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

Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia

by Roger W. Moss, with photographs by Tom Crane
published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008; 339 pages, cloth, $34.95

A stunning pictorial celebration of Philadelphia’s architectural treasures, Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia breaks new ground in a heartfelt appreciation of the historic built environment by going far beyond being merely a guidebook or catalogue. Its author, Roger W. Moss, set out several years ago to “select fifty of the historic houses open to the public, fifty historic sacred places, and fifty institutional landmark buildings — and devote an entire book to each group.” This is the third and final volume of his trilogy.

Unlike Historic Houses of Philadelphia: A Tour of the Region’s Museum Homes (1998) and Historic Sacred Places (2004), this book differs in two notable ways. First, the building types and functions are more diverse, institutional, and monumental, ranging widely from concert halls to prisons, train stations to museums, and banks to libraries. Second, the buildings are arranged chronologically rather than geographically, placing a meaningful emphasis on Philadelphia’s evolution from a modest mercantile outpost of a colonial power, to capital of a proud new nation, to a robust, world-renowned manufacturing center, to a twenty-first-century center of medicine, education, and culture. The book is dedicated to existing historic landmark buildings, prominent or memorable structures symbolizing stages in Philadelphia’s progress. Many are immediately recognizable — Independence Hall, Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Academy of Music, and Thirtieth Street Station — but there are less familiar surprises, among them the Freedom Theatre, the Victory Building, and the Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire.

To be considered by the author for inclusion in Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia, the building must be located within city limits and have been erected more than fifty years ago. Thirty of the fifty buildings and structures selected for the book have been designated National Historic Landmarks by the U.S. Department of the Interior “because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.” Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia is divided into four chapters, each devoted to distinct periods: colonial and federal, classical, Victorian, and twentieth century.

In addition to the glorious photographs — many of them full-page — by Tom Crane, a widely published photographer who collaborated with the author on the two previous volumes in the series, this profusely illustrated book contains numerous historic and vintage photographs, drawings, engravings, maps, and lithographs.

 

The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics

by James Oakes
published by W. W. Norton and Company, 2007; 328 pages, paper, $16.95

This year the nation marks the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and, on the eve of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, which will be commemorated from 2011 through 2015, students of history will find The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics to be a timely and insightful look at two major historic figures.

The book chronicles the story of how Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass “converged at the most dramatic moment in American history.” The story commands attention in part because the two extraordinary personalities are fascinating on their own terms. However, there is much more to it than that. Lincoln and Douglass, seen together, reveal what can happen in American democracy when progressive reformers and savvy politicians make common cause. In The Radical and the Republican, author James Oakes brings the two individuals together to measure them in each other’s light and see them from each other’s perspective. He presents two individuals whose historical reputations rest chiefly on their hatred of slavery and provides answers to why it took so long for the two to appreciate one another, what kept them apart for so long, and what eventually drew them together. Much of the book addresses the long and complicated reasons.

Lincoln was a politician and Douglass was a reformer, and the difference, as either of them might have expressed, was at some point irreconcilable. As a politician, Lincoln positioned himself as a conservative, moved by forces greater than any one individual. As a reformer, Douglass placed himself on the nation’s left flank; he would hold fast to the moral high ground, no matter how great the forces arrayed against him. Lincoln’s shrewdness as a politician could obscure the bedrock principles from which he never deviated. However, Douglass’s high-mindedness just as often obscured the political calculation that went into the construction and reconstruction of his antislavery arguments. As long as both men stood their respective ground, and as long as they found it necessary to portray themselves as the conservative politician and the radical reformer, the differences between them would be perceived as greater than they actually were.

Historians remain impressed by the skill with which Lincoln manufactured his image as the voice of moderation amid screeching extremes. They are no less awed by the way in which Douglass constructed the image of the aggrieved citizen, unjustly excluded from equal participation in the republican experiment, first as a slave and later as a black man. Beneath Frederick Douglass’s seeming dogmatism rested a perfectly reasonable question: Why should he or anyone else be forced to settle for anything less than equal rights? That was Abraham Lincoln’s question too, and if it made Douglass’s radicalism more reasonable, it made Lincoln’s pragmatism more radical.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) has selected The Radical and Republican as one of four books for its Quest for Freedom Live and Learn weekends. These events will be hosted on selected weekends throughout the year in Philadelphia, Lancaster, Pittsburgh, Erie, and the Chambersburg-Carlisle area. Live and Learn activities include lectures, visits to historic sites and museums, discussions, and participation by registrants. DCED also chose Song Yet Sung (2008) by James McBride, Fleeing for Freedom: Stories of the Underground Railroad as Told by Levi Coffin and William Still (2004), edited by George and Willene Hendrick, and My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-First Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots (2007) by Thulani Davis for the weekend events.

 

Rags to Rugs: Hooked and Handsewn Rugs of Pennsylvania

by Patricia T. Herr
published by the Heritage Center of Lancaster County and Schiffer Books, 2008; 160 pages, paper, $29.95

In 2004, a group of community volunteers approached the Heritage Center of Lancaster about the possibility of developing an exhibition and publication on hooked and handsewn rugs made in southcentral Pennsylvania. Most of the volunteers were rug makers and they were eager to work with the museum to document the lives of the makers and the history of their patterns. After the initial meeting, the center conducted a series of “rug harvests” throughout Lancaster County to which the public was invited to bring their examples for documentation. In exchange, owners were given expert information on how to best care for their rugs. The center documented several hundred hooked and hand-sewn rugs during the course of a year. From this project, the museum developed the resulting exhibition and publication.

The exhibition, sharing the same title as the book, Rags to Rugs: Hooked and Handsewn Rugs of Pennsylvania, served as inaugural exhibition at the recently expanded Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum, opened by the center in 2004, and remained on view through 2008.

Authored by textile scholar and author Patricia T. Herr, Rags to Rugs traces the history of rug making in southcentral Pennsylvania from the second half of the nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. Hand hooked and sewn rugs found in this region of Pennsylvania have many things in common with those made in other parts of the United States. Although important examples of early nineteenth-century rugs have been found in New England, most of the rugs made in the Lancaster area were made in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The majority of the rugs appeared to have been used as household floor and table coverings. Unlike hand- made quilts and coverlets of the period, few seem to have been stored away in unused condition in chests and cupboards. Perhaps, as a result of wear, the author speculates, worn rugs were discarded, increasing the relative rarity of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century handmade rugs made in Pennsylvania.

Rags to Rugs opens with a chapter devoted to the making of a hooked rug and includes details of selected examples, photographs of tools and equipment, and reproductions of color swatches available during the heyday of rug making. Subsequent chapters discuss form and function, the business of rug making, and the use of various patterns, including geometric, abstract, botanical, pictorial, and figural. The book is liberally illustrated with color photographs of rugs, as well as vintage images of makers. Rags to Rugs is the first book to look at the history of rug making in the Commonwealth and contains sources for modern makers and a history of this significant cottage industry.

 

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 yet had the opportunity to review them, but wishes to share news of their availability with readers.

Acta Germanopolis: Records of the Corporation of Germantown, Pennsylvania, 1691–1707, edited by J. M. Duffin, published by the Colonial Society of Pennsylvania, 2008; 671 pages, cloth, $75.00.

A Country Storekeeper in Pennsylvania: Creating Economic Networks in Early America, 1790–1807, by Diane E. Wenger, published by the Penn State Press, 2008; 263 pages, cloth, $55.00.

All in the Bones: A Biography of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, by Valerie Bramwell and Robert M. Peck, published by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 2008; 127 pages, paper, $45.00.