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Chester County Press

Local historian opens West Grove History Center to honor, educate town

06/27/2023 12:46PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Gabbie Burton          The new West Grove History Center is the work of local historian R. Scott Steele, and contains hundreds of historical artifacts about the town.

By Gabbie Burton, Contributing Writer

The West Grove History Center’s grand opening on June 3 reveals the story of the town through relics and memorabilia collected by local historian and author R. Scott Steele.

Steele, a West Grove native, has been building the collection for over 45 years, and welcomed over 240 guests to the former contractor shop turned museum on Prospect Avenue during the two-day opening weekend.

“It’s a collection of objects and manuscripts that tell us the story of the town,” Steele said.

Steele hopes the exhibit and all it contains will convey to attendees the significance of the men and women who grew West Grove from the village it was to the borough that it now is. The museum is a continuation of Steele’s previous, smaller museum which he operated out of a garage at his home starting in 2014.

“My goal always was to get my collection back in town,” Steele said. “Years ago, I decided to collect West Grove only, so I didn’t collect Avondale, I didn’t collect New London. I just collected West Grove so my goal was always to get it back here in the borough.”

The collection includes memorabilia from local businesses, the Avon Grove schools, the former West Grove hospital and artifacts from other significant historical events and people in the town. Some of Steele’s favorite artifacts include memorabilia from the 1947 robbery of the National Bank of West Grove and the popcorn machine from the old Roselyn Theater.

“We’d walk downtown every Friday night and went to the movies,” Steele said. “I saw all the first-run Disney and Beatles films, so the popcorn machines were a favorite too.”

Having grown up in West Grove on the very same street his exhibit now sits, Steele is especially acquainted with the evolution of the town.

“It was a great place to grow up,” Steele said. “There was a lot more community activity but I would say the town is still to this day very well run.”

The museum is not sponsored or funded by local government and is purely a passion project for Steele. All of the collection has either been purchased by Steele or donated from other community members. The purchase and renovation of the building at 513 Prospect Ave. is also funded from Steele himself.

“This town values history, values my collection but now it's totally a personal venture,” said Steele. “It's out of my love for history, and it’s out of my love for the town.”

That love for West Grove is demonstrated in Steele’s written work as well. He has written four books concerning West Grove history that includes a book on the 1970 Avon Grove High School basketball state championship team, which is featured prominently throughout the museum.

Ideally, Steele hopes to partner with the Avon Grove school district in order to teach local history to the students, an initiative inspired by his own time in the Avon Grove schools.

“We had a teacher by the name of Paul Rodebaugh who was a Chester County historian, and he taught a local history curriculum as part of his history class,” Steele said. “That really sparked my interest.”

While the interest in local history certainly still exists, from Steele’s perspective, it has been on the decline for the last several years. However, this seemingly only furthers his drive in promoting the education and spread of local history knowledge for new and old audiences alike. To better accomplish this, Steele plans on starting a historical society and encouraging meet-ups and events with local organizations at his establishment.

Moving forward, Steele plans to open the museum for visitors free of charge on the first Sunday of every month, starting July 2.

For Steele, history is about more than just dates and strict facts.

“People make history interesting,” Steele said. “My goal is to try to bring history alive through stories of people.”

The West Grove History Center is located at 513 Prospect Avenue in West Grove. For more information, visit its Facebook page.