The David Library of the American Revolution as It Was: JAR Contributors Remember


December 19, 2019
by Editors Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

The Sol Feinstone home, “the Big House,” at the David Library where fellows resided while using the archives. (David Library of the American Revolution)

The end of 2019 marks the end of an era, when one of the world’s premier institutions for research on early America, The David Library of the American Revolution, closes its doors. The collections will be moved to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, so the material will still be accessible—although under different conditions—but the David Library offered an overall experience that will not be matched. Nestled in the bucolic Delaware River landscape of Upper Makefield Township, Pennsylvania, the library and farm were an inspiring location where one could conjure visions of eighteenth-century America while working on twentieth and twenty-first century endeavors. This beloved resource has played a key role in the lives and careers of many Journal of the American Revolution contributors, so this month we asked them:

What is your favorite memory of the David Library of the American Revolution?

Jeff Dacus
First, the people. The David Library had so many resources, it would be difficult to navigate alone. The people who worked there were fantastic. Second, the surroundings. It was so calm and peaceful and the neighborhood was filled with American Revolution reminders, The Revolutionary graves park, the Thompson-Neeley House, and the view from Bowman’s Tower make it a pleasant peaceful place to visit. Downtown Philadelphia has its resources but parking and hustle bustle of the city won’t be the same.

Jett Conner
Although I have had limited association with the David Library, I like many others am sad to see it close. I first visited in 2016 after my wife urged us to stop and check it out one late afternoon after visiting Washington Crossing Historic Park. I thought it was too late, but what a warm welcome we received even though it was about thirty minutes before closing. And what a stunning setting for a library! We quickly browsed shelves and vowed to return. The next year we were back to take a tour of Revolutionary sites in the environs organized by the library, and then last year we got another chance to come (we live in Denver) after Chief Operating Officer Meg McSweeney kindly invited me to give a talk on my recent book, John Adams vs. Thomas Paine. Getting to stay overnight in the Sol Feinstone home and having lunch with Meg and two David Library fellows before my talk were highlights for us. The library will be a real loss for the community. Especially lost will be the convenience of walking right in with no fuss and immediately having access to a super collection of Revolution materials and expert assistance.

Ray Raphael
I’ve never conducted research at the David Library, but I have given talks there on several occasions. The house was always packed, and the venue facilitated easy eye contact with an enthusiastic audience. Questions were relevant and stimulating. At the end, the percentage of people who purchased books was unusually high. At first this went to my head, but after talking with other historians who had similar experiences, I realized that the story was not about me, but about the amazing community of history folks around Washington Crossing, for whom David Library served as a hub. Meg McSweeney put together an awesome speakers program; this might continue in Philadelphia, but it can’t possibly have the same bonding effect on a local community. Historical research might benefit by the move, but much is lost.

Matthew M. Montelione
Unfortunately, I never had a chance to visit the library in person but librarian Katherine Ludwig was extremely kind and helpful to me when I was conducting my research on Col. Richard Floyd IV of Mastic, New York, in 2014. She provided me with many vital records.

Adam E. Zielinski
Aside from the novelty of driving along the Delaware River, knowing you’re in the vicinity of where so much history took place, and then turning a corner onto a sliver of road leading over a wooden bridge to an unspecified building; for me, my favorite memory would have to be where the first visit led. I was doing research for my first article with JAR and I was curious if they had any maps of New Jersey. The librarian, the ever-helpful Katherine Ludwig, pointed me to the rear of their collection. A giant box containing reprinted maps housed something I hadn’t anticipated. A collection of twenty or so maps of New Jersey, circa 1778-1780, was inside. Bright, detailed, and stoking my curiosity, the day ended with many gains and useful information for my essay. But I kept going back to those maps. Fast forward eight months later, I was having dinner at a relative’s house in Philadelphia when I noticed the giant map of the city, circa 1796, on her wall. And it was here when I had that “thunderbolt moment.” The map’s author, John Hills, had been the author of all those maps I’d viewed at the David Library. A writer knows when things happen for a reason. Four years later, I’ve written a full biography on the life and work of John Hills. A small portion was published last year with JAR, and I have been fortunate to have spoken about my work at several historical societies and libraries in the Philadelphia region since.

