West Chester Walking Tour Booklets Now Available!

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Press Release 9/18/14

Local author and historian Catherine Quillman completed the histories with the help of grants from the Leeway Foundation and research by co-author Sarah Wesley, who grew up in the “East End,” West Chester’s historic African-American community.

A book signing is planned for Wednesday evening, October 1st , from 7 p.m. to 9 pm. at the Chester County Book Co. at 967 Paoli Pike West Chester, PA 19380. 

The authors will be signing copies of newly released history, “Walking the “Uptown” of West Chester, Pa. They will also be signing the new expanded second edition of “Walking the East End: the historic African-American community of West Chester, Pa.”

The new edition is designed to be a scholarly resource (and walking tour) and features a new appendix and special section documenting the lives of former slaves and free black residents in 19th century West Chester and their activities before and during the Civil War.

The unusual stories of free black men like Abraham D. Shadd, whose image is found on a commemorative stamp in Ontario, Canada, are also featured. Shadd was one of three black “agents” involved in West Chester’s Underground Railroad. He was also a mentor to the sole black survivor of the famous Harper’s Ferry raid who went onto help publicize John Brown’s actions in the book, A Voice from Harper’s Ferry.

Walking the Uptown is illustrated with numerous old postcards and photographs, many of them offering a rare glimpse into the lives of early black entrepreneurs.

The authors will be happy to personalize your copy. Be the first to own these limited-edition booklets. Each book features a pull-out map that can be used as walking tour guide.

For more information about the publications, please visit www.quillman-publications.com.

More about the books:

“Walking the “Uptown.”

So named because this book covers the business community of West Chester, which was “uptown” from historic black neighborhoods, Walking the Uptown is designed to be both a scholarly resource and a walking tour documenting the lives of 19th-century black entrepreneurs and the many “firsts” in the 20th century black business community.

The 90-page book includes an extensive appendix with profiles of the early residents who were part of the northern migration of free blacks and former slaves before and after the Civil War. A particular focus is on those members of the black business community who operated oyster bars and catering businesses “uptown” but who were eventually forced to relocate to the “East End,” the town’s historic black community.

As it is described in this booklet’s introduction, West Chester’s most successful black-owned enterprises – Burns’ Great Oyster House, Spence’s Restaurant, and the Ganges’ Ice Cream and Confectionary Shop – thrived at a time of explosive growth, in the 1850s and the 1900s. Even then, they could not be described, as many successful black business owners were typically labeled, as a part of a “colored aristocracy.” They served a clientele that included judges and Court House personnel yet they typically saw their fraternal and civic lives as rooted in the black community.

“Uptown,” as residents of the East End still call it, includes one residential area: South Walnut Street. The beautiful Victorian homes are representative of those built by craftsmen for the artisan and working classes including black residents. Part of the area was developed in 1844 by Robert Mercer, who came to West Chester as an orphan bound to a Swedish shoemaker. The region’s first Presbyterian church built for African-Americans is also located here.

The book also documents the Civil Rights era. West Chester native Bayard Rustin formulated many of his tactics of nonviolent action in West Chester.

More About : Walking the East End: A historic African-American community in West Chester, Pa.

In the past, the “East End” of this small Chester County, Pa. town was not exactly an ideal residential community. From the mid-1800s and into the 20th century, the majority of black residents lived alongside noisy work yards including that of lumber, coal, brick, and wheelwrights, as well as dangerous gas works, tar manufacturers, round-the-clock machine shops, ice storage facilities, and busy freight loading docks as well as a central rail terminus for passengers traveling to and from Philadelphia.

Still, the story of the East End is one of independence—one that began when the community was settled by free black men, veterans of the Civil War “colored” troops, and southern families who moved north to raise their children among the sympathetic Quakers.

The book also documents the Civil Rights era: Bayard Rustin, famous as the chief tactician of nonviolent action and the organizer of the March of 1963, was born and raised in the East End. Rustin also formulated many of his ideas of political action in West Chester, at first testing out strategies in the borough’s restaurants and stores, and later leading outright protests at the court house.

About the Authors:

Catherine Quillman is a former suburban staff writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, where she covered the arts and wrote numerous history pieces on the little known aspects of West Chester and Chester County, Pennsylvania. She has lived in the borough since 1994, and is now a freelance arts reporter and magazine writer.

She is the author of five regional books including the recently published art book, 100 Artists of the Brandywine Valley. She also helps other writers with the print-on-demand publishing process. To learn more, visit www. quillman-publications.

Sarah Wesley is a native of West Chester whose writing and artistic career has included working at the Chester County Historical Society (CCHS) and serving as the main coordinator for an annual African-American Art Show that benefited a local NAACP scholarship fund.

Her community work has focused on helping young people connect with local black history. This has included writing and editing “Word,” an African-American history newsletter for which she was honored by the black student union at Henderson High School in West Chester.

Sarah was instrumental in drawing attention to the historical importance of the Star of West Tent to obtain a State Historical Marker there – the only marker of its kind in the East End. She also assisted in the scholarship and community outreach for two award-winning exhibits at CCHS, “Between Women,” and “Just Over the Line: Chester County and the Underground Railroad.” Her work with CCHS (where she was employed for 15 years) also led her to write the original walking tour that formed the basis of the “East End” book.

Meghan Kelly

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