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Hometown fondness

  • An Illustrated History of Tamaqua by Gifford H. Albright and R. Thomas Berner was released this week. The 114-page pictorial shows an assortment of historic images of the community, each picture accompanied by a short essay.
    An Illustrated History of Tamaqua by Gifford H. Albright and R. Thomas Berner was released this week. The 114-page pictorial shows an assortment of historic images of the community, each picture accompanied by a short essay.
Published February 20. 2010 09:00AM

Two former college professors who happen to be Tamaqua natives merged talents to publish a new pictorial perspective called An Illustrated History of Tamaqua.

The 114-page softcover was released this week, published by Coal Cracker Press, and featuring 53 historic images, each with an accompanying essay.

Gifford H. Albright, State College, and R. Thomas Berner, Santa Fe, N.M., are retired Penn State professors who share a fondness for their formative years spent in the Schuylkill County community.

That devotion to their roots prompted the two to produce the work, a photo book based on their collective knowledge of the community and material they already had in their possession or were able to extract from Internet sources.

Their authors' note states "We note a certain irony in this compilation. We never set foot in Tamaqua to do any research." Yet both are intimately familiar with the community.

"Even though I left there in 1948 to go to Penn State University, my mother lived on Arlington Street until she passed away in 1995 and I was in Tamaqua every other weekend," says Albright, who'll turn 79 in March.

Albright's father, Harry C. Albright, worked in the mechanical department of the Tamaqua Evening Courier. His mother, the former Grace Reinhart, supervised the dry goods department at Carter's General Store, East Broad Street.

Albright has many vivid memories of the six years he spent as a paperboy in the Middle Ward.

"I delivered the Courier up and down Railroad Street. The train would stop and passengers would get the paper from me. I always carried a few extras," he recalls.

Albright received his degree from PSU, and one from MIT, then served in the Civil Engineering Corps for the U.S. Navy.

He later joined the faculty of the PSU architectural engineering department and served as head of the department for 20 years before retiring as professor emeritus in 1992.

Berner, a U.S. Navy veteran, was a member of the PSU faculty. His master's thesis - Death of a Small-Town Daily - was written on the subject of the Tamaqua Evening Courier. Berner is a former Courier employee, the son of Ethel Mary Williams Berner and the late Ralph Edgar Berner. He is a 1961 graduate of Tamaqua Area Joint Senior High School. He received two degrees from PSU and became a member of the school's journalism faculty, retiring in 2003 as professor emeritus of journalism and American studies.

In their book, the authors decided to highlight buildings, people and subject matter which hadn't previously seen much public exposure.

The work contains a photo of the Pennsylvania Cornet Band of Tamaqua, which included members Tommy and Jimm Dorsey. Another photo depicts the Shindel House along West Broad Street's early Mansion Row. Still another shows highly regarded Tamaqua journalist Jimmy Lawler standing in front of the old Evening Courier Building.

"It was a struggle to hold the down the size of the essays to focus only on the pictures," says Berner, who formatted the book to be larger 8-inch by 8-inch presentation.

Some of the early illustrations represent the work of David Bensinger, whose colorized and black-and-white postcards depict the town at the turn-of-the-century.

The authors opted not to include some of the more familiar sites such as the Hegarty Blacksmith Shop and the Moser Log Home. They also chose to present a strictly historical interpretation.

"We debated how far afield to go in each essay and decided that for the most part, each essay would focus on the image and that we would seldom update to provide current information," explains an authors' note.

An Illustrated History of Tamaqua is Berner's second book in just three months. Last November he produced Tamaqua Then and Now, an 80-page glossy softcover presenting historic Tamaqua sites compared with how they appear today.

That book, and the newest illustrated history, are available online at the website. Once at the site, simply put the word Tamaqua in the search field.

Berner also announced a new project in collaboration with Francis Clifford of Tamaqua - a book about the life of author Michael Casino.

Casino served as an editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer for 24 years. He passed away on March 27, 2008, at age 100.

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