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Mexican-American War

Despite taking place in the American Southwest and Central America, the Mexican-American War (1845-48) had significant ties to the Philadelphia area. As one of the most populous urban centers in the country, the Delaware Valley became a hotbed of activity for one of the most controversial wars in American history.    

[caption id="attachment_29615" align="alignright" width="300"] General Winfield Scott (depicted on horseback) presented the 1st and 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiments with their own regimental colors to show his appreciation for their efforts and sacrifice at the Battle of Puebla and the Siege of Mexico City. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

War between the United States and Mexico followed the admission of Texas as the twenty-eighth state of the United States in December 1845. This exacerbated preexisting tension with the Mexican government, which never recognized Texas independence, American annexation of Texas, nor the proposed border of the new state at the Rio Grande River. After an armed clash between U.S. forces led by General Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) and Mexican troops in the disputed area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, Congress declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846, and authorized President James K. Polk (1795-1849) to call up fifty thousand volunteers to join the existing U.S. Army.

In Philadelphia and elsewhere, the controversy surrounding the coming and course of the Mexican-American War illustrated the widening divide in American society over the issues of territorial conquest and the expansion of slavery. Initially, support for the war was strong in the mid-Atlantic states, and Philadelphia’s historic ties to the American Revolution made it a centerpiece for pro-war patriotism by politicians and cultural figures who viewed Manifest Destiny as the legacy of American independence. The Philadelphia North American, a “penny press” newspaper owned by George R. Graham (1813-1894), reported news from Mexico and supported “Mr. Polk’s War” in editorials. However, Philadelphia’s active abolitionist community opposed the war as a vehicle for expanding slavery into new territory. In June 1846, The National Anti-Slavery Standard, published in Philadelphia, strongly opposed the war based on its abolitionist views against expansion of slavery into the West.

The war was equally controversial in New Jersey and Delaware. In New Jersey, a strong Whig Party presence in state politics made unified action difficult. In October 1847, a convention of New Jersey Whigs condemned the Polk administration’s drive for territorial annexation. Niles’ National Register reported that their resolutions “strongly denounced the present national administration for violations of the liberties of the people and interests of the Union, especially in having made war without consulting the people or their representatives, and that too, for party purposes.” This sentiment was common across New Jersey. When New Jersey Governor Charles C. Stratton (1796-1859) responded to President Polk’s call to organize volunteers for service, the turnout was so meager that only a New Jersey Battalion of Volunteers could be formed, not a regiment. In Delaware, opposition to the war ran so strong that only a dozen residents volunteered to serve.

During the opening stages of mobilization, Philadelphia joined other cities in holding a pro-war rally, but this fervor was not universal. In response to impassioned opposition speeches delivered by Whig politician Henry Clay (1777-1852) in the autumn of 1847, anti-war rallies took place in Philadelphia and Trenton, New Jersey.

The “Killers” in the Ranks

Following the declaration of war, Pennsylvania Governor Francis R. Shunk (1788-1848) called for forming six regiments to serve in the U.S. Army. In contrast to the tepid response in New Jersey and Delaware, patriotic enthusiasm quickly satisfied the quotas, and several full companies had to be turned away. Recruits from the Keystone State were organized into the First  and Second Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiments. Of the ten companies constituting the First  Regiment, six hailed from Philadelphia, including the City Guards of Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Light Guards, and the Cadwalader Grays. The Second Regiment became home to Company F, known as the Philadelphia Rangers.

Along with the patriotism that motivated Philadelphia men to serve, the disorder and violence that had been hallmarks of Philadelphia during the 1830s and 1840s also traveled west with the volunteers who mustered in Harrisburg and then proceeded to Pittsburgh en route to Mexico. In Pittsburgh, soldiers from Company D (The City Guard) invaded a local theater in an incident that ended in a violent clash with police. This riotous behavior continued later New Orleans, where a soldier claiming membership in the notorious Philadelphia “Killers” gang attacked citizens and destroyed property across the city. Later, a faction of the Killers intimidated Company D’s commanding officer, Captain Joseph Hill, who temporarily fled the regiment in April 1847. Another veteran of Philadelphia street violence led the Pennsylvania volunteer regiments after their transport down the Mississippi River and across the Gulf to Lobos, Mexico, where they landed in February 1846. Major General Robert Patterson, a former Pennsylvania militia commander, had led troops against rioters during the destruction of the Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia in 1838. In Mexico, he commanded the Second Division of a brigade led by Brigadier General Gideon J. Pillow (1806-1878), which took in the Pennsylvania volunteers.  

The Pennsylvania Volunteers in Mexico

[caption id="attachment_29616" align="alignright" width="300"] The First and Second Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiments, the New Jersey Battalion of Volunteers, and the Delaware Squad of volunteers all passed through the beachhead at the port of Veracruz. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The fighting men from Philadelphia saw their first significant combat at the Siege of Veracruz in March 1847. In the thunderous twenty-day siege, the Pennsylvania regiments lost the service of fifteen soldiers to enemy cannon fire, including three who were killed. After the fall of Veracruz, the regiments moved into the Mexican interior and saw action again in April at the Battle of Cerro Gordo as part of an assault on Mexican artillery at Jarero, south of the Mexican encampment near Vasquez. Despite the ferocity of the engagement, the regiments suffered few casualties. For the next two months, they continued inland toward Mexico City, fighting guerillas, the elements, and disease.  

In September 1847, the Pennsylvania Regiments were split by General Winfield Scott (1786-1866) to prepare for the assault on Mexico City. While three of the Philadelphia companies were reassigned to garrison duty at Puebla, the Reading Artillery of Company A and the Philadelphia Rangers of the Second Regiment proceeded with the main army toward Mexico City. Both companies saw heavy fighting at close range with the Mexican defenders. In two days of combat, the Second Regiment suffered its worst losses of the conflict with eight men killed and eighty-nine wounded.

Mexican troops flushed out of Mexico City and led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794-1876) next attacked Puebla, where the Philadelphia remnant of the First Regiment had been stationed.  A nearly month-long siege ensued began in September 14, 1847. Forces under Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Black (1816-1862), a Pittsburgh native and future Pennsylvania congressional representative, faced repeated assaults and dwindling supplies until Santa Anna withdrew his troops on October 12. The Siege of Puebla was not only the Pennsylvanians’ finest performance, it was also the most costly. The First Regiment suffered fifty-five casualties with twenty-one men killed in action. In December 1847, the survivors marched to Mexico City, where they reunited with the Second Regiment to much fanfare and celebration.

[caption id="attachment_29619" align="alignright" width="300"] Several Delaware Valley residence took part in the siege and occupation of Monterey in September 1846, including Philadelphia native Rear Admiral William Mervine, Samuel Francis Du Pont of Delaware, and Future U.S. senator from New Jersey Commodore Richard Stockton. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Philadelphia-area soldiers also served in areas of the war other than Mexico. A veteran of the War of 1812, Rear Admiral William Mervine (1791-1868), commanded the USS Savannah in the Pacific, and his Marine detachment captured the city of Monterey in July 1846. Samuel Francis Du Pont (1803-65) of the famed DuPont family of Delaware commanded the blockade of California and achieved the rank of rear admiral. Future U.S. senator from New Jersey Commodore Robert Stockton (1795-1866) was instrumental in the capture of Monterey and Pueblo de Los Ángeles in California. Between July 1846 and January 1847, Stockton served as  military governor of California.

[caption id="attachment_29704" align="alignright" width="224"]Photograph of a marble obelisk At Philadelphia National Cemetery in Northwest Philadelphia, the Mexican War Monument marks the burial site for 38 who died in the conflict. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

In Mexico, Philadelphia native and Brigadier General Persifor Frazer Smith (1798–1858) served as military governor during the occupation of Mexico City, when duty for the Pennsylvania volunteer regiments consisted of a mixture of drill, boredom, and sporadic chaos as Mexican guerilla units harassed U.S. forces. When U.S. troops withdrew on March 6, 1848, the regiments’ long journey home took them from Mexico back to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi River and Ohio Rivers to Pittsburgh, where they arrived on July 11, 1848. The Pittsburgh units mustered out of service quickly, but the Philadelphia companies resolved to end their service at home. Between July 27 and August 5, parades, speeches, banquets, and community events across the Delaware Valley marked their return. Of the 2,415 men who served in the Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiments, 477 died in Mexico or in transport. Fifty-two were killed in combat. New Jersey’s volunteers saw little combat in Mexico and returned to the Garden State in July 1848.  Delaware’s volunteers, who took part in the Battle of Huanmantla in October 1847, returned in August 1848, having suffered a single casualty.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War on February 2, 1848, and expanded the territory of the United States by 525,000 square miles. However, the costly victory, earned after two years of ferocious combat, exacerbated the simmering tensions throughout the country. Volunteers from Philadelphia and the surrounding region participated in the military actions while local citizens debated the war’s political and moral ramifications, making Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley a microcosm of the conflict.   

William V. Bartleson is an independent scholar of military history who has worked with the New Jersey National Guard Militia Museum and the Center for Veterans Oral history. He is a member of Phi Alpha Theta.

Deafness and the Deaf

Documentation of the lives of deaf individuals in the Philadelphia region, and elsewhere, is limited. Historic accounts depict desperate individuals roaming the streets or begging. Prior to the advent of public schools for the deaf, only elite deaf individuals received private tutoring. In the early nineteenth century, Philadelphia philanthropists, religious figures, educators, merchants, and policymakers came together and created the city’s first school for the deaf. Their successes inspired other advocates to expand deaf education and services. Though later educators judged some of their efforts misguided, these pioneers demonstrated that the region’s impoverished deaf residents could also become productive citizens.

During the colonial era, only elite deaf children received much education, and it typically took the form of private instruction or tutoring. William Mercer (1765?–1839?), who was congenitally deaf, studied under the distinguished Philadelphia artist Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827) after his father was killed in the Battle of Princeton. Peale and his wife, Rachel (1744–70), welcomed Mercer into their family of ten children from 1783 until 1786. Mercer was one of the first congenitally deaf individuals in the United States to become a distinguished artist.

[caption id="attachment_28183" align="alignright" width="300"] Since 1984, the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf has occupied the Old Germantown Academy. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia (formerly known as the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb), the third-oldest school of its kind in the United States, was one of many that emerged in the early nineteenth century following the advent of deaf education in Europe. Public education for the deaf originated in France in the 1760s when Jansenist priest Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Epée (1712–89) created the National Deaf-Mute Institute in Paris, the world’s first public deaf school. His work eventually inspired deaf education programs in other nations, including the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf which began when David Seixas (1788–1864), a Philadelphia merchant and crockery owner, began to educate and provide room and board to a small group of local indigent deaf children.

The First Eleven

Moved by his concern for impoverished children whom he regularly witnessed roaming city streets, Seixas brought eleven poor deaf children into his home, where he fed, clothed, and educated them. Among the first group of children were future artists John Carlin (1813–91) and Albert Newsam (1809–64). Carlin, who became deaf as a young child, later studied portraiture in France under esteemed artist Paul Delaroche (1797–1856). He spent his adult life working as an artist and poet in New York, where he served as an activist for the deaf. Newsam, brought to Philadelphia from Steubenville, Ohio, in 1820 by William P. Davis, who allegedly convinced Newsam’s guardian to allow him to take the child to Philadelphia and intended to exploit the young boy’s artistic talent for his own gain, entered the school at age eleven after local Episcopal Bishop William White (1784­–1836) found him on the streets and took him to Seixas’s home. There he received an education and developed his artistic talent. Newsam apprenticed with the local engraving firm of Cephas G. Childs (1793–1871) and eventually became a principal artist at the firm of Peter S. Duval (1805?–86).    

Bishop White became intrigued by Seixas’s dedication to these poor deaf children and called for members of the American Philosophical Society to create a more permanent establishment. In May 1820, members of the society petitioned the Pennsylvania state legislature to officially recognize Seixas’s school, which it did in 1821. With the support of growing community interest and both philanthropic and state-sponsored funding, the institute officially opened at the corner of Eleventh and Market Streets in Philadelphia in the autumn of 1820 with Seixas as the institute’s first principal. Soon nearby states, including New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware, began sending their indigent deaf children there. Seixas was later dismissed from his post for alleged sexual misconduct with several female students. The Pennsylvania School for the Deaf eventually appointed Abraham B. Hutton (1798–1870) principal in 1830, and he remained in that position until his death.

