Seaford historians complete newspaper archiving project

Page 1 of The Delmarva Leader’s Oct. 21, 1938, edition announces the arrival of duPont to Seaford, which would be christened as the “Nylon Capital of the World.” Archives from several papers covering the Seaford area are now available online through the Seaford Museum. (Submitted photo)

SEAFORD — Since the late 1800s, there have been plenty of stories, newsmakers and journalists in the Seaford area.

Now, there’s something new for the old news: Scores of archived newspaper editions from various publications are at your fingertips through technology and the click of a mouse.

The Seaford Historical Society recently announced the opening of its new online archive of historic Seaford newspapers. The collection was made possible by generous archive and monetary donations, according to Seaford Museum Administrator David Grantz.

From the July 5, 1879, issue of The Sussex County Index to the Dec. 25, 2003, edition of The Leader & State Register, the collection captures development of Seaford from a small, river port town through its years as the industrial hub of southern Delaware.

One of the most noteworthy headlines appeared in the Oct. 21, 1938, edition of The Delmarva Leader: “Seaford Selected As Site For huge $7,000,000.00 duPont Co. Textile Mill.” It was an announcement of what would become Seaford’s era as the “Nylon Capital of the World.”

Converting the archive to a digital format was the idea of local historian Jim Bowden, a then-Seaford Historical Society board member, who added his own collection of lesser-known Seaford newspapers.

Jim Bowden

“I thought it was a good idea,” he said.

Previously, the newspapers were accessible only to those willing to spend hours alone in the Seaford Museum.

Now, they are available free for anyone to use at any time from the comfort and socially distanced safety of their homes.

The Seaford Museum’s archive began around the year 2000 with legendary newspaperman Wright Robinson presenting his collection of bound editions of The Leader to the Seaford District Library. With that facility lacking enough storage space, Mr. Robinson gave his blessing to the transfer of the papers to the Seaford Historical Society.

The collection grew with a donation from local resident Stanley Simon. He had “boxes and boxes of old Leaders in his basement,” according to his daughter, Connie Chapman. Upon her advice, he donated his collection to the Seaford Museum for their preservation and enjoyment by fellow history buffs, according to Mr. Grantz.

Working with the Delaware Public Archives and New Castle-based Data Management International, Mr. Bowden, who assumed the project reins in 2001-02, hoped to complete the project in time to present a set of the disks to Mr. Robinson. Unfortunately, the longtime publisher passed away in December 2003 at age 95, not long before the project was finished.

“My part of the project was just the love of Wright Robinson and wanting to get this project done,” said Mr. Bowden. “Wright was still alive at the time, and I figured I was going to get it done before he passed away. We were done in late 2003, but, unfortunately, too late for Wright.”

The cost of the digital scanning was significant. While DMI charged only 1 cent for every 50 words, 120 years of papers added up to about $25,000.

Fortunately, the late Dr. Charles W. Simon, Connie Chapman’s uncle, provided a generous donation that made the digitizing project a reality, while Mr. Bowden funded the smaller project of scanning his collection.

One financial hurdle was whether to incur an additional cost and include advertisements.

“Ultimately, we ended up negotiating a price, and we did advertisement, too, because they are a good track record and bookmark for pricing at that time frame,” said Mr. Bowden. “We did all of that within a budget Mr. Simon was OK with to pay for.”

As happens with technology, the original files became obsolete and were viewable only on an aging computer at the Seaford Museum. To remedy this, the Seaford Historical Society contracted with Lewes-based Techno Goober to convert the files to a searchable format and create the user interface.

Contributions made in the memory of Jerry Chapman, Connie’s late husband, paid for this latest step in the preservation of her father’s, Mr. Robinson’s and Mr. Bowden’s collections.

“The Simon family and the Chapman family have been really good to do this as a project. It was a fun project for me. It was scary at first because it was mind-boggling,” said Mr. Bowden. “This is a neat project the historical society took on. This is certainly the best of all worlds.”

In general, most archives in the collection are “in pretty good shape,” Mr. Bowden said. “There were a lot of different things that played into the factor, but all in all, it’s a really enjoyable product.”

The archive is an excellent resource for anyone doing genealogical research or school projects or searching for family birthdays and events, as well as for history buffs.

Archives, by newspaper, include:

• The Sussex County Index: 1878-79.
• The Delmarva Leader: 1934-85.
• Seaford Tribune: 1916.
• The Delaware Pilot: 1938.
• The Leader & State Register: 1986-2003.
• The Seaford News: 1939-41.

Access is free, but the historical society appreciates any donations.

To get started, go to seafordhistoricalsociety.com, click on “Visit,” select “Newspaper Archive” and start exploring.

Points of interest

In his research and extensive work on the project, Mr. Bowden uncovered some interesting findings.

But there’s also a missing link.

“Through the years, the only year that I know we are missing (of The Delmarva Leader) is 1936, which for me, almost made me distraught. That was the year my grandfather, George Washington Bowden, had become chief of police in Seaford in 1936,” he said. “It ended up we never did find it.”

The archives includes 10 editions of The Delaware Pilot, which was based in Lewes. “They were on the same roll of microfilm,” said Mr. Bowden. “But they have no value to Seaford people.”

Mr. Bowden also discovered that Dr. Simon, a 1939 Seaford High School graduate, had been a reporter in his school days. “He had been a reporter for Wright Robinson,” said Mr. Bowden.

And there is also Data Management International’s connection to America’s first president through the 42nd.

“They (DMI) had been selected from the years that Bill Clinton had been president. In the waning days of his presidency, if you remember, he started pardoning people. He pardoned about 300 people. All the news outlets were trying to get copies of these pardons,” said Mr. Bowden.

“Come to find out, the pardons were on paper. Nothing had been digitized. So what the federal government did is they hired Data Management International to digitize, from George Washington all the way through Bill Clinton at that time.”