Mary V. Thompson
Unlike some of the other contributors to JAR, I was at the David Library only twice—once in 2018 and again in 2019, as an evening speaker. Both times, Meg McSweeney (the Chief Operating Officer) and other staff members were very welcoming. The Library offered a speaker’s fee, and generously took care of all my expenses for getting by train from Alexandria, Virginia, to Trenton, New Jersey (the nearest station to the Library). Prior to my lectures, Meg graciously fed me—lunch with great pizza (and gummy bears!) and two lovely dinners—the first in Washington Crossing and the second right along the Delaware River. These were wonderful opportunities to sample local eateries and to have some great conversations with her and several of the fellows at the Library about their projects. The lecture space in the barn was fantastic, the audience was very appreciative and asked great questions, and both times we sold enough copies of my books to make it worth the while of the local bookshop that handled business, while I answered questions and signed books. Best of all was getting to know Meg and her sweet little dog, Marcel, who came along as our escort to and from the train station. Thank you for some wonderful memories!

Will Monk
About ten years ago there was a librarian named Greg Johnson, working alongside the wonderful Kathie Ludwig. One day, Greg was talking to a few visitors who wanted to see the library’s fiche machine, and he said, “We only have fiche on Fridays.”

Don Glickstein
I had the honor of speaking at the David Library about the nearly three years of war that followed Yorktown. The last battle of the American Revolution was fought in Cuddalore, India. During my Q&A, an Indian-American gentleman started talking about the great Mysorean general, Hyder Ali, who had died shortly before the last battle. I gave the gentleman the mic, and he talked at length about Hyder, which shows the power of our collective knowledge.

Todd W. Braisted
For me, there is no one single favorite memory of the David Library. I could not possibly count all my visits over the past thirty years or so, having the honor to speak at least a half dozen times, including for the release of my book Grand Forage 1778, and getting to stay overnight in The Big House. While access to the collections is always the reason for going there, it’s been the camaraderie of those there that has been the most enjoyable. Doing this thing we do can frankly be a lonely experience at times. When you get to talk shop with others of the same interest, share the excitement of a new discovery, assist a visitor or the staff with some arcane point or subject . . . those are the things that have made the David Library so unique and special. A staff that has always made me feel like family, up to and including librarian Kathie Ludwig, who for years has assisted so many people of all levels of knowledge in the subject. It has been a welcoming place for an 8th grade student or a post-grad student, open to all, free of charge, in a beautiful setting. While the collections will live on, what made the David unique will itself pass into history. I thank everyone there, past and present, for the decades of hard work, encouragement, opportunities and friendship. You will be missed.

J.L. Bell
I remember on one December visit the reference librarian had holiday cookies on her desk for all visitors. That sort of sums it up.

James Kirby Martin
It was a wonderful privilege to be one of the original David Library research fellows back in the late 1980s. Memories include living in the Big House, working at the Library with my own key to get in and out, even when the Library itself was not open, and having many thoughtful conversations with the late Ezra Stone (died in 1994), Sol Feinstone’s gracious son who was earlier a radio personality (he played the voice of Henry Aldrich) and television producer. Ezra was president of the Library at that time. His vision was to see Library grow and prosper, to serve as an indispensable scholarly asset devoted to carrying on his father’s desire for widespread understanding and appreciation of the American Revolution. Unfortunately, this generous dream of Sol, carried on by his son Ezra, will soon be no more, ending their vision for scholars and others to have unencumbered access to this incredible collection of primary and secondary materials.

Joseph E. Wroblewski
What can be said about the David Library of the American Revolution (DLAR)? To someone with an interest in the American Revolution and living in the Trenton area, it was like finding the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow! The site of the DLAR located on the Feinstone Farm in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, seemed the perfect location for a library dedicated to the furthering the study of the War of Independence. All of my Revolutionary War projects—papers, articles and power point presentations—have come to fruition with the help of the resources at the DLAR, particularly with the guidance of their phenomenal librarian Katherine Ludwig. Aside from the books and other resources, it hosted, almost monthly, presentations by scholars and experts on the Revolution, which were enthusiastically attended by the general public. Also it was the home of the Washington Crossing Revolutionary War Roundtable that met four times a year where they discussed various topics of interest to its members. While I realize there must be valid reasons for moving the DLAR to Philadelphia, as a resident in the area, it will greatly missed.

