As you take a look at the memorial benches located throughout the Arboretum, you can almost feel a family’s love as they honor their loved one with a simple plaque on a bench. A plain cedar bench, where you can sit and reflect in nature, helps us all feel connected to the full legacy of people who have come before us, and the community that stands behind them and Tyler as an institution.
When we think about the Legacy of Community, thoughts may first focus on today as Tyler remains very active in providing to its visitors, volunteers, members and the community at large. You can see this at Tyler in the many ways we fulfill our mission, including collaborating with other scientific organizations to extend educational programming, through Citizen Science projects and through its continued support of local food banks.
This legacy goes back 339 years to 1682, when the Minshall family arrived in Pennsylvania. We shared the beginning of their story in “The Journey of Hope”, but they didn’t rest when they landed in Pennsylvania. Following in the Quaker tradition, the Minshall families were ardent supporters of their community. From their earliest time in America as they were establishing their homes and livelihoods, they were also working with their neighbors to build a community where they could thrive, worship together and educate their children. As pacifists, members of the Society of Friends focused on a peaceful place to raise their families and worship as they saw fit. By generously donating their gifts and talents, everyone in the community benefited.
Early upon their arrival in Nether Providence, Thomas Minshall’s home was used for Quaker meetings as early as 1688 and by 1700, a meeting house was erected on Minshall property. By 1711, this one acre of land, along with a second acre for the cemetery, was donated by the Minshalls and was known as the Providence Meeting House.
We are able to follow the giving nature of the Minshall and Painter families of Middletown through documents left behind. We know some of the Minshall and Painter men acted as guardians for orphans and fatherless children, beginning with Jacob Minshall in the late 18th century. Jacob was also a trustee of the Blue Hill School, and took care of the Quaker cemetery and prepared the grave sites. He maintained a listing of those buried in the cemetery, a task that he passed on to his daughter, Hannah Minshall Painter in the early 1800s. Hannah’s husband, Enos, was a supervisor of the Blue Hill School and strongly believed in the value of education for all of his children. His sons, Minshall and Jacob, were highly active in the community and shared their knowledge by contributing to scientific articles and by editing books. In 1833, Minshall Painter, along with four other men, established the Delaware County Institute of Science. The Institute was created so men interested in all areas of science could exchange ideas. They created a lending library and a natural history museum. As more people joined the institute and the collections grew, lack of space became a problem. Minshall Painter donated land in Media for a new building for the institute, which was erected in 1867. He also gave lectures, coordinated many of the activities there and donated many exhibits to the museum.
Minshall Painter was instrumental in having the county seat moved from Chester, and is credited with renaming the town of Providence to ‘Media’ in 1849. A street sign noting this can be found on Orange Street, near the Media train station.
While Jacob Painter shared his brother’s passion for science (particularly plants), he was also an active supporter of women’s rights, organizing the 1852 Women’s Rights Convention at Horticultural Hall (now Chester County Historical Society) West Chester PA. The brother’s charity extended to many aged or unfortunate families.
Eventually, the Tyler family gifted their Middletown property to the public and Tyler Arboretum was created in 1944. Because of this donation, we are able to preserve, learn and appreciate the legacy that the Minshall, Painter and Tyler families created. In this way their spirit of community services continues to this day.
A wonderful place to find more information about Quaker families and Delaware County history is the Friends Historical Library, located at Swarthmore College. Established in 1871, the library was created to collect and preserve records pertaining to the Society of Friends. Dozens of boxes of Tyler documents and photos are waiting to be explored. Friends Historical Library: Swarthmore College.
Many towns in Delaware County have historical societies and/or websites that relate their town’s history. This website for Media shares the story of the Delaware County Institute of Science and the background of the town’s creation. Media History | Media Borough Pennsylvania Official Website. Nearly 200 years later, a family can easily enjoy a few hours spent at this museum. Though currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Delaware County Institute of Science continues its lecture series by Zoom, which is available to the public.