Alan C. Holcombe, a 1952 Chester High alum, loved the city of his youth so much, he went on a mission so he could put his adoration on grand display.
About 10 years ago, Holcombe and his wife, Alva E., graciously donated to the Delaware County Historical Society a 15-by-12-feet copy of an 1874 map of Chester that was housed in the Library of Congress in Washington.
The map is draped on a prominent wall at DCHS and captures a time in Chester when boats busily sailed up and down its shores. A variety of sites representing Chester’s past are depicted on the map, such as the Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic, St. Paul’s Episcopal, Thomas Wilby’s, the Leather Maker, the Spencer McIlvain Lumber Yard and Chester Worsted Mills.
The Chester Oil Co. Refinery and its wharves, as well as the smoking stacks of the Eureka Cast Steel Co., are seen in a moment of vivid activity.
And, yet, beyond the hustle of the city, trees and fields stretching to the horizon can be viewed.
The fourth of five children, Holcombe was born in Ridgway, Pa., and moved to Tower Terrace in Chester when he was 2 years old after his father got a job at the shipyard. Here, he attended schools right through Chester High School and worked at the then Chester Daily Times as a messenger and a dispatch in the summers.
Eventually, his work transitioned into a full-time position in the classified sales department at the Delaware County Daily Times, where he stayed until his 1999 retirement.
“It was quite a city when we were growing up,” the 84-year-old said. “Naturally, every kid thinks he grew up in the greatest time in his life.”
After he retired, he culled an interest in maps and wrote to the Library of Congress about the place he calls home.
His communication with them resulted in a trip to Washington, where he sorted through their maps of the country and found one of Chester.
“I just got an 8-by-10 and made that size out of it,” Holcombe said of the gigantic display at DCHS. “I didn’t lose any of the details of the map.”
Present are Chester Creek running through the city as is the original shipyard named John Roach & Sons Shipyard and, of course, the railroads — the Pennsylvania, Reading, Baltimore and Ohio.
Holcombe said he explained to Jayne Garrison the donation he intended to give to DCHS.
“I wanted to give it to the society so they could hang it up so people could enjoy it,” he said. “I just decided to do it because I wanted to leave something for people to see of … the old city.”
About two months ago, he returned to see how his gift had fared after all this time.
“I was just glad it was still up,” Holcombe said, “and people have a chance to still look at it because it is historical.”
The Holcombe map can be viewed at the home of the Delaware County Historical Society, located at 408 Avenue of the States in Chester. It is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, 1 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Parking is free in the lot behind the building or across the street in the city’s municipal lot.
For more information or for ways to get involved, call 610-359-0832.