Pedagogical shifts that focused on oralism, or training in the reading of lips, affected Philadelphia’s deaf community. Early efforts to instruct the deaf typically relied on the manual method, or sign language. In the 1870s, deaf education experienced a significant transformation as more programs began adopting the oral method. Educators throughout Europe and North America embraced oralism as the progressive approach to “normalize” the deaf and incorporate them into mainstream society.

In the late nineteenth century, sisters Emma (1846–93) and Mary Garrett (1854–1915) expanded services for the deaf in the region. Emma Garrett attended the program for teachers of the deaf at Boston University run by Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922), whose curriculum focused primarily on the oral method and on how to teach the deaf how to communicate and “behave” when interacting with the hearing community. After completing her education, Emma became a teacher at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and later served as principal of the Pennsylvania Oral School for Deaf-Mutes in Scranton. Like many deaf-education professionals of this period, she visited several countries to observe their teaching methods. Her observations of oralist methods, coupled with the widespread assumption that children (and especially deaf children) are incredibly imitative, led the sisters to establish an early intervention program in 1892.

The Bala Home

The Garretts established the Pennsylvania Home for the Training in Speech of Deaf Children Before They Are of School Age (also known as the Bala Home) at Belmont and Monument Avenues in Philadelphia. The school adopted a strict interventionist method that introduced the oral method at an early age. Emma served as superintendent of the institute until her death in 1893, when Mary assumed the post. Mary became a pioneer in the oral communication method as well as an advocate for the education of young women. She trained other notable educators of the deaf, including Margaret S. Sterck (1892–1984), who established the Delaware School for the Deaf in 1929, which remained active until 1945, when state regulations required that deaf children be taught in public schools.   

After visiting oralist schools in other states, educators at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf also shifted their program to include more training in the oral method. This decision reflected a broader international push for the method that had been adopted years earlier at the Milan Congress of 1880, where hearing delegates determined that sign language was a cumbersome form of communication and that the deaf should be taught to communicate in a “normal” way. In the decades following the Milan Congress, nineteenth-century pioneer in science Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922) advocated that schools throughout the United States and Europe adopt oralism, viewed as the progressive approach to “normalize” the deaf and incorporate them into mainstream society. The Pennsylvania School for the Deaf became one of the largest schools for the deaf in the United States. The widespread teaching of oralism later sparked controversy because it eventually led to the near elimination of sign language and disenfranchisement of the deaf community.

[caption id="attachment_28186" align="alignright" width="233"] Patrick Ryan (1831–1911) served as the Archbishop of Philadelphia from 1884 to 1911 and furthered the education of the hearing impaired in Philadelphia. Concerned with the plight of his deaf parishioners, Ryan worked to establish formal education for the deaf children of the city. (Archbishop Ryan High School)[/caption]

New advocacy groups such as the Pennsylvania Society for the Advancement of the Deaf, created in Philadelphia in 1881, also pushed to incorporate deaf individuals into society and maximize their potential. It was joined in the early twentieth century by such organizations as the Philadelphia League for the Hard of Hearing and the Speech-Reading Club of Philadelphia. Religious leaders contributed to helping local deaf populations as well. Concerned for his deaf parishioners, Archbishop Patrick Ryan (1831–1911) envisioned an institute that would serve the needs of deaf Catholics. While not realized until the year after his death, the Archbishop Ryan Memorial Institute for the Deaf, established first on Vine Street and then later moved to Thirty-Fifth and Spring Garden Streets and eventually to Delaware County, was named in his honor.

Sign Language Resurges

After nearly a century during which the oral method dominated, the study of sign language resurged in the late 1960s. After passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the 1970s, deaf schools nationwide employed a variety of educational methods. These approaches ranged from bicultural/bilingual education, in which American Sign Language is taught as a first language and written (or spoken) English is taught as a second language, to auditory-oral and auditory-verbal education. In the mid-1980s, Philadelphia schools adopted the more recent “mainstreaming” or inclusion model, in which deaf children attended public school for part of the school day while also receiving individualized deaf instruction. Programs such as the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech (located in Philadelphia and Bryn Mawr) later incorporated the “mainstreaming” model into their day school program. Critics argued that although this model provided inclusion and daily interaction with hearing individuals, deaf children found themselves isolated from other deaf individuals and received limited individualized support for special education needs.

Philadelphia played a significant role in the nation’s deaf education movement. The humanitarian project of a concerned citizen led to the creation of one of the nation’s largest and longstanding educational institutions for the deaf. In the early twenty-first century, the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf continued to serve deaf and hard-of-hearing children by offering a wide array of programs that served American Sign Language and English-language learning, as well as supported services and programming for students with cochlear implants. In 2013, St. Joseph’s University instituted a certification program to train teachers of the deaf and hard-of-hearing in 2013. Despite the strides in deaf education, however, mainstreaming programs remained the subject of debate over whether deafness should be categorized as a disability or as a condition to be “normalized.”

Holly Caldwell received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Delaware, where she wrote her dissertation on the medicalization of deafness and deaf education reform at Mexico’s Escuela Nacional de Sordomudos (National School for Deaf-Mutes). She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at Chestnut Hill College and has also taught at Susquehanna University. (Information current at date of publication.)

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Established in 1824 to gather and protect historical materials, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) developed from a learned society and gentlemen’s club into a professional institution with a robust publication program and an extensive research library. Over the decades, the society also expanded its activities to support education and public history programs and coordinate with related organizations.

Lawyer Roberts Vaux (1786–1836) and other wealthy Philadelphia men founded the Historical Society during the triumphal tour of the United States by the Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834), the upwelling of celebration and remembrance attendant on the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and celebration of the 142nd anniversary of the arrival of William Penn (1644–1718) in Pennsylvania. Attorney William Rawle (1759–1856) became the first president.

[caption id="attachment_28419" align="alignright" width="300"] In the twenty-first century, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s headquarters houses over six hundred thousand printed items and more than twenty-one million manuscript and graphic items, providing researchers with more than 350 years of historical sources. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Members came from the upper middle classes, as with earlier historical societies established in Massachusetts (1791), New York (1804), and other northeastern states; lawyers predominated over ministers among the early members. French-born Peter S. Du Ponceau (1760-1844) served as the society’s second president, from 1837 to 1845, and Charles J. Stillé (1819–99), of Swedish descent, as the eighth (1892–99). Otherwise most board members were men of Anglo-American descent well into the twentieth century. The Historical Society served as a gentlemen's club, offering a forum for exchange of historical papers and research. A voluntary association with nominal dues, it relied on the energy and support of members.

The Early Years

The Historical Society first received housing courtesy of the American Philosophical Society, then moved to rooms in the Athenaeum of Philadelphia in 1847. Records of the early decades reveal meetings canceled due to a lack of quorum, periods of inactivity, and irregular publication of its Memoirs, which contained miscellaneous articles including excerpts copied from William Penn’s correspondence. Nevertheless, the society gathered collections documenting Pennsylvania history in general and Penn in particular. Correspondence with Penn’s heirs in 1833 resulted in gifts that invigorated the society’s collecting.

Biases—in regard to race, class, and gender in particular—restricted the society’s developing collections. Members focused upon documenting the history of the worlds they knew, thus their collecting activities centered on politics, religion, civil society, and leading figures. The society avoided addressing materials documenting the history of slavery and Americans of African descent, whether free or enslaved, although it did gather printed abolition tracts. The outbreak of the Civil War initially reduced the society’s finances and attendance. However, in 1862 the society extended membership to women and individuals born outside of the United States, which revitalized the society while reducing the influence of the pro-Southern contingent. The broader membership had an immediate impact on collecting, although biases remained.

Over the second half of the nineteenth century, the society became as much research library as gentlemen’s club. Collections grew to the point where, in 1871, the society leased the Pennsylvania Hospital’s Picture Building on Spruce Street. Two years later, the society obtained sufficient funds to purchase a sizable collection of Penn’s papers. The society participated in organizing the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, marking a shift towards engagement with public history. Member Henry Armitt Brown (1844–78) delivered speeches celebrating Revolution-era leaders on the lecture circuit, and the society published brief biographies of Declaration of Independence signers in its new quarterly journal, the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, first published in 1877.  

Thirteenth and Locust Streets

Outgrowing the Picture Building, society officers raised funds to purchase a mansion and adjoining lot at Thirteenth and Locust in 1883. The society built annexes in 1890 and 1905, then erected a new fireproof building in 1910, which continued to serve as the entry point to the society after a series of renovations in the mid and late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

[caption id="attachment_28421" align="alignright" width="223"] Thomas Lynch Montgomery, born in Germantown and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, supervised the library staff of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1921. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Publisher and bookseller Townsend Ward (1817–85) was elected librarian in 1851 and two years later became the society’s first paid staff member. By 1921, librarian Thomas Lynch Montgomery (1862–1929), a leader of the American Library Association, supervised a staff of thirteen including eight women. The society hired Jane C. Wylie (1853?–1925) in 1891 and she rose to head the manuscripts department. Staff learned on the job rather than through formal training; staff shortages contributed to a chronic cataloging backlog. Ongoing collecting continued to focus upon the lives and experiences of upper-class Americans of European descent.

In the 1930s, librarian Julian P. Boyd (1903–80) pushed the society to embrace progressive approaches to historical scholarship and become a professional scholarly society. In 1934, early in his tenure, he met with black Philadelphia printer Leon Gardiner (1892–1945), who contributed his collections, including extensive materials from the defunct Afro-American Historical Society, also known as the American Negro Historical Society. Five years later, Boyd facilitated the development of a statement that refocused the society’s mission on inclusion of all groups regardless of race, ethnicity, class, or religion.

Twentieth-Century Expansion

By the latter half of the twentieth century, the Historical Society expanded to include a diverse array of initiatives. Under the leadership of Nicholas Wainwright (1914–86), who served in several capacities, including editor, librarian, and director, the society formed agreements with commercial publishers in the 1960s resulting in facsimile and microfilm publications of Indian Treaties (1963), the Pennsylvania Gazette (1968), and African American–related reprints (1969). By 1976, the society held the papers of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, a process begun in the 1920s. The society also hosted related projects. In the 1970s, it provided space for the William Penn Papers project, which prepared first a microfilm and then a letterpress edition. In the 1980s, it supported the Pennsylvania Newspaper Project, another microfilming project, and in the 1990s the Biographical Dictionary of Early Pennsylvania Legislators project, although a dispute over the latter’s autonomy led it to relocate to Temple University. In addition, the society developed a closer relationship with its neighbor, the Library Company of Philadelphia, producing joint exhibitions and initiating a fellowship program to support scholarship.

[caption id="attachment_28420" align="alignright" width="300"] Housing over six hundred thousand printed items and more than twenty-one million manuscript and graphic items, the archival and library services of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania have been critical to the organization’s operation and longevity. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

In the 1970s and 1980s, the society moved to hire professionally trained library staff and added positions focused on educational programming. Members also elected their first female and African American board members: Philadelphia Museum of Art curator Beatrice Garvan (b. 1929) in 1966 and scholar Charles L. Blockson (b. 1933) in 1976. In 1990, museum administrator Susan Stitt (1942–2001) became the society’s first female president.

Society leadership played a large role in shaping and reshaping the society. Historian Peter Parker (b. 1936), first hired as head of the manuscript department in 1970, served as director in the 1980s; under his guidance, the society embraced public education through exhibits, lectures, and outreach to schools. Under Stitt, supporting research became a higher priority. She also made the controversial decision to transfer the society’s art and artifact collection to the care of the Atwater Kent Museum; this was completed in 2002 with official ownership transferred in 2009. David Moltke-Hanson (b. 1951), who succeeded Stitt and had previously served as director of the Southern Historical Society, focused attention on education, facilitated the launch of Pennsylvania Legacies in 2001, and secured grants for major archival projects. In 2002, the Historical Society successfully merged with the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies (founded 1971), resulting in deeper and more diverse collections.

