Archival Adventures in Small Repositories
Cultivating Mushrooms and Minds in Concord Township
Celia and I recently visited the Concord Township Historical Society. It is headquartered at the Pierce-Willits House, the birth place of the mushroom industry in the Philadelphia area, and one of the first farms to cultivate mushrooms in the country.
Francis P. Willits (b. 1856), owner of a 95-acre farm in Concord Township, began cultivating mushrooms from spores that he purchased from England (which came in squares of dried horse manure), in 1892. The spores were placed in bottles to sprout whereupon they were transplanted into a mixture of soil and horse manure in a mushroom house to grow. (The farm must have smelled fantastic!) By the 1920s, Willits was able to produce his own spores. The industry that Willits started moved to Kennett Square, now considered the "mushroom capital of the world."
The Concord Township Historical Society has a collection of Willits family papers that consists largely of photographs, including many early forms of photography- daguerreotypes and tintypes- from the mid to late-19th century of the Willits family and related families. Also included in the collection are deeds, genealogical materials, correspondence, and a Concord Mushroom Co., Inc. minute book.
Another interesting collection we found at Concord is the papers of Beulah Newlin Pennington (1896-1990), who played a significant role in the educational life of Concord Township. Pennington began her career as a school teacher in 1921 after the death of her husband, Frank H. Pennington. A graduate of West Chester University, she taught briefly at several different schools before spending twenty-two years teaching all of the grades in a one-room, red brick schoolhouse in Concord on Kirk Road known as Number Five.
She retired from Concord Elementary School in 1966 after teaching for 45 years. Concord Elementary was renamed The Pennington School in her honor. According to a newspaper article, Pennington only missed work 40 days out of her 45-year teaching career. The article also included a story highlighting the dedication and care that Pennington had for her job and her students while also revealing the dire straits that many families faced during the Great Depression. During those years of economic hardship, many students couldn't afford lunches so Pennington would make up a menu every week, and ask the children to try to contribute one vegetable each day that she would use to make a hearty soup.
Pennington's papers consist of materials relating to her work as a teacher in Concord, such as lesson plans, grade books, writings about her experiences, and photographs. They also contain personal papers including a large number of photographs of the Pennington family and related families; and some local history research materials relating to her involvement with the Concord Township Historical Society.
Contact the Concord Township Historical Society for more information about the individuals, families, businesses, and organizations that have impacted the history of the area of Concord Township.
Reference: Reynold, Dorothea L. "Profile of the Week: Beulah Newlin Pennington." Town Talk. 1979. Clipping found in collection.