Welcome 2010

January 7, 2010

Smiling Face and Color Coordination, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

The Delaware Historical Society staff celebrated the New Year with two special events. On January 3, we invited our very special Delaware Historical Society volunteers to the Read House for an open house. Our library and Read House garden volunteers enjoyed getting to know one another and sampling a variety of delicious dishes. We appreciate the hard work our volunteers perform and know that we could not accomplish all that we do without them!

Tap Room at 11:45

On January 4 at 11:45 our staff was finishing up another successful staff work day. Some big tasks at first seem insurmountable, but we realized years ago that if we all work together we can accomplish a lot in a short time. So one day each January the staff all works together on one or more designated projects. This year we worked on several projects at the Read House. Our biggest project was removing collections pieces from the early twentieth century basement tap room to prepare for ceiling repair that is part of our Save America’s Treasures project. Some staff members also helped to rearrange our woodshed in preparation for our February and March hearth cooking workshops and remove holiday decorations and clean period rooms under the direction of the Read House curatorial assistants. With seventeen of us working on the various projects we were even able to fit in a tour of the preservation activities for our Wilmington staff.

Tap Room collections are being stored in the b...

After our work was completed, we enjoyed lunch together at a local restaurant. What a great team!

Until next time…

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Catching Up on Read House Construction at the Delaware Historical Society!

December 16, 2009

Conservator Assesses Wallpaper, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

Okay… here is my big confession…on most days at 11:45 I am not technically making history because I am eating my lunch. Of course because of the current preservation project my work day begins at 7:00 a.m., so taking lunch at about 11:30 feels just right!

Nonetheless, lunchtime usually allows me to take a few minutes to review morning projects and prepare for afternoon endeavors. On Fridays I also think about the week’s activities and plan for the coming week. So I guess my weekly recap posts make sense on our Making History 11:45 blog.

Masons relay brick paving
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr

It has been awhile since my last post because I have been busy with wrapping up year-end goals and projects. In the meantime, our construction crew has been working against the clock to complete as much work as possible on our preservation project before winter weather brings some outdoor activities to a halt. Updating an earlier post, after receiving permission from the National Park Service to repoint 100% of the Read House façade, the masons carefully completed mortar removal and replacement in the thin joints characteristic of the front elevation of a fine house.

While removing caulk around the façade windows, the masons discovered a surprise. The windows on this elevation are characteristic of the finest from the Federal period. They are recessed from the façade with no heavy brickmoulding , creating a very minimal appearance. In order to create this delicate window framing, the original masons broke the backs of the bricks immediately around the window, sometimes creating a sizable gap between brick course and window frame. George Read II’s original crew must have used putty to fill in the gap, and successive owners used caulk, which created a noticeable band around the windows. The latter was not the intended effect these monumental windows were meant to create.

Steel Reinforcement in Place
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr

The project manager, restoration architect, and I surveyed the situation and discussed possible options. We needed to assure that a secure seal to exterior weather was created, but preserving the intended appearance of the front windows was paramount. We decided upon a brick patch that would help to close the existing gap and retain the very fashionable Federal period appearance, allowing a thin layer of caulk to create the seal.

More recently the masons have been relaying sections of our garden walks to create a safe walking surface and assure that in our graded garden area rainwater flows away from the house foundation. Yesterday the masons discovered a concrete post hole at one of our fence lines. After reading information about archaeological excavations performed on the property the masons knew that this feature should not be removed without examination. I noted its similarity to another post hole found during a recent excavation. Because this one was located on a fence line, the masons were able to pave around it without disturbing it so that we can investigate it further in the future.

Concrete Posthold at Fence Line
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr

High above our brick garden walks, roofers have been working in between periods of rain—some quite heavy—to install a new roof membrane for the flat roof of the house’s primary block. Before the membrane could be applied, an old membrane had to be removed, as well as a layer of tin and a layer of plywood. Non-historic German siding placed on the bridge between east and west chimneys was also removed, revealing that the most recent roofing layer did not extend beyond the siding to the original masonry wall surface. Water was infiltrating and becoming trapped between the roofing layers and possibly contributing to existing leaks on the third floor. We look forward to the completed installation of the new roofing membrane and flashing and caulking that will help make the house watertight.
Inside, the carpenters were able to move forward with reinforcing the northeast window lintel in the Laird dining room.

Deteriorated Lintel

The lintel was reinforced with steel on the outside several weeks ago so that the lintel could support the outer brick wythes. The inner stabilization supports the innermost brick wythe. In order to stabilize the lintel from the interior, the carpenters had to remove the window casing and several inches of plaster above the window, and the wall surface is covered with an early twentieth century hand-painted wallpaper depicting scenes of New Castle.

