The borough of West Chester has a rich history, which has led to a bustling modern community. In their new book, Images of Modern America: West Chester, due out on Oct. 3, father and daughter team of Bruce and Melissa Mowday explore its current state and why it’s thriving.
Part of a series of books about towns across the United States, this wasn’t Bruce’s first time working within the format, nor his first time writing about the area. He and Melissa had previously written a book together for a neighboring community, Caln Township Historical Society, traversing its history. In other books, Bruce has explored Chester County extensively.
Bruce credits his initial interest in history to his grandmother. “When I was about 12 or 13, my grandmother gave me some newspaper clippings from the Civil War. They were written by our ancestor, my great-great-great grandfather,” he says, adding that his own father worked at the now defunct Coatesville Record. “It’s been in the blood since way back when.”
A journalist who was a former managing editor at the Daily Local News and chair of the Chester County Historical Society, Bruce has an arsenal of skills and a deep familiarity with the region. “I had done a postcard series and six walking tours of West Chester. It was perfect to have a modern view. It’s a really nice book on modern images. It’s a great, vibrant town with so much to offer and it just gave a chance to showcase everything,” says Bruce, a Downingtown resident.
The pair spent nearly two years, from start to finish, compiling the book. While it gives a nod to West Chester’s history, it’s colorful, photo-abundant pages focus on the borough as it currently stands. Readers get a sense of the community, its residents, and its annual events like Old-Fashioned Christmas and the Iron Hill Twilight Race Series.
“There’s a lot of exciting things going on in West Chester, so there was plenty to choose from and show how the town can come alive,” says Melissa, an adjunct English professor at St. Joseph University and Widener University.
Photos are an important element of the book and local photographer, Ray Doyle, who Bruce worked with at the Daily Local News, contributed his work. “Ray has taken thousands of photographs over the years. We spent two or three days at his house. He just kept bringing up photos after photos,” recalls Bruce.
The result is truly images of West Chester, from its monuments, to the university, to area parks to the people who live there. “When we went through photo selections and there were choices to make, I think Melissa and I were pretty much in agreement all the way through,” says Bruce.
Together, they narrowed down the photos, filling in the stories they portrayed. “What story can they tell, what’s the narrative?” Melissa says, of their selections and their vision. “It was really about how can we craft the story? Who are the players?”
They traverse all of those topics across six chapters: “Community,” “Businesses,” “Events,” “Places,” “West Chester University,” and lastly, “Scenes,” which gives a glimpse into everyday life. From charming cafes to a vintage baseball team to historic tours, Images of Modern America: West Chester gives a true sense of the town, a goal both Bruce and Melissa shared.
The book will be available at local bookstores and the authors will be giving discussions in the coming months. To kick off the book’s release, both authors will be at the Chester County Historical Society on Oct. 7.