The society had a long symbiotic relationship with the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania (founded 1892); Genealogical Society members held membership in the Historical Society, which in turn provided housing and research support. Amid monetary woes in the 1990s, officers attempted to merge the societies, but failed. The two organizations developed an alliance in 2006, depositing the Genealogical Society’s holdings with the Historical Society. Genealogy became an increasingly important focus for the society in the twenty-first century.

Organized as a learned society and gentlemen’s club, successive generations of leaders expanded and contracted the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s spheres of action. Over the course of nearly two centuries, the society transformed into a professionally staffed institution and amassed extensive, diverse collections while struggling with how best to serve the public good and support historical research.

Alea Henle is head of public services librarian at Western New Mexico University. Her research interests explore how efforts to preserve materials for history have shaped what survived.

Chester County, Pennsylvania

[caption id="attachment_28389" align="aligncenter" width="580"]A map of Pennsylvania in 1687 showing land purchases and town and county borders Parts of the original territory of Chester County, left of center in this 1687 map by Thomas Holme, became Lancaster County (1729), a small part of Berks County (1752), and Delaware County (1789). (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

As one of the original counties established by William Penn (1644-1718), Chester County was only modestly influenced by Philadelphia in its early development because after 1789 it shared no border with the city. Although the Pennsylvania Railroad linked the county’s central valley to Philadelphia in the mid-nineteenth century, it remained a largely rural landscape whose farms, mills, and forges operated within a mostly self-sufficient economy while sending surpluses to the Philadelphia market. Not until the second half of the twentieth century did dramatic changes come to its pastoral landscapes and small towns. Starting in the 1970s the arrival of financial services firms along with bio-medical research and development companies drew thousands of new residents, turning it into a county of “farms plus pharma.”

Lenni Lenape (also known as Delaware), along with some Dutch and Swedes, already lived in the area before Penn laid out the county boundaries stretching more than one hundred miles from the Delaware River to the Susquehanna River. That initial county structure proved too large to serve its inhabitants well. In 1729, provincial authorities carved out Lancaster County, then in 1752 shifted a small part to Berks County as well. Not long after the American Revolution, the residents in the western portion of the remaining county objected to traveling so far to conduct business in the county seat at Chester City on the Delaware River. They wanted a county seat located farther west. They got their wish when West Chester became the county seat, and three years later, in 1789, Delaware County was carved out. From that time, Chester County no longer shared a border with Philadelphia.

[caption id="attachment_28069" align="alignright" width="300"] In the tradition of many communities in the Philadelphia area, the Old Kennett Square Meetinghouse served as the center of Quaker life in the Chadds Ford area of Chester Country during the Colonial and Early Republic eras. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Penn had encouraged the early formation of townships covering the entire territory as a way to promote self-government. Many boroughs and townships had incorporated by the early eighteenth century, for example Caln in 1686,  Kennett in 1704, Uwchlan in 1712, and numerous others. But the Quakers who predominated in much of Chester County shunned town living, preferring life on their farms. Based on religious scruples, Quakers showed little interest in formal governance of their territory. Except for the county seat, early towns carried few public responsibilities beyond providing small local marketplaces and serving as units for assessing taxes. Rural families produced a large share of the goods for home consumption, and craftsmen lived among the farmers, trading their products for food.

Transportation Routes Shaped Settlements

The land formation known as the “Great Valley,” stretching from the Schuylkill River in Montgomery County to the southwest through Chester and Lancaster Counties, provided early travelers with a natural route. The first major east-west road following the Great Valley westward was the Lancaster Road or the Great Road, which became the most traveled route of its time. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) in 1789 remarked that it was "not uncommon to meet fifty to a hundred Conestoga wagons in one day along this road, mostly belonging to German farmers."

Largely following that same route, the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road Company constructed in 1798 the first long-distance paved route in the United States stretching sixty-two miles between Philadelphia and the city of Lancaster. The improved road bed allowed farmers and craftsmen to haul heavy freight and drive stage coaches from Lancaster to Philadelphia. It brought travelers to dozens of inns, taverns, saddleries, and shops of every variety, and helped build Downingtown and a few other commercial centers along its route.

To serve the southern part of the county, the state chartered the Philadelphia, Brandywine and New London Turnpike Company in 1808 to build a stagecoach road from Philadelphia to Baltimore. That route, known as the Baltimore Pike (designated Route 1 in 1926), entered Chester County from Delaware County at Chadds Ford and ran through the Brandywine Valley—a mix of farms and woodland, as well as commercial towns and villages like Kennett Square. Farmers in the Brandywine Valley hauled their grain to mills powered by the Brandywine River, which also powered paper mills that supplied Philadelphia printers.

Railroads exerted less impact on early settlement patterns in Chester County than in other suburban counties around Philadelphia because the rail network was less densely built on the western edge of the region. The great exception was the Main Line, a railroad designed as one component of a larger network of canals and rails that the state government sponsored in order to help Pennsylvania compete commercially against New York State. Construction started in 1829, carried on largely by Irish immigrants. In 1857 the Pennsylvania Railroad purchased the line since known as the Main Line.  

Across the middle of the county, investors built the Philadelphia & Baltimore Central (P&BC) railroad just before the Civil War. They broke ground in 1855 in Concord Township in Delaware County, where the celebrants tossed one shovelful of dirt toward Philadelphia and another toward Baltimore to signify the goal of connecting the two cities.

[caption id="attachment_26780" align="alignright" width="252"] A Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of West Chester, produced in 1886, depicts railroad connections with the county seat of Chester County. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

As those two major lines crossed the county from east to west, they helped spur the economies of some towns along the way, including Downingtown and Coatesville on the Main Line and Oxford Borough on the P&BC near the county’s southern border with Maryland. But their main function was to link Philadelphia to the distant cities of Lancaster to the west and Baltimore to the south. One of the few places within the county that did purposely build rail lines to spur its own development was the county seat of West Chester, where business leaders formed a railroad company to connect their town to the Main Line running some miles to the north. They opened the West Chester Railroad (WCRR) in 1832 to carry both passengers and freight. In the 1850s a second group of investors built West Chester & Philadelphia Rail Road (WC&P) to offer an alternative connecting West Chester to the Philadelphia & Baltimore Central line running through southern Delaware and Chester Counties. During the period of railroad consolidations around the turn of the twentieth century, the Pennsylvania Railroad gained control over both West Chester railroads, as well as the Main Line and the Philadelphia & Baltimore Central.

Agriculture and Industry

Abundant sources of water power made milling the county’s first industry. Farmers grew corn, wheat, barley, oats, rye, buckwheat, and flax, and most settlements had a grist mill, which could also be used as a sawmill. However, as improved transportation networks made long-distance shipping easier, farmers shifted away from diversified crops to produce more livestock. The growth of Philadelphia and increasing purchasing power of the population persuaded farmers to supply more meat. By mid-nineteenth century, agriculture in Chester County focused most heavily on grazing and dairying. The 1860 agricultural census showed that of Chester County’s roughly fifty thousand cattle, half were for dairy and the other half for beef purposes.  

[caption id="attachment_28096" align="alignright" width="300"] Iron and steel production led the industrialization of Chester County. Founded in 1790, the Phoenix Iron Company (later known as the Phoenixville Iron Company) processed the anthracite coal from the Lehigh Valley region into a variety of iron products for nearly 200 years. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Water power enabled the county’s residents to exploit the area’s rich iron ore deposits. Early iron manufactories established a basis for nationally-known ironworks. In 1790 on the banks of French Creek, the French Creek Nail Works opened the first nail factory in the United States, later renamed the Phoenix Iron Company. It grew into an extensive ironworks consisting of furnace, foundry, rolling-mill, and nail factory, employing three hundred to four hundred men. During the Civil War, Phoenix Iron produced the Griffen Gun and became a major supplier of the Union Army. As railroads multiplied, the company focused on structural steel for bridge building, a crucial requirement for railroad expansion. 

Lukens Steel in Coatesville was born in 1810 when Isaac Pennock (1767-1824) began the Brandywine Iron Works and Nail Factory on the banks of the Brandywine River. All the raw materials needed—iron ore, limestone, and hardwood forests for charcoal—were available in the Coatesville area. In 1813 Pennock’s daughter Rebecca (1794-1854) married Charles Lukens (1786-1825), who oversaw the operation of his father-in-law’s business. When Lukens died in 1825, Rebecca took over operation of the steel mill. She managed the business until 1849 and turned it into the top producer of boilerplate in the country. 

Agriculture continued to operate profitably throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, aided by the rail lines that crossed the county. By the 1890s, the Pennsylvania Railroad trains that ran all the way to Lancaster gave farmers in western Chester County a way to ship fresh milk and produce daily to Philadelphia. In 1906 Abbott’s Dairy opened in Oxford on the far west side of the county yet still transported its products to the Philadelphia market. 

Plant cultivation contributed significantly to the county economy. In the borough of West Grove In 1868 the Dingee & Conard Nursery Company began growing and selling fruit trees, roses, and other nursery products. They pioneered the use of mail order catalogues, and by the late 1880s shipping of their nursery products made West Grove the second-largest post office in Chester County. The company became nationally known for its roses, most notably the Peace Rose. In 1945, the company provided one of this specially bred flower to every international delegate meeting in San Francisco to establish the United Nations.

[caption id="attachment_28384" align="alignright" width="300"]color photo showing a bed of white mushrooms in the foreground with a booth worker in yellow shirt in background. Mushrooms, on display here at the annual Mushroom Festival in 2014, are among Chester County's significant agricultural products. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Undoubtedly mushrooms became Chester County’s best-known food crop. In the 1890s William Swayne (1851-1950), a florist in Kennett Square, began growing mushrooms in the unused space underneath his greenhouse benches. Because he required precise regulation of the temperature, humidity, and air quality, Swayne erected the first building to be used exclusively for mushroom growing, and Kennett Square eventually became the national center of mushroom cultivation. Ironically, old-fashioned mushroom cultivation helped build Chester County’s twenty-first century specialization in bio-life sciences. Starting in the 1920s chemist G. Raymond Rettew (1903-73) began providing testing services to area mushroom growers. He devised a process for growing penicillin that made mass production of the drug possible. He sold the idea to Reichel Laboratories of Phoenixville, which was acquired by Wyeth in 1943. The penicillin case demonstrated the important process of turning research into production that became a hallmark of Chester County’s high tech economy. 

Social Disparities

From the start, Chester County’s population contained both rich and poor. In 1800, the wealthiest 10 percent of the county’s households paid 38 percent of the taxes, and the poorest 30 percent of the citizenry paid only 4 percent. To house the poor and unemployed, county leaders in 1798 built a Poor House about eight miles from West Chester on the banks of the Brandywine Creek. On three hundred   acres, they built a large brick building and a barn to house a working farm. This county almshouse system replaced the aid provided by individual townships. The intent was to provide a more consistent level of care and a more efficient use of funds. Reflecting their shared belief in the value of work, they required every able body to work, even the children. Residents of the Poor House sold homespun cloth, brooms, smoked meats, and even quarried limestone.

Early European settlers held African slaves, though in relatively small numbers. In Chester County the number of slave owners reached 4 percent of taxpayers in 1759. The strong Quaker influence in the affairs of the county discouraged slavery as did economic factors. At the start of the Civil War, African American residents represented about 8 percent of Chester County’s population; although a modest share, that was the highest percentage of African Americans in the counties of southeast Pennsylvania. Those free African Americans worked for hire or owned their own small businesses.

Chester County residents included people who actively embraced the social reform movements of the mid-nineteenth century such as anti-slavery, women’s rights, and temperance. Local European Americans, primarily Quaker, and African American abolitionists concealed runaway enslaved people who traveled from the South through the mid-Atlantic and north to safety in Canada. Anti-slavery sentiment was particularly strong in Kennett Square, a center of abolitionism. Disagreement over the authority of Quaker meetings and how best to address the issue of slavery led to the establishment of the Pennsylvania Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends in 1853 (Longwood Yearly Meeting). The Longwood Meetinghouse opened in 1855. Its annual meetings hosted radicals and reformers such as  Sojourner Truth and William Lloyd Garrison. County residents also hosted the first Pennsylvania Woman's Rights Convention in June 1852 in West Chester, advocating for equal legal, social, economic, and political rights, including suffrage.

