Delaware County Historical Society reflects on 125 years, looks to future

Stored in the halls of the Delaware County Historical Society, one sewn-thread bound book captures the very meeting of the organization’s founding.

This book holds the minutes from the initial public meeting on Sept. 3, 1895, calling for a motion to start a county historical society.

Opening the cover, the very first page reads, “A meeting of citizens of Delaware County was held in the office of the Superintendent of the Public Schools, Court House, Media, Pa. for the purpose of considering the advisability of organizing a County Historical Society. The meeting was called to order by Mr. Smith and on motion Benjamin C. Potts, was made chairman and Henry L. Broomall, secretary.”

That was followed by the object of the meeting being stated and then the motion itself to organize the Delaware County Historical Society.

Reflection of the founding meeting is especially poignant today, as the Delaware County Historical Society approaches its 125th anniversary and finds itself among the many historical organizations facing a particularly challenging financial climate.

Last summer, the Philadelphia History Museum, known as the Atwater Kent Museum, closed after years of strategic restructuring in an attempt to attract bigger audiences and secure more public and foundation funding. Losing much of its funding from the city and unable to create a sustainable fiscal model, the museum closed its doors. Countless artifacts including George Washington’s presidential desk, a Benjamin Franklin drinking glass and numerous historic documents were placed in temperature-controlled storage.

Prior to closing the museum, the board of directors proactively worked out an arrangement with Drexel University, which will preserve and maintain the collection off-site. Specifics of accessibility to the public are still being worked out.

Just this month, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania announced that it will reduce its staff by 30 percent and trimmed its programming to focus solely on being a library and archive. With a $3 million annual operating budget, the society faces a $400,000 deficit.

The Delaware County Historical Society is struggling with the same issues as the Pennsylvania society and the museum, trying to find an independent revenue stream while facing diminishing public funds and perhaps diminishing public interest.

DCHS is focusing on one of its most important artifacts to gain recognition and raise funds: an 1860 Abraham Lincoln Presidential Banner. Featuring a clean-shaven Lincoln, the banner was used to cull local support during both his presidential campaigns and is now being used to do the same — cull support from Delaware County residents.

Learn more about the Pennies4Lincoln campaign by visiting padelcohistory.org.

The Lincoln banner, as well as the founding DCHS minutes and many other artifacts, are housed at the home of the Delaware County Historical Society, located at 408 Avenue of the States in Chester. It is open to the public Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and the second Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Appointments are also available upon request. Parking is free in the lot behind the building or across the street in the city’s municipal lot.

For more information, ways to get involved or to contribute items of historic significance, call 610-359-0832.

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