Delaware County Historical Society

Historical Societies: News and Highlights presents news and information about Pennsylvania's regional and county historical societies.

The Delaware County Historical Society was founded September 3, 1895 and incorporated with eighty-two charter members in April 1896. At first, the society met in the office of the Coun­ty Superintendent of Schools and held membership meetings throughout the county to encourage a wide geographic distribution of membership. These early gatherings frequently lasted four to seven hours, with programs including the presentation and discussion of several historical papers, a soloist or other musical entertainment, and re­freshments.

After steady growth during its first twenty years, the organization began to look for permanent headquarters. One of the members, William G. Sproul (then Governor of Pennsylvania), and others were interested in restoring the 1724 Courthouse on Market Street in Chester, and it fell upon the society’s third president, noted architect Clarence Wilson Brazer, to supervise the restora­tion of this important landmark. The first floor was furnished as an early court, while the second floor became of­fices for the historical society and the D.A.R. Once there was space for a library and museum, materials flowed in. Eventually, the accumulation of documents, books and artifacts grew too weighty to be safely accommodated on the ancient floor joists.

In the mid-1960s, Widener College kindly made temporary quarters available in its original Chemistry Building. From there, the Delaware County Historical Society continued to coordinate its activities until December 1970, when it moved into its present comfortable quarters, the Joseph G. Pew, Sr. Library, part of the Wolfgram Memorial Library of Widener. Many of the smaller museum articles are on display there, with larger items such as furniture and implements on exhibit in appropriate public historic sites throughout the area. In the future, the society hopes it will again be able to have its own museum.

The Pew Library houses an important and rich collection of historical archives, manuscripts, maps, letters, genealogies, census records, books, deeds, photo­graphs and other graphic matter, along with other records tracing the origin and history of the county from colonial days to the present. Its collections include over 6,000 bound volumes and journals, and over 300 reels of microfilmed county newspapers, ephemera and memora­bilia. These holdings are continually augmented each year by many addi­tional items acquired through gift, be­quest and purchase.

During the 1981 calendar year, ap­proximately 1,500 persons utilized the Delaware County Historical Society’s Pew Library on the Widener campus. These users came not only from the mid­-Atlantic region but also from the far West, Hawaii, Canada, England and China. In addition to those who actually visit the library, the society receives almost 1,000 written queries a year, plus many requests for information by telephone.

Over 600 members enjoy the library and its exhibits, as well as the regular programs and tours organized each year under the society’s governing body, a council of 20 members. Current work by researchers and historical society volunteers includes background and ex­hibit preparation for several Tercentenary displays and expositions, assistance to the county’s Tourist Bureau for the reunion of the sailors of the U.S.S. Chester as well as several other large Tercentenary family re­unions, and participation in further county heritage and preservation ac­tivities.

This Tercentenary year, many pro­grams have revolved around various in­terests of William Penn, and the society was significantly involved in the Tall Ships visit and a historical Industrial Ex­position this past June. Yet to come are other community celebrations and “Heritage Week” (Oct. 24 to 31, 1982), when William Penn will once again sail up the Delaware River. Future projects include the preparation of traveling ex­hibits for school use, the publication of recent research completed by members and a possible permanent internship for a college history major.


Lee C. Brown was president of the Delaware County Historical Society from 1973 to 1981 and recently retired after many years as Head of Libraries, Widener University.