The African American population grew after the Civil War, when iron companies in Phoenixville and Coatesville recruited black workers in the South as a way of discouraging European immigrants from striking for higher wages. Animosity between working-class whites and blacks came to a head in Coatesville in 1911 with the horrifying death of Zachariah Walker, a black man who was literally burned alive by a white mob after his conviction for killing a white guard at a local steel plant. 

In part to address social inequality, the Society of Friends supported education for all children. As early as 1787 the Kennett Monthly Meeting began raising funds to support “schooling the children of such poor people, whether Friends or others, as live within the verge of the Monthly Meeting.” For the offspring of more affluent families, the county was dotted by dozens of single-sex boarding schools, for example West Chester Academy, a private, state-aided school opened in 1813. It went through a series of transformations across the years that resulted in its becoming West Chester University. In 1854 the Pennsylvania legislature incorporated another of Chester County’s prominent educational institutions as Ashmun Institute for the education of young men of color, a name that changed in 1866 to Lincoln University

Despite important efforts to promote broad social advancement, the county entered the twentieth century with wide disparities among its residents. Wealthy families built rural retreats on large estates, many of them designed in the Victorian style popular among early twentieth century architects. West Whiteland Township, served by the Pennsylvania Railroad running along the Main Line, boasted an impressive collection of such homes. Important Philadelphia architects built many of them, for example the Francis W. Kennedy House designed by Frank Miles Day (1861-1918) in 1889 for a vice president of the Wilkes-Barre and Western Railway; the Joseph Price House, an older structure that was extensively altered in 1894 for a wealthy Philadelphia surgeon; and Meadowcourt (sometimes called Autun) which was designed by Edmund Gilchrist (1885-1953) in the French style in 1928 for insurance executive Benjamin Rush Jr. Owners of these large properties pursued diversions like foxhunting, for which a group of well-to-do families established the Whitelands Hunt.

[caption id="attachment_28071" align="alignright" width="241"] Purchased by Philadelphia-area businessman and philanthropist Pierre S. du Pont in 1906, Longwood Gardens has become one of the most visited horticultural centers in the Delaware Valley. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

In the Brandywine Valley in 1906 Pierre S. Dupont (1870-1954) of the wealthy Delaware Dupont family bought the Peirce Farm in Kennett Township and created an estate of incomparable beauty. He repaired and expanded the original Peirce farmhouse, connecting new and old wings with a conservatory whose courtyard was planted with exotic foliage and a marble fountain. In 1923, he added an elegant music room with walnut paneling, damask-covered walls, teak floors, and a molded plaster ceiling, opening onto the central axis of the main greenhouse. Dupont named his estate Longwood Gardens for the nearby Longwood Meeting House built by Quakers.

At the other end of the social spectrum, in nearby communities of southern Chester County, immigrants lived in deplorable conditions. Around the turn of the twentieth century, southern Europeans came to the county. One of the county’s most successful plant nurseries, Hoopes Brothers & Thomas in West Chester, began hiring Italian immigrants in 1906 because they could not find enough local labor. By 1908, newspapers were criticizing these immigrant workers for drying their laundry on the outside of their shanties. Despite the social stigma the Italians stayed, and a century later 16 percent of West Chester residents still claimed Italian ancestry. In industrial towns like Coatesville and Phoenixville, Eastern Europeans, notably Hungarians and Poles, served as a significant source for factory labor.

Puerto Ricans initially arrived in Chester County after World War II, while Mexicans arrived in the 1960s.  Recruiters brought them to Pennsylvania to farm labor-intensive crops like vegetables, fruits, and mushrooms. Kennett Square, the center of mushroom production, attracted a substantial Spanish-speaking population, as did the smaller community of Toughkenamon a mile west of Kennett Square.

Limited by their very low wages and undocumented status, many immigrants settled for dilapidated, overcrowded houses, apartments, or mobile homes. In 1994 the Alliance for Better Housing composed of clergy, mushroom growers, and local officials began working to improve housing conditions for farm workers and other low-income residents in southern Chester County. Additional help came from local organizations like United Way, La Comunidad Hispana, PathStone, Mission Santa Maria, local food cupboards and local churches. 

Newcomers from South and East Asia lived a completely different immigrant experience from the mushroom workers in southern Chester County. Hired into knowledge economy jobs, they clustered in affluent townships along Route 202 or Route 30—for example, East Whiteland, West Whiteland, East Caln, and Upper Uwchlan—in the northeast section of the county, where they worked in technology and finance companies. 

[caption id="attachment_28213" align="alignright" width="300"] In the wake of deindustrialization and suburbanization, the economic distribution of Chester County in the twenty-first century created a sharp delineation of communities. (Map by Michael Seigel for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

The county’s rapid economic ascent after 1980 attracted a workforce equipped to prosper in the knowledge, finance, and service economy. The 2014 American Community Survey showed that 49 percent of county residents had college degrees, the highest percentage among suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia. Of the population 25 years or older, 92 percent were high school graduates, 49 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 20 percent had a graduate or professional degree. In 2010, it was the highest-income county in Pennsylvania and twenty-fourth highest in the U.S. as measured by median household income. 

Not all towns shared that success. Because of its reliance on the steel industry, the city of Coatesville suffered the most visible and dramatic setbacks in the county. Lukens Steel had flourished there since the early 1800s, building major national projects from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the Battleship USS New Jersey. But faced with competition from foreign steel producers, in 1982 the company reduced its workforce by 22 percent between January and September 1982 and cut the pay of salaried employees by 10 percent. After 187 years of continuous operation, Lukens Steel Company sold its Coatesville operation to Bethlehem Steel Company, which in turn sold the plant to new international owners. Each new owner reduced the workforce, so that by the end of the twentieth century the steel plant that had employed over six thousand workers at midcentury provided jobs for only one thousand.

These contrasting fortunes yielded substantial differences in tax resources available to town governments, and that in turn produced unequal public services. Among the fourteen school districts in Chester County, the highest-spending district, the Great Valley School District, serving the high tech corridor, spent $20,588 per student in 2015 while the lowest-spending district, the Oxford Area School District in southern Chester County, spent barely more than $13,000 per student. To worsen inequalities, lower-spending districts were educating larger shares of low-income children. In 2015 only 14 percent of the school population in the high-spending Great Valley School District had incomes low enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. That same year, the low-spending Oxford Area School District served a student body in which 40 percent qualified for subsidized lunches. 

Development patterns

The Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstate 76) dramatically altered development in the northeast section of the county. Builders completed the Chester County section of the Turnpike in 1950. Designed as a limited-access route to allow fast travel across Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Turnpike initially provided just two exits located within Chester County (Downingtown and Malvern/Phoenixville). Those two exits became focal points for growth, as did the Valley Forge/King of Prussia exit located in Montgomery County right at the border with Chester County.

Another example of an expressway influencing development was Route 202, a highway dating back to 1926. In 1964, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways designed a continuous four-lane expressway along the US 202 corridor, opening the section of that new expressway south from King of Prussia toward West Chester in 1967. Over the next several decades that stretch of Route 202 attracted hundreds of computer-related companies, biomedical concerns, and other service and information- based firms. 

Suburbanizing relatively late, Chester County in the 1970s offered developers a chance to acquire huge open parcels on which to build a series of high-profile and often controversial industrial parks. Some occupied more than a square mile of ground, making them larger than some boroughs in Chester County. Businessman Raymond Carr (1925-2015) built Chester County’s first industrial park on what had previously been cornfields. Carr and his partner David Knauer (1928-2011) recognized the value of farmland sitting near the Downingtown exit off the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which was the only connection to the national superhighway system in Chester County. In 1965 the partners bought 180 acres for sale in Lionville and turned them into Pickering Creek Industrial Park, a collection of more than a dozen multipurpose buildings that housed companies specializing in product testing, manufacturing, and eventually biotechnology and life sciences.

In 1969 not far from the Turnpike’s Valley Forge exit, developer Richard Fox (b. 1927) bought Chesterbrook Farm, located between the turnpike on its northern border and Route 202 on its southern border. His plan, unusual for combining residential neighborhoods with a corporate complex, faced stiff public opposition when unveiled in 1971. Opponents feared that the traffic it generated would negatively impact Valley Forge State (later National) Park. The ensuing legal battle went all the way to the state Supreme Court. Hundreds of residents attended meetings and signed petitions against construction, but eventually Fox prevailed and began to build housing in 1979, gradually adding a shopping center, restaurants, corporate offices, and a hotel, along with open spaces. 

The business complex that launched Route 202’s reputation as Tech Alley was the Great Valley Corporate Center, started in 1974 on pasture land located between a landfill and a quarry. Philadelphia-based developer Willard Rouse (1942-2003) convinced young companies to locate in his new development by building facilities to their specifications and helping them finance the move to Chester County. Biotechnology companies valued a location that put them close to Philadelphia universities and medical centers and at the same time close to pharmaceutical companies like SmithKline, Merck, and Rhone-Poulenc Rorer.

Also in the mid-1970s, Willard Rouse’s uncle, James W. Rouse (1914-96), built the Exton Square Mall. The Maryland developer acquired a tract of land at the intersection of Route 30 and Route 100 that held little more than a few gas stations, a drive-in movie, a diner and a motel, and built his mall there in 1972. Exton Square remained a major retail center well into the twenty-first century. Its size and scope attracted additional services, including a public library, the Exton Transportation Center with connections to the King of Prussia Mall, and medical facilities.

[caption id="attachment_28352" align="alignright" width="300"] The bucolic Church Farm School property, shown here in an aerial photograph c. 1924, drew the interest of developers in the 1980s. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Watching such large-scale, master-planned developments multiply during the 1970s and 1980s, Chester County residents feared the loss of open land and the road congestion that such developments brought with them. Those apprehensions brought an end to one of the most ambitious proposals ever considered in the county. In 1987 Willard Rouse announced plans to build Churchill, a 1,500-acre mixed-use development on Church Farm School property on Route 30 in Exton. That unspoiled expanse of cornfields was so massive that it spanned parts of three townships, forcing Rouse to negotiate for years with multiple local governments to secure permission to build. In the end the sheer scale of development proved too much for local residents. Both East Whiteland and West Whiteland townships denied Rouse permission to build. 

Taking control of development patterns

From 1970 to 1995, Chester County lost over fifty thousand acres of land to development, more than had been developed in the previous three hundred years. If that pace had been allowed to continue, all of the county’s farmland would have been paved over within forty years. To stave off such a future, the county government adopted a dramatic and far-reaching plan titled Landscapes: Managing Change in Chester County to shape its growth until 2020. The plan prescribed preserving open space while directing future development into already-existing towns, to ensure Chester County would remain attractive as a place for knowledge industries to locate. Although the county government could do little more than offer technical assistance for implementing the plan to local governments that retained control of land use under Pennsylvania law, nonetheless by 2015 about one quarter of the land area in the county had been permanently preserved.

Some private developers fell in line with county plans by making investments that reduced the number of auto trips workers needed to make each day. For example, the owners of Great Valley Corporate Center redesigned their auto-dependent complex to incorporate everyday services like day care, fitness centers, stores, and restaurants within a walkable mixed-use development. Other developers saw opportunities in older boroughs like Phoenixville and West Chester to reinvest in Victorian structures and community character that would attract residents. 

Still other builders sought to create new housing on smaller-than-standard-size lots so they could permanently preserve open space for the pleasure of community residents. They found local zoning laws a major stumbling block. A 2007 book written about one company’s effort to build a high-density housing development dubbed “New Daleville” showed how difficult it was to convince town officials to adjust standard zoning to allow a village-style approach with small lots and shared open space. The developer persisted and eventually succeeded, but not without enormous resistance from residents who supported more conventional subdivision designs.

