Posted by: kn19808 | July 23, 2014

1950: Purchasing Caesar Rodney’s Silver Coffeepot

While many items in the Society’s collections were donated, some items have to be purchased. This was the case with Caesar Rodney’s silver coffeepot. In 1950 the Society purchased the coffeepot from Anna-Maria Brix for $2000. Ms. Brix had previously loaned the coffeepot to the Society in 1948, but in 1950 she allowed the Society to purchase the coffeepot.

Caesar Rodney’s Silver Coffeepot

The coffeepot was made by Stephen Reeves. Stephen Reeves worked as a silversmith throughout the Mid-Atlantic, but had a shop in Philadelphia from 1766-1774. The silver Rococo-style coffeepot featured a carved double scroll fruitwood handle, circular foot, and a spout stylized with a leaf motif. The hinged lid had a dome shape, and the piece is engraved with a “CR” in script on the side. Stephen Reeves mark, “SR,” is imprinted twice in small rectangles.

The provenance of the coffeepot can be traced back to a 1784 inventory of Caesar Rodney’s estate. It listed the coffeepot as being among his possessions. In 1919, the coffeepot was sold at the Stan V. Henkel’s auction in Philadelphia which sold Rodney family manuscripts and other items. The coffeepot was purchased by Philadelphia collector Maurice Brix.

The Historical Society of Delaware, in the pursuit of collection and preservation, felt it necessary to purchase the coffeepot that belonged to such an important figure in Delaware’s history. In fact, Caesar Rodney’s silver coffeepot was the only object purchased, not donated, in 1950 by the Historical Society.

Gertrude Brincklé

In 1949 the Historical Society’s librarian, Gertrude Brincklé, announced her resignation. She was an integral part of the organization. She served as librarian from 1941-1949, had knowledge of Delaware and its residents, and worked tirelessly for the Society. Her resignation, however, did not signal the end of her employment with the Historical Society of Delaware. After her tenure as librarian, Gertrude Brincklé became the executive secretary for the Society and held that position until 1954. Throughout her life Gertrude was employed in a number of fields working as a model, secretary, and librarian.

Gertrude Brincklé was born in Fort Hamilton, New York on May 6, 1885. She received her education from Misses Hebbs School. From 1904-1911 she was a secretary and model for Howard Pyle, a well known artist and author. After working for Howard Pyle, she then served as a secretary to Emily Bissell, a Delawarean who helped found the Delaware Chapter of the Red Cross (Bissel also created the American Christmas Seal in 1907 to raise money to fight tuberculosis). She worked for Emily Bissell from 1912-1926. Gertrude continued to work as a secretary and from 1926-1941 was the secretary to Ellen DuPont Wheelwright.

Gertrude Brincklé was next employed by the Historical Society of Delaware as the sole librarian. The Society records consistently show she was an integral part of the organization. When she announced her resignation as librarian in 1949 it was “accepted with regret” due to her years of “fine service.”  When she left the organization after 13 years in 1954, the Society remarked that Gertrude Brincklé:

“Possessed to an uncommon degree the qualities requisite to her office: she was interested in people and things; she had a fine Delaware and Wilmington background; she was acquainted with most of our members before they joined the Society; she had tact, patience, and understanding; and she worked with the staff and the directors with discretion and ease.”

Posted by: kn19808 | July 18, 2014

1948: 150th Anniversary of Old Town Hall

In 1948 the Historical Society of Delaware celebrated the 150th Anniversary of Old Town Hall. Old Town Hall was constructed in 1798 and served as central meeting spot in the city.  When construction was finally completed after many delays and design debates, the building was ranked as the largest building in Wilmington with its tall cupola. The building’s size and central location on Market Street insured that Town Hall would be a central meeting spot.

Old Town Hall Interior ca. 1927

The interior of Old Town Hall was built to support a variety of functions. The underground cellar included two jail cells, the first floor served as a community hall, and the second (less public) story was divided into rooms. The second story served to host meetings, and one of upstairs room functioned as the borough council’s meeting chambers. Other non-municipal groups and individuals also made use of the property and space over the years.

For example, the Philosophical Society, an amateur science organization, rented the space in Old Town Hall for their meetings. They also received permission to create a small room in the storage area of the cellar to conduct scientific experiments. According to legend, the Philosophical Society was attempting to demonstrate a volcanic eruption during one of their meetings, and it caused an explosion in the basement. No official record of this event exists; however, the Philosophical Society lost all permission to experiment in Old Town Hall and briefly lost permission to use the Hall as a meeting space.

By the 1850s Wilmington built alternate meeting spaces and halls. Overtime, the rentals of Old Town Hall diminished and despite additions in 1875, the space was aging. By 1916 a new city building was constructed and Old Town Hall was sold at auction. Fortunately, the Historical Society of Delaware purchased the property, later restored the building, and it remains in the Society’s possession today.

