Object Profiles: The Printing Press

By Shannon Crowe

Jacob and Minshall Painter are recognized as connoisseurs of the horticulture world. For years the brothers cultivated their interests by establishing an extensive collection of plants. However, nature was not their only passion. Jacob and Minshall had a significant enthusiasm for scientific nomenclature and investigating and documenting the genealogy of local families. The two wrote a substantial amount in diaries, manuscripts and other materials concerning these topics. In 1863, the brothers felt the need to dedicate a specific space for their collection of books and other intellectual work. They built what we now call the Painter Library. The brothers began to fill the library with many objects of interest including a celestial globe and a telescope.

photo 2 (2)Another object in the brothers’ collection is a printing press, thought to have been purchased on November 8, 1866 by Jacob Painter. Minshall Painter kept a thorough diary, which provides many of the dates concerning the acquisitions of their equipment. On that day, Minshall wrote, “Jacob went to Media for his printing press and set it up.”  Throughout the remainder of his records, he mentions several of the pamphlets that were printed on the press. Many of which are documents of family lineage.

  • 4/24/1867    “Jacob finishing printing Salkeld family.”
  • 5/28/1867    “Jacob printing account of Minshall and Owen family.”
  • 5/9/1868       “Jacob printing his notation.”
  • 1/30/1869    “Jacob printing Heacock genealogy.”
  • 6/7/1869       “Jacob finished printing account of Heacock family.”
  • 2/12/1870    “Jacob printing-finished the Gilpin family.”
letter block

Letter block, or “furniture”

The printing press of the mid-19th century was much different than that of the digital age. The sporadic dates of the Painter brothers’ printing make sense when taking into consideration the amount of time and intensive labor accompanying the mechanics of a 19th century printing press. The process of printing began with individually setting each letter of type. The type was then fastened in place by blocks, also called furniture, and a chase. The type would be blotted by ink or pressed into an inkpad made of wool. Once the type was secured and inked, the paper was inserted and rolled into place.  The final step would require the pulling of the devil’s tail, which would apply the pressure needed to print the type on the paper. The multiple steps made the process a timely endeavor.

Original samples of a little light reading from Jacob Painter still exist

Original samples of a little light reading from Jacob Painter still exist

You can see the printing press along with the other equipment collected by the Painter brothers at Tyler Arboretum.  Tyler will be hosting a Historical Buildings Tour on July 13 and August 3 at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.  Tours are free to members and are included in the Arboretum’s admission fee.


An Unexpected Connection: Helen Keller and Tyler’s Fragrant Garden


By Shannon Crowe

Old Fragrant Garden

Fragrant Garden for the Blind, 1955

Visible from the Painter Road approach to Tyler Arboretum and nestled on the hill between the Visitor’s Center and the Barn, the Fragrant Garden has been part of the landscape at Tyler Arboretum for over sixty years. The dawn of the garden, in 1949, was a vision developed through the eyes of Charles G. Whittaker, who at the time was the Resident Superintendent at the Arboretum. C. G. Whittaker caught word of a garden in England that was specifically developed for the betterment of education and quality of life for the visually impaired. When plans of the garden commenced, Whittaker and the Arboretum reached out to the community to help solidify the garden’s development. Many local organizations took part in its evolution; including the Philadelphia Chapter of the Herb Society of America, which still maintains the garden today.

Helen Keller, 1950

Helen Keller, 1950

At the time of its inception, the garden would be the first of its kind in the nation to benefit the visually impaired.  A year after the garden began, a letter was sent to Helen Keller informing her of the Arboretum’s intentions of building a fragrant garden for the blind. On December 3, 1950, Helen Keller replied to the letter by praising and congratulating the members of the Arboretum for their efforts to improve the lives of the visually impaired. Keller explains her delight in the project by stating, “It warms me to see how much is being done to infuse beauty and joy into the lives of the exiles of the dark, and there is no lovelier way then to share your blessing with them then a garden planned for their benefit.”


