Keepers of Chester County’s Historical Treasures

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Author: 
Rob Lukens, Ph.D.
Publication: 
Chester County Women's Journal
Release Date: 
December 1, 2013

Please read the full article here.

THEY CARE FOR THE WORLD’S greatest selection of eighteenth-century spice boxes. They preserve and provide access to a vast collection of records, including letters from George Washington, the very first court record for the County of Chester, and images that document daily life in the 1800s. They are the eight individuals who are the keepers of the treasures at the Chester County Historical Society (CCHS) and Chester County Archives and they represent more than 125 collective years of experience acquiring, caring for, exhibiting, and providing access to extraordinary collections of historical items, some of which are nationally known.

Pam Powell, photo archivist, oversees 80,000 photographs, negatives and early daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. Librarian Diane Rofini is charged with the care and access to a half-million documents and 30,000 published volumes. Director of Collections/Curator Ellen Endslow and Collections Manager Heather Hansen manage 80,000 objects.

In a unique arrangement with the County of Chester, CCHS staff members oversee more than 300 years of county records, including 3,028 volumes and more than 1,900 boxes of taxes, voting results, court cases and much more. The County Archives are overseen by Director Laurie Rofini, Archivist Cliff Parker and Assistant Archivist Kim Bucklaw.

Like most U.S. museum collections, the majority of CCHS’s collections are used in numerous ways, such as in exhibitions and publications. Many re-enactors, descendents of people connected to an artifact, collectors, students, artisans and scholars undertake visits to the museum for research for a variety of reasons. According to Endslow, “one visitor came from Virginia simply to measure the placement of the compass holes in a line-and-berry inlay design in a chest of drawers.”

CCHS’s robust object loan program is managed by Heather Hansen. Approximately 650 items are on long-term loan to 13 museums and short-term loans are provided to organizations including Winterthur, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Constitution Center.

The library is undoubtedly one of the busiest places at CCHS. Diane Rofini, Pam Powell and Assistant Librarian Margie Baillie field thousands of research requests each year. In-person and remote requests pour in at a constant pace from people seeking information about lost ancestors, historic homes, local history and major events. Patrons request CCHS’s photos for books, banks, restaurants, and documentaries. Recently, a New York Times bestselling author even researched the construction of chimneys using CCHS resources. CCHS’s Passmore Williamson’s Visitors’ Book—a volume that documents more than 500 visitors, some quite prominent, to the abolitionist in jail after he helped a slave escape—was recently selected one of Pennsylvania’s top endangered artifacts for an innovative online campaign to raise public awareness of conservation needs.

Supporting all of these efforts is a small army of approximately 30 volunteers and interns who accomplish incredible feats. They digitize records, input data, catalog items, perform research and work in the darkroom to recapture images on nineteenth-century plate negatives.

CCHS has established the 2022 Collections Support Fund, a special fund that allows donors to directly support CCHS’s collections department. To contribute to the 2022 Collections Support Fund, please contact David Reinfeld at dreinfeld@ chestercohistorical.org, 610-692-4800 X267.