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Friends of Rockwood records

Identifier: MSS 0675

Scope and Contents

The Friends of Rockwood records comprise the organization’s general administrative records; officer and member files; board of directors’ minutes and correspondence; files pertaining to the Friends’ association with New Castle County, Delaware; records relating to properties and capital improvements at Rockwood; financial records; files relating to the museum collections; event records; research files of members and associates; publications; and press and publicity about the organization's activities at the Rockwood Museum.

Series I, general administrative records, comprises files of the Friends’ organizational history; their bylaws; membership information; operational and procedural files; museum planning and management reports; legal documents; files pertaining to Rockwood’s museum accreditation; committee records; staff training documents; and records relating to Friends of Rockwood philanthropy and grant administration activities.

Series II, officer and member files, comprises the general files of presidents Rose Abbott, Lucille Jones, Lisa Nichols, Phoebe Loss, Frederick Haase, and Michael Clark; secretary files of Mary Jane Mallonee; and a small amount of curatorial files by Margaretta F. Watson, a member of the Friends and Rockwood’s acting curator circa 1998. Correspondence, financial and legal records, collection management documentation, board of directors minutes, bylaws, files pertaining to Rockwood’s properties and grounds, and various administrative documents are found throughout the series, which is arranged alphabetically by last name of officer/member.

Series III comprises Friends of Rockwood board of directors’ meeting minutes and correspondence, arranged chronologically.

Series IV comprises records relating to the Friends’ association with New Castle County, Delaware, including comprehensive records of the two entities' interactions between circa 1997 and 2004. Files include correspondence, legal documents and agreements, press clippings, and meeting records, arranged chronologically. The series also contains meeting minutes and notes of the Rockwood Advisory Committee from circa 2002-2005.

Series V comprises records pertaining to real property and capital improvements to the interior and exterior properties and grounds at Rockwood. Arranged chronologically, files consist of architectural drawings, room detail photographs and negatives, land acquisition surveys and summaries, rental property records for the porter’s lodge and gardener’s cottage, and building maintenance and restoration records. In addition to files relating to improvements for the estate’s veranda, barn tower, manor house kitchen, and north end gable, the series contains significant records related to the restoration of the manor house’s conservatory, both in 1980s and circa 2007-2013.

Series VI comprises financial documents relating to the Friends of Rockwood’s general operations and banking; the organization’s payroll files; various financial reports; tax and audit reports; and records related to grants and monies raised for acquisitions, including files related to the Friends’ partnership with the Delaware Community Foundation for charitable funding activities. Additionally, the series contains statements and reports related to the Rockwood museum’s revolving fund, which was managed and utilized by the Friends of Rockwood for collection acquisition, management, and outreach purposes.

Series VII comprises records related to the Friends’ collection acquisition and management activities that include inventories; acquisition files; appraisal records; documents related to loans, returns, and removals; and object restoration and conservation files, including extensive object condition reports. The series also comprises records related to the organization's specific collecting and custodial areas of furnishings, paintings, decorative art objects, and archival collections. Additionally, the series contains records of the Friends’ collections committee from circa 1992-1998. The series also contains an example from the organization’s collections, an 1890 insert from the The Young Ladies Journal containing fashion plates of the latest Parisian styles.

Series VIII comprises general planning and administrative documents, programs, photographs, audio and video recordings, and publicity materials for Friends of Rockwood events from 1976 to 2015. Included are abundant materials related to the Rockwood Ice Cream Festival, the Friends’ largest event and fundraiser, consisting of planning and administrative documents, photographs, financial documents, and files related to event sponsorship.

Series IX comprises research materials compiled by Friends of Rockwood members and associated individuals, largely relating to Shipley, Bringhurst, and Hargraves family history and estate records. Of particular note are comprehensive abstracts and transcripts created by Friends volunteers of Elizabeth “Bessie” Galt Smith’s original correspondence from 1897 to 1922. Two small files of abstracts and/or transcripts of her siblings, Mary Thomas Bringhurst and Edward Bringhurst V, are also included. The series also contains significant research files and several publications related to Rockwood’s grounds and horticulture by scholar Lawrence Elliot Lee.