In one important respect, Chester County’s late suburbanization proved a blessing. It gave county leaders a greater chance to preserve farms, wooded areas, and historic landscapes than in other counties in the Philadelphia region. Yet the negative consequence of delayed development was that Chester County possessed even less public transit than neighboring counties. Chester County entered the twenty-first century with little hope of convincing motorists to abandon their cars. The county’s heavy auto dependence, combined with a pattern of erecting massive job centers along major highways, virtually ensured that traffic congestion would continue to be its residents’ unceasing complaint.

Carolyn T. Adams is Professor Emeritus of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University and associate editor of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. This essay incorporates information and suggestions provided by Laurie A.  Rofini, Archives Director, and Cliff C. Parker, Archivist, of Chester County Archives and Records Services and Chester County Historical Society.

Koreans and Korea

Although a few Koreans came to Greater Philadelphia in the early twentieth century to study in universities, Koreans became one of the top ten new immigrant groups in the region by 1970. The new U.S.-Korea relationship formed during the Korean War led to increased exchanges between the two countries, and the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act served to boost and diversify immigration to the Philadelphia area. While that flow failed to match the influx of other immigrant groups by the early twenty-first century, increased importing of goods from Korea and technology start-up collaborations between area businesses and universities with South Korea further deepened ties. Many Korean Americans lived transnational lives, traveling back and forth between Philadelphia and South Korea for school, work, and reconnections to Korean culture and language.

Korea as a nation is known through archaeology and early dynastic history dating back to the Joseon dynasty (fifteenth century). In the nineteenth century, incursions by European imperial nations were repelled, but Japanese imperialism ultimately led to colonial control beginning in 1910 until the end of World War II, as agricultural labor and forced industrial labor migration to Japan were needed to replace Japanese conscripted to fight.

[caption id="attachment_27674" align="alignright" width="300"] The Korean War devastated the Korean Peninsula and led many refugees to immigrate to the United States (National Archives)[/caption]

The Korean War, a civil war that served simultaneously as a Cold War proxy conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union from 1950 to 1953, forged connections with Philadelphia as the region’s military bases trained soldiers for combat, local men and women served and lost their lives, and shipyards increased employment. In Korea after the war, the nation divided into North and South, and the United States and South Korean relationship strengthened. As the new nation invested heavily in education to accelerate the shift from agriculture to modern industry, it supported educational innovation at home and encouraged its citizens to pursue higher education in the United States.

After the 1965 immigration reform, which abolished a nationality quota system that had been in place since the 1920s, a new wave of young families who had been educated in Korean universities in fields such as accounting and engineering, but who had not found professional or managerial jobs in their own country during a period of slow growth, migrated to Philadelphia. They arrived with plenty of “cultural capital,” skills and knowledge acquired through education, but they sought better educations for their children and thought they would fare better in the United States as risk-taking entrepreneurs. Many came with the intent of investing in retailing, with some working capital and with knowledge of Korean business brokers who could help locate available stores, financing, and experts in particular commodities. Models for business plans and store designs were often borrowed from Korean communities in larger cities such as Los Angeles and New York.

Early Commerce

In Philadelphia, the earliest wave of merchants entered commercial activities such as small-scale retailing and wholesaling in many of the city’s poorest neighborhood shopping strips, which had emptied out as part of two decades of deindustrialization and suburbanization. Koreans’ experiences in commercial strips in low-income neighborhoods, many predominantly African American or Latino, led to some innovative accommodations. In the 1970s, organized protests and boycotts by community groups in North Philadelphia succeeded in prompting some Koreans to hire black and Latino workers as intermediaries between owners and their customers. By the 1990s, an informal group of Korean and African American clergy were holding occasional services to bring congregations together across racial lines. At the same time, business groups and clergy sponsored intergroup summer camps and basketball programs.

In another case, clashes between whites and Koreans in the formerly white, diversifying Olney neighborhood in upper North Philadelphia in 1985 revealed how Koreans saw themselves as victims of white racism with more in common with other racial minorities. In an attempt to set up a Koreatown  following the Los Angeles model, Korean merchants erected Korean language street signs on the Olney Fifth Street strip. They envisioned developing a wholesale area to serve Korean retailers from the mid-Atlantic (including Pittsburgh, Maryland, and Delaware), as well as serving as a center of consumption for university-based Koreans. They viewed the signs as necessary for out-of-town merchants and Korean tourists. Established white residents perceived this as a way of excluding them from their strip and ripped down the signs. The incident was ultimately resolved by collaborative civic action and led to more cooperation between Korean owners and the white members of Olney’s business association. Notably, the first English public announcement of the Koreatown project appeared in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper, revealing the close but informal relationship between the Korean neighborhood-based merchants and the university-based community.     

Rapid economic growth in Korea in the 1980s created an increase in socioeconomic diversity among Korean Americans and in the economic ties between Korean Americans and Korea. For the first two decades of immigration (1965 to the mid-1980s), Korean immigrants were limited in the amount of capital they could take out of Korea. The state wanted immigrants to boost the home economy through remittances, sending money back to Korea, rather than removing working capital from the homeland. 

By the late 1980s, a rising economy, boosted through large-scale capital conglomerates producing automobiles and high technology appliances and electronics, had made South Korea an Asian “Tiger,”  placing it in the top tier G-20 (group of twenty) nations. Now valuing trade and overseas investment, the country loosened the restrictions on capital that immigrants could take abroad. The resulting influx of wealthy Koreans to the Philadelphia area put pioneer settlers in a bind as they found themselves competing with newcomers with unlimited funds who were buying larger-scale enterprises, multiple stores, mini-chains and small malls. Wealthier immigrants also located businesses in wealthier, often suburban communities.

Targets of Recruitment

Recognizing Korea’s status as a successful industrial nation, Philadelphia area institutions, most notably universities and hospitals, made a point of recruiting Koreans. As the number of students from Korea grew substantially, the second-generation United States-born Korean Americans also increased their presence in the large number of colleges and universities in the metropolitan area. At the same time, many less-educated and unskilled kin from rural agricultural backgrounds were also moving to the United States under the family reunification elements of the 1965 immigration reform. Grandparents came to provide family child care while others worked in unskilled jobs in kin-owned enterprises and in underground (informal, unregistered, untaxed) sewing factories. 

[caption id="attachment_27793" align="alignright" width="300"] David Oh, elected city councilman at-large in Philadelphia, became the first elected Korean official in the city. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

A decade after the initial Korean boom economy, a recession in 1997 produced a shift in the perceived economic relationship between immigrants to the United States and their homeland. In the Philadelphia community this temporary crisis put foreign student tuition money at risk and reduced the Korean tourist trade. To help meet the crisis, Philadelphia Koreans sent large remittances home, but many local businesses, which often used loans from the local branch of the Seoul Bank, were devastated when the branch closed during the crisis. Ultimately, the crisis resolved when Korean received a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In 1980, Korean-born residents were the seventh-largest national origin group among foreign-born people in the Philadelphia metropolitan region. By 1990, they ranked fourth and in 2000, they were second. While the earliest Korean businesses concentrated within the city, many Korean households and churches could be found in suburban locations as was common for immigrants to Greater Philadelphia who arrived after 1965. Many of the strips in which Koreans invested were near the city borders. This meant that owners who worked in the city had short commuting times to the better housing areas of inner ring suburbs. Over time, the number of Korean residents in the city declined steeply while the numbers in the suburbs increased.

[caption id="attachment_28009" align="alignright" width="300"] Signs for Korean businesses reflect the presence of Koreans north of Philadelphia in Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Pioneer merchants invested early in the declining Broad Street shopping strip in Logan. When this did not succeed, they turned their attention to the nearby North Fifth Street strip in Olney, where the conflict over language signs took place. With many storeowners living across the city line in Cheltenham, the Olney/Cheltenham area became a hub of Korean churches, commerce, and organizations. Similarly, Korean investors in West Philadelphia along Market Street between Fifty-Second Street and the city line lived in Upper Darby, where they soon developed more enterprises. A third large cluster of Korean residents settled in Cherry Hill/Marlton. Over time, Koreans became more residentially dispersed, extending farther outward into northern Montgomery County along the Route 309 corridor (especially near large church congregations in Blue Bell, Horsham, and Lansdale) and farther west into Delaware County. For this dispersed group, Korean churches replaced residential proximity in linking community members.

Olney/Cheltenham Core

However, the core of established community institutions remained in the Olney/Cheltenham area, especially just north of Cheltenham Avenue, specifically near Broad Street and Old York Road. Here clustered the largest number of Korean churches in the region as well as a concentration of shopping malls, stores, and service areas serving Korean clientele, from travel agents to beauty salons. Also found in the area were many Korean-based financial institutions and a large food market (H-Mart) as well as specialty shops and restaurants, many with branches in Upper Darby and Cherry Hill. Both the local daily Korean language newspaper and radio station located in Cheltenham. For aging immigrants, high-rise senior housing could be found in the city in North and West Philadelphia, close to shopping areas. 

Major social service and civil society institutions remained in Olney, notably the umbrella Korean American Association of Greater Philadelphia (KAAGP), which dated from 1970, and the Jaisohn Memorial Foundation (a health and social service provider named after a national hero who lived in Philadelphia in the early twentieth century), founded in 1975 by local Korean physicians.   

Church life was very important for most Koreans. In addition to their central spiritual role, they served socially as a means of linking the diverse segments of the community together: small and large-scale business people to each other as well as to established members of the academic and professional communities. Most importantly, they bridged the generational divides. They were places of contact for word-of-mouth referrals and meeting places for potential marriage partners. Culturally, they provided training in Korean heritage and language. They also connected Korean Americans to homeland issues such as the reunification of the north and south. In the early 1970s, one large church in West Philadelphia, Emmanuel Korean Presbyterian Church, and one between Olney and Cheltenham, the Korean United Church, served the residents of West Philadelphia/Upper Darby and Olney/Cheltenham, respectively. By the 1990s there were more than one hundred dispersed Christian churches near Korean residential spaces. The Council of Korean Churches formed in 1981 to connect clergy and represent common interests. Reflecting Christian missionary activity in Korea, most churches in the United States, where between 70 and 90 percent of the Korean population was Christian, followed mainline Protestant doctrine as Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists. Some Koreans who arrived as Won Buddhists converted to Christianity because of the lack of permanent temples before the Won Buddhist Center opened in Cheltenham in 1995.

Over the first two decades of concentrated Korean settlement, channels of communication with city and suburban governments remained informal. In Philadelphia, a complex bureaucracy proved particularly problematic. In the early 1980s, the Korean American Friendship Association in Olney organized and sponsored shared meals and celebrations as channels of communication with area merchants and city councilmen. Often Korean academics and professionals involved in the Jaisohn Foundation in Olney also served as political brokers.

Election Successes

[caption id="attachment_27792" align="alignright" width="300"] University of Pennsylvania graduate Helen Gym was elected to Philadelphia City Council in 2015. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Koreans achieved formal representation finally in 2011, when David Oh (b. 1960), a lawyer, was elected city councilman at-large in Philadelphia and became the first elected Korean official in the city. Re-elected in 2015, Oh had strong relationships in council and across parties. He was actively involved in extending trade between Korea and the Port of Philadelphia and served as chair of city council’s Global Opportunities Committee He also served in either an honorary or active governing role in most Korean civil society organizations.  A second Korean American city council member, Helen Gym (b.1968), was elected in 2015. She grew up on the West Coast, attended the University of Pennsylvania, and entered politics as an activist teacher and leader of two parent organizations promoting public education in the city. Each of these council members exemplified different segments of the community: those who grew up in the early years of community formation and those who arrived more recently for academic opportunity and stayed after graduation.    

During the 1990s, the Korean American community in Philadelphia became more visible through efforts of regional cultural institutions. In 1990-91, the Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies mounted an exhibit of the Korean experience in Philadelphia. In 1997, the Korean Heritage Group, comprised of members from the Korean community, formed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and engaged in education and in collecting Korean arts, especially ceramics. The Korean heritage group also planned events to celebrate the achievements of David Kim (b. 1963), the young Korean American concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Many of the second and third generation children of the earlier waves of academic, professional, and small business immigrants became heavily engaged in higher education, professional practice, or in the growing financial, Information, and communication technology fields in the twenty-first century. Of these, many maintained transnational connections, spending time during their academic or working years in Korea. As one example, the Philadelphia Society of Young South Koreans collaborated to generate high technology startups intended to operate between Korea and Greater Philadelphia.

