Unlike the previous three parts, this isn’t as much a revisiting of Logan as it is a renewed appreciation of the history of where I grew up. While the facebook group Growing Up in Logan/Olney Neighborhoods in the ’50s and ’60s Philadelphia was the original prompt for my nostalgia tour, I confess to never having had much appreciation for the significance of the gentleman whose name our neighborhood honored.
Nor have I thought about James Logan much beyond the Wikipedia entry describing him as a statesman and bibliophile who admitted that books were his disease, a pathology I fully grasp and to which Miriam will attest, though there are, as they say, worse things in life. Speaking of which, I was nearing the end of Buchwald & Feingold’s masterpiece on Newton and the Origins of Civilization when I came across a reference to James Logan of Philadelphia, a Colonial mathematician who took issue with aspects of Newton’s Chronology. Wow! Challenging Sir Isaac Newton in print must have been a grave undertaking.
As it turns out, Logan was more widely acclaimed and admired than I had ever imagined. The bibliography of Buchwald & Feingold’s work led me to the reference on Edwin Wolf’s 1974 book, The Library of James Logan of Philadelphia. As a review of the book noted, the center of Logan’s intellectual life was his library. He amassed close to 3000 books, representing the largest and finest collection of classical works in pre-revolutionary America including prized editions of Euclid’s Geometry and Newton’s Principia Mathematica – texts found in few other places in the American colonies. Logan’s library was originally housed in his mansion known as Stenton at 4601 North 18th Street (on the corner of Courtland), the name derived from the town in Scotland where his father was born. Twenty-six years after Logan’s death in 1751, Stenton would serve as a headquarters for General George Washington during the Battle of Germantown. The mansion was acquired by the City of Philly in 1910 and designated a national historic landmark in 1965.
Traveling through Logan links led me Stenton.org, and I highly recommend that you pay the site a visit. James Logan was a renaissance man and polymath, conversant in many languages including Hebrew, and had a significant mentoring friendship with Benjamin Franklin. They collaborated on many projects, including those on optics, for which Franklin would garner fame through the invention of bifocals. Their last joint effort was the founding of a college in Philadelphia which would come to be known as The University of Pennsylvania.