Series X comprises publications by the Rockwood Museum, the Friends of Rockwood, and their associates consisting predominantly of volunteers’ newsletters and news bulletins, but also including mailers, reports, and a promotional video. The series also contains materials related to author Gilbert T. Vincent’s work, Rockwood: A Romantic Villa in Brandywine Hundred, including bound copies of the work, promotional materials, and a file related to its rights and publication.

Series XI comprises press clippings, magazines, and one book, all featuring articles written about Rockwood and/or the Friends of Rockwood’s activities.


  • Creation: 1890-2017
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1976-2014


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical / Historical

The Friends of Rockwood, Inc., supported the maintenance of the site, collections, and educational mission of the Rockwood Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, from 1976 to 2014.

The Rockwood Park & Museum is made up of an English-style manor house and its outbuildings and grounds. Rockwood was built by banker Joseph Shipley, Jr., in the 1850s and eventually passed to Shipley's great-nephew, Edward Bringhurst, Jr. It was owned by the Bringhurst family and their descendants until it was gifted to New Castle County, Delaware, in the 1970s.

In 1976, the Friends of Rockwood was formed in the interest of promoting Rockwood, then newly acquired by New Castle County, to the public. Its founding members were Grayce Hess, Bill Davis, Uel Combs, Kirby Thomas, Bobee Vernon, Frances Richardson, Fritz Haase, Fritzie and Bill Wiessinger, and Earl and Frances Krapf. In 1977, the Friends incorporated and signed a formal cooperative agreement with the County for the planning and conducting of cultural and recreational activities for the advancement of the museum and its history. By the end of its first year, the organization had forty-eight members. Early efforts by the Friends included small-scale fundraising and community engagement activities, such as the 1979 Frolic on the Fourth picnic, a precursor to the Friends’ largest fundraiser in later years, the Rockwood Ice Cream Festival.

In 1981, the Friends amended their bylaws to expand their fundraising role in order to assist the County with preservation activities at Rockwood. Consequential to later ownership disputes over the museum’s collections, no such agreement was clarified formally between the Friends and the County.

In 1983, the museum arranged for the Friends to take over responsibility of its revolving fund. The fund collected and retained Rockwood-generated income for multiple uses including operations; conducting public functions; displaying exhibitions, programs, lectures, and workshops; contracting professional services; maintenance and enhancement of the museum and its collection; and supporting research and public outreach. The revolving fund also helped provide money for a 1983 interpretation report of the manor house, a 1986 historic structure report by consulting engineers, and the development of a master plan in 1995 for the governance of the museum and grounds.

The Friends bought their first pieces of furniture for the permanent collection in 1983 and began fundraising in earnest for the “acquisition, maintenance, and management of the Rockwood collection.” Though New Castle County owned the estate and manor house, the collections of furnishings, decorative art objects, and other personal property located at Rockwood were still owned by the Hargraves family, descendants of the Bringhursts and the last owners of the property. With funds raised, the Friends were able to acquire eighty percent of the house’s original collection. Fundraising efforts by the Friends also supported publicizing and promoting Rockwood, and establishing and maintaining an onsite Victorian reference library.

The Friends’ first Ice Cream Festival was held in 1983 and drew 3,500 attendees. The event paired serving ice cream and refreshments with Victorian-era arts and crafts, events, and games. The festival drew national media coverage in 1985, and, in 1986, it was named one of North America’s top events by the American Business Association. Delaware’s Tourism Office inducted the event into its hall of fame in 1997. By 1998, the last year the festival was sponsored by the Friends of Rockwood, the event drew 20,000 visitors and generated $80,000 in revenue. The same year, Friends of Rockwood membership had reached nearly 500.

In 1984, New Castle County purchased land that included two of the estate’s outbuildings: the porter’s lodge and the gardener’s cottage. A 1986 agreement divided the care and maintenance of these between the County and the Friends. Income generated by renting these properties was used in the Friends’ collection acquisition and promotional activities.

