THE HISTORIES OF PENN STATE
Campus built on 'Butter Belt'
Case can be made that Delaware County
The Pratt Farm began producing small quantities of ice cream around 1800, and began taking large quantities to market via train and boat around 1850.
The Pratts produced ice cream at their farm at least through 1870, and the Pratt family continued to own the land until about 1920.
The site was a produce
farm through the 1960s, and owners often could be found selling their
crops at roadside stands. It was in 1966 that the property began to take
an "academic turn," when Penn State University President Eric A. Walker
agreed to a request from the Delaware County Board of Commissioners to
establish a campus of the University in Delaware County. The commissioners
had claimed the former Pratt property due to unpaid property taxes, and
gave it to Penn State, along with $1.2 million to construct the first
building at the campus.
The genesis of the campus was not without controversy, as some members of the community instead backed the creation of a community college. Thus Penn State Delaware County and Delaware County Community College both opened their doors to students in September 1967, albeit in temporary facilities.
John D. Vairo, associate professor of journalism at Penn State, oversaw the humble beginnings of the campus at the makeshift digs, a rented, windowless former dry goods store in Chester. It was here that 11 full-time faculty members and 236 students began the Penn State legacy in Delaware County, even as a real live roller rink -- complete with rumbling Wurlitzer -- operated overhead.
Thankfully for students of that era, the distraction of having the roller rink above them was largely drowned out by the Amtrak trains that whizzed by every seven-and-a-half minutes, just inches from the building. On the plus side, the original student body learned a valuable lesson in how to focus on academics despite the introduction of outside forces beyond their control.
It was without much remorse that students and the faculty -- along with the 500 or so books that made up the entire collection of the original Penn State Delaware County library -- were moved to the new campus when it opened in the fall of 1970.
* the opening of the Library/Learning Center, now the John D. Vairo Library, in 1980;
* the establishment of the campus' first bachelor's degree program, now called Letters, Arts and Sciences, in 1988; and
* the opening of the campus' newest building, the state-of-the-art, technology-based Classroom Building, in 1998.
From humble beginnings to pillar of the community, Penn State Delaware County, located about 20 miles west of Philadelphia, now educates about 1,700 full-time students annually in four buildings.
A part of the Pratt legacy that remains on the campus is the springhouse, where dairy products such as butter and ice cream were made and stored. The approximately 15-square-foot stone building is situated to the west of the campus' Main Building, near a creek that probably once kept dairy products chilled.
David Jwainer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org