is clearly the enor­mous affection and great respect for the region held by each of the book’s contributors that give the rich tone to its pages, and are the greatest assets in a work of many strengths.


Seeing Reds: Federal Surveillance of Radicals in the Pittsburgh Mill Dis­trict, 1917-1921

by Charles H. McCormick
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997 (244 pages, cloth, $37.50)

Federal domestic surveillance occupies a dark and uncomfort­able corner of the national psyche – so the author of Seeing Reds reminds the reader in the introduction to this astonishing history of Americans spying on Americans during and just after World War I. With the nation’s sudden entry into the war in 1917, Presi­dent Woodrow W. Wilson needed to centralize and expand federal power as never before. Wartime government managers infused the bureaucracy with private sector concerns and techniques. At first an illusive host of German spies and sympathizers was the target of mushrooming surveillance activities. Next, given the pro-busi­ness predilections of mum of the wartime bureaucracy, the focus shifted to the control and defeat of left-wing labor and political or­ganizations. To identify troublemakers and squelch attempts to organize workers, private enterprise had learned to rely on sus­pect individuals and groups from private “secret service,” paid or coerced spies. Federal intelligence had only to adapt these means to its needs, investigating targeted anti-war and radical labor groups, particularly the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), known as “Wobblies.” The author’s research of federal case files is brought to fruition in his detailed, enticing account of how the government spied on organizations, investi­gated bomb attacks on public officials, intervened in the coal and iron strikes of 1919, and carried out raids aimed at mass deporta­tion of members of the Union of Russian Workers and the new Communist Party. Ultimately, Seeing Reds: Federal Surveillance of Radicals in the Pittsburgh Mill District, 1917-1921, is the story of a clash between privileged owners and management protecting their interests and the workers’ deeply ingrained individualism and fear of big government.


A Prayer for the City

by Buzz Bissinger
Random House, 1997 (408 pages, cloth, $29.95)

By the time Edward G. Rendell became mayor of Philadelphia in 1992, Detroit and other doomed cities were already haunting America’s landscape. Philadelphia, too, was moribund. It was headed for bankruptcy and faced an unprecedented battle with powerful municipal workers unions. The city’s main industry, the great Philadelphia Naval Shipyard – had, since opening in 1801, built one hundred and nineteen mighty ships and employed armies of workers – was closed by the federal government in 1995 (see “A Farewell to Arms: The Passing of the Philadelphia Navy Yard” by Donald A. Wambold Jr. in the Spring 1995 issue). Most bitter of all, thousands of Philadelphians who wanted desperately to continue living in the city were being driven to the suburbs by violent crime, racial strife, and urban blight. Undaunted by seem­ingly overwhelming odds against success, Mayor Rendell – with his chief of staff, the brilliant attorney David Cohen – began the good fight. By the end of his first term as mayor, Rendell had shown how a profound difference could still be made within the confines of government simply by dealing honestly and shunning pernicious political maneuvering and special interest groups. Miraculously, fiscal credibility was restored to Philadelphia, and Rendell’s showdown with the unions both helped avoid a para­lyzing strike and saved the city millions of dollars. Following earlier disappointments, a Norwegian shipbuilder has recently been wooed to Philadelphia to reopen the Navy Yard. Even with these victories, however, the harsh realities of urban disintegration remain, as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author clearly reveals in the stories of four Philadelphians: Linda Morrison, a loyal middle­-class city dweller forced by crime to leave for Bala Cynwyd in the suburbs; Jim Mangan, a veteran welder in the Navy Yard, whose skill now counts for almost nothing; Mike McGovern, an assistant district attorney, trying to make personal sense of pervasive vio­lence; and Fifi Mazzccua, who struggles to keep herself and her family from being destroyed by a life of poverty and despair. Whatever the future holds for Philadelphia and America’s other great cities, it is exhilarating to read about one mayor’s fearless and devoted efforts to keep his city alive.