Posted by: kn19808 | July 16, 2014

1947: 169 New Items for the Society’s Collections

The Historical Society of Delaware was busy adding new items to the collection during 1947. It was reported there were 169 collection additions to the library during the year. Many of these items filled in gaps in the collection and included pamphlets, books, reference materials, deeds, maps, and manuscripts.

Pierre S. DuPont donated works from Gentieu. Example of a Gentieu work, “Lower Hagley Powder Mills”

There were several notable donations include materials from Pierre S. DuPont, rare books, and materials from the Chester County Historical Society. Pierre S. DuPont donated the Gentieu Collection of 354 photographic plates and prints of Wilmington from 1880-1910. It was reported the photographic plates were all listed, labeled, and dated in wooden chest. W.W. Smithers sent 11 books from his library, including a rare book Translation of Horace and Original Poems (1796). These poems contained allusions and information related to Delaware. The Chester County Historical Society sent church and school material, Delaware Agricultural Society reports, and several books and newspapers. These are just a few examples of some materials received by the Historical Society.

The librarian, Gertrude Brincklé, also requested that members of the Society help save old documents and Delaware material of historic interest from destruction. She made a request for additional books, pamphlets, and deeds the predate 1820. She also requested individuals preserve furniture and utensils, made in Delaware, for the museum. The Historical Society of Delaware had its eye on preserving and collecting Delaware history in the years to come.

Posted by: kn19808 | July 14, 2014

1946: The Inaugural Publication of Delaware History

In 1946 the Historical Society of Delaware celebrated a great accomplishment, the inaugural publication of Delaware History. Charles L. Reese, the editor, issued the following foreword in the publication:

“In launching this new publication the Historical Society of Delaware has several aims. It is hoped that a magazine devoted solely to the history of Delaware will quicken and broaden the interest of the people of this state in their common heritage. That heritage is rich and varied and it deserves to be better known than it is today.”

This first issue of Delaware History contained articles, reprints of historical documents, and news notes from the Society. The article “John Dickinson, President of the Delaware State, 1781-1782” by J.H. Powell was published in the first issue. The paper had previously been presented at the annual meeting of the Society. The issue also contained transcriptions of letters, diaries, and manuscripts in the collections of the Historical Society of Delaware. Charles Reese wrote that by transcribing these materials (which Reese aptly described as “treasures”) more scholars would be able to access historical materials.

First Issue Cover

Delaware History was intended to be published biannually. By publishing a magazine dedicated exclusively to the history of Delaware it was hoped new scholarship would “stimulate the study and writing of this state’s history.”

Posted by: kn19808 | July 11, 2014

1945: “The Philadelawareans” by John Munroe

John Munroe ca. 1954

On April 16, 1945 John A. Munroe of the University of Delaware, gave an address at the annual meeting of the Historical Society of Delaware titled “The Philadelawareans:  A Study in the Relations between Philadelphia and Delaware in the Late Eighteenth Century.” John Munroe (1914-2006) was an exceptional historian of Delaware, earning a PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania. He taught at the University of Delaware in 1942 until 1982, and also served at the department chair for 17 years. His publications and works centered on Delaware and he is recognized as “the dean of Delaware Historians.”

John Munroe’s presentation on “The Philadelawareans” explored the connections between Philadelphia and Delaware. Munroe’s work emphasized the Philadelphia connections with Delaware and the ease in which people traveled between the two locations. He argued the fluidity between the two places is evidenced in the shipping trade, in the road through Delaware to Philadelphia during the American Revolution, and also it can be traced through printed materials.

“The Philadelawareans” was well received by those in attendance at the Historical Society of Delaware meeting. Munroe published this material article in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography in April 1945.  Throughout his career as a historian he published more than 80 articles and numerous books. Munroe’s final book, published in 2004 at 90 years old, contained a collection of essays relating to Delaware and included his 1945 piece “The Philadelawareans.”

Posted by: kn19808 | July 9, 2014

1944: The Benjamin H. Latrobe Exhibit

The Historical Society of Delaware displayed many exhibits in 1944, but few garnered as much attention as the Benjamin H. Latrobe Exhibit.   The exhibit centered on his work as a distinguished architect and engineer. Many of the exhibit materials were lent by Mrs. Gamble Latrobe which featured a portrait of Latrobe by Rembrandt Peale, some of his original sketches and drawings, and some original letters.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820) was born in Leeds, England, and he was educated at the University of Leipsic. In 1785 he traveled in Germany and joined the Prussian army. Two years later he began studying architecture in London. In 1795, Latrobe sailed across the Atlantic to Norfolk, Virginia. While in the United States, he designed many public and private buildings in Richmond, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Washington. In 1804, he surveyed the town of New Castle. From 1799 to 1807 he surveyed the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays and he worked on the first attempt to dig a Chesapeake and Delaware canal. However, the project was abandoned due to lack of funds. Mr. Edward Cooch lent the Society a map of the original surveys to be put on display during the exhibition. The Society still has some of his materials relating to this abandoned construction project. 1944 - Latrobe New Castle Map142

During the canal years, Latrobe began work on the south wing of the unfinished capitol building. While living in Washington, D.C., he became friends with Thomas Jefferson. In 1814 he was appointed to rebuild the Capitol in Washington after it suffered damage during the War of 1812. The Latrobe Exhibit featured some of the original correspondence between Latrobe and Jefferson. Latrobe and his family moved to Pittsburgh in 1813, and then to Baltimore in 1818 where he lived the remainder of his life.