Blind children exploring the Fragrant Garden for the Blind, 1955

In the beginning, the Fragrant Garden had three stonewall tiers and each level offered a different theme. The first terrace contained a flowerbed, the second featured 40 different herbs and the third was planted with perennials. The garden had a railing that wrapped around each level with Braille writing on it that would help the blind visitors identify each scent they experienced. The railings was also intended to provide the visually-impaired with independence as they were able to freely guide themselves around the garden.

Click the images below to read Helen Keller’s letter to Tyler.

Over the years the garden has changed – the railing was removed as the desire to create accessible educational opportunities for all audiences increased.  The role of the Herb Society in maintaining the garden has also increased.  In 1949, the HSA primarily donated plants and herbs to the arboretum. By 1951, the HSA took over the design, maintenance and completion of the garden and has since worked closely with Tyler managing the terraces.

Rena Barnett, chairperson for the HSA, explains, “In 1995 was the last time the garden had a complete over-haul. This year the, “Herbies” from the HSA Philadelphia Unit have started to pull back, heavily prune, and replace the over-grown and aging plants. The Herb Society’s goal is to revitalize and renew the garden and to enhance the fragrances, textures and variety for all visitors to enjoy.”

Now is the perfect time to experience the aromas permeating the air along the terraces. The Fragrant Garden is one among many of the wonderful spots in the arboretum to embrace nature at its best, as well as a bit of its history.

The Legacy of Pam Harper at Tyler Arboretum (1930-2014)

Introduction by Kathryn Ombam

Pam Harper began working with the historical collection at Tyler Arboretum in the 1980s. For the next three decades, she worked tirelessly to document, preserve, and protect the combined history of the arboretum and, more specifically, the history of the Minshall and Painter families that worked this land from the arrival of Quakers to this area and eventually worked to establish this as an arboretum.

As the volunteer historian, she created tours of Lachford Hall and Painter Library, wrote extensively about the history of the family, created and implemented a cataloguing system for both the 3-dimensional collection and the archival materials and guided Tyler Arboretum to protecting the collection. She was instrumental in securing the Painter Family Papers at the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College, guided the arboretum through the process of becoming a site on the National Register of Historic Places and became the go-to expert on both the family history/genealogy and the historic typography of the land that is now Tyler Arboretum.

To commemorate her great work at this unfortunate time of her passing, we are reposting an excerpt of the extensive oral history project interview completed with Pam Harper in 2010. We pass our condolences to her family and great friends – many of whom share her dedication to Tyler. We want to express our extreme gratitude with them for the enormity of her contribution to the interpretation of the history of this land and for sharing with us such a wonderful woman.

Oral History Project – An Interview with Pam Harper

Conducted by Hillary Mohaupt

Museum Studies Program

University of Delaware


This interview was conducted in 2010, and this transcript has been minimally edited to preserve the “voice” of Pam Harper.

(This excerpt skips to the discussion of Enos Painter and Hannah Minshall, who married in 1800)

Question: What did the farm produce during Enos’s time?

Enos fattened cattle and had marvelous meadows. By this time there was not a sheep to be found, because their sharp little hooves cut into the meadow and between the high meadow and the low meadows near Dismal Run. He also grew grains, and he had the mill, and he rented the mill out frequently. And he built Valley Cottage and a house up by the saw-mill for the miller. Sometimes he would rent all three things to the man who worked there and had a helper, a man who made chair rods. But when Minshall was young he learned how to run the mill, though it was not a year-round thing. You de-seeded your own clover and if people brought you their clover you did that, and in the winter you might run the saw-mill, but Dismal Run was not a big enough creek to keep it running at full force all year.

Question: Did Enos plant orchards?

Jacob II learned how to craft trees from somebody and he had more trees than he could either eat or sell, and I think a lot of it was that he liked the look of the trees. In his youth, Jacob II would work frequently at a place called Eden, and I rather think it had an orchard, which ran from the Tyler parking lot toward the Black cottage. The orchard had apples, cherries, apricot, peaches, plums, and almonds; just about anything you could grow. Apple was the mainstay fruit because it kept. Even at the tenant houses, there would be a house, and land where they could plant their own gardens and, if it were a good tenant, there would be one or two trees. At Round Top they grew pears and made perry, a pear alcoholic beverage that may have led to their downfall [laughs].

