Exchanging History with the Chester County History Center

Thursday, June 29, 2023

In May of this year, Hagley Library welcomed a new gift, the Hoopes Brothers & Darlington, Inc. collection! This collection was placed on deposit at Hagley in the 1960s by the Chester County Historical Society, now the Chester County History Center (CCHC).

Deposits are a unique collecting category. Institutions that allow deposits take care of materials while the depositor (donor) remains the legal owner. During Hagley’s early years, deposits like Hoopes & Darlington were acquired because they were a quick way to build our archive. We now have over 100 deposited library collections and, until recently, that included the Hoopes Brothers & Darlington materials, housed onsite at Hagley but owned by the Chester County History Center.

Hoopes Brothers & Darlington was a West Chester, PA wheelwright company founded in 1866. The company used locally sourced timber to produce wooden wheel spokes before expanding into whole wheel assembly. Wheels were in seemingly endless demand given the widespread reliance on wagons and carriages for American travel and commerce, and Hoopes Brothers & Darlington found itself prospering throughout the late nineteenth century. At its peak, the company employed nearly 200 people and shifted toward using southern timber as Pennsylvanian supplies dwindled.

The advent of automobiles in the early twentieth century did not immediately slow the company’s success although it did present new challenges. Plenty of rural Americans still used wagons and wooden-wheeled bicycles for transportation due to the expense of metal vehicles and the comparative ease of replacing worn wooden parts. Metal wheels were growing in popularity though, and Hoopes Brothers & Darlington patented heavy-duty three-lug wooden automobile wheels mechanics would be capable of mounting tires onto (see right). The company was steadfast against shifting into metal wheel manufacturing and as automobiles replaced wagons, their main consumer base became surrounding Amish communities. By the time it closed in the mid-1970s, Hoopes Brother & Darlington was the last wooden wheelwright company in the United States.

When library and collections staff from the CCHC came to Hagley for the gift conversion, Angela Schad, our Head of Reference Services, shared with them some artifacts of interest from the collection as well as aerial images of historic West Chester and Chester County from the Dallin Aerial Survey collection.

Pictured from left to right are Angela Schad, Margie Baillie (CCHC Assistant Librarian), Judy Ng (CCHC Librarian), and Ellen Endslow (CCHC Director of Collections/Curator). 

During the visit, Hagley’s Director of Library Services, Erik Rau, and I also returned another deposit to the CCHC. The Albert Cook Myers papers were microfilmed copies of Myers’ research notes from biographical work he had done on William Penn. The originals have long been preserved at the CCHC, but in the 1960s, Hagley was asked to facilitate the copying of them onto microfilm with the provision that we keep one copy while the CCHC gets the other. Part of the reason for this was likely the friendship between Myers and Hagley Library’s founder, P.S. du Pont. Myers was a fellow historical preservationist. Still, no matter how it ended up at Hagley, we determined the film did not fit within our collection scope and should be returned to Chester County.

Meeting with the CCHC staff was a wonderful opportunity not only to exchange collection ownership, but also to discuss our own best practices and share our favorite pieces from our respective archives. To find out more about accessing the Hoopes Brother & Darlington collection or the Albert Cook Myers papers, follow the links!

Hannah Spring Pfeifer is the Library Coordinator at Hagley Museum and Library.