Book explores history of the areaJan 05, 2015 03:29PM ● By Kerigan Butt
Courtesy photo Ed Searl has written numerous books over the years, including 'Around the Delaware Arc,' which is a guide to the region where Delaware and Pennsylvania meet.
(Editor's note: This article first appeared in our Spring 2014 edition.)
By Steven Hoffman
When Ed Searl retired from his three-decade-long career as a Unitarian minister in Chicago, he returned to the history-rich region where Delaware meets Pennsylvania and rediscovered the area where he grew up.
Searl had always been interested in the importance and meaning of place -- what he refers to as the “landscape of meaning.” As he and his wife explored the area that he knew so well as a child, he was amazed at how differently he viewed the same surroundings as an adult.
“Part of our re-entry to the area was getting out and exploring the countryside,” Searl explained. “It had changed quite a bit. We found a lot of interesting places, some that I remembered from my childhood and some that I didn’t.”
Initially, Searl intended to write an essay about his explorations, but before long he was considering a more comprehensive project -- 101 short, highly readable essays about some of the interesting people and places in New Castle County and southeastern Pennsylvania. “Around the Delaware Arc: 101 People, Places, and Lore” was starting to take shape.
Searl has always had an interest in history. He studied American history at the University of Delaware and in graduate school at the University of Vermont, before pursuing theological training at McGill University’s Faculty of Religious Studies in Montreal, Canada. He lived in Canada for six years before becoming the minister of the First Unitarian Church of Youngstown, Ohio in 1977. He stayed there for six years before becoming the minister of the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale, Ill., a small town 15 miles west of Chicago. He served there until he retired in 2012.
Once he embarked on his career, writing was an important part of his professional life. In 1978, he established the Royal Nonesuch Press -- the name references the theatrical ruse of the Duke and the King in Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” -- to print a chapbook collection of poetic meditations he wrote as minister of the First Unitarian Church of Youngstown, Ohio.
Searl published his first full-length book, “In Memoriam: Modern Funeral and Memorial Service,” in 1993. In 1998, Berkley Books published a book, “A Place of Your Own,” that Searl wrote about home altars. Skinner House Books asked him to do a five-book quote collection series. Four of those books covered the great rites of passage of a human life: “Bless This Child,” “Coming of Age,” “We Pledge Our Hearts,” and “Beyond Absence.” A fifth book was called “In Praise of Animals.”
Searl was well-prepared to handle the challenge of writing “Around the Delaware Arc: 101 People, Places, and Lore.”
The book is, in part, a travel guide for people who want to explore some of the people and places that have earned a spot in the history of the area.
One of the most interesting stories in Landenberg’s history involves the ticking tomb. The story goes that as the famous surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were passing through the area, doing their mapping work that would result in the Mason-Dixon line, a local toddler grabbed a chronometer belonging to Mason and swallowed it.
The chronometer stayed inside him throughout his life. When he got married, he promised to be true to his wife for as long as the chronometer continued to tick. Some have said that they can still hear ticking from the tomb, which is located to the cemetery that is adjacent to the London Tract Meeting House.
“Some take it even further,” Searl explained, “and say that it was the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Telltale Heart.”
Another segment in the book focuses on the area known as “the Wedge,” the area where Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland all come together. It is bounded on the north by an eastern extension of the east-west portion of the Mason-Dixon Line, on the west by the north-south portion of the Mason-Dixon Line, and on the southeast by the New Castle, Del., 12-mile circle.
The boundaries of the three colonies were very much in dispute for generations. The confusion that resulted from the border dispute made this area the perfect place for illegal activities. Many people in the area weren’t sure who to pay taxes to, since they didn’t even know whether they lived in Delaware, Maryland, or Pennsylvania.
“Around the Delaware Arc” also includes a look at the history of notable places in the area like Longwood Gardens and Winterthur, as well as the people who played an important part in the area’s history.
Collected in one volume, these vignettes form a guide to the region for both visitors to the area and local residents who want to explore their surroundings.
To expand on the topics covered in the book, Searl has set up a website at aroundthedelawarearc.blogspot.com. The website includes suggestions on places to visit and local restaurants to eat at when visiting.
Searl found the exercise of writing the book to be very educational and rewarding. He has a deeper understanding of the place where he grew up and the surrounding areas, and he has been able to share this information with others. Writing the book also gave him the opportunity to continue to study topics that are interesting to him.
“I think it’s important to know how we get affected by place,” he explained. “I fell in love with Chester County. It’s amazing. It’s one of the great regions in the U.S.”
The book is available at www.theroyalnonesuchpress.com.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email [email protected]