The Welsh Tract

Long before Europe’s expeditionary traders and vanguard settlers arrive nearly 400 years ago, indigenous Lenape roam the forested Mëneyung watershed — later called the Schuylkill River — seasonally hunting game and migratory fowl, annually feasting upon spawning shad, and harrowing small plantings of maize and calabash.  The peaceable, agrarian Delaware welcome the pale, bearded strangers, ceding parcels, bartering goods.  But no pastoral adaptive skills can stem the ever-rising tide of colonizing Swede, Dutch, and English.

When a visionary Friend collects on a royal debt, a paper province is born, as an overnight colonial city welcomes thousands, and quickly swells.  On burgeoning Philadelphia’s western doorstep, the Welsh Tract balances rural life with proximity to the continent’s newest and largest metropolis, soon second only to London in the British Empire.  Then and now, abundant resources, enshrined tolerance, and a temperate climate attract many.

As revealed in MERION MERCIES, a single place shapes and is, in turn, scoured by the cascade of American history.  Over time, the same territory represents wilderness, hinterland, homestead, breadbasket, battleground, industrial locus, resort, summer retreat, metropolitan satellite, bedroom community.

Today, the Main Line conjures wealth and privilege.  Though accurate, the mystique is only part of a larger story, the longer continuum of the region’s unmatched richness, extending back centuries before the Paoli Local and Tracy Samantha Lord.  Like the rivers and creeks, Lenni Lenape footfalls etch the land’s contours, the least-resistant path, skirting grades, respecting ridges, wending through glen and glade.  Come Westerners, horse trails overlay, widen, and straighten those Indian tracks.

Prior to Betsy Ross’ handmade starry halo leading Washington’s wearied army to bivouac at Valley Forge, the flags of many nations plant their staffs in the fertile soil.  All dreams seem possible at the portal to the New World, amidst such well-watered bounty.  Immigrant waves fill Conestoga wagons; drovers, stage coaches, and sulkies crowd the Turnpike.  Paralleling the main arteries, railroads (and the telegraph) then speed the pace of progress.  A nexus of colleges endows the country with democratic leaders, culture, equality.  In surprising fashion, local events and players catalyze the emergent nation.

But even more than the historical Who’s Who and principal A-list families that populate the narrative, the verdant setting is the enduring character of the fuller MERION MERCIES series.  The Welsh Tract illustrates the “arc” of the nation’s land usage:  Eden pristine; hardwood forest; frontier clearings; mill-based industry; commercial conduits; dairy estates; suburbs; subdivision; urban blight; conservation and historic preservation; interstate highway court battles; redevelopment; open-space initiatives.  This constant “revisioning” of the undulating landscape is a central metaphor for the American journey, a manifest tale writ small.