Questions: Tell us about the library.

At one time, living in this house, was Enos, their longtime housekeeper, and Minshall, and Jacob was living at Middle Farm, running the farm. When Enos died, Jacob came back to live here and brought his books and scientific equipment, and Minshall had all of his. And when Enos died they found out how much money they really had, which was a surprise. And in 1864 or 1865, they decided to build a house in which to study, and they drew the hands, and they hired Cheyney Biddle to come and build it. They purchased the stone and it was brought by the wagonload. They built it very much as it is now, and they built it to be fireproof, because burning was always a great worry. It has a tin roof, and it’s stone. The wooden floors are covered in masonry and it’s heated with a coal stove. And in the basement they built a boiler, and put a bathtub, and that became where they took their baths. They used to take their baths in the kitchen, because that’s where they would heat the water. They had a housekeeper named Mary Ann Regester, who looks downright mean in her photograph, and I have a feeling this was a way of getting away from her. They also put in a cistern, which was very up-to-date for the country, and they pumped the water up, and they had a house-power, where the horse went around in circles. They would fill it about every three weeks, and the water ran down to the barn, down to the house here, and from the house into the cellar and the greenhouse. That gave them running water, which was not common out here. When Jacob lived at Middle Farm, he had a ram that you put in the creek, and the current goes through and opens the valve, and it slowly pushes the water up. It’s very noisy and slow, and it’s usually used for keeping animal troughs full…

Question: How did Jacob and Minshall change the farm?

Enos was very eager to keep everything up to date, and certainly in his youth Minshall did the same thing, trying different fertilizers. As they got older, by the 1860s, they frequently let things fall into disrepair, but they were well to do, they were busy. I think they lost a little interest in the mundane. About 1865, they stopped running the farm themselves and rented out the farm to a couple of farmers in Middletown and just kept a couple of cows for milk and a couple of horses for riding. Minshall worked a lot in the gardens, grew raspberries and strawberries and cleared out weeds, puttered and enjoyed it. Unlike many of their neighbors, they did not emphasize dairy farming; cows did not seem to interest Minshall too much, and no mention is ever made of milk, even though at that point dairy was a very big deal because the ground was pretty much exhausted. And because of the Erie Canal and then the railroad, you could grow wheat more cheaply in Ohio, Indiana, and ship it east, than you could grow it here. With the coming of industry, you could sell butter and milk to the company towns, where you couldn’t keep a cow, and they had discovered that ice kept things cool. Down at Ridley Creek, at the mill, one of the millers had a community icehouse, built when Minshall was in school, which was about 1817. If you worked at putting the ice in, then you could take it out, and that was about the time that ice would keep in saw dust almost forever, which revolutionized the taking of milk into Philadelphia. And this part of the world was famous for butter; the Darlingtons just west of here supplied the butter to the White House. And before ice, they put a tremendous amount of preservatives in the butter.

The Painter Library

By Chris Lawler

In the early 1820’s, the Painter Brothers began planting many of the trees and specimen plants that would eventually grow to become the Tyler Arboretum, but their interests and proclivities extended well beyond botany and agriculture. With a lifelong pursuit of the sciences and understanding the living world, Jacob and Minshall amassed an impressive collection of books, documents, specimens, and scientific equipment. By the early 1860’s, the brothers had outgrown their small study in their Lachford Hall residence, so they set out to “build a hall in which to study.”

spring05 019

Painter Library

Listed on some old maps as the “House of Knowledge,” the Painter Library stands today as one of the most intriguing and unique structures at Tyler. The brothers constructed their hall utilizing the most advanced fireproofing technologies of the day, including a tin roof and fireproof paint. Two vaults, built directly on top of one another on the western end of the building, are completely masonry, with doors and window shutters of metal. It is within these vaults that the Painter Brothers housed their most precious and valued documents, including their family papers and history.

