The Wilmington Institute was founded in 1788 as the Library Company of Wilmington. In the years that followed, the organization grew in prestige, with some of the city’s most influential civic leaders numbering among its officers. It was out of this organization that the Historical Society of Delaware was founded in 1864. As a subscription library, many at the Wilmington Institute saw the need for an organization that was primarily concerned with “articles of antiquarian interest.”
The Institute served as a natural headquarters for the new Society and meetings were usually held in the directors’ room of the building. However, this choice of location caused some tension. Individuals living in Kent and Sussex counties were encouraged to join, but many argued that the historical society was positioning itself to be a Wilmington organization by the place of its meetings.
One hundred and fifty years later, transportation and communication have greatly improved. The Delaware Historical Society includes members both up state and down, and holds events in all three counties throughout the year. Yet this physical statewide-reach still poses logistical problems, as the Society has remained headquartered in New Castle County.
The Wilmington Institute continued to serve as the headquarters of the Historical Society of Delaware until 1872. At that time, the Society’s collections were too large and numerous and it was determined that permanent headquarters were needed. The newly constructed Grand Lodge of the Masons at 8th and Market Streets was deemed the perfect fit.