Chester County influences the nation. The nation influenced Chester County.
The people of Chester County have many stories to tell. They plowed fields, rolled steel, travelled the world, fought for freedom, wrote novels, poems and music. Here they found religious refuge and political opportunity, abolitionism and racism, prohibition, social neglect and reform.
This virtual exhibit tells some of the stories that reveal something about the people and places where they lived. We save them in order to learn more about our own communities and ourselves.
Every place has a story. We hope these stories motivate you to share yours and come visit to learn more of ours.
Who would guess that Chester County could have anything to do with the Arctic? In fact, there have been at least three Chester Countians involved in nineteenth century expeditions to the far North.
Amos Bonsall, who attended school in the West Chester area, went on Elisha Kent Kane’s 1853 voyage, the “Second Grinnell Expedition” to find the lost men of the ill-fated British Franklin expedition.
Isaac Israel Hayes was born in what it now Highland Township. He served as surgeon on the “Second Grinnell Expedition” and later led two other journeys in search of the fabled “Open Polar Sea.”
Samuel Entrikin, who spent his early life in West Chester, served as second in command of Lieut. Robert Peary’s 1893-1894 Greenland expedition, fifteen years before Peary’s controversial conquest of the North Pole.
Samuel Entrikin relics, souvenirs, photographs and manuscripts from the collections are featured in an exhibit Chilling Reality: Chester County’s Arctic Explorers, held at CCHS from 2010 to 2011.
The Kite in St. John's Harbor, New Foundland, Samuel J. Entrikin used this ship on the Peary Relief Expedition of 1892.
Find more photographs from Samuel Entrikin’s Arctic adventures in the Photo Archives.
Celebrating Barber’s 100 Birthday!
If you know the music used in the popular movie Platoon, you have heard of Samuel Barber, one of the most important composers of the 20th century.
At age 9 this West Chester boy who grew up on South Church Street told his mother that he would be a composer. When he was hired as the Westminster Presbyterian Church’s organist a few years later she may have started to believe him.
He was one of the first students at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, where he studied composition. He also trained in Italy in the 1930s. Barber’s big break came in 1938, at 28 years of age, when Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra performed his Essay for Orchestra and Adagio for Strings. The broadcast of November 5 was a rare nod by the legendary conductor to contemporary music.
Barber twice won the Pulitzer Prize for music and his Adagio for Strings is known and loved around the world. It was used in Platoon and many other movies.
Other well-known compositions by Barber:
Learn more about the Samuel Barber 100th Birthday Festival of musical programs throughout the region.
George Cope was an artist who stayed close to home. He began his career painting the lush Brandywine Valley in his own East Bradford Township. He explored and was best known for his “trompe l'oeil” (fool-the-eye) still life paintings of favorite objects in the homes of neighbors and friends. Travels to Florida, New York, and western states never dampened his enthusiasm for local subjects.
Click on the museum collections to learn more about the museum’s art collection of paintings and works of art on paper. They include images of Chester County people and places or are works done by Chester County artists.
Frederick Douglass’ connection with Chester County stretched over 50 years. He spoke at an anti-slavery meeting in West Chester in 1844. The next year Douglass’ slave narrative was published and Douglass became internationally famous.
As part of his national abolition efforts, Douglass returned to the county many times, speaking at Longwood Progressive Friends Meeting House and Horticultural Hall (our museum building). West Chester had the honor of hosting Douglass’ very last speech on February 1, 1895. Douglass addressed an audience at the State Normal School about lynching and other urgent issues facing African-Americans. He died nineteen days later.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS, 1840s
Click Here for more information about our exceptional daguerreotype collection in the Photo Archives. The Daguerreotype was the first commercially successful photographic process, discovered in 1839.
Joseph Kift arrived in America from England in 1848 as a young and enthusiastic florist. He grew a successful business in West Chester cultivating and selling plants, fruit, and vegetables.
Kift made his biggest impact as a pioneer in bringing the Easter Lilly (lilium longiflorum) to the United States. He sent his son and fellow florist to Bermuda, where Easter Lilies proliferated. The mission – to collect as many bulbs as possible.
Back in West Chester Kift’s new flower was wildly popular. By the time his son sold the business in 1927 they produced 200,000 Easter Lilies annually.
