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?
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.