Michael J. F. Sheehan
I only had the honor of going to the David Library once in my career, before I fully understood the process of research, but it was clear the wealth of information that was held there. It was a pleasure to be around like-minded people and to dive through such vast records and books—I wish I had been there a whole week. I regret immensely that I have not had the opportunity to return with greater maturity, as now I have actual direction for my research!

Nancy K. Loane
I walked into the David Library almost twenty years ago with fear and trepidation. I had not done serious library research since grad school about a century ago, and now was faced with thousands of books and the dreaded microfilm machine. But, just as I found at the Knox Library at Valley Forge National Historical Park, help was not far away. Assistance was given at every turn, and my every question was given thoughtful consideration. In time, because of the guidance and direction offered, I became adept in using that microfilm machine and also downright awed by the Library treasures. Eventually, after publication, I spoke several times there, too. So thank you, David Library of the American Revolution, for helping researchers, for sharing your matchless resources, and for supporting scholarship these past sixty years.

Christian M. McBurney
I only had the privilege of researching once at the David Library. But I had a productive day, as I was able to roam the library on my own and search their stacks for what I wanted to peruse. Now the research materials will be going to the American Philosophical Society. This is a fine institution, but you cannot peruse the stacks there and you can only order a limited number of materials at one time. Along the same lines, I used to use frequently a library at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. I could peruse their great collection at my leisure. But they closed the stacks library some years ago, moving the books to the National Archives at College Park. I visited there once, but you can no longer peruse the stacks. As a result, I suspect the books get little use. What a shame that libraries where you can roam the stacks are disappearing. At the David Library, you could even peruse its microfilm collection, which was terrific.

Jim Piecuch
The best memory I have of the David Library is of walking through the door for the first time. I had seen the list of their collections online and successfully applied for a fellowship, but that didn’t prepare me for what I found. Seeing the vast number of books and drawer after drawer of microfilm astounded me. The DLAR was a Revolutionary historian’s dream come true, and I kept on finding valuable material that I hadn’t previously been aware even existed. Also, unlike some archivists and librarians who have a “don’t bother me” attitude, I have to praise librarian Kathie Ludwig for her valuable assistance. I will sorely miss the David Library.

Daniel J. Tortora
Aside from accidentally setting off the alarm to the library late one night (or very early in the morning?) when I was a bleary-eyed research fellow, I will always remember and appreciate the David Library for offering a total immersion in the world of Revolutionary War research (in a beautiful setting) and for the camaraderie that it provided. You could count on great conversations with scholars, the warm and helpful staff, and a wide-ranging lecture series. I’ll also never forget excursions to the Moland House and Washington Crossing Historic Park, walks along the canal, and chowing down on many cheesesteaks.

The entrance to the David Library of the American Revolution. (Brianna Heverly)

Don N. Hagist
Several Saturdays each year, I woke up before dawn and got on the road in Rhode Island early enough to be in Bergen County, New Jersey, by 8 a.m. There, I would meet Todd Braisted, and he drove the rest of the way to the David Library in time for opening at 10. Always we were greeted by the delightful Kathie Ludwig and any other staff members who happened to be present. We’d spend the entire day combing through microfilm, occasionally asking each other for help interpreting an odd bit of handwriting, taking breaks to chat with other acquaintances who chanced to be there, and sometimes helping other visitors with their own research quests. Many times I met authors whose works I’d read but never expected to encounter in person. JAR publisher Bruce Franklin often came from nearby Yardley and took us to lunch. When five o’clock came, always too soon, it was back on the road, and home by 10 p.m., with a pile of new material to feed countless writing projects. The Library staff was kind enough to offer me lodging at the Big House—the accommodation for scholars in residence—on several occasions when there happened to be room, and even arranged a launch event for my book The Revolution’s Last Men. I’ve spent many weeks in research institutions in several countries, all with their own special attributes, but nowhere have I experienced such a neighborly atmosphere as at the David Library.

Larry Kidder
Living near the David Library and visiting so many times, I have any number of favorite memories from both the research and the programs attended. The memories are more human than simply finding something interesting on a topic. The opportunities to meet fellow researchers, share experiences, and really be part of a community are things I will never forget. If I had to pick one memory, though, it would be while working on some research on the New Jersey militia and having the Library staff (Kathie Ludwig and Will Tatum) encourage me to put the research together into a book. That encouragement prompted me to complete the research, which had really started just to develop background material for a living history weekend program at a local living history farm, well beyond my original goal and produce a book. Three additional books have followed and each was encouraged by the Library staff, volunteers, and fellow patrons. I will always remember the David Library as a group of people who not only helped me with research but also inspired me to develop it and then share what I found.

Cho-Chien Feng
First of all, my favorite memory at David Library was the wonderful interactions with the thoughtful staff there. I will always remember how friendly and helpful they were to my research and my life there. Second, the working environment was exactly what I needed. David Library offered me housing and twenty-four-hour access to the library, which allowed me to work in the library until I was totally exhausted and ready for bed. I did not have to worry about transportation or the closing time of the library. I really enjoyed the nights that I was alone in the library deeply pondering my findings and arguments. It always makes me feel good to be able to around primary sources and relevant monographs; however, David Library was more than that and made me completely immersed in the world of the American Revolution.

Gregory J. W. Urwin
Living within half an hour’s drive of the David Library of the American Revolution for the past two decades has profoundly influenced my professional development. It has been a great convenience to regularly utilize America’s one-stop archive on the War of Independence whenever I felt like it. My visits have been frequent, as have the “eureka” moments that enlivened my research among the DLAR’s voluminous microfilm collections. Proximity permitted me to play an active role in the DLAR’s life. It has been a privilege to lecture there three or four times, which Meg McSweeney announced is a library record. Serving on the research fellowship selection committee gave me a sense of shaping the future of Revolutionary War scholarship by steering funding to deserving scholars, both young, and not-so young. What I will most cherish about the DLAR is consorting with the community of professional and independent scholars who made it their second home. I recall how Todd W. Braisted arranged for us to meet there so I could review and copy a mountain of documents he had transcribed that pertained to my research, saving me years of work. That generous gesture exemplifies the DLAR spirit, which I will miss.

Rand Mirante
I’ve always had special anticipation whenever I turned off River Road and, leaving the twenty-first century behind, drove up to the David Library along the causeway traversing the Delaware Canal. I have fond memories of the accomplished historical impersonator Howard Burnham channeling Cornwallis, Tarleton, and Lafayette in the Library’s auditorium, but my foremost recollection will be the cheerful and effective help one invariably received from Kathie Ludwig when approached with a research conundrum. The assistance she provided in the evocative location of DLAR on the Delaware will certainly be missed.



  • I apologize for not getting something to you earlier for this article, but wanted to also recognize the incredible contributions that the David Library has made in my life. Without Kathie Ludwig, whom Don Hagist introduced me to, it would have been impossible to unravel the circumstances surrounding Vermont’s early years. Our book will be out in the next couple of months (The Rebel and the Tory: Ethan Allen, Philip Skene and the Dawn of Vermont) and we have made certain to recognize their important role in sorting all of this out. From what others have written here, they will certainly be missed. Change is not always good.

  • I am sad that the demands of my work and farm have made it impossible for me to visit the David Library before it closes its doors. However, by email over several years I have had the benefit of communiqués from the fabled librarian Kathie Ludwig, who somehow remembered the research interests of this obscure amateur researcher and would write, with enclosures, “Have you seen this?” Kathie’s welcoming spirit of camaraderie, her kindness, and her breadth of knowledge have been emblematic of the David for me.

  • I was a short-term fellow there a few years ago. It was some of the most productive scholarly time that I’ve had—the peaceful farm, the scholar’s house, and the archive all in one place. It was great to take a brain and eye-break from the microfilm machines and look out over the fields. I’ll sorely miss this place.

