Press Coverage for They've Been Down So Long... / Getting Up's Still On Their Minds


Rivers, industry and cars: a historian looks at river towns along lower Schuylkill

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.... 

Click Here To Read the Full Post


Press Coverage for What Killed Downtown?


Downtown's Dead

At one time, downtown was the height of modernity. Now, in many cities, it’s gone. Detroit is only the beginning.

Watch old movies and TV shows and you’ll often see a thriving downtown. It was usually six or seven blocks of cheerful shopping, eating, and people watching. Although many cities have rebirthed their downtowns to great effect, most of them lie in sad ruins.

The culprits are obvious: the migration to the suburbs, the rise of the automobile and the shopping mall, and if you want to get really contemporary, the rise of e-commerce. However, there are forces much greater than these that get the root of the murder.

Historian Michael Tolle takes this dilemma and dissects it, with Norristown, PA as Exhibit A. His book, What Killed Downtown? ponders the very question, and why the answers don’t come as easily as we think – or want.


Under The Gun: Increase in crime in Norristown can be traced to economic decline

In his book “What Killed Downtown,” author and renowned historian Michael Tolle examined the reasons for the transformation of downtown Norristown from a bustling commercial hub to a “shuttered and deteriorating” hamlet that was losing residents and shoppers to the surrounding suburbs.


What Killed Downtown? Review by Eric McAfee

For those of us who have grown dyspeptic on the over-indulged topic of the collapse of the American city center, Michael Tolle’s What Killed Downtown? Norristown, Pennsylvania, from Main Street to the Malls earns much of its anodyne appeal by straying from a commonly accepted convention in urban studies—that an analysis of the socioeconomic decline of a community should draw heavily upon socioeconomic variables. Isn’t there another way to get the point across? And more importantly, aren’t there other contributing factors?


Author claims Norristown a symbol of downtown America's decline

In his new book, “What Killed Downtown?: Norristown, Pennsylvania, From Main Street to the Malls,” Michael Tolle leaves the wide-eyed romanticism to the songwriters and poets as he keenly examines why once vibrant small-town urban centers across America succumbed to economic and social disintegration in the second half of the 20th Century.


'What Killed Downtown' being presented at historical society

According to press information, downtown Norristown, the traditional shopping location of central Montgomery County for over a century, has been in transition for a number of years.

This presentation focuses on the years between 1950 and 1975.

In his new book, Tolle places Norristown within a historical framework dating back to William Penn. The narrative examines and evaluates the contributions of several known and unknown suspects involved in this decline.

His conclusions draw on “fundamental realities, and offer a contribution toward issues that still resonate in small town America today”.