The relationship between the Port of Philadelphia and Korean manufacturers became the most important economic link between the Philadelphia region and Korea. In 2007, the United States and Korea signed a trade agreement, and the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania began negotiating with Hyundai and Kia for increased automobile imports. Philadelphia’s port had been in steep decline since the 1980s, but the facility improved in the 1990s after dredging of the Delaware River and the purchase of new loading equipment. In 2010, after ten years without any auto imports, 70,000 Korean automobiles were delivered, and from 2011 to 2016, Korean car shipments grew every year but one to reach 150,000. Korea shipments of autos and other commodities became the largest in volume for the port. David Oh was part of the Korean trade mission negotiations with automobile manufacturers alongside the Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor.

Formed from different immigration waves of students, professionals, and entrepreneurs, the modern Korean community occupied many different social locations in Philadelphia. Some strongly related to their homeland and to Korean nationals, while others mainly interacted with Korean Americans in Greater Philadelphia. Still others worked or lived in localities that brought them into relationships with the region’s diverse racial and ethnic groups—other Asian Americans, African Americans, and Latinos.  Many of their experiences circulated through collective structures such as churches, university-based organizations, and associations of entrepreneurs. In this way, Korean Americans connected with each other and contributed to transatlantic projects like port development to benefit people in Greater Philadelphia as well as in Korea.

Judith Goode is Professor Emerita of Anthropology and Urban Studies at Temple University. Since 1970, she has been doing ethnographic research exploring immigration, class, and ethnic relations in neighborhoods within Greater Philadelphia. She has served on the boards of several community-based organizations and she has contributed to public anthropology through op-ed pages and radio and TV interviews.

National Register of Historic Places (Sites)

The Philadelphia region’s early settlement and political and industrial dominance throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries left a tremendous physical presence on the landscape, both above and below ground. Many of these places have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, a list of buildings, neighborhoods, objects, structures, and sites throughout the United States that are considered historically significant and worthy of preservation.

[caption id="attachment_27595" align="alignright" width="213"] As the largest municipal building in the United States, Philadelphia City Hall became a part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 established the National Register as part of a broader set of federal policies and programs aimed at identifying and preserving properties of historical, cultural, and architectural significance. The act responded to the loss of historic properties in the mid-twentieth century, when federal highway and infrastructure projects and urban renewal significantly impacted or destroyed many historic neighborhoods in the nation’s oldest and densest communities. In Philadelphia, when the construction of I-95 along the Delaware River through some of the city’s earliest neighborhoods, including Pennsport, Society Hill, Old City, and Frankford, demolished thousands of the city’s earliest buildings, no policy required planners to consider the historic value of these resources when determining the route.

That lack of policy changed in 1966. The National Historic Preservation Act, the first comprehensive effort to establish historic preservation as a public policy, required federal agencies to consider the effects of their projects on historic and archaeological resources and take steps to avoid, minimize, or mitigate those effects before implementing projects. To facilitate that consideration, it also established a list of properties deemed historically significant that agencies had to take into account in their plans—the National Register of Historic Places, maintained by the National Park Service in partnership with State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices. Listing in the National Register came to be a sign of cachet and prestige, and a prerequisite for many government grant programs and tax incentives for historic preservation. The act did not, however, obligate or restrict private owners from using, altering, or even demolishing private property with private funds.

Properties listed in the National Register, all exemplifying some significant aspect of local, state, or national history, could be buildings or building complexes, districts composed of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of properties, structures such as bridges, objects such as monuments or fountains, or sites, including cemeteries, battlefields, and archaeological sites. Generally speaking, properties were required to be at least fifty years old to be considered eligible for the National Register, although buildings from more recent time periods that have demonstrate “exceptional significance” have also been listed.

[caption id="attachment_27598" align="alignright" width="300"] Built in 1708, the Plymouth Friends Meetinghouse in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, became part of the first Philadelphia-area historic district to be listed National Register of Historic Places. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Early listing efforts in the Philadelphia area focused on the region’s oldest and grandest places, including individual buildings scattered throughout Germantown, Society Hill, and Center City. The first district listed in Pennsylvania was the Plymouth Meeting Historic District in Montgomery County in 1971, centered on the Plymouth Friends Meeting and Abolition Hall. In the 1980s more than 150 of the city’s public schools built prior to 1938 were listed as part of a thematic nomination.

By the twenty-first century the National Park Service encouraged diversifying the National Register to be more reflective of the full spectrum of American cultures and time periods. Later Philadelphia listings included diverse resources such as factories associated with the textile industry in Kensington; Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Chester County, the site of school desegregation organizing in the 1920s; and Mill-Rae, the home of Rachel Foster Avery (1858–1919), a lieutenant of Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) in the woman suffrage movement, in the city’s Somerton neighborhood.

In southern New Jersey, the National Register listed places associated with Walt Whitman (1819–92), early Quaker communities, the Battle of Red Bank, and many residential and commercial districts such as Cape May and Haddonfield. Industrial resources, including the entire length of the Delaware & Raritan Canal, Batsto Village, and the Gloucester City Water Works Engine House, also joined the list.

[caption id="attachment_27597" align="alignright" width="300"] In 1977, Laurel Hill Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Northern Delaware added numerous districts and individual properties to the National Register, including many neighborhoods in Wilmington, such as the West Ninth Street Commercial District, listed in 2008. Listings outside the city illustrated other themes of the region’s history.  The National Register accepted for listing Owl’s Nest Country Place, the 1915 Tudor Revival country house of Eugene duPont Jr. (1873–1954) in Greenville, and the Iron Hill School #112C, built in 1923 for African American students and paid for by a trust established by Pierre S. duPont (1870–1954).

To be listed on the National Register, a property must both have significance and retain integrity. Significance can be defined in one of four ways: in relation to events or patterns of history, significant persons, architectural or engineering significance, or archaeological potential. Integrity is established by a combination of the location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association of a property and the relationship of those aspects to the property’s historical or architectural significance. Despite its name, the National Register has listed not only places of national significance but also properties considered locally significant, with importance and value to their communities or regions. The register also includes places of all ages, sizes, and types.

The National Register is not a static list, but rather a system that allows for the ongoing documentation and evaluation of new properties. Given the many layers of history in the region, many previously underappreciated places, communities, and stories have been deemed worthy of listing in the National Register.

Cory Kegerise is the Community Preservation Coordinator for Eastern Pennsylvania at the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.  A native of Berks County, he lives in Philadelphia and holds a master’s degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.

Judith Goode

Judith Goode is Professor Emerita of Anthropology and Urban Studies at Temple University. Since 1970, she has been doing ethnographic research exploring immigration, class, and ethnic relations in neighborhoods within Greater Philadelphia. She has served on the boards of several community-based organizations and she has contributed to public anthropology through op-ed pages and radio and TV interviews.

Cory Kegerise

Cory Kegerise is the Community Preservation Coordinator for Eastern Pennsylvania at the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.  A native of Berks County, he lives in Philadelphia and holds a master’s degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.

Italians and Italy

[caption id="attachment_27419" align="alignright" width="300"] The Ninth Street Italian Market, one of the city's iconic landmarks, provides a direct link to Italian immigration of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Although ties between Italy and Greater Philadelphia stretched back generations, it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that Italian migration increased to the extent of forming visible points of settlement in the area. Over time, loosely connected clusters of Italians in various neighborhoods, mainly in South Philadelphia, coalesced into a singular ethnic community with Catholic parishes and beneficial associations eventually based on their members’ common national origin. While the city’s economy diversified, Italians spread to other locations in the Pennsylvania suburbs and in many parts of southern New Jersey. By 2010, the U.S. Census identified the Philadelphia metropolitan region as home to the second-largest Italian-American population in the United States with about 3,100 Italian immigrants living in the city and more than 142,000 residents identifying as having Italian ancestry. Well beyond the iconic neighborhood of South Philadelphia, with its Italian Market along Ninth Street, they sustained a presence in multiple forms and locations.

The earliest contacts between the Philadelphia region and Italy occurred during the seventeenth century. A handful of Waldensians, members of a Christian but non-Catholic movement, reportedly landed at New Castle (later included in Delaware) in 1665 to escape religious persecution in their native Piedmont. Both William Penn (1644-1718) and Francis Daniel Pastorius (1615-1720), the founder of Germantown, visited Italy and learned the language. Penn’s successors built on Pennsylvania’s record of freedom of conscience and self-government to lure prospective settlers from northern Italy. These benefits struck a sensitive chord among people who lived in part under foreign rule and subjected to the stifling presence of the Catholic Church. An endorsement from French enlightenment philosopher Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet, 1694-1778) contributed to keeping the idea of Pennsylvania freedoms alive in Italy in the mid-eighteenth century. So did subsequent travel accounts by political essayist Filippo Mazzei (1730-1816), a friend of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) who is credited with inspiring the concept that “all men are created equal,” as well as botanist and adventurer Luigi Castiglioni (1757-1832). Even a Catholic priest such as Francesco Soave (1743-1806) extolled the philanthropy of Pennsylvania’s Quakers in his influential moral novellas in the 1780s. It was, therefore, no surprise that Philadelphia became an early magnet for Italian emigrants to British North America, who could profit by trade routes connecting the city, albeit irregularly, to ports such as Genoa and Leghorn in their homeland.

The first Italian who spent time in Philadelphia was probably John Palma (Giovanni di Palma), a composer who directed a concert in the city in 1757. Other musicians followed, along with some artists, scientists, intellectuals, merchants, artisans, vendors of plaster statues, and small entrepreneurs. Although The Directory of Philadelphia in 1791 listed only nine residents with Italian-sounding last names, it likely missed those who had Americanized their surnames as well as recent and temporary dwellers. In the same year, the Republic of Genoa appointed the first consul in Philadelphia from the Italian peninsula to assume responsibility for trade relations.

During the first half of the nineteenth century the Italian community grew slowly and contained mostly immigrants from Liguria and Tuscany. Many, such as Giacomo Sega (1794-1859) and Piero Maroncelli (1795-1846), were political exiles. They fled the northern regions of their motherland following the initial setbacks of the Risorgimento, the movement for Italy’s political unification, and went to the United States because independence had consolidated the nation’s image as a model of liberty and free government. In the Italian expatriates’ eyes, Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence had been signed and the federal Constitution had been drafted, became the epitome of U.S. freedom.

Skilled and Warmly Welcomed

These émigrés were skilled workers who quickly became fluent in English as they Americanized. As such, they were welcomed in Philadelphia and found opportunities to advocate and raise money for the cause of Italy’s self-rule. Further enhancing the initial climate of favorable regard for Italy and its immigrants, a number of prominent families included Italy in their “Grand Tours” of Europe.

The contingent of Italians numbered only a few more than one hundred residents in 1852, when they succeeded in persuading Bishop John Neumann (1811-60) to have St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi on Montrose Street established as the first Italian Catholic parish nationwide, with Gaetano Mariani (1800-66) as its pastor. Fifteen years later, the Società di Unione e Fratellanza Italiana opened its doors at 746 S. Eighth Street as the city’s first benevolent and fraternal Italian-American ethnic association. These two institutions offered the formal foundations for the subsequent development of an Italian community that, by 1870, comprised 516 people located in a neighborhood bounded by Christian, Seventh, Carpenter, and Ninth Streets in a South Philadelphia district where the price of real estate was lower than in other areas.

