Book Reviews: Summer 2015

Pittsburgh’s Mansions, Melanie Linn GutowskiPittsburgh’s Mansions
By Melanie Linn Gutowski
Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2013
128 pp., B&W photographs
$21.99 paperback

Have you ever gazed upon a beautiful Pittsburgh home and wondered who could ever inhabit such a wonderful place or what it might be like inside? “Pittsburgh’s Mansions” shows you the answer to this question with an array of archival photos that Melanie Linn Gutowski has compiled and interpreted in a small yet engrossing book. The photographs provide rich and engaging glimpses into the domestic lives of notable Pittsburghers and their families, taking the reader on a tour of some of the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods.

The book is divided into four chapters that discuss mansions according to their location in Pittsburgh: the East End, Shadyside, Allegheny City, and Sewickley. Between 1830 and 1930, Pittsburgh’s industrial power created many millionaires and with that came the growth of suburban housing to serve the needs of escaping the pollution and overcrowded communities. The areas discussed were considered the suburbs in those days and they often grew along with the Pennsylvania Railroad, which gave residents a convenient means to commute to town.

Due to wealth or societal prominence, some families could afford to have their homes built by some of the leading architects of the day such as Alden & Harlow, Janssen & Abbott, and Rutan & Russell, who were tasked with realizing the dreams of their patrons. Many thought of the home as a sanctuary and they were certainly built in a grandiose manner to escape the rest of the world. In addition to exterior photographs, there are some photos of home interiors. It is particularly fascinating to see the elaborate furnishings and decorations filling the houses, and Gutowski does a great job of pointing out some of the details one might miss upon first glance.

Sadly, many of the homes shown in this book have been demolished, but the names and legacies of those who owned and lived in them continue to live on in the names of Pittsburgh’s streets, neighborhoods, and parks.

Reviewed by Liz Simpson, Assistant Editor and Collections Assistant, Heinz History Center

Those Who Fought: Allegheny County, Pa., and the Gettysburg Campaign, Arthur B. FoxThose Who Fought: Allegheny County, Pa., and the Gettysburg Campaign
By Arthur B. Fox
Chicora: Mechling Bindery, 2013
202 pp.; Color and B&W photos and maps
$19.99 paperback

Our understanding of the past suffers when we try to section off periods of time as distinct events. Often, the American Civil War is approached in this way, and while doing so can make it easy for textbooks to organize history, truncating the story can make both the time and the people difficult to relate to. Arthur B. Fox’s “Those Who Fought: Allegheny County, Pa., and the Gettysburg Campaign” – his third installment in a trilogy about Allegheny County during the Civil War – is a compilation of interesting information and stories about individuals from Western Pennsylvania who fought in the battle of Gettysburg. Fox does not remain within the timeframe of the three-day battle in his study; instead, he explores the lives of soldiers and regiments before, during, and after that infamous battle.

The book is formatted like a reference guide, allowing it to be read from cover to cover or in any order. It is not structured like a narrative. In many cases, it presents factual information, requiring the reader to analyze and interpret what is discussed. For researchers seeking source material, this text will surely prove useful. Chapter one gives a brief sketch of the battle, giving the following chapters context. Fox then approaches telling the story of Allegheny County’s soldiers through reporting on individual regiments and their various subdivisions (chapters two and three). Chapter four outlines what was happening in Pittsburgh and its surrounding municipalities during and after the battle. With human interest stories added throughout, the book allows the reader to see overarching trends, as well as individual accounts of the battle and the Civil War.

The two achievements of this book are first the individual accounts that trace the history of the ordinary and the extraordinary before, during, and after the battle; second is the humanizing effect this has on the subjects of study, making them relatable. Discussions on the problems veterans faced following the war mirror those we hear about today. Stories of turn-of-the-century Americans seeking to commemorate the battle resonate with our own efforts to remember tragedies and events of the present. “Those Who Fought” offers an account of the battle of Gettysburg that any enthusiast of Western Pennsylvania history is sure to want to read.

Reviewed by Aaron O’Data, Duquesne University Public History program alumnus

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