The core of our mission at the Delray Beach Historical Society is the maintenance, preservation and expansion of the historic archives of the City of Delray Beach. These archival materials are irreplaceable assets. The collection is housed in one of the City’s oldest buildings, itself a historic site to explore local heritage. Along with private donations, the City, County and State have invested in excess of $650,000 to ensure that Delray Beach historical records are secure, accessible and useful for educational and civic purposes. The Historical Society’s mission, the campus, the events and educational programs are essential to keep our history alive, encourage proper stewardship and to provide a legacy for future generations.
Our approximately 500 research and archival requests and visits per year come from individual citizens, writers, researchers, homeowners, the media, realtors, builders, students, businesses, other non-profit organizations and City groups such as The Delray Beach Public Library, Delray Beach Fire Service, Delray Beach Police Department, Parks & Recreation, Historic Preservation Department, the City Manager’s Office, the City Attorney’s office and the City Clerk/Records Department.
The Archive Collection features over 20,000 items, including photographs, real estate documents, architectural renderings, original charters, City of Delray Beach records, books, memorabilia, letters, newspapers, paintings, original drawings, rare artifacts, pioneer and family histories – both oral and video, clothing, and other three dimensional artifacts.
Our database of architectural drawings lists 1,200 items. Our book collection includes rare and out-of-print books and city directories dating back to the early years of local settlement, and contemporary guides to local art and architecture. Our computer contains many entries for over 2,500 individual items, and we have catalogued lists of those objects awaiting data entry.
The materials, artifacts, pictures and information in the collection are meticulously organized and stored an Archive Bunker attached to the Ethel Sterling History Learning Center. These materials are maintained at an optimal temperature with a gas back-up generator for weather emergencies. The archives are a continual work in progress as new donations are received each year.
The Delray Beach Historical Society Executive Director, Archivist and small volunteer staff are responsible for maintaining the collection, which includes assessment, research, cataloguing and conservation.
Why the Archives are Important
- All DBHS educational programs, preservation projects and exhibits originate from materials and inspiration found in our Archives.
- The Archives are the basis of our knowledge of Delray Beach History and greatly enrich our continuing story. The precise care of the archives and the stories they contain serve to inspire future generations.
- The impetus for the founding of the Historical Society in 1964 by some of the children of original settlers was to start an archives collection so that the history of the town “would not be lost.”
- The archives, artifacts, memorabilia, documents and art and the stories they convey provide lessons for the present and the most fair, democratic and ethical guidance for the future.
The Learning Center area of the Ethel Sterling Williams building (“the Yellow Building”) is a room where the public can visit to do research, order historic images and read about a variety of historical topics via our extensive area history reference library. A computer is available for research. Our Archivist is on-site to facilitate research requests and all services are free to the public.
The Learning Center is also a stop on Children’s tours. We show tour groups the archives, talk about the importance of history and preservation and demonstrate interesting preservation techniques.
Learn more about Ethel Sterling Williams and her family here.