About

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Our Mission
The Chester County Historical Society (CCHS) inspires, informs, and builds community identity by preserving and sharing the remarkable story of Chester County and its people.

CCHS fulfills this mission through:

  • Acting as steward of an unparalleled collection of artifacts, manuscripts, photographs and volumes that documents over 300 years of County heritage;
  • Offering innovative educational programs and exhibitions that draw on the collections to bring history to life, and
  • Helping audiences explore their own histories through Historical Society resources and staff expertise.

Founded in 1893, the Chester County Historical Society (CCHS) is the official county history museum, history education center, and historical repository of Chester County, Pennsylvania. As such, the Society aims to preserve and share the county's remarkable history in powerful and relevant ways.

Location
CCHS is located in  "the History Center," a 56,000 square foot complex in the middle of downtown West Chester, steps away from dozens of great restaurants and stores. the Chester County Archives, which CCHS jointly administers with the County of Chester, is located in the Chester County Government Services Center.


Explore, enjoy, discover!
Visit CCHS's permanent and rotating exhibits featuring nationally significant collections – locally crafted Grandfather Clocks, furniture from the early 1700s, over 200 quilts, and historic clothing collection dating from the 1700s to today, etc.

  • Conduct historical and genealogical research in our extensive library and photo archives – there are over 80,000 historical photographs dating from the 1840s to the 1990s. You’ll be amazed at all the images and information!
  • Experience “hands-on” learning in our interactive History Lab
  • Check out our Calendar of Events for an array of public and school programs and  community activities, held throughout the year.
  • Become a CCHS member – click here to see all the privileges.

"Chester County has been at the crossroads of every major period in our country's history. CCHS helps us understand what it was like to live during those times and how our past informs our lives today.”

CCHS History
Founded by local citizens in 1893, CCHS’s early years were occupied with collecting items of historical value, dedicating historical markers and searching for a permanent home. Those years created the nucleus of today’s extensive library collections, which today include over 500,000 manuscripts, 20,000 volumes, and what one author in National Genealogical Society Quarterly called “one of the state’s best collections of newspaper clippings.”


In 1942, CCHS moved into historic Horticultural Hall, adding a wing for its expanding museum collections. Succeeding years consolidated a strong emphasis on the collection of regional furniture, textiles and decorative arts objects, as well as material representing all aspects of life in southeastern Pennsylvania. Today, the museum collection contains over 80,000 artifacts.

Horticultural Hall was modernized in 1979 to improve collections management and increase exhibition space. In the early 1980s, CCHS initiated a joint project with Chester County government to administer the Chester County Archives, adding 300 years of public records to its care, one of the finest and most complete collections of historic county records in the nation. CCHS also established its photo archives, which encompasses more than 80,000 images dating from the early 1840s.

The Historic Vision capital campaign launched in 1992 enabled the renovation of the adjacent YMCA building. The resulting 56,000 square-foot History Center has been a vital complex for exhibition, collection storage, and research. In fact, CCHS's assets were a pivotal component of the National Register of Historic Places naming West Chester as one "America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations" in 2006. The new facility also allowed for an increased emphasis on educational programming, making CCHS one of Pennsylvania’s premier history museums and educational centers with an expanded library and research area, a 250-seat auditorium, and seven exhibition galleries.

What is the story behind CCHS’s home, the History Center?

The History Center blends two distinctive buildings in Chester County's history. Horticultural Hall, designed by noted architect Thomas U. Walter and built in 1848, was a center of activity in West Chester. In addition to the meetings and shows of the Chester County Horticultural Society, the building was used for a variety of public events, including the first women's rights convention in Pennsylvania. Uriah Hunt Painter converted the building into the West Chester Opera House in the late 19th century. In 1904 his widow gave the building to the General George A. McCall Post #31, the Grand Army of the Republic, with the stipulation that the building would go to the Historical Society when the G.A.R. no longer needed it. 

The main body of the old YMCA building was built in two sections, both begun in 1908. The Sharples gymnasium was built by business entrepreneur and philanthropist P.M. Sharples, who offered to donate it to the Y if the YMCA agreed to build an additional building on the same land. The two structures were both designed by noted Philadelphia architect Charles Barton Keen and were ultimately joined by a "hyphen" or corridor. An addition in 1928 expanded the facilities, and in 1959, a new entrance corridor obscured the buildings' original appearance. The restoration project undertaken by CCHS in the early 1990s restored the High Street facade to its original Colonial Revival appearance.