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Delaware Public Archives

The Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection


The Purnell Collection contains representations of a wide range of subjects and time periods that give an excellent view of Sussex County life.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection The collection has approximately 14,000 images and dates from about 1860 through 1963.

For easier access, the collection is divided into four sections: places, portraits, subjects, and albums and family photos.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection Photos that have their location identified are arranged by town.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection This section contains some excellent street scenes, views of local businesses, churches, houses, public buildings, schools, organizations, transportation, and other subjects.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection Although most are from Sussex County, some Kent and New Castle County towns are also represented, as well as one box of Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, and Japan photos.

Portraits have been divided into the following categories: families, groups, individuals, and weddings.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection Although many are unidentified, this section does contain the majority of the nineteenth century photos in the collection.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection Subject photos represent unidentified locations and have been arranged under broad subject headings such as agriculture, organizations, business and industries, houses, local events, military, recreation, schools, and transportation.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection The collection also contains seven photo albums and glass negatives from two families.

These photographs were collected by Harold W.T. Purnell (1896-1965), who was born and lived most of his life in Georgetown, Delaware.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection After taking over his father's hardware store, he became a prominent merchant and civic leader.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection He was involved in many local and state organizations; most notably, he served as a state senator from 1938 to 1946 and was president pro tem from 1942 to 1946.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection Deeply interested in Delaware history, he was president of the Sussex Historical and Archaeological Society and the Friends of John Dickinson Mansion, chairman of the Zwaanendael Museum, and a member of the State Archives Commission and the Delaware Society for the Preservation of Antiquities.

Mr. Purnell's love of history was also manifested by his collecting hobbies, especially his efforts to save historical photographs.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection These photos were collected in a number of ways.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection In addition to those that Mr. Purnell discovered or had given to him, he bought many from studios that went out of business. He also actively sought old photos from acquaintances and made copies to add to his collection.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection In 1978 the majority of the photograph collection was given to the Archives by his son, Lewis M. Purnell.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection In subsequent years, many more donations were made.Harold W. T. Purnell Photograph Collection Finally, the entire collection is available for use by the public.

For examples of the types of photographs you will find in the Purnell Collection, see the following pages.

Places  |  Subjects  |  Portraits  |  Albums/Family Photos