Posted by: ccooper2014 | December 17, 2014

2013: Forging Faith, Building Freedom

This year and 2014 marked two important landmarks in Delaware history: the bicentennial of Peter Spencer’s founding of the nation’s first independent black denomination, the African Union Methodist church, in 2013, followed by the bicentennial of the August Quarterly festival in 2014.  Three other Delawareans, Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and Samuel Cornish, also played key roles in the development of the black faith tradition in the United States. In honor of this, the Society presented Delaware’s first comprehensive exhibition on the history of African American faith in the state, Forging Faith, Building Freedom.

This exhibition was developed with the collaboration of many churches, organizations, and individuals in the African American community who graciously and generously shared their stories and historical treasures.  One special friend of the project was the late Charles Marshall of Dover, the grandson of Rev. Henry Marshall, the founding pastor of Union Missionary Baptist Church in Dover, and his wife, Anna Marshall.  Charles Marshall lent his grandparents’ tombstones to the exhibition, knowing the need to preserve and share the stories of Delaware’s African American history.  He was so enthusiastic about the exhibition that he chartered a bus to bring family and friends to the opening and also organized a visit of over 100 people in February.  Every exhibition should have friends like Charles Marshall!  Unfortunately, he passed away recently. He will not be able to see the exhibition catalog that will be published in early 2015, but his support will continue to inspire the Delaware Historical Society.

To see the online version of Forging Faith, Building Freedom, visit

Posted by: ccooper2014 | December 15, 2014

2012: Center for African American Heritage

Africans and their descendants have been part of Delaware since 1639, but their history has been neglected. When the opportunity arose to present a proposal to the City of Wilmington to develop a center for Delaware’s African American history and heritage, the Delaware Historical Society rose to the challenge.  The city awarded the grant to the Society and work began on the Center for African American Heritage, an exciting new venture that will expand the Society in every possible way.

The Center’s mission is to collect, research, preserve, and present the state’s rich African American history and heritage in collaboration with Delaware’s African American community.  The 2014 focus on collecting had added wonderful documents, photographs, and objects to the Society’s collections and revealed compelling stories.  Just a few of this year’s gifts to the collections include:

  • Mayor James Baker’s scrapbooks from his political career,
  • Papers of Dr. Eugene McGowan, the first black school psychologist in Delaware and civil rights leader
  • The wedding dress of Althea Unthank Harmon, married in 1948
  • A hat made by Bessie Morgan
  • Photographs of Eighth Street Baptist Church
  • Genealogy of the Daniels and related families

This is just a beginning.  We look forward to continuing to develop of holdings of African American materials in years to come.

Looking into the future, the Delaware History Museum and Old Town Hall are currently undergoing major renovations that will include a dedicated space for the Center and a major exhibition on Delaware’s African American history.  Watch for the grand opening celebration in early 2016!


Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to  Eugene  Mc Gowan, Sept. 1, 1965

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Eugene
Mc Gowan, Sept. 1, 1965


Posted by: ccooper2014 | December 12, 2014

2011: Focus on Lower Market Street

Queen Theater, ca. 1938

Queen Theater, ca. 1938

This year, the Delaware History Museum’s neighbor, the Queen Theater, came back to life as World Café Live at the Queen, a restaurant and performing arts venue.  In honor of this, the exhibition for the year was “Steppin’ Out…Under the Stars,” an exploration of how Delawareans have enjoyed a night out on the town over the years.

The Delaware Historical Society has a keen interest in the well being of downtown Wilmington, especially Market Street.  For many years, the Queen was derelict and Market Street below Fifth was pretty seedy, conditions that were challenging for the Society. Plans and projects for the area came and went, with little change.  Finally, after considerable development at the Riverfront, revitalization of lower Market Street (LOMA) began a few years ago.  From Fifth Street down, buildings have been renovated with apartments on the upper floors and retail or offices below. There are now several good restaurants on Lower Market Street.  And, the Queen Theater became a jewel that has joined the Society as a highlight of the 500 block.

Downtown Wilmington has had various incarnations over nearly 300 years, and the Delaware Historical Society has been part of it throughout its history.  We hope that the current improvements in the neighborhood lead to a prosperous future for everyone!

