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

Guide to the State Historical Markers of Pennsylvania

By George R. Beyer
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 2000 (456 pages, paper, $15.95)

It is generally well known that the Commonwealth’s state historical marker program is among the most popular public history initiatives ever mounted by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). The program, also one of the oldest administered by the PHMC, is responsible for erecting the familiar blue and gold markers along the Keystone State’s highways and byways and in villages and urban neighborhoods. It should come as no surprise then that Guide to the State Historical Markers of Pennsylvania is on the Commission’s “best-sellers” list. With more than eighteen hundred markers dotting Pennsylvania’s landscape, this book is indispensable to the traveler and the armchair historian. The markers recognize the famous – and not-so-famous – people, places, and events that hallmark the history of both state and nation. Readers-and travelers-will discover the names of individuals known throughout the world, names such as Benjamin Franklin, Ida M. Tarbell, Abraham Lin­coln, Billie Holliday, Rachel Carson, Violet Oakley, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. They will find a goodly number of names perhaps not so well known but also significant: Philip P. Bliss, the great singing evangelist and gospel song writer; Meta V.W. Fuller, one of the country’s leading black sculptors; Florence B. Seibert, a renowned biochemist who developed, in the 1920s, a safe process for intravenous therapy; Jane Grey Swisshelm, respected editor, abolitionist, nurse, and advocate of women’s rights and temperance; and Christopher Sholes, inventor of the typewriter. Places commemorated by both marker and book include Kenny­wood Park in West Mifflin, Allegheny County, one of the last surviving amusement parks established as a “trolley park”; Sum­merseat in Morrisville, Bucks County, which served as Washington’s headquarters in December 1776; and Messer­smith’s Woods in Chambersburg, Franklin County, a grove selected by General Robert E. Lee for his headquarters in June 1863 where he issued the order for the concentration of troops near Gettysburg. Just as fascinating are the events and incidents recorded in this book, among them the Donora Smog, an environmental disaster, which in October 1948 killed twenty and sickened thousands of residents of Washington County, that prompted the introduction of major federal clean air laws; the York Inter-State Fair, in York, York County, recognized as the oldest agricultural fair in America; and Rural Electrification, north­east of Meadville, Crawford County, the site of the first rural electric pole erected in Pennsylvania by the Keystone State’s first rural electric cooperative association. Guide to the State Historical Markers of Pennsylvania offers a complete listing of the markers erected by the PHMC from the program’s inception through 1999 (see “Celebrating Fifty Years of State Historical Markers” by George Redman Beyer, Summer 1996). The guidebook’s listings include the location, date of dedication, and full text of each marker. Markers are listed alphabetically within each of the Commonwealth’s sixty-seven counties. In his foreword to this book, Brent D. Glass, PHMC executive director, succinctly cites historical markers “as gateways to our public memory,” adding that, “for many people they establish an important link between a local person, site, or event and the larger story of state and national history” (see “Executive Director’s Message,” Spring 2001). Guide to the State Historical Markers contains county maps, a selec­tion of historic photographs, and an index.

 

Robert Smith: Architect, Builder, Patriot, 1722-1777

By Charles E. Peterson
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 2000 (164 pages, cloth, $25.00)