Did you know?
The library has a large collection of rose and flower catalogs from Conard-Pyle and other local nurseries?
Visit the library and ask about this in the Ephemera Collection.
One of the most graphic traditions of German settlers to this county is the fraktur. It comes from the word “fracture” in German and refers to the style of calligraphy, or separated (broken) lettering.
There are two kinds of fraktur. Taufscheine usually commemorate births or baptisms, sometimes a marriage, and rarely a death. Vorschriften are usually copies of prayers, poems, hymns or verses from the Bible.
This fraktur comes from northern Chester County, which is not unusual. Many settlers from Germanic states arrived in the early 1700s and settled there, more so than in the southern half of the county were settlers from the British Isles and begun to settle in the late 1600s.
Birth certificates aren’t always this fancy but no matter what they look like, they can be an important part of genealogical research. Click on Chester County Archives to find out if anyone in your Chester County family has a birth records before 1907
This West Chester school’s history illustrates the difficulties and triumphs of Chester County’s African-American community. Until 1956 public elementary schools were segregated and the separation did not result in equality.
Fire ravaged the original 1895 school building in 1908 and its replacement was smaller and poorly equipped. But despite inferior resources, including hand-me-down textbooks and different curriculum, the faculty worked hard to provide an enriching education for the students.
Joseph Fugett, principal from 1920 to 1955, assembled an inspiring faculty whose influence is remembered to this day by an active alumni club. Among the teachers who stand out are Maria Brock, and Helena Robinson. Some of their many successes were students such as civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, Ray Vernon Spriggs, the first African-American in the Peace Corps, and surgeon Dr. Cornelius Gaither.
In 1956 the elementary schools were finally integrated. In 1965 it became the Fugett Elementary School but closed its doors during the school consolidation of the 1970s.
Photo: Gay Street School students, 1930s West Chester
Did you Know?
The CCHS library has more than 140 linear feet of school records from many areas of Chester County? Many date from the 1800s.
Growing flowers, fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants has a long been a local interest.
Humphry Marshall was an important 18th century botanist, born in the village of Marshallton, Pennsylvania (within West Bradford Township). He was the cousin of botanist John Bartram and William Bartram. Marshall Square Park in the Borough of West Chester was named after him. And on June 27, 2007 Humphry Marshall Day was proclaimed by Borough Mayor, Dick Yoder — and a long-overdue marker honoring the Park's namesake was unveiled.
Another successful business was Hoopes, Bro. & Thomas. When Josiah Hoopes (1832-1904) began his modest one-acre nursery in 1853 he may never have imagined it would grow to be one of the largest nurseries in the state.
Known early on as Cherry Hill Nursery it would change both its name and its size - to Maple Avenue Nursery and to 800 acres by 1908. Hoopes, Bro. & Thomas (brother Abner joined the firm in 1857 and George Brinton Thomas in 1866), offered a wide range of plants, from thousands of peach trees sent to fill the expanding commercial orchards of Michigan to shipping thousands of Venus fly-traps freshly dug from bogs to satisfy European collectors.
After the death of Josiah Hoopes in 1904, the nursery continued, first under the direction of Abner and later Abner’s son Wilmer. The business closed in 1948.
Click to connect to the Buffington-Marshall papers in the library to learn more about the Marshall family papers.
European settlement began in Chester County in the late 1600s and has contributed to a complex and interesting history of this area. Around 1900 there was a large influx of immigrants from Central Europe and countries farther east. Naturalization documents can be found at the Chester County Archives, where they tell a multi-cultural story.
Alexander Elias Hashem emigrated from Jage, Syria (now Lebanon) part of the Ottoman Empire and arrived in New York in September 1901. He eventually moved to Coatesville where he employed his skills as a merchant. Between 1890 and 1924 over 200,000 Syrians and Lebanese immigrated to the United States. Many came to escape religious and political strife, while others were lured by the economic opportunities that existed here.
Antal Nagy emigrated from the Basc Cyulatalia region of Hungary and arrived in New York on March 23, 1905. Antal moved to Coatesville where he was employed as a mill hand. From the 1890s until World War I over 450,000 Hungarians came to the United States due to poor economic conditions at home. The factories in Phoenixville and Coatesville employed many Hungarians.
