Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 4, Page 4
Summer 1994
Leon DeValinger Jr.: Preserving First State history in the archives
   and in his memories

     Of all the things Leon DeValinger Jr., Delaware '30, M'35, has
recorded and preserved, none is more important than his own memory. As
Delaware state archivist for more than 40 years, his mind is a
storehouse of historical data about the First State, leading many in
Delaware to regard him as precious as the many famous documents he has
handled. And, in archival circles, DeValinger is a well-respected and
revered pioneer, and the Delaware archival system he developed is
often cited as a national model. When he started to work in Delaware,
only Connecticut and New Jersey had state archives-the place where
official records are preserved and used. Some of the systems he
implemented he borrowed from those two states, others he invented.
     Rather than cite his numerous accomplishments-which include being
a past national president and founding member of the Society of
American Archivists; receiving an honorary doctorate from the
University of Delaware in 1964; and having the Delaware Hall of
Records named in his honor-he likes to tell his story in chronological
order. It goes like this:
     DeValinger was born in 1905 in Middletown, Del., the son of Leon
and Mabel L. (Morton) DeValinger. Initially, after graduating from
public high school in Wilmington, he enrolled in St. Stephens College,
now Bard College, but, in his sophomore year, transferred to Delaware
to be closer to home. His wife is the former Margaret G. Scotton,
Delaware '27.
     His campus memories include winning the Old Home Prize of $25 for
an essay he wrote in 1929, on the Frenchtown Railroad. The original is
on file in the Morris Library's Special Collections area. Later in his
college career, he won a $75 award for an essay written for the
Women's Christian Temperance Union.
     "I don't remember that anyone else went after that one,"
DeValinger says, modestly.
     While at the University, he also was active in the formation of
The Footlighters, the acting troupe that became the foundation of the
E-52 Student Players. DeValinger was most often the producer or
director of the plays and remembers, in particular, a presentation in
Wolf Hall of The Guest of Ha Halabaugh, for which the chemistry
department helped the thespians rig a metal plate and magnet on the
floor for special effects.
     DeValinger also played the drum in the ROTC band and was on a
fencing team that traveled extensively, challenging freshman teams
from the University of Pennsylvania, Lehigh and Princeton
universities, among others.
     When DeValinger graduated in 1930, he remembers being "envious of
all the engineers. Representatives of all the big manufacturing
companies were recruiting them but no one was around for arts and
     After a job as assistant to the Newark city engineer and for an
oil company's district office located in Dover, Del., DeValinger
became assistant state archivist, serving in that role for 11 years.
He held the post of state archivist from 1941-70.
     DeValinger says he holds the title of longest-term state employee
having worked for the state for 41-1/2 years. After stepping down from
his role as state historian, he took a job lobbying for the League of
Local Governments, retiring as that organization's executive director
and archivist only a few years ago.
     DeValinger says the best thing about being an archivist is "the
knowledge you acquire and the responsibility. You never view anything
as just so much paper. Even if it's just a little slip of paper, it's
the only one in the world."
     When he first went to Dover as assistant archivist, DeValinger
said he looked in "every nook and cranny" for historical documents. He
was rewarded by finding, for example, Delaware's state ratification
document, which dated from 1787, in a safe in the secretary of state's
office. He immediately prevailed upon the powers that be to transfer
it to the state archives.
     Another "find" he remembers came about after a call from Mrs.
Harold Mercer, who said her maid was cleaning the attic and found an
old book tucked up under the roof rafters. It turned out to be the
first court record book of Sussex County, Del.-an archivist's gold
     DeValinger also remembers working with the royal charters of King
Charles to the Duke of York and an 1682 land deed from the Duke of
York to William Penn, granting Penn the three counties of Delaware.
     DeValinger was helpful in the establishment of the University of
Delaware archives and has been active in numerous state activities to
preserve buildings. Two projects of which he is especially proud are
the restoration of the John Dickinson Mansion near Dover, Del., and
the creation in 1948 of the first Delaware State Museum, which was
housed in a 1790 Presbyterian church in Dover.
     Known for its Georgian architecture, the Dickinson Mansion was
built in 1740 by Samuel, father of John Dickinson, Delaware's
representative to the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The first
Delaware State Museum is now known as Meetinghouse Galleries. It
houses the Island Field archaeological collection, and the adjacent
Sunday School building features an exhibit of typical trades found on
"Main Street, Del."
                                                          -Beth Thomas