Jacob and Minshall spent much of their final years in this special building, conducting scientific experiments, maintaining their meticulous farm and homestead records, and studying their specimen collections. Avid readers and writers, their library collection exceeded  1,000 books, predominately works of nonfiction.  A hand printing press was added to the library, on which the brothers printed pages on their ancestral history, and various pamphlets including thoughts on a phonetic alphabet, and a numerical system based on sixteen.

A few museum pieces which stand out among the Painter’s treasures include a refracting telescope for the observation of the stars and heavens, a beautiful box camera on a tripod, and various devices for recording and measuring meteorological data. There’s even a plaster head for the study of phrenology!  The remains of a hot-water boiler, which the brothers used for bathing purposes, can be found in the cellar near the chimney. There are rumors this crude amenity was added at the request of Mary Ann Regester, a housekeeper the bachelor brothers hired on in 1847, when, after their sisters had all married and moved on, they found themselves without a female residing in Lachford Hall. Perhaps Miss Regester grew weary of the boys coming in from the fields and soiling her kitchen and wash basins, and gently suggested this “modern day” convenience.

From April through October, the Painter Library is open to the public for guided tours on the first Sunday of the month, which are free with admission. Friendly and knowledgeable docents will share their passion and offer glimpses into the fascinating minds and the daily lives of the Painter Brothers.

Object Profiles: The Blanket Chest

By Kathryn Ombam

In 1777, Jacob II married Ann Heacock of Middletown. Ann’s father was a local cabinetmaker in Middletown, and from a Quaker family very similar to the Minshall family. As a wedding present Ann’s father gifted one of the premier pieces in Tyler’s collection, a beautiful paneled, walnut blanket-chest and with the extra sentiment of being crafted by his hand.

Blanket chests were a very traditional present for a bride of that time, and provided the 18th century family with the perfect place to store linens and clothing.

Blanket chest (on right, with plate resting on top) hand crafted by Ann (Heacock) Minshall's father.

Blanket chest (on right, with plate resting on top) hand crafted by Ann (Heacock) Minshall’s father.

Ann Heacock was a bit unusual for a bride in 1777.  She was 35 at the time of her marriage and operated a weaving business, which gives us a hint into a related piece in our collection – the miniature blanket chest.  A miniature blanket chest would have been used primarily for document storage, and often on a working farm would be used as a till or cash box. Tyler’s miniature blanket chest still has its till intact.

small blanket chest interior

Interior of small blanket chest also used as a till by Ann

Middle Farm

By Chris Lawler

The land which would become Middle Farm was part of the original 1681 Penn grant to Thomas Minshall. This parcel was passed down through several inheritances until the early 1790’s when Sarah Minshall, with her husband James Starr, constructed buildings and established residency. Sarah died in 1811, and when James passed just a year later, the property fell out of the Minshall-Painter-Tyler lineage until Enos Painter, father of Jacob and Minshall Painter, purchased it in 1846.

The area that is now Tyler Arboretum flourished under the watch of Enos Painter, with five operating and self-sustaining farms, a saw mill, a clover mill, and many other ventures. Middle Farm was named so as its location fell between the Home Farm and Round Top. It was here that Jacob Painter resided in a large stone house from 1846 to 1857, and Anne Tyler would utilize it as a summer home during this period. Productive in dairy, fruit and vegetable yields, Middle Farm existed as a tenant farm from the mid-1800’s well into the 1900’s when the farming operations began to wind down.

The buildings of Middle Farm, consisting of the stone house, a spring house and a large barn, were deemed unnecessary for operations when Tyler Arboretum came to be in mid-1940’s, and they quickly fell into disrepair. Razed in 1963, there is very little evidence left today of their precise positioning on the land, and the existing photo documentation does not reveal a great deal. However, if we walk just a few hundred yards out on the Rocky Run Trail, we can use our imagination.