Posted by: ccooper2014 | December 10, 2014

2010: Infrastructure, Physical and Virtual

Old buildings are money pits.  Really old and important buildings, like Old Town Hall and the Read House, are huge money pits.  Both buildings, treasured by the Society and the community alike, received major maintenance this year, including masonry repairs, repairs and repainting of windows and exterior woodwork, removal of the 1938 addition on Old Town Hall, and reworking all of the Read House’s windows.  These repairs aren’t showy, but are necessary to keep these architectural gems stable and safe for years to come.

New technology can be a money pit, too. At the same time as the Read House and Old Town Hall were receiving needed maintenance, the Research Library was busy developing its online catalog, a necessity today.  After several years of development, Ask Caesar went live on July 1 with 4,500 entries, a small fraction of the library’s holdings.  Since then, the catalog has grown to about 35,000 entries from both library and museum collections, thanks to the grant-funded Online Catalog Project and continuing work by Collections and Access staff.  Ask Caesar allows people worldwide to see the treasures that we have. To take a peek at the Society’s holdings, visit

All of this work was possible only with the support of grants from a variety of public and private sources. Like so many other organizations that enrich our community, the Delaware Historical Society depends on the generosity of civic-minded people to achieve its goals.

The Read House with Scaffolding

The Read House with Scaffolding

Posted by: ccooper2014 | December 8, 2014

2009: Vice President Biden Comes for Lunch

This year the Society’s History Maker Award went to Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.  Four Delawareans have served in the federal cabinet (although no one since Thomas F. Bayard was secretary of state in the late 1800s), but this was the first time a Delawarean had made it to vice-president.  That makes him a true history maker! The award presentation is usually at a dinner, but since the vice-president couldn’t join us then, he came for lunch instead.  It was a wonderful day for the Delaware Historical Society and is friends.

The History Maker Award program, which is the Society’s major fund-raising event, began in 2007. The award honors living Delawareans who have made significant contributions to life in Delaware, the nation, or the world.  Each year’s event is truly special, honoring the contributions of outstanding individuals in a spirit of festivity and friendship.

The honorees have been:

2007:  Ed and Peggy Woolard

2008:  Toni Young

2009:  Vice President Joe Biden

2010:  Governor Pete du Pont

2011:  Ken Burns

2012:  Tubby Raymond

2013:  Rev. Roberto Balducelli, Canon Lloyd Casson, Dr. Carol Hoffecker

2014:  Ellen Kullman

Who will be the recipient in 2015?  You’ll have to wait to find out!

Vice President Joe Biden and Society Board Chair Anne Canby

Vice President Joe Biden and Society Board Chair Anne Canby


Posted by: ccooper2014 | December 5, 2014

2008: What’s in a Name—or a Color—or a Logo

As the Society continued to move into the new millennium, it wanted to remain relevant in a changing world through its collections, exhibitions, and programs.  Equally important, it also wanted the public to know that it was a lively organization that had something to offer them.  In an era that places more and more emphasis on image and presentation, this led to a rebranding project. The existing colors and design seemed, well, old.

A joint staff and board committee worked with public relations firm AB&C to sort everything out.  This included colors, logo, graphic design, and even the Society’s name.  After much discussion, the Society’s current colors, logo, and design template were agreed upon.  The new look, in blue and gold, is clean and modern.  And the Society took the big step of changing its name.  Historical Society of Delaware sounded just too stodgy and old fashioned in the 21st century.  Delaware Historical Society, in contrast, is direct and puts the focus on Delaware, which is where it belongs.

But Delaware Historical Society isn’t entirely new.  Looking over materials on the Society from the past, even the distant past, one can see both names used, sometimes in the same article. What’s most important, though, is that from 1864 to today, no matter what its name, the Society has been dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing Delaware’s history for the benefit of the community.

Newsletter Mastheads Past and Present

Newsletter Mastheads Past and Present

Posted by: ccooper2014 | December 3, 2014

2007: The Read House Garden

In the summer of 2007, “How Has Our Garden Grown,” an exhibition at the Read House in New Castle, focused on the history of the garden, an integral part of the property.

The garden is old, but not quite as old as the house itself.  When George Read (1765-1836) built the house, his father’s house stood next door.  The Read House’s original property was only as wide as the house itself, which gave it a much different appearance on the street than it has today.  Over time, Read acquired additional property, and his father’s house burned in New Castle’s fire of 1824, so more land became available.

The garden that is such a pleasure today was first installed in the late1840s by William Couper, the house’s second owner.  The name of the designer remains unknown, but it is known that some of the plants were purchased from Robert Buist, a noted nurseryman in Philadelphia.  Couper’s garden included a formal flower bed in front and a kitchen garden in the rear, with a more naturalistic area in between.  A pear tree from the early plantings survives and still bears fruit.  Philip and Lydia Laird further developed the property with a swimming pool.

