Our First Summer “Patrons-Only” Episode is Here


Todd Allen

If you are a patron of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, you have heard from producer Drew Dylri Hermeling this morning about how to access our first patrons-only summer mini-episode.

Our guest on the episode is Todd Allen, the new assistant Special Assistant to the President and Provost for Diversity Affairs at Messiah College.  Todd is a scholar of the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement and wrote his doctoral dissertation on museum interpretations of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965.

For more than a decade Todd has led “Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Bus Tour,” a premier Civil Rights bus tour that takes participants to nearly every major historical site associated with the Movement.  Stops on the tour include Greensboro, NC; Atlanta, GA; Albany, GA; Montgomery, AL; Birmingham, AL; Memphis, TN; and Nashville, TN.  The tour combines historical site and museum visits with lectures, conversations with major Civil Rights Movement veterans, and documentary films.  I took the tour in June 2017 and wrote about it here.

In this episode, Todd talks about the origins of the tour, Civil Rights Movement tourism, his building of relationships with the veterans of the Movement, and a whole lot more.

We are thrilled to share this special episode with our patrons and send it along to all future patrons as well.  Please consider becoming a patron by visiting our Patreon page and making a pledge.

Messiah College First Year Humanities Scholars Take Colonial Philadelphia

Flag at the Betsy Ross house

Last Saturday I led nine members of the inaugural class of the Messiah College Humanities Scholars Program on a day-long journey through colonial and revolutionary-era Philadelphia.

I am privileged to get to work at a place that takes the humanities seriously.  Messiah College is a comprehensive college.  That means that we have both liberal arts and professional programs (think nursing and engineering). While many comprehensive colleges and universities are investing in the development of professional programs at the expense of the humanities, the leadership of Messiah College–President Kim Phipps, Provost Randy Basinger, and Dean Peter Powers, the architect of the Humanities Scholars Program–have decided to counter declining enrollments in the humanities with an all out effort to recruit more students in history, foreign languages, philosophy, religion, English, etc… (And this is only the start of our effort to revive the humanities on campus–stay tuned).

The Humanities Scholars Program offers modest scholarships to students interested in majoring in a humanities discipline. These students also participate in a host of programs on campus related to the humanities over the course of their four years at Messiah College..  One of those perks is a free tour of early Philadelphia with yours truly. The students also received a free copy of my Was American Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.  The book served as the foundation of the Philadelphia tour.

We had a fun and educational day. I have given a lot of tours of colonial and revolutionary-era Philadelphia.  Some of them are pretty basic, others more academic.  I warned the students in advance that I wanted to challenge them intellectually throughout the course of the tour.  I spent a lot of time offering mini-lectures and reading from primary sources.  For example, when we arrived at the corner of Second and Market Street, the site of the old City Hall, I read to them Benjamin Franklin’s account of George Whitefield preaching and the former’s attempt to estimate how many people could hear the evangelical preacher’s booming voice.  At Christ Church I read the story of Rector James Ambercrombie’s attempt to publicly rebuke President George Washington for not participating in the sacrament of communion.

At the end of the day we walked into Society Hill and had a great meal at Pizzeria Stella on Second and Lombard.  I highly recommend it.

Here were the places we visited:

  • Welcome Park: Where the students walked the grid of Penn’s city painted on the park grounds
  • City Tavern: Where the members of the Continental Congress drank and ate.
  • The First Bank of the United States:  Where we discussed Alexander Hamilton
  • Carpenter’s Hall: Where the First Continental Congress met in 1774.  Also learned a bit about flemish bond and the artisan culture of Philadelphia
  • The site of Anthony Benezet’s Quaker school for African children
  • The site of Benjamin Franklin’s house and print shop
  • The Second National Bank: Which is now an amazing Founding Fathers portrait gallery
  • The American Philosophical Society
  • Independence Hall
  • The Liberty Bell
  • The President’s House (and the slave quarters below)
  • The Free Quaker Meeting House
  • Benjamin Franklin’s grave:  Where I gave a brief lecture on the limits of the Enlightenment
  • The Arch Street Quaker Meetinghouse: 
  • The Betsy Ross House
  • The site of the Second Presbyterian Church and the location of the first Presbyterian General Assembly
  • Elfreth’s Alley: The oldest still inhabited residential neighborhood in America
  • Christ Church

I hope to do more of these tours on the future.  If you have a group that is interested please drop me an e-mail.

