Jack Brubaker,
Remembering Lancaster County:
Stories from Pennsylvania Dutch Country

(History Press, 2010)

Every community should have a Jack Brubaker.

To learn why, pick up a copy of Remembering Lancaster County: Stories from Pennsylvania Dutch Country. This slim book, part of the American Chronicles series from History Press, is not so much a history text as it is a collection of vignettes, each culled from seemingly trivial chapters in local history and first presented in Brubaker's newspaper column, "The Scribbler."

The book begins with the county's lifeblood, the Susquehanna River, with stories ranging from early petroglyphs lost beneath dam-swollen waters to ice chunks dredged from the bottom during an August heatwave. Further chapters include the city (from mapmaking to residential density), transportation (from Indian and wagon trails to steamboats and trolleys), commerce (from department stores to snuff) and war (from Indian raids to the USS Maine). There are sections on influential and memorable (read: quirky) locals and, yes, those ubiquitous Amish.

Every place has history. The benefit of having a Jack Brubaker in your community is in both the high level of detail and presentation of those facts. For one thing, Brubaker's work here demonstrates a meticulous approach to his subject; he obviously knows his way around a library and newspaper morgue, and he isn't shy about picking up a phone when he wants to consult an expert. Once he's ferreted out the details, he has the gift of writing them up in an interesting, never-dull style that is a pleasure to read. You can tell he likes telling stories. Everything is told in Brubaker's relaxed narrative style, as suitable for an idle front-porch conversation among friends as it is for a newspaper column or book.

If I had any quibble with the book, it would be the subtitle. Certainly, Lancaster County is the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and certainly that is the first association that springs to mind for any non-locals who are confronted with the name. However, the area is much more than a patchwork quilt of Amish and Mennonite traditions -- as this book clearly proves -- so it'd be nice if the title didn't conjure so narrow a focus.

That tiny complaint aside, this is a vastly entertaining and informative book that should find an audience among Lancaster County residents and visitors alike, as well as anyone with a passion for historical trivia. And, for those of you who aren't lucky enough to live here in Lancaster, I can only hope for your sake that your hometown has a Jack Brubaker, too.

book review by
Tom Knapp

4 December 2010

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