Following up his earlier Delaware Before the Railroads, Dave Tabler serves up a strong sequel with Delaware From Railways to Freeways, continuing his home state’s story, this time from the late 18th to the early 20th century.
Like its predecessor, the book largely consists of illustrations and photos, filled out with extensive endnotes. Per the title, Tabler emphasizes the introduction of railroads and other innovations in transportation, like the supplanting of sail by steamships, but the book is less dry than that might sound. Instead, the well-chosen images vividly illustrate life in a bygone America.
Tabler shows photos of graffiti carved into homes built in the early 1800s, suggesting human nature has changed less over two centuries than one might think. Similarly, a one-horse open sleigh seems less quaint when the author observes its “jingle bells” were a safety feature designed to warn pedestrians and other sleighs, and that newspapers at the time complained about the “flashy” vehicles dashing at “breakneck speeds.”
In addition to telling detail, Tabler shows a good eye for stories and people to highlight. Delaware was a battleground for the fight between slavery and abolitionists, and provided the setting for Harriet Tubman’s “most intricate escape plot to date” in 1856. During the Civil War, the state divided its loyalties between the Confederacy and Union.
Closer to the present, Tabler explains how in the late 1800s a behind-the-scenes cabal ominously nicknamed “the group” established Delaware as the country’s corporate tax haven. Around the same time, free mail delivery was only just coming to rural areas. Meanwhile, gunpowder-manufacturing scion Alfred I. du Pont became the state’s first car owner, just before the century’s close.
Some of the page numbers provided for the endnotes are inaccurate, but this doesn’t seriously affect readability. This book is full of treasures for any lover of American history, not just native Delawareans, and will leave readers eagerly anticipating the next projected volume, Delaware from Freeways to e-Ways.