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Make History In Downtown West Chester

January 15, 2016 | By Ronna Dewey, Dish Works

History in the Making
Downtown West Chester has a long and rich history dating back 1712, when it was first settled. The entire downtown district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with over 4,200 structures dating back to the colonial period within the borough limits. You can stroll along the brick sidewalks in our quaint town and just feel the history as you take it all in!

The Chester County Historical Society, located downtown at 225 N. High Street, takes great pride in acting as a steward of an unparalleled collection of artifacts, manuscripts, photographs and volumes that document over 300 years of Chester County heritage. The society offers innovative educational programs and exhibitions that draw on the collections to bring history to life and strives to help locals explore their own histories through the Historical Society resources and staff expertise. One such program is National History Day.

Become a Part of History
National History Day (NHD) offers year-long academic programs that engage over 500,000 middle school and high school students around the world annually in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. These research-based projects are entered into contests at the local and regional levels, where the top student projects have the opportunity to advance to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park.

The Chester County Historical Society sponsors the Southeast Pennsylvania regional competition yearly under the guidance of its coordinator, Kelley Meagher. Kelley shares, “The CCHS feels it is core to our mission to help youth enjoy history and to utilize historical materials in their research. NHD teaches critical thinking; prepares students for college, careers and citizenship; and inspires students by encouraging them to question history and creatively express their findings.”

She continues, “We want to encourage students to look beyond their textbooks to understand and question history. Memorizing history is boring and easily forgotten! When students choose their own topics, they are more likely to enjoy the process of asking their own questions and finding the answers. This process allows students to learn research skills and requires self-initiative in finding answers to questions.”

Kelley adds, “West Chester is seething with local history; of course we want students to pick a local topic—looking at history from a local, personal perspective allows students to imagine how they can influence the community they live in with their own thoughts and actions. Also, choosing a local topic generally provides a better chance of finding significant primary sources.”

This year’s regional competition will take place on March 4, 2016, for 9–12 graders and on March 5 for students in grades 6–8. The theme is Exploration, Encounter & Exchange in History—a look across time, space and geography to find examples in history of when people took a risk and made a change. The CCHS uses over 100 volunteers to run the two-day event in March.

For more information about the National History Day competition, please contact Kelley Meagher at

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words
Another meaningful way to introduce students to the history of downtown West Chester is the Historic Architecture Photography Contest co-sponsored by CCHS and the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID). The goal of this contest is to encourage school students and their families to come into West Chester, seek out the interesting aspects of our historic architecture and learn about our amazing history through these artifacts. Contest winners will be recognized by Mayor Carolyn Comitta during Historic Preservation Month in May.

This contest is for students in grades 6–12 and is coordinated by Kelley Meagher at CCHS and Malcolm Johnstone, executive director of BID. The categories for the photo competition are Exteriors, Interiors, Details and Digitally Altered Photos. Photos may be taken with any equipment, including smartphones, and must be taken in the 12 months prior to the April 15, 2016, deadline for submission.

When submitting the photo, students should include their name, grade and school, as well as parent name(s), address and phone number. Please identify the photograph’s street location or name of the building in West Chester. Entries without complete contact information may be disqualified. Entrants should also include 2–3 sentences explaining why they chose the photo, how they took it or what attracted them to the site.

Photos should be emailed in .JPG, .PNG, or .TIF format to

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