The election of Thomas Gordon as County executive in 1997 began a surge of involvement by New Castle County government in the management of Rockwood, including an examination of the Friends’ continued role as benefactors to the estate. In 1999, the County appointed a Rockwood Museum Planning Task Force to provide recommendations for museum improvements. While this task force included members of the Friends of Rockwood, the group overseeing the plan’s implementation, the Rockwood Advisory Committee (RAC), did not. In 1999, the Friends were given notice to vacate Rockwood and to remove the museum collections, including furniture, decorative objects, and archival materials, while the mansion and park underwent extensive renovations. Further contentions between the Friends and County arose later that year over details of the agreements regarding ownership of the collections purchased by the Friends. Also in 1999, the County took over management of the Ice Cream Festival, though the Friends continued to staff a table at the event in future years. The festival was folded in 2006 due to lack of funds, though it was revived again in 2010.

In 2001, the Friends and the County participated in negotiations proposing a resolution for claims to Rockwood’s collections, and in 2002, the parties came to agreement, with the Friends quitting their claim to the materials and properties and the County agreeing to their retention and management. At this time, the Friends also secured two seats on the Rockwood Advisory Committee.

The Friends were invited by the County to return to Rockwood in 2005 and conducted activities from a small office in the manor house. In its later years, the organization renewed its fundraising activities and held a variety of events at Rockwood, including a murder mystery dinner and a Victorian costume ball. The group raised significant funds intended for restoration of the manor house’s conservatory, but issues surrounding the County’s prevailing wage clause barred the funds from being used.

Again asked to vacate their office in the manor house in 2014, the Friends disbanded and donated their remaining funds via grants to various Delaware historical organizations with projects central to the Friends’ interests in Victorian history and the families of Rockwood. This included a donation to the University of Delaware Library for the processing of Rockwood's archival collection, the Shipley–Bringhurst–Hargraves family papers, and for the digitization of photographs within the collection. Other monies were used to establish and endow a Friends of Rockwood Graduate Research Fund for Victorian Studies at the University, directed by the Center for Material Culture Studies.


Fox, Donna H. The Friends of Rockwood Story: Accomplishments and Contributions to Rockwood Museum, 1976-2014. 2014

Rockwood Can No Longer Function With Small Intimate Groups of Visitors. Delaware Today. Accessed 05 Jan. 2024.

Friends of Rockwood Fund. University of Delaware Center for Material Culture Studies. Accessed 05 Jan. 2024.

Friends of Rockwood Museum, Wilmington, Delaware. Friends of Rockwood. Accessed 05 Jan. 2024.


36.33 linear foot (37 boxes)

15 oversize box

8 oversize roll

7 oversize folder

232.5 gigabyte (17 floppy disks 3 1/2 inch, 26 compact discs, 8 DVDs)

5 VHS tape

2 betacam tape

3 audio cassette


The Friends of Rockwood, Inc., supported the maintenance of the site, collections, and educational mission of the Rockwood Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, from 1976 to 2014. The Friends of Rockwood records comprise the organization’s general administrative records; officer and member files; board of directors’ minutes and correspondence; files pertaining to the Friends’ association with New Castle County, Delaware; records relating to properties and capital improvements at Rockwood; financial records; files relating to the museum collections; event records; research files of members and associates; publications; and press and publicity about the organization's activities at the Rockwood Museum.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Friends of Rockwood, 2009 and 2015.

Gift of New Castle County, 2009.

Additional gifts from Donna Fox (2016), Margaretta Fredericks (2017), and Phoebe Loss (2017).

Related Materials

MSS 0684, Shipley--Bringhurst--Hargraves family papers

Rights Statement

The text of this webpage is available for modification and reuse under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. (

Shelving Summary

Boxes 1-36: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons

Box 37: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (17 inches)

Box 38: Shelved in SPEC MSS binder boxes

Boxes 39, 40, 50, 51, 52: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscripts boxes (3 inches)

Boxes 41-45: Shelved in SPEC MSS binder boxes

Box 46: Shelved in SPEC MSS shoeboxes

Box 47: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (18 inches)

Boxes 48, 49: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (17 inches)

Audiocassettes, VHS, and Betacam: Shelved in SPEC Media

Rolled boxes 1-8: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize rolls

Oversize folders 1-7: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize mapcases

Processing Information

Preliminary processing by Maureen Cech, 2014. Preliminary encoding by Jaime Margalotti, January 2014. Additional processing and encoding by Dustin Frohlich, September-December, 2023.

Finding aid for Friends of Rockwood records
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2024 January 2
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2024-01-05: This collection was reprocessed with additions.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA