Collecting Delaware Books
A good source of early twentieth century Wilmington social history is The Horse on Rodney Square by Lee Reese, published by the News Journal Company in 1977.
And emphasis is on the word "social." Charles Lee Reese, Jr., was born in 1903 and grew up among the upper middle class of Wilmington in the vicinity of Delaware Avenue. He has stories of John Biggs, Jr. and his wife Anna, the Wyeths, Christopher Ward, F. Scott Fitzgerald at Ellerslie, and Gertrude Brinkle. Reese tells about fox hunts and which of the du Pont ladies drank a bit too much. Even the foibles of the local clergy are exposed.
The book is full of fun, scandal, and human interest, all described by a professional writer.
Reese was hired as a reporter on Wilmington's Evening Journal in 1927. The late Bill Frank, a street-wise orphan and journalist of the old school, said that Reese got $25 a week, while he and the other reporters were paid $18.25. The explanation was that "these college kids always get more" and "well maybe he does know somebody in the front office."
Reese had actually worked on a national news magazine and one of the earliest radio news programs before returning to Wilmington.
No one thought he would last long, but he remained with the paper until 1978 rising from reporter to editorial writer, chief of the editorial page, executive editor, president and publisher, and finally chairman of the board. Frank is quick to say Reese did it with concern, interest, energy, and leadership, not his connections in high places.
He certainly was a crusader. As executive editor, Reese led the fight against Bryant Bowles who in 1954 organized resistance in southern Delaware to the United States Supreme Court decision striking down school segregation. The paper lost a lot of circulation below the Mispillion.
Reese was with the newspaper for 41 years. He died August 19, 1989 in a retirement home in Hockessin.
One of his finest contributions to our state was Delaware History magazine, the publication of the Historical Society of Delaware. In 1946, Judge Richard S. Rodney, president of the society, asked Reese to undertake publication of the semi-annual magazine. In the half-century since then, Delaware History, has become one of the finest publications of its type.
Reese continued as editor of Delaware History until 1967, and was president of the society from 1968 to 1971.
He was active in many other civic endeavors, including the hospital merger committee, the Wilmington Institute Free Library, and the Wilmington Music School.
Reese has two other books two his credit besides The Horse on Rodney Square. In 1938, he co-authored Old Swedes Church, Wilmington, Delaware, 1698-1938 with Charles Minot Curtis for the Delaware Tercentenary Commission. This 52-page book is a popular history of Holy Trinity Church. It is fairly common and does not sell at a high price.
In 1962, he edited the correspondence of Dr. David Meredith Reese, 1865-1892, and published it as the 30-page Letters of a Young Physician, 1889-1892. This is the only one of his books that is comparatively rare.
The Horse on Rodney Square is quite common, but because of the demand it sells for $40 to $60 depending on condition and authors signature. In examining a copy, check the binding: it is prone to become permanently skewed if other books are piled on it.