A Declaration of Intention is a document that declares that it is the intention of the immigrant to become a citizen of the United States. Search Naturalization Records from 1798-1935 at the Chester County Archives.
Before computers there were programmed looms. Invented in France by Joseph Jacquard in about 1800, the series of punch cards revolutionized weaving patterns.
The holes in the cards activated the various loom harnesses. Curving floral designs with many details began to replace the geometric patterns in coverlets. By about 1820 Jacquard looms were available in the United States. As looms improved, they became broader, allowing for a wider coverlet without a seam. Jacquard looms made double cloth coverlets constructed of two warps (vertical threads) so that the front and back are mirror images.
CCHS has a great collection of coverlets created by this process.
Call the museum to see some of the many examples of woven coverlets in the permanent collection.
Abigail Kimber was an early and active abolitionist. This Quaker teacher from East Pikeland served as President of the pioneering Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and treasurer of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society.
She was a delegate to national anti-slavery conventions in the late 1830s and the 1840 London World Anti-Slavery Convention. She was denied her seat at the World Convention because no women were allowed to participate.
Looking for other portraits? Click on to view the extensive portrait index in the Photo Archives.
See what women did to rally for voting rights. Call museum staff to look at suffrage memorabilia (pins and banners) from the early 1900s.
The humorous pranks of Little Lulu may seem to have come from The Saturday Evening Post. In reality they came from Malvern by way of her creator, Marjorie Henderson Buell (1904 – 1993).
Marge created one-picture cartoons that first appeared in 1935. Lulu’s antics expanded to comic strips that, along with the single panels, were later designed by others with Marge retaining artistic control. This international comic sensation continued even after Marge retired in 1971.
Lots of people ask me if Little LuLu is perchance a picture of myself as a child. The answer is yes and no. I had the same corkscrew curls, pipestem legs, and attitude toward life that gives grownups the jitters. But whereas Lulu pulls all kinds of pranks and gets away with them, Justice has always caught up with me. - Marge
Did you Know?...
There are more than 1,200 books by Chester County authors in the CCHS Library collection? Come visit and see!
Over half of the mushrooms consumed in the United States are produced in Chester County. In fact Kennett Square calls itself the “Mushroom Capital of the World”, and celebrates with a Mushroom Festival each fall. This small community works together to welcome several thousand visitors from all across the United States.
Why mushrooms in Kennett Square? In the early 1900’s a very high grade of marble was quarried in southern Chester County and talented stone masons came from Italy to work in these quarries. Because of its proximity to New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other urban centers, there were many greenhouses in the area to supply these cities with fresh flowers. The stone masons worked in these greenhouses in the winter and discovered that the unused space under the growing benches was ideal for mushroom culture, a talent many of them brought from Italy. They started growing mushrooms there and shipped them alongside the flowers on ice going into the cities. Since there was a need for mushrooms, support industries grew up around them and the mushroom industry thrived.
Visit the Photo Archives to see more photographs of the mushroom industry over the past 100 years.
Newsam was a deaf mute who was encouraged in art at the Philadelphia Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. He apprenticed with Cephas G. Childs, and learned lithography from P.S. Duval. Duval began his company in 1843 and was considered one of the leading lithographers in America.
One example of Newsman’s work is this print of William Darlington, MD (1732-1863).
Darlington was born into a Quaker family on a farm near Dilworthtown. He was a man of many aspirations. He was the first President of the Chester County Medical Society for 24 years (1828-1852), was also a botanist and involved in banking and other community endeavors.
Visit the library to read William Darlington’s medical diaries. Or call the museum to see a few of Darlington’s medical tools and other 19th century medical equipment.
People have been redefining open space since the county was formed in 1681 by William Penn. His ideas about how Pennsylvania’s resources should be used set the stage for European settlement here.
Through the next 300 years, changing views about open space and land management have influenced settlement development and disputes among settlers and the Lenape Indians who were already here. Differing views about agricultural, industrial growth, harvesting natural resources, transportation, suburbanization, and recreational opportunities are among the many facets of the open space debate.
A recent exhibit “What is Open Space?” helped visitors to explore these topics through land documents and historical photographs and with interactive displays, such as the one shown here.
What is the use of a miracle drug that never emerges from the lab? When World War II created the need for mass-produced penicillin, G. Raymond Rettew of West Chester was the man of the hour.
Rettew made his name in the 1930s producing mushroom spawn. He used this expertise in the quest for a dependable way to produce penicillin. Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 but nobody had yet managed to harness this miracle fungus. Many pharmaceutical companies were working on ways to mass produce it. But it was Rettew and his business partner Joseph Strode who joined forces with drug company Wyeth. In June 1943 they delivered their first penicillin batch to the government.
The steady stream of penicillin that followed was invaluable to the war effort. Penicillin saved many lives and continues to do so to the extent that we sometimes take it for granted.
Visit the site of Rettew’s former laboratory on Chestnut Street, West Chester, between Walnut and High Streets. The building is no longer there but an historical marker indicates where penicillin was first mass produced for humans on a worldwide scale.
Quilts are typically three layers of fabric sewn together. Many quilts in the museum collection have tops that are pieced or appliquéd. Backing fabric is usually solid but can be made of leftover fabric. The batting, of cotton, wool or more recently synthetics, is in the middle.
This is a quilt top, only the top layer. It is pieced in the English template manner. Many of the original paper templates are still basted into place. One square contains a hand-drawn open book that has family genealogy for the Pennock family descended from George and Sarah Wistar Pennock and the Morris family descended from Caspar and Elizabeth Giles Morris. Also in ink is a drawing of Primitive Hall, built in 1733 by Joseph Pennock of West Marlborough.
Click on the Museum Shop to learn more about the patterns from this quilt top that were reproduced by Wyndham Fabrics.
Visit CCHS and access the database of more than 900 quilts from the Chester County Quilt Documentation Project conducted from 2003 to 2009. We hope to be part of the National Quilt Index in the future.
Everybody knows about the 1963 civil rights March on Washington D.C. and the “I Have a Dream” speech that was its highlight. But this event would not have occurred without the leadership and skill of Bayard Rustin.
Rustin was a long-time activist and organizer for civil rights and other causes. He was influenced by people and the circumstances of his lifetime. His grandmother, Julia Rustin, promoted strong Quaker principles of non-violence and equality and was actively involved with the NAACP. As a West Chester High School student, Rustin faced racism as an athlete at out-of-town games and was arrested for sitting downstairs, instead of in the balcony, at the Warner Theater on High Street.
Pacifism and non-violence led to his work for the anti-war group the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) in 1941. This was after he severed his ties with the Young Communist League when they abandoned their fight against segregation in the armed forces. Rustin’s commitment to pacifism also led him to spend two years in prison during World War II. Rustin later regretted not serving in World War II. His resistance to racial injustice in an early bus boycott landed him on a North Carolina chain gang in 1947. He also spoke out for the rights of homosexuals, among whom he counted himself.
Rustin’s belief in the power of non-violent resistance guided Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement that emerged with him in the late 1950s. His belief in human dignity transcended all barriers.
To learn more about local Civil Rights organizations click on West Chester NAACP (1980s) and United Political Action Committee of Chester County in the Library collection.
“In wisdom’s ways spend all thy days” advises Elizabeth Barnard in her sampler of 1794. At that time she was the 11-year old daughter of Richard and Lettice (Baker) Barnard. Richard maintained a school for Friend’s (Quaker) children in Newlin Township between 1783 and 1803. In 1800 Elizabeth studied at Westtown School, a Quaker school founded in 1799.
Samplers had both practical and aesthetic functions. Girls learned sewing stitches and also created designs that were suitable for framing. This sampler is typical of the alphabet band samplers made in the late 1700s in this area.
Click for an overview of the samplers in the museum collection.
One of the most popular signs in the museum collection is this one that hung outside of the Turks Head tavern in what came to be called West Chester. Originally the borough was named for this tavern, at the corner of High and Market Streets, before it became the county seat in 1789. This sign was the first object to be donated to the museum.
Did you Know?...
Delaware County was once part of Chester County, with Chester as the County Seat – hence why “West” Chester got it’s name.
Click here to see an overview of the signs in the museum collection.
