Since its founding in 1896, Pennsylvania’s Devon Horse Show has showcased top horses and elite riders and hosted all manner of VIPs, including presidents and rock stars as well as a steady stream of Philadelphia Main Line elite. From roadsters to Junior Weekend, fancy dresses to flip-flops, the show’s evolution is a microcosm of the history of equestrian sport in America.
Imagine historians’ horror then at discovering “boxes of neglected photos in Barn 1,” says Roger Thorne, a past president of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. In 2009 the group helped to launch an effort to conserve masses of photographs and yellowed newspaper clippings that had been abandoned for reasons unknown in the rodent-infested building that Thorne refers to as “the mouse house.”
Since then, Thorne and colleagues, including members of the neighboring Chester County Historical Society, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, have been scanning photos and performing optical character recognition (OCR) on the articles toward the goal of amassing a robust Devon Horse Show archive. “No more than half [of the photos] are preserved thus far,” Thorne estimates. “Hundreds and hundreds of photos are compressed.”
Ideally, the preservationists would one day like to see a museum on the Devon showgrounds or a definitive book on the show’s history. For now, TEHS is housing the treasures.
Such a large-scale project needs two things: money (conserving old, stuck-together photographs is a pricey process) and a substantial body of materials to archive (posters, programs and all other manner of memorabilia). Toward both ends, CCHS last fall hosted “Rediscovering Devon: An Afternoon of History.” For their financial support, patrons were treated to drinks, finger food and an up-close look at some of the coveted Devon trophies as well as archival images and show posters.
During the event, organizers put out a call for additional memorabilia, photos and clippings that may be cherished family keepsakes or languishing in a Devon supporter’s attic.
“Would you help us fill in the blanks?” asked TEHS President J. Michael Morrison. He encouraged attendees to “share your stories. We will come to you with portable [imaging] equipment if you don’t want to part with your treasures.”
To share items related to the Devon Horse Show or otherwise support the conservation effort, contact the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society at www.tehistory.org.