Penn Students' Interviews, Research Fundamental to Development of Virtual West Philadelphia History Museum

PHILADELPHIA –- University of Pennsylvania students are playing a pivotal role in a virtual-history museum focusing on West Philadelphia.

Through an academically based community-service course at Penn, students have had the opportunity to be part of the West Philadelphia Community History Center, an interactive Web site that can grow as a collective portrait of the history, families and institutions of the area that is home to the Penn campus.

The ABCS students, studying under the direction of Penn archivist Mark Frazier Lloyd and Penn history professors Walter Licht and Robert Francis Engs, pored through archives of religious, educational, social and cultural institutions and through information gathered by long-time members of the community. The students also conducted personal interviews for oral histories.

West Philadelphia was first settled thousands of years ago by the Native American Lenape tribe, joined in the 1600s by the first European settlers. The area later became America’s first “streetcar suburb.” There is, however, no comprehensive book or museum to tell the story, a deficiency being corrected with this project.

The virtual museum began with Licht’s conviction that the history of West Philadelphia needs preserving. It was spurred on with the donation of papers from long-time resident and Penn graduate Ruth Branning Molloy and enhanced by the students’ research and interviews. The ABCS course is a program of Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

The result is a virtual heritage museum and an educational resource to be supplemented and used by the community, especially by teachers and students. The text is supplemented with historical photographs, maps and statistical information. Teachers at four West Philadelphia public schools have already made available the educational guides they have created from the site.

The West Philadelphia Community History Center can be viewed at