In 1991 the Ku Klux Klan scheduled a parade in West Chester.
Simultaneously, the borough scheduled a Unity Day rally.
On Saturday, January 12, 1991, 32 members of Pennsylvania’s Ku Klux Klan came to West Chester for a 6-block march that took all of 12 minutes to complete. The march was purposely scheduled near the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
In reaction, the same day was proclaimed “Community Unity Day” in West Chester. The goals of the rally were to promote unity, harmony and equal treatment and justice for all citizens. Unity Day continues as an annual event.
Visit CCHS’s Introductory Gallery to learn more about abolition, women’s suffrage, and other social movements in the on-going search for equality. Click here for a summary of the Introductory Gallery.
John Vickers was his name and pottery was his trade. The Vickers family inventory included utilitarian vessels and kitchenware, such as pots, dishes, basins, and pitchers. Decorative figurines, fancy flowerpots and finer ware such as teapots, cream cups and sugar bowls also appeared in many local homes. Much of their production was red earthenware, from red clay found in Chester County and other parts of the region. Located in Caln and then Uwchlan, the last pottery operated until the early 1880s.
This 5th generation potter was also active on the Underground Railroad. John Vickers was able to transport freedom seekers in his wagon as he drove to places farther west and north.
Visit the museum to see redware by Vickers and other local 19th century potters.
Before telecommunications, the way to share information was by written message. Here is the note sent by George Washington to Colonel Bland during the Battle of Brandywine toward the end of the day.
I earnestly entreat a continuance of your vigilant attention to the movements of the enemy and the earliest report, not only of their movements, but of their number, & the course they are pursuing. In a particular manner, I wish you to gain satisfactory information of a body confidently reported to have gone up to a ford seven or eight miles above this. It is said the fact is certain. You will send up an intelligent sensible officer immediately with a party to find out the truth – what number it consists of and the road they are now on. Be particular in these matters.
Visit the library to see the original ...Register of Damages Sustained by the Inhabitants of Chester County by the Troops…of the King of Great Britain During the American Revolution. It is a unique look into the 18th century.
Colonel Joseph Hawley (1836 – 1915)
This x-ray shows the personal price that ordinary people paid during the Civil War. Colonel Hawley was a West Chester teacher turned banker when the war began. He was appointed commanding officer of the Pennsylvania 124th when it formed in 1862.
Weeks after putting on the uniform Hawley’s men found themselves in the bloodiest day of the conflict. Hawley himself was shot in the neck amidst the carnage of Antietam. He survived and returned to his command in December 1862. A monument to the 124th’s courageous service stands on the Antietam battlefield today. And Hawley returned to a banking career at First National Bank of West Chester and at First National Bank of Media.
Learn about Civil War Collections in the library.
Visit the photo archives to see images of Chester County Civil War soldiers.
Call the museum to look at Galusha Pennypacker’s uniform.
Stay tuned for the upcoming Civil War exhibit in 2012 to commemorate its 150th anniversary.
The village of Yellow Springs has a varied past. West of Phoenixville, it is known for its iron mineral waters. It first appeared on a map as early as 1722 and quickly became a destination for travelers wishing to “take the waters” for their health and escape the city in summer.
Over nearly three centuries, the village was home to North America’s first military hospital, a bustling early nineteenth century spa resort, the Chester Springs Soldiers Orphans School (1868-1912), the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Country School (1916-1952), and the Good News Productions film company (1952-1974). Today, much of the village is preserved and interpreted by Historic Yellow Springs, Inc., a non-profit organization.
Visit the library to see publications from the era when the Chester Springs Soldiers and Orphans School operated in Yellow Springs.
The Zook House in Exton, built by early settler William Owen in 1750, was home to eight generations of the Zook family. Moritz Zug (Zook), grandson of an Anabaptist preacher, moved from Berks County and purchased the home in 1770. It became a haven for Amish and Mennonite travelers who were migrating westward to Lancaster County and Ohio.
The building was restored and preserved by the Rouse Company during the construction of Exton Square Mall, 1971-72, and became the headquarters of the West Whiteland Historical Commission. When Exton Mall expanded, the building was relocated to its present nearby site. Today it holds offices.
Visit the Photo Archives to see photographs of historic structures in Chester County.