Penn State Intercom......June 6, 2002

Delaware County
at a glance

* Ed Tomezsko, campus executive officer

* 100-acre campus in Middletown Township

* Student enrollment of 1,700

* 62 full-time and 58 part-time faculty

* Student/faculty ratio of 16 to 1

* First two years of more than 160 Penn State majors

* Complete eight bachelor's degrees and two associate degrees

* Professional development programs

* Six varsity sports

* 20 student clubs and organizations


Campus built on 'Butter Belt'

Case can be made that Delaware County
made the first Penn State ice cream

Editor's note: Most people know the history of Penn State as that of a school chartered in 1855 at the request of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society to apply scientific principles to farming. Since that time, Penn State has grown from that one campus at University Park to 24 locations statewide, and each of those other locations has its own special history. What follows is the story of one of those locations.

By David Jwainer
Penn State Philadelphia Region

Creamery ice cream! While Penn Staters everywhere salivate at the mere mention of those three yummy words, it's safe to say few know that Penn State's history was glazed with tasty frozen confections long before the first Creamery cow produced milk in the 1890s.

In some ways, suggesting that the 33-year-old Delaware County campus is at the genesis of the University's ice cream legacy may seem tenuous, but it's really not that far-fetched.

It all began in the early 19th century, when Thomas Pratt married Hannah Haycock and


settled on a family property in Middletown Township, part of the recently created Delaware County. The Pratt family had been dairy farming at this location at least as far back as 1790, making it one of the older farms in a county long known for its dairy farming acumen, according to historical records.

"The campus was part of what we call The Butter Belt," said Larry Smythe, a Schreyer Honors College student who studied this history for his thesis project.

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.

There were many other key events in the 35-year history of the campus, including:

* 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