10 years of history
Pencader Heritage Museum marks milestone
When a group of Newarkers began meeting in a conference room at the old Wilmington Trust bank to devise ways to preserve the history of Pencader Hundred, they never imagined their efforts would lead to a full-fledged historical society and a museum.
“If we got a room to have a lecture, we were happy,” founding member Ed Wirth recalled. “That was our dream back then.”
From those humble beginnings, the Pencader Heritage Area Association and its museum, the Pencader Heritage Museum, were born. On Saturday, the museum celebrated its 10th anniversary with a festival and open house.
Wirth credited a small but dedicated group of volunteers with helping build the museum into what it is today.
“What they’ve done is phenomenal,” Wirth said. “I don’t think you’ll find a finer place around.”
PHAA traces its history back to an effort led by former State Sen. Steve Amick, who represented the Pencader area.
“He said, ‘I have this jewel and I want to make sure people appreciate it,” Wirth said.
Pencader Hundred encompasses western New Castle County from southern Newark to just below the canal. It has no shortage of historical sites, most notably Iron Hill and the Cooch’s Bridge Battlefield.
In its early years, the group sponsored lectures and installed interpretative signage.
In 2006, it struck a deal with the state to rent a restored barn that was once part of the historic Dayett Mill property on Route 72, just south of Old Baltimore Pike. The following year, the Pencader Heritage Museum opened, and the organization has continued to add new exhibits through the years.
“The museum has changed a lot,” said longtime PHAA President Barbara White. “When you look back at old pictures, it was empty, but we were so proud of it then.”
She attributed its success to “sheer willpower and thousands of hours.”
Today, the museum has exhibits on everything from military battles to the Cooch family and Native Americans to the Newark Chrysler plant.
“It’s kind of little bit of ever ything,” curator Linda Duffy said. “People can usually find something that interests them because we have so much.”
Most of the exhibited items were donated by local residents like Ginny Baldwin.
A longtime resident of The Wedge before moving to Pennsylvania a couple years ago, Baldwin dropped by the museum on its first day open and donated a pump organ that had been in her family since the late 1800s, among other items. Baldwin, now 95, returned to visit the museum Saturday and wasted no time playing a tune on the organ.
“It feels wonderful,” she said, looking around at the museum. “It’s amazing how much work they’ve put into this. I started giving things when it was bare.”
PHAA Vice President Keith Jackson started volunteering with the group last year after stumbling upon the museum.
“I walked in the door and knew I’d found a second home,” Jackson said.
He said he is working to increase the organization’s public events and build relationships with other historical organizations in the area.
The key to getting people to appreciate history is adding context and local angles, Jackson said.
“When you just learn names, dates and very specific things, you lose context and that’s when history becomes boring,” he said. “When you give context, it pops and brings it to life.”
Pencader Heritage Museum, located at 2029 Sunset Lake Road, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of each month. Admission is free.
Pencader Heritage Area Association volunteers pose in the museum Saturday. From left: Bob Barnes, Linda Duffy, Ed Wirth, Barbara White, John Slack and Keith Jackson.