j. welles henderson research center

Welcome to the J. Welles Henderson Research Center at Independence Seaport Museum!

Welcome to the J. Welles Henderson Research Center at Independence Seaport Museum! Our collections is one of the largest holdings of regional maritime research material in the nation. The collections target a deeper understanding, appreciation, and experience of the Philadelphia region’s waterways. Geographically, this includes the Delaware River watershed, including the major commercial ports of Philadelphia, Camden, and Wilmington. Other areas include the New Jersey and Delaware coastal regions that have, and continue to, leave their imprint on the maritime culture of the area. We strive to collect and manage art, artifacts, documents, and reference material that tie our museum to the public through the lenses of history, art, science, and community.

The J. Welles Henderson Research Center at Independence Seaport Museum is open by appointment for researchers.  To schedule a time, please call Sarah Augustine, Archivist, at 215-413-8641.

Archival and Artifact Collections

Contained within the collections, our archives and rare books feature documents, manuscripts, and books, all focusing on the maritime culture of the Delaware River watershed, the Port of Philadelphia and surrounding areas from the eighteenth century to the present.  Records range from business transactions and correspondence, personal and institutional photographs to ship plans, and measured drawings. In addition to our archival collections, we also house an impressive collection of artifacts and art relating to the region’s maritime past.  Materials kept in our collections include objects such as ship relics and fittings, models and folk art, clothing from the diverse local maritime communities, tools, mementos, and small craft native to the Delaware River and New Jersey shore.  Our rich art collection includes works by such luminaries as Thomas Birch, James Hamilton, and Edward Moran, who captured maritime-related subjects through their artworks, tying them to the cultural and political economy of Philadelphia.  Of particular historic significance are objects such as our figurehead by William Rush, John Barry’s octant, and the many pieces of modern nautical equipment by the John E. Hand Co.  These pieces substantiate culture and industry and confirm the extensive global trade by local merchants. Other highlights include extensive records and artifacts relating to our historic ships, Cruiser Olympia and Submarine Becuna.  As the stewards of these vessels, Independence Seaport Museum strives to preserve the historic record and material culture of these ships and bring into focus the experiences of the crews who served aboard. Note: For genealogical research, our archives rarely contain personnel records except for the Becuna and Olympia collections.  For other research, please visit the National Archives Genealogy Page.  For passenger arrivals at the Port of Philadelphia, please get in touch with the National Archives Mid-Atlantic branch.

visit the seaport museum

Immerse yourself in award-winning exhibitions and climb aboard the Olympia, a nineteenth-century cruiser, and the Becuna, a World War II-era submarine.