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!