Delaware Public Archives celebrates 110 years of collecting history

State archivist Stephen Marz speaks Wednesday at the Delaware Public Archives. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

State archivist Stephen Marz speaks Wednesday at the Delaware Public Archives. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

DOVER — Delaware Public Archives, with its myriad documents and photographs, is perhaps unparalleled in its accounting of Delaware history.

From the original charter given in 1683 by the King Charles II of England, to a 1915 law setting the punishment for “burglary with explosives” to between five and 30 lashes, the Public Archives hosts more than 11 million historic items.

They can be accessed by anyone from a fourth-grader doing a report to a grandfather trying to plot out his family tree.

On Wednesday, state officials, archivists and history buffs came together to celebrate the facility’s 110th anniversary.

The Public Archives provides living history, state archivist Stephen Marz boasted.

Gov. Jack Markell urged a group of schoolchildren in attendance to study that history.

Gov. Jack Markell presents state archivist Stephen Marz with a proclamation recognizing the Delaware Public Archives’ 110th anniversary.

Gov. Jack Markell presents state archivist Stephen Marz with a proclamation recognizing the Delaware Public Archives’ 110th anniversary.

“If you learn from your history, you’re probably going to make better decisions in the future … We live our lives, and we think about what we learned from our experiences and then if they’re good experiences, we say to ourselves,

‘What can we do so we can have more of those good experiences in the future?’

“And if they’re bad experiences, we say to ourselves, ‘What can we do so that we don’t have to have those experiences?’” the governor said to the students.

The hope is that the Archives will be able to celebrate its 220th anniversary in another 110 years, Gov. Markell said.

It has been in its current location since 1995 when the building was constructed after a push by citizens to get a new, larger home for the millions of documents preserved by the state.

It is an “archives for the 21st century,” Mr. Marz said.

The Public Archives sits among other buildings at the heart of state government in Dover. Legislative Hall is across the street and the Kent County Courthouse and the Old State House are a few hundred feet away.

Visitors can track the course of Delaware history through the documents, going back centuries.

• Instructions from the legislature detail how men could enter the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

The royal charter given by England’s King Charles II in 1683 was on display Wednesday.

The royal charter given by England’s King Charles II in 1683 was on display Wednesday.

• A letter from Gov. William Burton shows him debating whether the state should remain a part of the United States or join the Confederate states.

• A petition from Sussex County pushes for the continuation of Prohibition.

Despite “budget crunches,” the state has continued to support history and the arts, Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock said.

Much of the information has been digitized, making it available to anyone with a computer. Archives employees are also proud of the new Spanish language translation online.

One of the Archives’ most treasured documents is the charter given by King Charles II more than three centuries ago. The document was found by in the attic of Mary Wistar Miller, a descendant of William Penn’s lawyer. She donated the charter to the state in 1909, reportedly turning down $50,000 from an interested British museum.

Everyone has a different favorite piece, Mr. Marz said. Part of the reason his job is worthwhile comes from the joy of seeing a visitor find something valuable to them, he added.

“What I consider to be the most historic, or what I consider to be the most interesting, is entirely different than what anyone else’s is,” he said.

“We have many people that come in here that are doing all types of research and what they find to help them understand what they’re doing or help them maybe in their genealogy and connecting dots, those are the important documents.

“What I love as the state archivist is when I’m listening to individuals and I hear someone say, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know you had that stuff.’ That’s what we’re all about.”

On display at the Public Archives are four charters, all from the 1680s, that relate to Delaware’s founding.

On display at the Public Archives are four charters, all from the 1680s, that relate to Delaware’s founding.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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