Early in 2010, I was brought into the Chester County Historical Society as an intern through the American Material Culture Studies Program at the University of Delaware. As part of a long-planned move of their offsite collections to a new, smaller storage space, a partnership was formed between the Society and Historic Sugartown, Inc. to display in a renovated firehouse a number of historic conveyances that had been in deep storage. Some vehicles had never been on display at all, and had been in storage for 70 years.
The carriages, sleighs, carts, and other conveyances were moved in a large coordinated effort from their storage location to the museum in February 2010. After a lot of pushing, pulling, and maneuvering, the vehicles were all installed in the museum.
Getting them into the museum was the easy part; now the real work of writing the labels could begin.
Now in most cases, this would be an “easy” task of determining and analyzing the context of creation to write interpretive and engaging labels for the museum-going public. Easy, right? Well, not so much with these carriages. Many of these vehicles had been donated before the era of good recordkeeping and accessioning, and the labels that had been attached to many of them had long since decayed. What was I to do?
I didn’t blink an instant. I dove into the Historical Society’s institutional archives, poring over donor lists, exhibit photographs, ephemera, and over 70 years of newspaper clippings to see what I could find about the vehicles. The task was not an easy one; after hours of reading, chance discoveries, a name or two, and persistence, the task paid off—the donors of most of the vehicles were found, though much more research still needed to be done. Thankfully, the Chester County Historical Society has an outstanding collection of manuscripts, maps, photographs, ephemera, and organized newspaper clippings to draw upon for information—and draw upon them all I did for these interpretive labels.
After several iterations and editorial reviews, the labels were printed and mounted (by yours truly—I’m a jack of all trades here) and placed on the reader rails for visitors to learn and enjoy.
The labels that follow were installed in the exhibition and represent original provenance and contextual research. Please note that the images have been blurred due to copyright considerations; those that are not are in the public domain.