In contrast to earlier migrants who had come for political purposes, Italians who crossed the Atlantic after Italy’s 1861 unification aimed almost exclusively at improving their economic condition. The exodus resulted primarily from structural factors such as the country’s backward and poor agriculture and late industrial development. From the early 1880s to the mid-1920s, these immigrants were primarily unskilled laborers from peasant backgrounds in southern Italy, with a majority from the Abruzzi region, who pursued jobs in the city’s diversified and thriving economy. They got work primarily in railroad construction and maintenance as well as in the expanding textile and clothing industries until the outbreak of World War I, and later in the shipyards and subway construction. The period from the early 1880s to the mid-1920s marked the peak of the Italian mass migration to Philadelphia within an even larger flow to the United States as a whole. The city’s Italian-born population and its children grew from 10,023 in 1890 to 136,793 in 1920, while their area of settlement in South Philadelphia extended north to Bainbridge Street and southwestward to Federal Street along Passyunk Avenue. Additional but smaller communities sprang up in Manayunk, Roxborough, West Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, Frankfort, Overbrook, Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, Nicetown, Mayfair, and Germantown. Nearly half of these immigrants were “birds of passage” who moved back and forth between Italy and Philadelphia, as many planned to spend in their native land the money they expected to make in their adoptive country.

The mushrooming of new Italian Catholic parishes offered further evidence of the creation and growth of these colonies. St. Lucy was founded in Manayunk in 1906, Our Lady of the Angels in West Philadelphia in 1907, St. Donato in Overbook in 1910, Our Lady of the Rosary in Germantown in 1914, and Our Lady of Consolation in Frankford in 1917. By 1932 the Philadelphia archdiocese included as many as twenty-three Italian parishes.

Quarries and Railroads

[caption id="attachment_27412" align="alignright" width="300"] Italian immigrants pack asparagus in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Italians also settled in Norristown in the late 1880s to work in quarries and in railroad and construction gangs. They reached southern New Jersey, too. There, at summertime during temporary layoffs in the clothing firms in the slow season, garment operatives from Philadelphia picked berries in the fields around Hammonton and Vineland to supplement their annual income. Their presence, along with that of unskilled immigrant farm laborers, contributed to the growth of an Italian community in Camden, whose members were attracted by such major job providers as Campbell Soup Company, the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, and radio manufacturer RCA. Newcomers clustered primarily in the neighborhood of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Camden’s Bergen-Lanning district. This church became their national parish in 1903 and subsequently promoted a school and several service organizations.

Immigrants also took up residence in Wilmington in the late nineteenth century, although Delaware as a whole had as few as 459 Italians in 1890. Many arrived from Torino di Sangro, in the Abruzzi region, and from the Sicilian village of Ferla to work in fiber mills, at DuPont chemicals, and with the yards of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Their colony developed in the area around St. Anthony’s church, 901 Dupont Street, which became Wilmington’s Italian national parish in 1924.

Regardless of location, Italian districts were never fully insulated from other urban sections and also became home to residents from diverse ethnic backgrounds. For instance, in 1930, the average Philadelphian of Italian descent lived in a neighborhood where only 38 percent of the inhabitants were of Italian ancestry.

[caption id="attachment_27416" align="alignright" width="300"] Enterprising Italians opened a variety of businesses across Philadelphia. By the 1920s, Italian-owned business of many kinds lined Christian Street in South Philadelphia. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Social differentiation distinguished Philadelphia’s Italian settlements from their initial existence. A small middle-class of professionals (such as lawyers, physicians, store owners, and undertakers), who catered to their countrymen, emerged quite soon. These businessmen founded the Circolo Italiano in 1913 to promote their activities. A few construction workers managed to rise to the status of contractors, while other entrepreneurs surfaced in the sectors of food production and imports from Italy.

Charles C.A. Baldi Sr., Innovator

Some early leaders acted as intermediaries between their fellow ethnics and the larger adoptive society. Prominent among them was Charles C.A. Baldi Sr. (1862-1930), who arrived in Philadelphia from the province of Salerno in 1877, on the eve of mass immigration. He started as a lemon peddler and quickly became a sophisticated version of a padrone. He was not only a labor contractor, who recruited Italian workers for railroad companies, but also an interpreter for the Italian consulate, the operator of a small bank that sent remittances to Italy, a real estate owner who rented his properties to newcomers from Italy, and a political broker who brought out the Italian vote for the Republican Party after helping immigrants apply for U.S. citizenship and qualify for the suffrage. Moreover, Baldi served as president of numerous ethnic societies and owned L’Opinione, Philadelphia’s first Italian-language daily, which he founded in 1907. By the time he died in 1930 he had long been a member of the Board of Education and his sons had served both on the City Council and in the House of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly.

Baldi’s counterpart in Camden during the 1920s and 1930s was Tony Mecca (1873-1952), a former berry-picker turned undertaker who had settled in New Jersey in 1890. From his funeral home he assisted his countrymen in getting jobs and coping with American bureaucracy. Mecca, too, mobilized his fellow ethnics for the GOP in his capacity of president of the Italian Republican League.

Italian immigrants initially failed to shape a tight-knit ethnic community. The chief drawback of the belated achievement of Italy’s political unification was the lack of a national identity among Italians, who long retained a parochial sense of regional, provincial, or even local belonging. Newcomers from different places in their motherland, too, did not think of themselves as members of the same ethnic group and shied away from one another upon arrival in Philadelphia. Separated by disparate dialects, traditions, and even foodways, as well as by local antipathies, they gathered together along regional or provincial lines in self-segregated quarters within the broader Italian settlements. South Philadelphia’s so-called Little Italy was in fact a patchwork of regional neighborhoods. Chain migration based on family and township networks contributed to this phenomenon. Newcomers went to live with or near family members and fellow villagers who had preceded them to Philadelphia. Consequently, for example, Ellsworth Street became home to immigrants from the province of Catanzaro. Those from Abruzzi lived in the area around Eighth and Fitzwater Streets. People from the same towns in Italy sometimes resided even on the same blocks. This pattern was replicated elsewhere. For instance, an enclave of Sicilians from the fishing village of Sciacca settled in Norristown, while Chestnut Hill’s “Italian” quarter was in fact inhabited primarily by highly skilled workers in stone carving and tile setting from Friuli.

A Lack of Unification

Subnational segmentation extended to religious and social life. St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi had mainly northern parishioners of Ligurian, Tuscan, and Piedmontese ancestry, while southern Italians who felt unwelcome there went to mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel. The latter was the city’s second Italian Catholic church, established by Augustinian priests at Eighth and Christian Streets in 1898 after the immigrant tide from the South of Italy had gained momentum. Mutual-aid societies based membership strictly on local ancestry. For instance, only newcomers from Abruzzi and their progeny could join the Unione Abruzzese. Likewise, Chestnut Hill’s Venetian Club included solely immigrants from Friuli, and Norristown’s SS. Maria del Soccorso Society barred individuals from other-than-Sicilian background.

The development of an ethnic identity arising from the common national origin occurred in the decades between World Wars I and II. Due to the natural increase of the population, as of the 1930 U.S. Census Philadelphians of Italian birth or parentage totaled 182,368, about 9.3 percent of the city’s total residents. By that time most associations no longer required a particular geographical origin in Italy for membership. Moreover, the Order Sons of Italy in America, a nationwide fraternal organization that made a point of celebrating Italianness and had branches in several northeastern states, incorporated a number of Philadelphia’s preexisting clubs with regional and provincial denominations as its new lodges, stimulating their members to realize their mutual Italian roots.

[caption id="attachment_27420" align="alignright" width="300"] Italian Americans in South Philadelphia celebrated the surrender of Fascist Italy during the Second World War. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The building of a more cohesive Italian community out of subnational colonies resulted from a few transformations that occurred in the years following the advent of World War I. As members of a U.S.-born second-generation with loose ties to their ancestral land came of age, they were not affected by their parents’ localistic divisions. Moreover, the end of mass immigration with the Quota Acts of 1921 and 1924 severely restricted the inflow of people from southern and eastern Europe by the mid-1920s. In addition, the Fascist regime enacted anti-emigration policies in 1927. Halting the flow of newcomers from Italy also put out the flames of subnational attachments. Jingoistic feelings following the outbreak of World War I and Italy’s aggressive foreign policy under fascism also encouraged the emergence of an Italian identity that replaced previous local allegiances. The U.S. appeasement of the Fascist regime, too, stimulated Italian immigrants to take pride in their national background. For instance, Republican Senator David A. Reed (1880-1953) of Pennsylvania overtly praised Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), and American opinion makers commended the assumed achievements of the Duce’s dictatorship for Italy’s modernization and the containment of communism.

Discrimination also induced Italian newcomers to close ranks across local divisions. Unlike their northern predecessors who had settled in Philadelphia before the 1880s, the turn-of-the-twentieth-century dark-skinned immigrants from southern Italy confronted xenophobia. Nativist sentiment branded them as violent and prone to crime due to their alleged Mafia connections.

With a reputed tendency to break strikes and accept substandard wages, people of Italian origin were considered unfair competitors on the job market and, at the same time, a potential source of corruption for bartering votes for money and political patronage. Moreover, they seemed inassimilable for their isolation in crowded, self-segregated ghettos and their limited English language. Italians also held a racial middle status between whites and blacks because of the alleged “African contamination” of their blood. Against this backdrop, Philadelphians from diverse regional backgrounds in Italy became more united as they endeavored to oppose the prejudice directed against them.

Immigration Curbed

Ethnic bias played a pivotal role in curbing Italian immigration to the United States before World War II temporarily halted the inflow of newcomers. The Italian tide resumed after the military conflict, although the federal legislation of the 1920s continued to restrain it significantly. In 1952 Philadelphians of Italian ancestry created a Committee for Better Government to lobby against immigration restriction based on the prospective newcomers’ national origin. Their efforts, however, were to no avail for thirteen years. Accordingly, the number of Italian-born residents in the city declined steadily and steeply, from 59,079 in 1940 to 9,279 in 1990. South Philadelphia’s population of Italian origin slumped almost 60 percent during the 1970s. Until this decade, the stagnant real estate values in the district and hostility toward prospective African American residents encouraged the stability of the community. Indeed, Italian Americans made a point of protecting their neighborhoods. They opposed public housing for blacks in Whitman Park and resisted school integration, in part by transferring their children to parochial schools. They also allied with Philadelphians of Polish and Irish descent to elect former police Commissioner Frank Rizzo (1920-91) to the mayoralty in 1971 and 1975 as a champion of the white backlash against African Americans’ alleged encroachment.

Although the federal Hart-Celler Act of 1965 (enforced beginning in 1968) repealed the national-origins system and reopened the door to more Italian immigrants, the inflow did not offset the death rate of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century generations of arrivals. Italy’s economic growth in the industrial sector between the late 1950s and the early 1960s curbed emigration because it enabled southerners to find employment in the country’s northern districts. At the same time, deindustrialization and job losses in Philadelphia, Camden, Norristown, and other manufacturing centers diminished the region’s attractiveness for prospective Italian newcomers. A decline in Camden’s Italian-American population resulted in the merger of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the predominantly Hispanic Our Lady of Fatima parishes in 1974. Likewise, in Philadelphia, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi was combined with St. Paul in 2000.

The few Italian expatriates tended to join relatives and friends who already lived in suburban districts. Indeed, while the number of Philadelphia’s Italian-born dwellers shrank in the postwar decades, suburbanization redrew the map of Italian-American population in the metropolitan region. As the prewar immigrants’ children and grandchildren entered the middle class, they moved to residential areas in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties as well as in southern New Jersey. There, they sometimes reproduced the ethnic enclaves they left in the city. In Ardmore, for instance, a population of Italian descent concentrated south of Lancaster Avenue.

Post-1968 immigrants were not only workers. The Italian presence in the 1980s also included cultural personalities such as conductor Riccardo Muti (b. 1941), who was the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director from 1979 to 1992.

The late 1990s witnessed a new, albeit numerically small, immigration tide from Italy. These arrivals, who made up the bulk of Philadelphia’s recent Italian-born population, were mostly graduate students, young hyperskilled professionals, researchers, and academicians attracted by better education, higher quality of life, larger income, and more rewarding jobs than those available in their native land. Newcomers also escaped from a general sense of malaise resulting from flattened career trajectories, economic stagnation, and lack of perspectives for real changes and innovation in their mother country. As the perception of Italy’s economic, social, and political hopelessness deepened in the aftermath of the 2008 recession and during the subsequent slow and rough recovery, this wave of immigrants continued.