  • I have been to the David Library of the American Revolution twice! The first time was in June of 2004. The second was in November 2004. In June I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I had ancestors who were in the Revolution! I was shown a short biography on my 5X great grandfather, Captain Daniel Neil. He was killed at the Battle of Princeton. After learning about this biography, I was able to locate one to purchase. That November my sister, our husbands and I made the trip from Georgia to the Library, Passaic, and Elizabeth, NJ where many of our ancestors lived. It was a trip of a lifetime!

  • I will likewise miss the DLAR. I haven’t been able to get out there as often as I would like, but I had a short-term fellowship there, and it was a scholar’s dream: not only was so much available in one place due to microfilm, thus saving me a lot of traveling time, but one of the real draws of the David Library was fellows getting to stay on site and having 24-hour access to the materials. The staff was helpful and congenial, and I shall miss Meg and Kathie greatly.

  • I’m not a researcher, but had some letters from my ancestor Oliver Reed that were handed down through the family. A friend of mine said we should take them to DLAR.
    When we did, Kathie Ludwig greeted us and asked how she may assist. Maybe with a little hesitation she started to page through the letters getting a little more excited with each one. She offered to have them digitized if we would allow, which we did. That summer, one of the interns did some more research on my ancestor and produced a story that was published in JAR.
    Happy March-In day too!

  • I will be working on my dissertation after passing comprehensive exams in 2020. I was so looking forward to traveling to the DLAR to do primary-source research; I still hope to use its resources in Philadelphia.

  • I’ve attended dozens of author lectures here. Their leaving is an immeasurable loss to students of the Revolution, in a tiny town that does not often make good use of its heritage.

  • I had the honor of being the first David Library Fellow before the program was formally launched, and that funding support also made possible a research trip to England in 1987. I have fond memories of getting together with the late Ezra Stone, including a wonderful lunch with his beloved wife Sara. Staying at the mansion on some quiet winter evenings, in such a beautiful and historic setting, was deeply inspirational, and on subsequent visits, the chance to meet others with shared interests was of incalculable benefit. I am sorry that I have not been able to return in several years, and while I can fully appreciate the real benefits and resources that the APS will bring as stewards of the collection, it will just not be the same.

  • I remember so well my visit, along with my late wife, to the David Library back in 2002. They were so much help finding records of my 3rd Great Grandfather, records that now are online. And the grounds and environment of Washington’s Crossing was so bucolic one could never forget. It’s good to know that at least it’s found a new home.

  • I too ‘stumbled’ on the DLAR many years ago while touring the area of Washington’s Crossing. I spent an enriching afternoon conducting research on family members which only germinated into a greater interest in this period of American history, the results of which have been positively transmitted to my children and my students in various classroom settings. It was a tremendous asset in the perfect setting. I wish the staff all the best.

  • I too am from Trenton NJ and stumbled upon it one beautiful summers day on a leisurely drive. The first time I walked in I felt as if I was standing on hallowed ground. I was so overwhelmed by the wealth of information it frightened me. But the friendly staff was always there to lend a hand or make helpful suggestions. I am so sad to see it close. Another piece of history passing away. Thank you DLAR for so many happy hours.

  • Sorry I missed being able to contribute to this one.
    The DLAR is one of the best places in the world to research. It is quiet, relaxed, and absolutely loaded with information. Compared to others it is a relatively short hop for me. … but every time that 5-hour round trip got to be pretty long. I did make sure to get down there several times this fall to get some things verified.
    I would frequently run into fellow researches on my visits.
    On one trip down I remember running into Mike Cecere, before he had published any books, for the first time. We really hit it off. The day got long, so we decided split a motel room to get in another day of work… that was a fun evening indeed. Beer, steak, and history.

  • Sorry to see the David Library closing. It is a quiet, pleasant, and most of all very helpful place to do research. There are so many books to read about the revolutionary war. I will truly miss being helped by the librarian Kathy Ludwig who really knows where every book for research is placed.

  • I too will miss the David Library. Though I never had the good fortune of being able to visit, I am one of the countless researchers to have benefited from the skillful assistance of Kathy Ludwig. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *