In 1996, the Delaware History Museum continued its active new schedule of programs and events when it hosted its first Smithsonian travelling exhibit alongside other home-grown exhibits. Entitled, “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: The Rise of Black Churches in Eastern American Cities, 1740-1877,” this new exhibit would continue to build on earlier Society efforts to tell a more diverse Delaware story. On the collecting front, the Society received an unprecedented gift of high-quality Delaware- related marine art from noted local collector, Charles Gilpin Dorman (1920-2000). This new gift would fill a major gap in our holdings related to local maritime history.
A Wilmington-born native and renowned expert on eighteenth-century decorative arts, Charles Dorman worked as a curator at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia from 1960-1983. He was also a passionate collector of Delaware history and great friend to the Society, which began receiving gifts from his diverse personal collections beginning in the early 1980s. This latest installment would bring some exciting new materials relating to the Harlan and Hollingsworth Company, which built ships and railroad cars in Wilmington from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries.
Among the treasures received was an original ink and watercolor technical drawing of the Iron Propeller “Roanoke” by Henry William Frackmann, a German-born draftsman and engineer who lived in Wilmington and worked for Harlan and Hollingsworth between 1862 & 1870. Frackmann’s subject, the “Roanoke,” was the first of eight ships built by Harlan and Hollingsworth for the Baltimore Steam Packet Company (also known as the Old Bay Line). The drawing, dated January 1871, shows the ship during the year of its construction and combines an artistic port-side rendering of the vessel at sail with detailed precision engineering specs. Thanks to dedicated (and generous) collectors like Charles Dorman, another piece of Delaware’s rich past is able to be preserved in a public institution for future generations.