Perhaps you’re looking for a book to read. Or maybe, you need gift ideas for the history fan in your life.
Here are four recently published history books related to central Pennsylvania that might help you out.
One resurrects a vanished Harrisburg neighborhood. Another tells the story of a Perry County landmark. A third covers a crucial midstate railroad in the Civil War. A fourth tells the forgotten story of racial turmoil in an industrial city and the state government’s response.
‘One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920’
Edited by Calobe Jackson Jr., Katie Wingert McArdle and David Pettegrew, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota
As Pennsylvania’s government expanded in the early 20th century, the Old 8th Ward, a predominantly African American and immigrant neighborhood behind the state Capitol, was removed to make way for what is today the Capitol Complex.
This book brings that bustling neighborhood to life, telling the stories of 100 people who lived there or were active in Harrisburg during the period.
There’s Dr. Charles H. Crampton, a prominent community leader, institution builder and athletic director at William Penn High School. There’s William H. Marshall, one of the first Black high school graduates in Harrisburg, who became a teacher and principal.
There’s Catherine McClintock, who assisted with the Underground Railroad. There’s Esther Popel, the first woman of color to attend Dickinson College, who became a Harlem Renaissance poet.
“One Hundred Voices,” featuring the research of Messiah University students and others, accompanies a monument recently unveiled in front of the Irvis Office Building at Fourth and Walnut streets in Harrisburg.
The monument, titled “A Gathering at the Crossroads,” commemorates the Old 8th Ward, as well as the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment giving Black men the right to vote and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women’s suffrage.
The state wiped out the Old 8th Ward’s buildings, but this book provides a valuable service in resurrecting its spirit, telling the stories of everyday people in a vibrant Harrisburg neighborhood.
‘Crossing with the Clarks: A History of a Scottish Family’s Ferries and Tavern on the Susquehanna River’
By Victor Hart, Sunbury Press
A single building can conjure so much history. Clark’s Tavern, established around 1790, reflects the history of a Scottish immigrant family, the development of business and the evolution of transportation in the early United States.
The first part of the book is a history of the Clark family and the ferries and tavern they established. The second part is an architectural study of the Duncannon tavern, today owned by the Historical Society of Perry County.
As European immigrants in Pennsylvania migrated west, Clark’s Ferry on the Susquehanna River and its accompanying tavern provided transportation, food and lodging for travelers.
As the turnpike system was created in Pennsylvania, an increasing number of people traveled by carriage and stagecoach, and Robert Clark built a stone addition to the tavern to accommodate travelers of a higher social class.
Robert Clark, who in 1802 bought out his siblings’ interests in the family business, was an entrepreneur. He ran other ferries and taverns, built mills, owned land and worked as a surveyor.
But transportation continued to evolve. Once, it benefited the Clarks, but now it worked against them. The state constructed a canal bridge along the river in 1824, digging through Clark’s property and wrecking one of his ferry landings.
By 1837, a bridge built across Sherman’s Creek rendered the last of Clark’s ferry business obsolete.
“Crossing with the Clarks” is a helpful examination of an important piece of central Pennsylvania history.
‘Targeted Tracks: The Cumberland Valley Railroad in the Civil War, 1861-1865’
By Scott L. Mingus Sr. and Cooper H. Wingert, Savas Beatie press
In the Civil War, railroads were key means of transporting supplies and troops. The Cumberland Valley Railroad was one such vital artery of the Union’s war effort, extending from Harrisburg to Hagerstown, Maryland. Thus, invading Confederates set their sights on it.
In addition to telling the story of the railroad and its role in the Civil War, “Targeted Tracks” shows what it was like to live in a border county during the conflict. Franklin County residents faced a constant threat of Confederate invasion.
Confederates occupied Chambersburg three times, torching railroad property and, in 1864, burning much of the borough. In June 1863, they destroyed the Cumberland Valley Railroad bridge in Scotland, just outside Chambersburg.
Residents in other midstate towns along the railroad’s route, such as Carlisle and Mechanicsburg, also faced Confederate invasion. Harrisburg prepared for an attack but was spared as Confederates pulled back toward Gettysburg.
Mingus and Wingert provide a thorough and readable study of midstate Civil War and transportation history.
‘Banished from Johnstown: Racist Backlash in Pennsylvania’
By Cody McDevitt, The History Press
In 1923, Gov. Gifford Pinchot faced international pressure.
Johnstown Mayor Joseph Cauffiel had ordered African Americans and Mexicans who had lived in the city for less than seven years to leave town. Black people were not allowed to assemble for public gatherings, except for church, and Black visitors were required to report their whereabouts to city authorities.
Cauffiel issued his restrictive order after a Black man killed four white Johnstown police officers in a shootout before he was gunned down. The incident took place in the primarily Black Rosedale neighborhood.
The city was stricken with racial tension after several years of Black and Mexican migration from the South for industrial jobs and as Ku Klux Klan activity surged. Cauffiel included Mexican residents in the order because he claimed they were difficult to distinguish from African Americans and would be harmed if white people retaliated.
An estimated 2,000 Black residents left Johnstown because of the order, which drew condemnation from newspapers and civil rights groups in Pennsylvania and across the nation, as well as in Mexico.
Pinchot was flooded with demands that he act, including from the Mexican consul in Philadelphia.
In Harrisburg, the governor ordered the Pennsylvania Department of State to conduct an investigation.
McDevitt effectively reconstructs the context and unfolding of this story, and his inclusion of Black newspapers as sources is especially illuminating. Though largely banished from Johnstown’s — and Pennsylvania’s — memory, these events have relevance today.
Joe McClure is a news editor for The Patriot-News. Email him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter: @jmcclure59.
More from Joe McClure:
· 5 must-read books about Harrisburg
· These are 6 must-read books about central Pennsylvania
· Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 took a deadly toll on central Pennsylvania
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