In the years since the Read House and Gardens have belonged to the Delaware Historical Society, the goal has been to preserve the spirit of the Victorian garden. Dedicated volunteers provide much of the work required to keep the garden beautiful.  The Society is also developing a cultural landscape plan to guide the interpretation of the entire site.

Philip and Lydia Laird in the Garden of the Read House. 1934

Philip and Lydia Laird in the Garden of the Read House. 1934

Posted by: ccooper2014 | December 1, 2014

2006: The Dansey Flag

The Revolutionary War Dansey Flag, which belonged to a unit of Delaware militia in New Castle County, is one of the Society’s great treasures, and 2006 was a big year in its long life.

Its story began in September 1777 when Captain William Dansey of the British army captured it shortly before the Battle of the Brandywine.  For a variety of reasons, we believe that the flag was never used in battle: it has no tears, it did not have any regimental emblem added to it, and fold marks can still be detected in it. Dansey took it back to England as a trophy, and it hung in the family home for many years.  In 1927, the Society was able to purchase the flag, along with Dansey’s letters home from his service in America.  Once back in Delaware, the flag hung in a place of honor in Old Town Hall for many years.  The flag and letters are a wonderful combination of Revolutionary War documentation, and are very popular with researchers.

Years of display in honored but less than optimal conditions left the flag fragile.  In 2006, the flag was conserved and placed in a pressure mount that allows it to be safely moved and exhibited.  This treatment was similar to what the Society’s 1st Regiment Civil War flags will receive in 2015. Once returned from conservation, the flag was presented in a public exhibition.  The conservation and exhibition were made possible by grants from the Colonial Dames in Delaware, the Sons of the American Revolution, the Delaware Heritage Commission, and the Delaware Humanities Forum.


Posted by: ccooper2014 | November 28, 2014

2005: Remembering Elbert N. Carvel

In 2005, Delaware, and the Society, lost a great citizen and friend with the passing of Governor Elbert N. Carvel (1910-2005) just a few days short of his 95th birthday.  Carvel grew up in Maryland but moved to Laurel after his marriage to run the Valliant Fertilizer Company, which belonged to his wife’s family.

Before long he became involved in politics, winning election as lieutenant governor in 1945.  Carvel served two terms as governor, 1949-1953 and 1961-1965. Progressive and active, Carvel brought new energy to state government during periods of rapid change in Delaware.  He also ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in 1958 and 1964. After leaving politics, Carvel remained involved in many aspects of public life in Delaware.

Governor Carvel also served the Society as a trustee from 1983 until his death.  He donated his personal papers to the Society, providing a rich addition to the Society’s holdings on Delaware in the 20th century.

At the Apron Bazaar in Dover, 1952

At the Apron Bazaar in Dover, 1952

Posted by: ccooper2014 | November 26, 2014

2004: Irving Morris: A Defender of Civil Liberties

A 2004 gift of plaques and awards given to Irving Morris provides the opportunity to remember a community leader and champion of civil liberties in Delaware.  Morris began his legal career in Wilmington in the early 1950s and retired in 2001.

Morris’s first crusade for justice was representing three men convicted of rape in 1948 and sentenced to life in prison.  They claimed that they were innocent and that they had not had a fair trial.  Morris fought for them for five years, often meeting defeat.  In 1958 the US District Court and the US Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the men indeed had not had a fair trial.  They were freed on bail and the state did not retry the case.  For Morris, the question was not guilt or innocence, but whether the men had been fairly treated by the system. His 2011 book The Rape Case chronicles this quest for justice.

The plaques document Irving Morris’s service as president of the chair of the Wilmington campaign for State of Israel Bonds in 1963-4, campaign chairman for the Jewish Federation of Delaware in 1969-70, as president of the Delaware State Bar Association in 1978, and president of the American Civil Liberties Foundation in Delaware from 1993 to 1996.

In 1993, Morris received an award from the Delaware State NAACP for his services in Public Education Litigation.  This honored his many years as an attorney in the Evans v. Buchanan case, which involved the long fight to desegregate schools in Wilmington and New Castle County.

Throughout Delaware’s history, citizens like Irving Morris have worked tirelessly to defend and expand the civil liberties of all citizens.  Their lives benefit and inspire all of us.

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