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'Tamaqua Then and Now'

  • Tamaqua Then and Now is an 80-page pictorial of the Schuylkill County community. Produced by R. Thomas Berner, the book is available online.
    Tamaqua Then and Now is an 80-page pictorial of the Schuylkill County community. Produced by R. Thomas Berner, the book is available online.
Published November 05. 2009 05:00PM

In a sense, former Tamaqua resident and author R. Thomas Berner has created a time machine that spans 100 years.

The machine comes in the form of an 80-page glossy softcover called 'Tamaqua Then and Now.' The pictorial presents a side-by-side comparison of familiar and not-so-familiar street scenes and buildings from the town's early years and heyday.

The book was self-published by Berner through his Coal Cracker Press and is a labor of love for the former journalism professor, a 1961 alumnus of Tamaqua Area Joint Senior High School. Most of the 'now' photos were taken in July when Berner returned to town from his home in Santa Fe, NM.

"I started out with a three-ring binder. In it I put all of the old photographs that I wanted to duplicate," said Berner in a phone interview Tuesday. Those photos were protected in plastic sleeves, making the binder bulky.

Berner toted the heavy load inside a backpack as he traversed the hills and valleys of town. He had planned carefully so as not to waste one precious minute in photographing various scenes and buildings in the community.

"It was organized by wards," said Berner, who walked around town beginning on a Sunday morning.

Berner shot scenes using a wide-angle lens, then cropped the images to match the early originals as closely as possible.

The result is a timeless compendium that archives the visual transformation of a busy town that helped to fuel America's Industrial Revolution.

"Given that some day I hope to go back and also my hope that other photographs and postcards will surface, I'd like to think of this book as a first edition or first in a series. I love Tamaqua - it really was an important part of my life - and I'd like to help contribute to remembering it in my way," Berner wrote in the book's introduction.

Berner's wish is that someone organize a major one-year photo shoot to record what Tamaqua is like now so a century hence residents will have photos for comparison.

"When I think of all of the buildings that have disappeared in my lifetime (including the Courier), I realize how important it is to document the town now for the day when it will be the town then," Berner said. He acknowledges many contributors, including Robert Betz, Paul Scherer and his Musings of a Chronicler, Ed Biskis, Giff Albright, Sallie Allen, Diana Derr Irvin Sassaman and Lee Shafer.

"Without them, this book would have no content," he wrote. In particular, Berner mentions early images of the Five Points provided by Shafer, photos which, up until this point, hadn't been seen by many folks.

He also notes cooperation from Art Connely and Jay Hollenbach, Jr., of American Hose Co., and useful suggestions from David R. Cipko and Carol Moyer.

Berner also mentions those who influenced him, thus the book, including Judy Berner, Margaret Clark, and the late Eleanor deQuevedo.

"The cooperative spirit of Tamaquans undergirds this book," wrote Berner in a thank you.

Berner, a U. S. Navy veteran, is a professor emeritus of journalism and American studies at Penn State University. His master's thesis - Death of a Small-Town Daily - was written on subject of The Tamaqua Evening Courier. Berner is a former Courier employee.

The book, made available through a print-on-demand system, can be obtained only at the website. Once at the site, simply put the word Tamaqua in the search window.

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