Preserving a House with Haverfordian Ties

After graduating with a degree in history, James Truitt ’17 has hit the archives at a historic house in Philadelphia that reflects the story of one Quaker family over the course of 300 years.

For the past five months, James Truitt ’17 has worked as a collections intern at the Wyck Association, which preserves and presents to the public a house, garden, and farm owned by nine generations of a Quaker family in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. Wyck connects past to present by connecting the family’s priorities of education, horticulture, and preservation to local community outreach focusing on history and urban agriculture.

Working mostly with Wyck’s extensive pamphlet collection, which features items from 1700–1980, Truitt has handled hundreds of items collecting data about their authors, contents, and owners. As Wyck is hoping to create an online catalogue of its collections, Truitt’s work is in service of making the collection more accessible to researchers. He has also highlighted collections on social media and done curatorial work as part of community outreach initiatives.

I think the most exciting part about what I’m doing at Wyck is how many treasures this house contains and how my work will help show them to the wider world,” said Truitt. “I’ve come across incredible things at Wyck—pamphlets from revolutionary Paris in pristine condition, the outlines of a young Quaker woman’s library at the turn of the 19th century—and I’m excited about contributing to letting more people know about them.”

The Haines family, who inhabited Wyck, were mostly Quakers, and many of them were Haverford graduates or had strong ties to the College. John Smith Haines II, Class of 1838, was one of the Haverford’s first students, and he and his brother Robert served as managers of the College in the latter half of the 19th century. Their cousin Ann also donated the modern-day equivalent of $100,000 to Haverford, which helped reopen the school after it closed in 1845. The connection persisted into the 20th century, as Robert Bowne Haines III, Class of 1917, donated to Haverford his great-grandfather’s letters from Thomas Jefferson, John James Audubon, and other famous naturalists. (These are still part of Quaker and Special Collections’ holdings.)

The history between Wyck and Haverford shows in the historical house’s collections. Truitt encountered one pamphlet printed in 1833 titled “Address of the Managers of the Haverford School Association to the Friends of the Association”, which detailed the creation of Haverford.

Pamphlets from the 1830’s discussing Haverford College. Photo by Patrick Montero

The connections between the two institutions have really enriched my time at Wyck, giving me context to understand the house, while also allowing what I learn here to inform my understanding of the people and values who shaped Haverford,” said Truitt.

Truitt, who double majored in history and linguistics, wrote his thesis about Arabic astrology in 12th-century England. His interest in the history of science led him to curate an exhibit about the nearby Friends’ Asylum in Magill Library’s Sharpless Gallery last September.

“Both projects have allowed me to allowed me to explore my favorite topic, the history of science, and the grounding in Quaker Philadelphia I got through the Friends’ Asylum exhibit has been very helpful at Wyck,” he said. “My time as a student worker in Quaker and Special Collections also gave me skills in working with 19th-century printed materials.”

Though his internship ends later this month, Truitt hopes to continue his post-graduate inquiry into the past, and is now seeking work at a museum, library, or archive. For someone interested in working with cultural institutions, Wyck has been a good start.

Photos by Patrick Montero.