Anyone who thinks most Main Liners could care less about history knows nothing about the Main Line. We’re swimming in the past around here. It’s in our faces as we drive to work every day, take the kids out to the park on weekends and head to one of the area’s many historic downtowns for a night out.
Yet, when our resident history expert, Mark E. Dixon, first came to Main Line Today with the idea of writing a weekly column for the magazine, the editor at the time (who will remain nameless) couldn’t see the merit in it. Fortunately for readers, my predecessor, Mark Nardone, could. And eight years later, Dixon’s alternately witty and scholarly Retrospect column continues to inspire more letters and e-mails than anything else in the magazine. By far. Moreover, his spot-on research, present-day perspective and polished prose are an editor’s dream—or what Nardone once so accurately called “the usual brilliance.”
Some of Dixon’s best Retrospect columns have gone nationwide, thanks to an impeccably assembled series of books published by the History Press. Two—The Hidden History of the Main Line and The Hidden History of Delaware County—are out now. The Hidden History of Chester County is due within the next few months. (Meanwhile, the first two are available for a special price here.)
Dixon was also a big part of this month’s Main Line Today, dubbed “The History Issue” for obvious reasons. He picked the “12 Must-See Historic Sites You Never Heard Of” for our chart here. And his Retrospect column on baseball’s little-known Darby Hilldales will leave you itching for spring training.
Also check out Terry Conway’s story on the unheralded role of Chester County residents in the surveying efforts for the Mason-Dixon Line. Elsewhere, David McCormick traces toll roads’ dicey history in Pennsylvania.
Dixon tracked down the photos and stories for “Nature’s Wrath,” which documents the sometimes transformative effects of inclement weather on the Main Line and western suburbs through the decades. Devastating, yes—but also inevitable and even necessary, according to Dixon. “Ice brings down old trees; heavy snow crushes neglected barns; floods wash out roads that probably shouldn’t have been there to begin with; lightning kills some cows in a meadow, making factory farms seem like a good idea,” he says. “Weather gives us an opportunity to reconsider our ideas. Spring showers aren’t just for the flowers. They’re nature’s way of asking, ‘Do you really want to build houses along that river? Really?’”
Something to ponder on those frigid winter nights.