In his relatively brief life of fifty-five years, Robert Smith designed buildings and structures that earned him distinction as one of the most important and influential architect-builders in the American colonies-and this book is the culmination of fifty years of interest in and research of his life’s work. More than fifty known and attributed works have been identified, and this book includes a catalogue, arranged in chronological order, that documents his contributions to American architecture and building design. Smith’s education and mentors are largely subjects of speculation, but no matter wherever or by whomever he was trained, he adopted a motif what was to become something of a signature: the octagonal cupola, with arched openings, ornamented with a keystone and impost blocks, on each side, rising from a square base. Unless it carries a spire, the cupola is topped by a hemispherical dome. His signature cupola can be found adorning Christ Church and Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia and Christ Church in Shrewsbury, New Jersey. The author believes that Smith emigrated to Philadelphia in late 1748, a period during which mercantile wealth and civic pride were transforming it from a colonial outpost to a metropolis. Almost immediately, he assumed a rank among the premier carpenter-builders, attracting prestigious commissions, beginning in 1749, with work on James Hamilton’s country seat, Bush Hill. The following year he undertook what probably amounted to the design of the Second Presbyterian Church. While working on the steeple of Philadelphia’s venerable Christ Church, he was summoned to New Jersey for an important commission: the design and construction of the president’s house and the main building of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University. Not long after he signed a contract to design and build St. Peter’s Church, received a commission for the roof and interior of St. Paul’s, and was given the task of building a dormitory for the College of Philadelphia, now the University of Pennsylvania. Smith continued garnering commissions for important institutional buildings and houses of worship in Philadelphia, among them the Almshouse (or “Bettering House”), Carpenters’ Hall, the Walnut Street Jail, the Third Presbyterian Church (known as “Old Pine”), and the mammoth Zion Lutheran Church. It was not long before his reputation spread far beyond the Delaware Valley. He designed Carlisle’s stately Presbyterian Church, the Hospital for Lunatics and Idiots in Williamsburg, Virginia, and, possibly, University Hall at Rhode Island College, now Brown University, in Providence. In addition to his skill as an architect, Robert Smith was technologically advanced. He introduced British techniques for spanning large spaces with arched ceilings, modifying them in ways that would be adopted elsewhere in America. His design for what may have been a covered bridge was a pioneering effort, never built because of the approaching Revolutionary War. He then made a vital contribution to the war effort, designing and building chevaux-de-frise, sunken military obstructions that for a time prevented the greatest navy in the world from sailing up the Delaware River. Smith’s obstructions – log boxes weighted with ballast which supported spears facing south – thwarted British strategy and contributed to the disaster at Saratoga, New York, which ultimately resulted into the entry of France in the war and the success of the American Revolution. Robert Smith: Architect, Builder, Patriot, 1722-1777 is illustrated with photographs, draw­ings, and prints of most of the subject’s buildings. It also fleshes out his biography, and the introduction helps set his career in context. This book also illuminates the role of the architect in the eighteenth century as a designer and supervisor of construction, including the form of the contracts he signed and the difficulties he encountered in collecting his fees.

 

Pittsburgh Sports: Stories from the Steel City

By Randy Roberts, editor
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000 (239 pages, cloth, $29.95)

Pittsburgh Sports: Stories from the Steel City is about players and teams, about champions and championships, about losses and let-downs. More than riotous Sunday afternoons with the Steelers, more than sultry summer nights with the Pirates, more than frigid winter evenings at the Civic Arena, which fans dubbed “the Igloo,” Pittsburgh Sports is about what it means to be a fan, about sporting loyalties handed down from parent to child. It’s about shared experiences of these events, memories of them, and the stories they offer. For many western Pennsylvanians, allegiance to sports teams is reverently passed down through the generations; it stays with them wherever they might go and is strengthened by fond recollections of family, friend- ship, and community. Bringing together sports fans, historians, and even a former Steelers punter, Pittsburgh Sports illuminates how Pittsburghers feel about their teams and heroes. From the world-champion Penguins of the 1990s and the Pirates of the 1970s, to the moribund Steelers and Pirates of the 1950s and 1960s, the fans of the game offer both personal memories, as well as historical context of the teams and players. The book also reveals the strong history of team sports in Pittsburgh, chronicling some of the city’s great turn-of-the-century baseball teams – among them the Pirates and the Negro League’s Pittsburgh Crawfords – and their players, including brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner and Josh Gibson, the legendary home-run-hitting catcher (see “Josh Gibson, The Heartbreak Kid” by John B. Holway, Fall 1994). Also included are memories of Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. and a history of local high school football. Pittsburgh Sports: Stories from the Steel City offers insight into the hearts and heads of sports fans, giving readers a sense of the history, range, and emotional impact of the city’s sporting experience. The collected stories reflect some of the triumphs and defeats of teams and players, but more than that they suggest what it is about the city’s sports that command an undeniable passion-and why what happens at a ballpark, stadium, gym, rink, or locker room has the power to make spectators laugh, cheer, swear, and cry.