The Benjamin H. Latrobe Exhibit was immensely popular in 1944 and many viewed the materials related to such a noteworthy architect and engineer.

Posted by: ccooper2014 | July 7, 2014

1943: Remembering Christopher Ward

Christopher Ward served as president of the Delaware Historical Society from 1940 until his death in 1943. This brief period coincided in part with the demands of World War II, but it was a fruitful time for the Society. During his tenure, membership increased from 210 to 326, the Society hired its first professional librarian, and collections grew tremendously. Ward also urged the Society to increase its endowment—at the time, the Society’s annual income was only a little over $4,600.

Christopher Ward (1868-1943) came to Delaware as a child. He began his career as a lawyer, then after Delaware passed the General Corporation Law in the late 1890s he and Josiah Marvel founded the Corporation Service Company. The firm, still active today, provided services to businesses that incorporated but did not operate in Delaware.

But literature and history were his passion. After he retired from business, Ward devoted himself to those pursuits. During the 1920s he wrote popular parodies of current novels and produced important historical works including New Sweden on the Delaware (1938), The Delaware Continentals (1941), and The War of the Revolution (1952).

Ward also led the state’s celebration of the Swedish Tercentenary in 1938, coordinating an array of activities and events than included visits from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Swedish royal family.


Ward’s descendants have continued his commitment to the Delaware Historical Society. Several have served on the Society’s board, and the Research Library’s reading room is named in his honor.


Christopher Ward

Christopher Ward

Posted by: ccooper2014 | July 4, 2014

1942: World War II Brings Changes

World War II brought changes to the Delaware Historical Society. Both of the Society’s librarians, Grace E. Heilman and Dorothy Ditter, left to join the WAVES. In every war, it is expected that men will leave civilian employment to serve their country, but this is an unusual case of an entire female staff—admittedly a small staff—leaving for that reason.

Gertrude Brinckle, who had many years of experience as secretary to Howard Pyle, Emily Bissell, and Ellen du Pont Wheelwright, and who knew Wilmington intimately, joined the Society’s staff as librarian. What she did not yet know, of course, was how to care for historical materials, although her administrative and organizational skills transferred to library and manuscript work. But she made a point of learning. She worked with Dorothy Ditter for a month before she left, and visited the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Delaware Public Archives to learn from them. And so she began to work with the Society’s museum and library collections.

However, Gertrude Brinckle soon learned about the other side of library and museum work, experiencing the constant tug between uninterrupted time to work with collections and the daily round of routine business and serving the public: “there are a great many interruptions during the course of the day; visitors who want to be shown around, children, researchers, questions about genealogy; books and pamphlets to be mailed, gifts to be acknowledged.” This description from her annual report for 1942 is just as true today, as librarians and curators juggle the many demands that come their way. It’s all part of fulfilling the Society’s mission to preserve Delaware’s history for the benefit of the community.


Dorothy Ditter

Dorothy Ditter

Posted by: ccooper2014 | July 2, 2014

1941: H. Fletcher Brown, Generous Friend and Benefactor

In 1941, H. Fletcher Brown purchased and donated to the Delaware Historical Society two major manuscript collections.  One consisted on 700 Rodney family documents, covering several generations of the family.  The other was a large group of Read family papers.  In addition to these gifts, Brown donated many other documents that form the core of the Research Library’s early manuscript holdings.

But H. Fletcher Brown did much more for the Society.  He served on the board for many years and provided generous financial support.  He paid for repairs and new lights for Old Town Hall, contributed to the cost of the vault added to the building in 1938, covered operating deficits for a number of years, and bequeathed a trust that still supports the Society.

Brown’s service and generosity to the Delaware Historical Society were only one of his contributions to his adopted state.  Harry Fletcher Brown (1867-1944) was born in modest circumstances in Massachusetts.  A chemist by training, he made his career in developing black powder.  This led him to the DuPont Company and Delaware in 1903.  His scientific knowledge combined with his leadership and management skills to lead him to the highest levels of the company.

After his retirement in 1930, Brown devoted himself to public service.  In addition to the Delaware Historical Society, he served on the boards of the Delaware Hospital, Wilmington Free Library, and the Children’s Bureau of Delaware.  He donated the Walnut Street YMCA to the African American community and H. Fletcher Brown High School to the Wilmington public schools.  But his greatest interest was the University of Delaware, whose board he joined in 1930.  Brown’s vision led the university to improve its faculty, students, and facilities, setting it on the path that has led to its current statue as a major research institution.

Like Willard Hall, an earlier migrant from Massachusetts, H. Fletcher Brown contributed much to Delaware.



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