History Projects

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  1. 2023 Projects
  2. 2022 Projects
  3. Older Projects

Bayard's West Chester. (August 2023)

On August 28, 1963, Bayard Rustin stood behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. A quarter million people assembled near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom —a political rally advocating for the advancement of African American’s civil and economic rights. Rustin was the chief organizer of this historic event, and his leadership ensured the rally’s success. Rustin’s influence in the Civil Rights Movement extended far beyond this single-day event. He devoted his entire adult life to advancing the cause of social justice. This commitment to equality and justice can be traced back to his childhood upbringing in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where—between 1912 and 1937—Rustin was exposed to the town’s Quaker influences as well as its own struggles with hate and discrimination. Click here to watch a new educational video about Rustin’s years in West Chester.  

Thomas Moore's Ambition: The Man Behind Downingtown, Coatesville, Wagontown, and Atglen's Early History.  (May 2023)

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300 years ago in the early-eighteenth century, most of Chester County was frontier country. It was the hinterland between the European settlements along the Delaware River and the vast Pennsylvania wilderness. Chester County’s abundant arable land, waterways, and natural resources made it a prime location for swift economic development, but it would require ambitious pioneers to stimulate growth. Thomas Moore of Concord Township was one such man. In 1710 Moore embarked on a milling enterprise that helped lay the foundation for Chester County’s early economic success. While his ambition planted the seeds for the future development of four towns—Atglen, Coatesville, Downingtown, and Wagontown—it would ultimately cost his family everything. Discover his story in our latest ArcGIS Storymap by clicking here.

Chester County's Pioneer Female Physicians (March 2023)

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On June 9, 1886, Mary Cheyney traveled to the Chester County Court House in West Chester, PA. She was a trained medical professional who spent the last three years training at the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia. Despite all her training and accomplishments, she was required by law to register as a medical professional. Although most the county’s registered medical professionals were men, Cheyney was among eighteen women who registered between 1881-1922. This medical register—now preserved at the Chester County Archives—is much more than a method of tracking physicians’ credentials. It also represents the personal stories of the physicians, the countless and untold stories of their Chester County patients, as well as the story of one very special institution, the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.  We turn to some of these stories now in a new project by the Chester County Archives. Click here to read Chester County's Pioneer Female Physicians.

For the County of Chester: The Oldest Record Preserved at the Chester County Archives (February 2023)

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The oldest record preserved at the Chester County Archives is an old colonial court docket. The first entry was recorded on September 13, 1681—just six months after William Penn received his royal charter from King Charles II. What’s particularly interesting is the fact that the first nine pages of this docket were all recorded before William Penn ever stepped foot on Pennsylvania soil, and before he formally established the Chester County Government in November 1682. Explore the history of this court docket and learn about some of the earliest European inhabitants in the local area. 

Check out the new video by clicking here.

Richard Adams: A Civil War Hero (February 2023)

Banner Opens in new windowOn June 26, 1863, Chester County resident Richard Adams entered Camp William Penn near Philadelphia. He was one of the very first recruits to enter the new military training facility which had just opened to accommodate the influx of African American men enlisting to serve in the Union Army after the Emancipation Proclamation. During the enlistment process, Richard falsely listed his age as forty. In actuality, he was sixty-three years old. As one of the first men to enter camp, as well as one of the oldest, Richard was prepared to fight and die in the American Civil War to contribute to the abolition of slavery.

Learn more about the story of Richard Adams—a Civil War hero from Chester County—in this new project by the Chester County Archives. Click here to access the project.

A Brick Building on Walnut Street (January 2023)

Cover photo Opens in new windowThe Chester County Archives staff regularly receive questions from homeowners asking if a property is “historic.” This is a difficult question to answer because “historic” is a subjective term. In other words, what qualifies something as “historic”?

Look at downtown West Chester, for example. Throughout the borough are dozens of historical plaques acknowledging various buildings, sites, and people. The Bank of Chester County building on High Street, for example, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Just down the block is another historical marker acknowledging the former Turks Head Hotel which operated in West Chester for nearly two centuries before being razed in the 1960s. Both sites unequivocally contributed to West Chester’s development and economic success. Situated directly behind both locations, however, is a three-story brick building on Walnut Street that directly supported both the Bank of Chester County and the Turks Head Hotel. It was built by the bank in 1856 and housed many employees who worked in the hotel’s stables and blacksmith shop. Does this qualify the brick building on Walnut Street as “historic”?

Every building has a history, and therefore, every building is “historic” in its own right. The history of this brick building on Walnut Street offers another historical perspective to West Chester’s nineteenth-century growth and prosperity. Its history reminds us to look past the town’s iconic places and names for new stories and different perspectives. Read more about the history of this property in a new interactive project created by the Chester County Archives staff. Click here to access the project.