Urban History in Support of
Urban Activism


"Understanding the past better equips us to live in the present and plan for the future."

My New Book, They Been Down So Long/Getting Up's Still On Their Minds, will be published this summer.

A blog post from Newsworks.org, gives you an introduction to what it's about:

     Historian and blogger Michael Tolle recently moved away from his home of 36 years near the Schuylkill River valley, but that doesn’t mean the region has captured less of his attention. This spring, Tolle plans to publish a book based on his historic studies of eight towns located along the Lower Schuylkill River between Reading and Philadelphia.  The book also explores how the towns could prosper in the future.
     Tolle was struck by the historic similarities of the eight towns: Pottstown, Royersford, Spring City, Phoenixville, Norristown, Bridgeport, Conshohocken and West Conshohocken.
     "All of these towns on the lower Schuylkill river all came into being for the same reason. They all assumed the same shape. The only difference between the towns other than their size is the topography on which they sit. Otherwise their commercial districts, their residential districts, their industry are all in the same place and in the same order," said Tolle.
     Tolle said like many places in Pennsylvania after World War II, the eight towns began a long decline and experienced the loss of industry and the loss of the railroad. He found the trend of the eight river towns including their rise and fall began to diverge greatly by about 1980.
     Most of the towns of the Lower Schuylkill Valley remain stagnant, Tolle said,  with the exception of Phoenixville, Conshohocken and West Conshohocken.  Tolle started to think about how can these towns move past stagnation and become revitalized.... 

Tolle’s book, “They’ve Been Down So Long / Getting Up Still on Their Minds” is expected to become available in spring 2015. 

Read the full post (with map) on Newsworks.org: 



My Blogs:

All of my writing on cities and community development can be found on my two blogs -- one local, one global.

The More Things Change...

Those who seek to improve their urban environment will continue to make mistakes as long as they continue to believe in myths about what made their communities the way they are.  

My blog attacks those myths, and promotes community development in our smaller urban areas, utilizing subjects drawn from the former mill towns along the lower Schuylkill River in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

read the blog

...The More They Stay The Same

A historian's take on the relationship between the urban grid and the automobile, past, present and future.

read the blog


"What Killed Downtown? remains a welcome contrast to countless other chronicles of downtown decline whose narratives depend on sociological detachment. Recognizing that true objectivity is impossible, Tolle instead depicts the Norristown transformation from the perspective of people who experienced it."

- Eric McAfee, Urbanophile