Stefano Luconi teaches History of the Americas at the University of Florence and specializes in Italian immigration to the United States, with special attention to Italian Americans’ transformation of ethnic identity. His publications include From Paesani to White Ethnics: The Italian Experience in Philadelphia (State University of New York Press, 2001) and The Italian-American Vote in Providence, Rhode Island, 1916-1948 (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004). He also edited, with Dennis Barone, Small Towns, Big Cities: The Urban Experience of Italian Americans (American Italian Historical Association, 2010).

Lehigh Valley

Over the centuries, strong ties of transport, investment, and culture grew between the Greater Philadelphia region and the Lehigh Valley.  The valley was carved by retreating glaciers twenty thousand years ago and maintained by its namesake river running from the Pocono Mountains, through Blue Mountain, south and east into the Delaware River.  Only in recent memory was the region defined as the three counties of Carbon, Lehigh, and Northampton, and the metropolitan areas of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton.

[caption id="attachment_27352" align="alignright" width="300"] The Lehigh Valley is named for the Lehigh River, a tributary of the Delaware River. The 109-mile river made possible the settlement of the region. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The Minsi Trail pathway linked elements of the Lenni Lenape tribe of Native Americans living in the Delaware, Lehigh, and Lackawanna river valleys. This trail, used for trade, communication, and tribal war, led the first Europeans to the valley in the early eighteenth century. The Lenape were forced from the valley after it was granted to the colony of Pennsylvania by the 1737 Walking Purchase. Evangelist George Whitefield (1714-70), Chief Justice William Allen (1704-80), and several wealthy Philadelphia investors purchased large tracts of the land in order to build country estates. Whitefield and Allen eventually sold their lands to settlers who developed communities in the region. Moravian missionaries settled Nazareth in 1740, and sect leader Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf (1700-60) founded Bethlehem in 1741. Allen, himself, planned Allentown (originally Northampton Town) in 1762.

Minsi Trail became known as the King’s Road and was maintained at the colony’s insistence by local communities. It spurred trade, making the valley a major supplier of furs, timber, iron, and agricultural products to Philadelphia. Pennsylvania recognized the region’s importance in 1752 by organizing it as Northampton County and naming Easton as the county seat. German immigrants followed the Moravian and Pennsylvania settlement efforts and filled out much of the valley’s land by the time of the American Revolution.

In the War for Independence the valley was the site of a Continental Army hospital and a state armory, and provided foodstuffs and supplies to the war effort. Durham Iron Furnace, owned by Irishman George Taylor (c. 1716-81), produced artillery and ammunition, and Taylor served in the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. When the British occupied Philadelphia in the winter of 1777-78, the state moved several manufacturing operations to Bethlehem, and Allentown was used to warehouse Philadelphia’s many church bells. Most famously, the Pennsylvania State House bell, later known as the Liberty Bell, was stored in Allentown’s Zion German Reformed Church.

Stagecoach Service

After the war, the valley’s connections to Philadelphia increased. The beginning of regular stagecoach service in 1796 and the chartering of a turnpike company to manage the route in 1804 transformed the King’s Road into Bethlehem Pike. The 1791 discovery of coal in the region drew investment from Philadelphia, whose entrepreneurs Josiah White (1781-1850) and Erskine Hazard (1790-1865) chartered the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company to develop the coal field and built the Lehigh Canal between 1818 and 1829. The canal remained in operation until the 1940s, moving coal and iron to Philadelphia’s extensive factories and workshops. 

Lehigh County was founded in 1811 and Carbon in 1843 as development in the region strained communications with Easton. Many local residents, however, considered federal, state, and Philadelphia city involvement in the valley detrimental to local morality and culture. The Fries Rebellion erupted in 1799 after a federal house tax was zealously enforced. Arrests for non-payment provoked John Fries (c. 1750-1818) to lead his fellow Lehigh Valley citizens in an armed attack on the Bethlehem jail holding the tax dodgers. Fries and others were tried and sentenced to death but pardoned by President John Adams (1735-1826). Political conflict replaced armed uprisings in the nineteenth century as the valley fought against state laws mandating public schools, missionary Methodist expansion, and outside investment in natural resources. But the valley could not stop Philadelphians’ investment and interest in the region.

[caption id="attachment_27353" align="alignright" width="300"] Railroads played a vital role in the development of the Lehigh Valley. The Black Diamond Express became one of the most famous trains in the region. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

In 1852, the North Pennsylvania Railroad further linked the valley with Philadelphia. The Reading Railroad then leased that line and built the Perkiomen Railroad and East Penn Railroad to connect various segments of the valley to the greater Philadelphia region. Asa Packer (1805-79), however, controlled valley rail traffic by creating the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1852 from rights-of-way he purchased from Philadelphia investor Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844). These rail routes served to develop various valley industries including cement making, slate mining, and iron and zinc smelting. Crayola, founded in 1885, and Just Born Quality Confections, founded in 1923, used the valley’s rail networks and access to resources to provide creative color toys and candies, respectively, to the Philadelphia region and outward to national markets. In 1857, Philadelphian Joseph Wharton (1826-1909) founded the Saucon Iron Company, which became Bethlehem Iron in 1861 and Bethlehem Steel in 1899. The steel company, until its 1995 closure, provided for Philadelphia’s manufacturing enterprises and for the Delaware River (later Benjamin Franklin) Bridge, built in 1926. 

[caption id="attachment_27356" align="alignright" width="300"] Coal Mining is interwoven into the economic and cultural character of the Lehigh Valley. After coal deposits were discovered in 1791 near Mauch Chunk (later known as Jim Thorpe), dozens of coal-mining operations sprung up across the region. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Philadelphia, however, was not the valley’s only customer. Bethlehem Steel provided beams and cable for buildings and bridges around the country, including the Golden Gate Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Chrysler Building, and Hoover Dam. Crayola Crayons were marketed around the world and were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998. Similarly, Just Born, started in New York, was given the key to the city of San Francisco for the innovativeness of its products. Passenger transport in the valley was developed by numerous trolley companies, one of which, the Lehigh Valley Traction Company, began service to Philadelphia, known as the Liberty Bell Line, in 1903. Two years later the company purchased and united all local routes as the Lehigh Valley Transit Company, making it possible to travel from Philadelphia to any part of the valley.  Trolley service lasted until 1956 when post-World War II developments in bus service and personal cars made the rails unprofitable. Many of the Transit Company’s rights-of-way in the Valley were transferred in 1970 to Philadelphia’s transport company, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). In 1926, Bethlehem Pike was redesignated as Pa. Route 309 and upgrades began, with segments transformed into highways. Some parts were left to local use and named Old Bethlehem Pike. In 1955, an extension was added to the Pennsylvania Turnpike providing a second road link between the Philadelphia region and the valley. 

Becoming a Bedroom Community

The construction of Pa. Routes 22 and 78 from the 1950s to the 1970s remade the valley into a New York City bedroom community. Commuters followed the highways west to avoid high costs of living, and bus service developed to transport workers into New York. Likewise, by the 1990s numerous New York firms relocated to the valley or built transport hubs to make use of the workforce and road network. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau recognized the importance of this economic and cultural connection by including the valley as part of the New York Metropolitan Statistical Area. Built in 1929, the Lehigh Valley International Airport connected the region to further non-Philadelphia markets and investors. The airport’s location and local intermodal service attracted Amazon, FedEx, and Air Transport International to make the valley a shipping hub for their enterprises.

Nevertheless, the valley retained strong cultural and economic ties to Philadelphia as well. Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL), founded in 1920, provided electricity to several communities in the outlying Philadelphia region and was a major founding sponsor of the city’s professional soccer team, the Philadelphia Union, which played in Talen Energy Stadium, named after a PPL subsidiary. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms minor league hockey team, farm team to the Philadelphia Flyers, began playing in Philadelphia before moving to Allentown in 2014.  Minor league baseball’s Ironpigs arrived in the valley in 2008 after becoming a farm team for the Philadelphia Phillies.

The valley was also served by Philadelphia’s major media outlets, and numerous health insurance, banking, and engineering firms had shared offices between the valley and Philadelphia.  St. Luke’s Health Network of Bethlehem and Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital of Allentown both invested in serving the Philadelphia region. The federal government stressed the connection between the two regions by creating the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor in 2011, building a park and bike trail system over the unused canal and rail paths that previously linked the areas. 

[caption id="attachment_27448" align="alignright" width="300"] Each August, Bethlehem is the setting for Musikfest, a ten-day musical extravaganza with a wide range of free and ticketed concerts and street entertainment. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Investors saw the valley as a location to build hubs of transport, communication, and entertainment. In 2007, Sands Casino Resort purchased a large portion of the former Bethlehem Steel site and developed it into a $400 million gaming, live entertainment, hotel, and shopping destination. Opening in 2009, the site drew visitors to the Valley from both Philadelphia and New York. Sands became a major sponsor of Musikfest, an annual ten-day summer celebration of all music types. Started in 1984, in 2016 it hosted over nine hundred thousand people. It was created by ArtsQuest, a valley creative arts nonprofit that worked with Sands to develop the Steel Stacks Event Center on the old Bethlehem Steel site for both Musikfest and year-round programming. Remaining Bethlehem Steel properties as well as former industrial sites around the valley were purchased by the Lehigh Valley Industrial Park, an organization created in 1959 to revitalize the valley’s economic prospects as traditional enterprises declined. LVIP developed its section of the Bethlehem Steel site into office space, intermodal service, and storage. This investment drew companies like Norfolk Southern, Cigars International, WHEMCO (Lehigh Heavy Forge), and United States Cold Storage to the Valley. Philadelphia shoppers were further drawn to the region by the opening in 2006 of the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, which featured seventy-three premium outlet stores. 

Higher Education and Health Care

Much of the valley’s redevelopment was also due to its institutions of higher learning and health care.  Moravian College, founded as a women’s seminary in 1741, played a major role in strengthening Bethlehem’s historic core. Lafayette College was founded in 1826 and in 1832 Easton’s town fathers convinced Reverend George Junkin (1790-1868) to relocate his Manual Labor Academy from Germantown to become part of the college. Lafayette subsequently became the city’s cultural heart. Muhlenberg College, founded 1848, and Cedar Crest, founded 1867, promoted Allentown as an undergraduate destination. Asa Packer (1805-1879) joined the development of education in the valley by opening Lehigh University in 1865 to provide engineers for his railroad. 

Lehigh picked up the research mantle left by Bethlehem Steel, taking over its innovation center and promoting cultural events on Bethlehem’s South Side. The largest educational institutions in the Valley, however, were Northampton Community College (NCC) and Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC), with roughly ten thousand students each. They took leading roles in redeveloping the downtowns of Bethlehem and Allentown, respectively.  NCC rehabbed an old Bethlehem Steel structure into an educational and community space. What began as Allentown Hospital in 1899 and a small St. Luke’s Hospital for Bethlehem’s South Side community in 1872 had by 2014 become the two largest employers in the valley. Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) and St. Luke’s Health Network built dozens of facilities throughout the valley and beyond, expanding opportunity and infrastructure. Together they employed 3 percent of the valley’s population.

Throughout its development, the valley was an immigrant community. Following settlement by Moravians and Germans in the colonial period, Irish came to the region to work in the canals, railroads, and mines. Irish mine workers famously became known as the Molly Maguires, namesake of labor agitators whose leaders were hanged at the Carbon County Prison in Jim Thorpe. Irish immigration was quickly overwhelmed, however, by large numbers of Eastern Europeans, who came to work in the coal mines, iron furnaces, and steel mills. Churches and fraternal organizations located throughout the valley signaled the presence of two dozen different nationalities. Although African American workers were recruited to the valley during the world wars, more recently Latino immigration from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic primarily surged, giving the region one of the largest Latino populations in Pennsylvania.

The Lehigh River Valley witnessed a great deal of development and change through the centuries.  Lenni Lenape, Germans, Slavs, and Latinos each added distinctive marks to the land in terms of transport routes, educational institutions, industrial concerns, and entertainment options. The majority of this development tied the region to Philadelphia, but that did not keep the valley from becoming an economic and cultural hub in its own right.

Robert F. Smith, Ph.D., is Assistant Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Northampton Community College and author of the book Manufacturing Independence: Industrial Innovation in the American Revolution.

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