Here are some pics from the day:

Hanging out in George and Martha Washington’s pew at Christ Church
I found the John Witherspoon portrait
I also found this photo of Elias Boudinot, founder of the American Bible Society
Carpenter’s Hall
We ended the day with pizza and gelato (including Olive Oil-flavored gelato) at Pizzeria Stella in Society Hill

What is a trip to historical Philadelphia without a visit to the Liberty Bell
Elfreth’s Alley (photo by Brianna Keene

Still Room on the "Religion, Rebellion and the Founding Fathers Tour"

As I have noted here before, I will be working with the good folks at America’s History, LLC to offer “Religion, Rebellion & the Founding Fathers,” a tour of colonial mid-Atlantic sites relevant to the founding fathers and their religious world.

We will be exploring the religious and political history of three local places that played a role in the American Revolution:  Philadelphia (of course), Greenwich, NJ (home of Philip Vickers Fithian and the Greenwich Tea Burning), and New Castle, Delaware.

The tour is scheduled for June 5-8.

For more information, including pricing, check out the America’s History LLC website.


Join Us For The "Religion, Rebellion & the Founding Fathers" Tour

Christ Church, Philadelphia


This Spring The Way of Improvement Leads Home is teaming up with America’s History, LLC to offer a three-day tour focused on religion and the American Revolution in the Delaware Valley.  I will be serving as the historian for a tour of early American religious sites in Philadelphia, Greenwich (home of the famous “Greenwich Tea Burning” and the less famous Greenwich Tea Burning Project), and New Castle, Delaware.

If you are interested in early American religious history and how it intersects with the history of the American Revolution, I want to encourage you think about joining us.  The tour is scheduled for June 5-8, 2013.  Watch the America’s History, LLC website and The Way of Improvement Leads Home for more details.

The unveiling of the Greenwich Tea Burners Monument, Sept. 30, 1908

Presbyterian Church, New Castle, DE


The Moonlight Patriots

Back in April when I lectured on Was America Founded as a Christian Nation at the Fraunces Tavern Museum, I learned about an unusual tour of revolutionary-era New York City.  I have given a few tours of eighteenth-century New York, but nothing quite like this.  Every 4th of July the Tavern sponsors a “Moonlight Patriots” walking tour of colonial and revolutionary Manhattan.  In order to avoid traffic, the tour is conducted from 2am to 6am.  Tour guide James Kaplan leads the way.

I had forgotten about this innovative way of seeing the revolutionary sites of the city until I turned my browser toward American Creation and read Magpie Mason’s detailed description of this year’s Fraunces Tavern tour.  Here is a taste:

The tour always sells out in advance. With approximately three dozen explorers on hand — or, more accurately, on foot — we gathered just outside City Hall Park. There is one drawback to this scheduling: denied access to important sites. Both Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel open their doors early in the morning, but not early enough for us Moonlight Patriots. The final resting places of Alexander Hamilton and so many others are kept just out of reach behind impressive iron fences. Even the grounds of City Hall itself are off limits now in this security-conscious time, making Frederick MacMonnies’ grand 13-foot bronze of martyr Nathan Hale visible only from behind and at some distance. A second issue, concerning not the hour of the event but its timing, is Mr. Kaplan’s use of lengthy stops in several places to speak at length on historical contexts. Perhaps anticipating physical limitations of some participants (we appeared to vary in age from 20 to 60), Mr. Kaplan pauses where park benches or other ample seating are available to deliver his bookend monologues on the early years of the Dutch colony and the post-Revolution periods of Tammany, Erie Canal, and more. It is all important information, but it could be e-mailed in advance to participants, freeing time to visit more locations. We missed Federal Hall, where, so help me God, George Washington still stands at the site where he took his first presidential oath of office, and where the John Peter Zenger trial took place in 1735. The New York Stock Exchange is just across Wall Street, so close to where we passed near the close of our tour. But I leave this consideration to our host, who is both highly capable and visibly passionate; his excitement for this avocation is revealed in the gestures of his hands and the occasional tremolo in his voice.

Could you do the same type of tour in Philadelphia?  Probably not.  Many of the historic sites in Philly are embedded in neighborhoods.  Moreover, most of the “must see” sites, such as Independence Hall, are only open during the day.

I have found that a tour of revolutionary New York requires a more intensive use of the imagination than a tour of revolutionary Philly.  Since most of the New York tour takes place in what today is the financial district, and very little of this history has been preserved, there is not a great deal of pressure to enter buildings, thus making a midnight tour worthwhile.  This also means that there is more pressure on the tour guide to trigger the imagination of those on the tour.  I am sure Kaplan does a great job.