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.