Therefore, before the carpenters proceeded with the repair we first consulted with conservators regarding the condition and possible removal and/or repair of the wallpaper in question. After an initial general assessment a paper conservator was on site this week to prepare the wallpaper for the work and for possible repairs. We discovered that the wallpaper, which had been repaired and conserved in the past, was adhered fairly securely to the wall, and in some places wallpaper had long ago been lost and infill painting was performed directly on the plaster wall surface. Therefore, we decided that the conservator should fabricate a new piece of wallpaper to fit above the window, recreating the blue sky that comprised this section of paper. While the conservator was on site, she also adhered sections of the wallpaper throughout the room that were lifting from the wall surface.

Presently the carpenters have replaced the window casing and are plastering the area above the window. The conservator will return in January to carefully replace the section of wallpaper above the window.

And the work continues!
Until next time…

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Happy 11:45 from the 1860s!

December 15, 2009

2nd and West Streets, Wilmington, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

It’s 11:45 and I’m enjoying a trip back in time. I’m nearly finished cataloging the Delaware Historical Society’s Stereocard Collection into Cuadra Star and I am enjoying these last moments visiting another era! I thought I’d share a little with you- nothing sensational- just fun today.

I picked two views to share- both of 2nd Street but in different towns. The first view shows the corner of 2nd and West Streets in Wilmington in the mid-1860s. It looks like a pretty normal day- a few people walk along the street and it looks as if the maid for the home and one of the youngsters of the family are posed at the corner of the house. I just love the “action shot” of the lady with her long dress walking in front of the home. Most stereocard views are much more staged than this seems to be.

2nd St., New Castle

The second image shows 2nd Street too, but it’s Second Street in New Castle. This house sits across from the Arsenal, a well-known site in New Castle then and today. This one looks different as I converted it into a grayscale image for another purpose. In this view, the photographer spent some time arranging his subjects, or possibly asking the owner of the home what he/she/they might like to have pictured. Standing in front of the horse and buggy is the man responsible for keeping the horse. His jacket is torn on its sleeve- and stands in sharp contrast to the fancy hat of the owner, who you see standing behind the buggy and nearly blocked from view.

Between the two views, we get a tiny sense of what life was like some 130 years ago. Pretty cool job I have today!

-Until Next Time, Ellen

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The Best Part of My Day….

December 10, 2009

Student Report Card #2, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

When students come to visit us at the Delaware History Museum, we’re always interested in what they think! At the end of the day we give each teacher in attendance an evaluation for them to fill out and history museum report cards for students to rate us on how we did. Sometimes the returned student report cards are just priceless – such as these from 4th graders at Maple Lane Elementary School. Just in case you can’t decipher everything that they students drew/or are talking about…I’ll help you out along the way!

This particular report card is amazing in it’s accuracy. In our permanent exhibition (Distinctively Delaware) we have a cut out of a longhouse with skins on the floor and stretched out to dry. I think this student did a fabulous job depicting our longhouse and even used her imagination to fill in some Lenni Lenape hanging out inside.

We have some additional student report cards posted on our Flickr photostream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dehistory/.  I’m so happy by how accurate some of the images are!  My favorite drawing depicts a student and a museum guide.  It’s very detailed (this child had talent) although I have to admit I don’t know who this tall, skinny, brunette with shoulder length hair is supposed to depict.  Maybe I’ll ask my guide staff to fight it out amongst the 3 of them!!!!  I wish I could say it was me!!!!

As for the question “what was the best part of your day?”  How are these answers for some cute points:

  • “Eating lunch with my uncle”
  • “The best part of my day would be everything!”

Until 11:45 Next, Andrea (Delaware Historical Society)

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The Bancrofts

December 1, 2009

Samuel Bancroft House, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

December Greetings! It’s officially the holiday season- hoorah!

I am in the process of cataloguing the Stereocard Collection. The Society owns approximately 250 of these cards- most were produced in the third quarter of the 19th century. They were made with a special camera that had two lenses very near one another. When the photographer took his photograph, he actually took two nearly identical images. The two were developed and mounted on a card. The cards used were of various sizes and measured about 7” wide by about 3 ½” high. They were viewed through a special contraption- a handle with glasses and an easel holder for the card. The viewer slid the easel closer or further from the “glasses” until the image appeared as a three-dimensional view. To us today, these stereopticon cards are cool, fun and very entertaining! But put yourself in the shoes of people who didn’t have television or movies and imagine what fun they were. When I was a small girl, my mom went on a steroptican kick and bought a viewer and some cards- I loved them! She bought a lot of western scenes showing people posed precariously on the tops of mountains and canyons and views of people at Niagara Falls. Even for a little girl in the 1970s- these cards provided a chance to get away and see things that were exciting and even thrilling.

Back to Delaware and the Historical Society and Cuadra Star (alas- a few moments with the thrill seekers atop the Grand Canyon and my mind starts to feel wanderlust…). Anyway, I’m working on a tiny collection of five cards donated by the Bancroft family. The Bancrofts, a Quaker family, had a very successful milling business along the Brandywine River just west of Wilmington. In 1831 Joseph Bancroft founded a cotton mill at Rockford, Delaware. Daily operations were based on the British methods of spinning and weaving. Bancroft’s sons William Poole Bancroft (1835-1928) and Samuel Bancroft, Jr. (1840-1915) became partners in the Rockford factory, which became Joseph Bancroft & Sons. In 1889 the business was incorporated, and was known thereafter as Joseph Bancroft & Sons Company.

