Collecting Delaware Books
Every so often a Cinderella book comes along: one that catches the collector's fancy and increases in price beyond all expectation. Such a book is A Time to Remember, 1920 - 1960 by Charles A. Silliman, published in 1962.
In the past ten years, a nice copy of A Time to Remember with a dust jacket has gone from $20 or $30 to nearly $100. Subtitled Picture Story of Forty Years in the History of Northern New Castle County, Delaware, it is in steady demand. Most Delawareana book dealers have a list of customers wanting copies.
The book has over 300 photographs obtained from public archives, local institutions, and many private sources. They are nicely printed on 160 9- by 12-inch pages. The book starts with photos of American troops returning to the area after World War I, an aerial view of Wilmington, and a facsimile of the from page of the January 1, 1920, Wilmington Morning News reporting on the state's first Prohibition-era New Year's Eve.
Some pictures contain surprises. Most of us have seen pictures of the 1880 Court House that stood on what is now Rodney Square until 1920. But a picture of The Playhouse when it was a stand-alone building is rare. Before it was enclosed by the DuPont Building, it even had outside fire escapes. Few users of the Wilmington Institute Free Library know that it stands on ground once occupied by the First Presbyterian Church and its graveyard. The church edifice was moved to Park Drive and West Street.
Local schools are highlighted in a number of pictures. Construction workers posed in front of Tower Hill School as it was being built. Spectators watched basketball games at Wilmington High School from a narrow balcony around the gym. And Ursiline Academy occupied an Italianate house at Delaware Avenue and Harrison Street before building on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Howard High School was a five-room brick building at 12th and Orange Streets until the 13th and Poplar Streets building was opened in 1928. Hebb's School and Tatnall School occupied a series of sites, which are pictured. St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Salesianum School, and Alexis I. Dupont School are also shown.
There are many sports scenes, including Wilmington Park, where the original Blue Rocks played baseball. One photo shows assembled gymnasts at the 1922 dedication of Baynard Stadium.
Scenes from Rock Manor Golf Course can not show that access to it was turned completely around by the construction of I-95. (The entrance was once an extension of Baynard Boulevard at 30th Street. You now get there by turning off Concord Pike onto Foulk Road and then Weldin Road.)
Wilmington Flower Market is well documented in pictures. Early stage and motion picture theaters occupy a number of pages. Wilmington Country Club's club house which burned in 1923 is shown with its look-alike replacement.
Perhaps the greatest amount of space is given to transportation. There are excellent views of Bellanca Field, New Castle County's first commercial airport. Street and highway scenes appear throughout the book. There are two pages of trollies. And the St. Georges vertical lift bridge over the canal is shown both before and after it was rammed by a freighter in 1939.
The pages on the Wilmington Music Commission include words and music for the song "Hail, Wilmington!" composed in 1923 as a contest entry. The illustration shows sheet music, apparently printed by photo-engraving from hand-drawn music notation. A copy would be a great find for a local music collector. (The music, redrawn by computer music editing software, is included on page 3 of this issue.)
This listing of picture subjects only hints at the contents of the book. A Time to Remember is a treasury of early 20th Century photos of northern Delaware as well as a desirable collectors' piece. The only similar book is Carol Hoffecker's Wilmington, A Pictorial History, which is increasing in popularity and price.
Charles A. Silliman was born in New York City in 1917 and served as an infantry officer in World War II. He has worked in advertising, sales, writing, and editing, including serving as a copy editor for the Wilmington Evening Journal. He has several published short stories.
Other books by Silliman include Story of Christ Church Christiana Hundred and Its People, 1960 Biography of Delaware Trust Company, 1899-1965, 1965 The Hospital: The Story of Delaware Hospital, 1966 and The Episcopal Church in Delaware, 1785-1954, 1982. These titles are all worthy of collector interest, but none is as popular as A Time to Remember.