As we just begin to see a clearing way up ahead on the trail, we’ll encounter a little spring on our left, affectionately called Mossy Run by some. Glancing down towards Rocky Run from this point, we’d be looking at the spring house. Turning to our right and looking up the hill, we’d see the rear of the stone house. And farther down up on the right, on the edge of that clearing, there would be a large barn facing us. We have to pretend that none of the trees are around us, too- the landscape would be vastly different.

Middle Farm meadow, 2012 (photo by Chris Lawler)

Middle Farm meadow, 2012 (photo by Chris Lawler)

If we move on to the clearing up ahead and take the first right up the steep hill along the side of the meadow, we can see what is left of the barn’s foundation near the point where the trails diverge. This location is best viewed in the winter months, when the foliage and undergrowth is diminished. The yellow markings tell us we’re now on the Middle Farm Trail, which is a lovely walk to further explore this unique area of the Arboretum, quite rich in history and beauty.

Finding Our History


By Kathryn Ombam

HSP_RGBAs we mentioned in our inaugural blog post, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Small Repositories project (HCI-PSAR) visited Tyler Arboretum to survey our archival materials on March 20, 2014. The project, funded by the Mellon Foundation, is designed to make more accessible the over 200 small archival holdings in the five-county Philadelphia area.  The project manager and archivists visit each site, document what they find in a blog post, create online finding aids and make recommendations to the institution for the care of their archival collection.

The importance of the HCI-PSAR project to small, volunteer-run archives and collections like Tyler is significant. With small budgets, the challenges of historic buildings and rapid changes in research technologies, most small institutions do not have the resources to create these kinds of finding aids for themselves. While the HCI-PSAR staff will complete their work on the final analysis and finding aids for Tyler Arboretum throughout the summer, their wonderful blog post was published on their website last week! For more information on the other small archives participating in the project, visit their website or the HCI-PSAR Facebook page.

painter-libraryFor anyone interested in learning more about the history of the Arboretum, a good first step is to join us for one of our Historical Buildings Tours, the first Sunday of each month, which are free with admission. Tyler Arboretum has been enormously assisted by the dedicated volunteers that have catalogued, researched and written about the collections here for many decades. We hope to highlight some of the tremendous work of these volunteers and their personal favorites over the next few weeks.

570_mccabe_0119And no discussion about the history and archival materials related to Tyler Arboretum would be complete without mentioning the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College. The Friends Library has housed the Painter Family Papers since 2009. They have created an extensive index of their holdings, have examined and documented the genealogy of the family and other important local figures and have provided excellent research support.  You can find the complete index of their holdings at here.

Let’s begin at the beginning…

By Kathryn Ombam

When thinking about the history of Tyler, the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Arboretum, and the wonderful evolution of the land, it can be helpful to start at the very beginning. We had the opportunity to reflect on just that recently as the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Small Repositories Project was surveying the archives at Tyler Arboretum. Project director Jack McCarthy gave us some very fascinating insight into the original land deed between William Penn and the first owner of the Tyler Arboretum land, Thomas Minshall. At that time, he mentioned that the deed was one from before William Penn left England.

According to Mr. McCarthy, “After William Penn received the grant from King Charles II of England for the land that would become Pennsylvania in March 1681, he began advertising the colony and selling tracts of land.”  Thomas Minshall clearly did not need much time to deliberate leaving the conditions in Lathford, England, as he purchased the land that would eventually become Tyler Arboretum on March 21, 1681.

Indenture document (circa 1682) for the land that would one day become Tyler Arboretum.

Indenture document (circa 1682) for the land that would one day become Tyler Arboretum.

Mr. McCarthy also notes: “Penn did not actually come to Pennsylvania until the fall of 1682. During the year and a half between his receiving the grant and arriving in Pennsylvania, while he was still living in England, deeds for the land in Pennsylvania that he sold list his residence as ‘Worminghurst in the County of Sussex.’   Tyler Arboretum’s Penn deed is one of these very early deeds.”

In fact, William Penn did not come to the territory known as Pennsylvania until October 28 or 29 of 1682. Interestingly, Thomas Minshall and his wife Margaret Hickock arrived in Pennsylvania in August of 1682, several months before even William Penn!