This collection of five cards show views of the homes and mills before the company was incorporated. The one that caught my eye is a view of the home of Samuel Bancroft Jr. At 26 he married and had a house built for the couple. A hand-written note on the reverse of the card tells the story: “Samuel Bancroft and Mary R. Richardson were married June 8, 1865 and moved into this house in February 1866- this house being built for them and they occupied the “Fulton house” until this house was ready for them. Samuel Bancroft is sitting on the porch. This was the beginning of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Bancroft Jr.”

As an aside- most Delawareans would know Samuel and Mary Bancroft for their interest and generosity to the arts community. Samuel became fascinated with Pre-Raphaelite art and amassed the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art outside the United Kingdom. His donation of the collection and eleven acres of land was the impetus for the Delaware Art Museum in the 1930s.


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Fall Fest A Success!

November 20, 2009

Another shot of Andrea and Cagney, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

A few weeks ago I wrote about getting ready for Fall Fest at the Delaware Historical Society….and then I didn’t write anything about how the event went. Well….shame on me!

We're going fishing!

It was a GREAT event. We got lucky because it didn’t rain, it was sunny, and it wasn’t too warm. (In fact, it rained the five Saturdays before Fall Fest and the Saturday after Fall Fest too! Like I said…lucky!)

Overall we had about 500 people visit the Delaware History Museum, the activities that we organized, and the community groups who came out for the event.



Ellen and Dorothy

This year we had two different areas with kid’s activities where they could aim a nerf bow and arrow into a target, play a duck bean bag toss, pick a rubber ducky (or crab) in our duck pond, color a picture, try their hand at fishing, and make a duck call out of a straw. (The straw duck call and the nerf bow and arrow were by far the most popular kid’s activities.) We also had a storytime…and don’t forget about Lucy the Whale. Lucy survived the day and was a hit – about 200 people visited her and learned about our very special Fin Whale. (I must say – she looked so tiny when she was outside on Market St.)


A really hard day...

We had some great music by the Whirled Peas. And several community organizations came out including – the Red Cross, the Delaware Museum of Natural History, The Brandywine Zoo, The Delaware Nature Society, East Coast Search and Rescue, and the New-Del-Pen Newfoundland Club. (The picture above is me and Cagney – the Newfoundland who attended the event.)

Overall, it was nice to see the entire staff coming together to pull everything off! I truly appreciated all of their efforts!

Check out all of the Fall Fest pictures on Flickr or on our Delaware Historical Society Facebook page. Have you own pictures? We would love to upload them and add them to the albums!!!!

Until 11:45 Next, Andrea

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An Intern’s Work is Never Done….

November 16, 2009

Meaghan prepares wash house for November and December school programs., originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

I can’t believe that this semester is half way over already! With all the excitement here at the Read House, time has been flying by so quickly. There have been so many things for me to get involved with between research, cleaning, moving collections back and forth, and just talking with everyone here about the changes underway at the house.

I know more about windows than I thought I would ever need to know, and I could tell you which type of duster to use for finished wood and which type for unfinished wood. While this all seems like arbitrary information, it comes in handy actually working with the objects in the house. It’s great to be able to take everything that I’ve been learning in my classes and see how they can relate to actual real world experiences.

There is so much more that goes into planning and maintaining a historic house than I would have imagined. While I’ve worked as a tour guide before, I am seeing all the behind the scenes aspects of interpreting the stories that are a part of the tours. That’s really what I’ve been exposed to more than anything. I’m learning how museums go about interpreting the past and connecting it to the present. This includes interaction with the community and responding to the needs and interests of visitors.

Every day there is a new project to get involved in, or an event going on to sit in on. Last month I had the opportunity to sit in on a staff meeting and learn about (and be completely overwhelmed by) the new cataloging system which is going to make the collections of the Delaware Historic Society more accessible to the public. I also joined up with a class of college students from Wesley University that came to visit. They were concentrating on professions in the field of history—which is pretty relevant, as I’m graduating with a history degree from the University of Delaware in the spring, and should start thinking about what I’m going to do next year.

I guess to sum it up, my experience so far has taught me a few things. On the surface I am learning how to care for historic pieces: how to clean them, how to handle them, etc. More importantly, however, everything that visitors see when they visit a museum or historic house is there for a reason. Historians interpret the past and in museums, they tell this story through objects. While scholars may write an article about family relationships at the turn of the nineteenth century, museums can give a sense of family through the placement of books and globes around a table, as in the Read House. There are countless stories that could be told, and so museums interact with the public to tell the ones that are most relevant to the community.

I am glad to be a part of this interaction and I am looking forward to the second half of my stay here.

Meaghan O’Connor
Material Culture Studies Intern

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