University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

Powell Family Papers

1887 - 1950

Manuscript Collection Number: 346
Accessioned: Gift, 1991
Extent: 3 linear ft.
Content: Ledgers, tax forms, canceled checks, correspondence, advertisements, personal notes,
and ephemera.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: September 1997 by Arthur Siegel.

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

George Powell, born in March 1860, was a resident of Newark, Delaware, who began a local business in 1887 selling oysters and ice cream. In that year he purchased a business at 36 E. Main Street in Newark from Joshua Dobson, who was associated with Kyles Ice Cream, a popular brand which was sold in Wilmington. The building on Main Street was on the site where Rhode's Drug Store later stood, and in 1897 Powell purchased yet another building, owned by J.L. Lewis, settling the final location of Powell's restaurant at 35 E. Main Street -- near the site of Newark's first public school. Powell was apparently an active member of Newark's rapidly-growing community. He had been a class leader and Trustee of Newark Methodist Church as of 1885. He was also a member of the Improved Order of Red Men, and had been elected Great Sachem (comparable to "president") of the Delaware tribe from November 1901 - November 1902. He was married to Harriet D. Powell (born May 1867). The death date for George Powell is unavailable, but he may have died in 1909, as that was the year when his son apparently took over the business.

Walter R. Powell, son of George Powell, was born in December 1886. Like his father, only sketchy details of his life can be discerned. He probably took over his father's business in the years immediately preceding WWI, and in 1917 he enlisted as a cadet in the army, leaving Newark on December 19th of that year for Fort DuPont. He left the business in the care of the Ewing Brothers during his absence, returning at the end of the war to pick up where he had left off. Serving the community within a ten mile radius, Powell's Restaurant was constantly supplying orders of ice cream and oysters for the university, individuals, churches, schools, and various local festivities. He was married to Maxine B. Powell, though the year of their marriage is uncertain, and at some point during the 1940s he left the management of the business to his step-son Grover Surratt. Walter Powell also delved into real estate, possessing six properties in the Newark area by the time he retired, and from approximately 1916 he had been receiving additional income through rents. He owned the store at 43-45 E. Main St., a frame dwelling at 51-53 E. Main St., a brick ice cream factory and garage at the rear of 43 E. Main St., a frame dwelling on New London Ave., as well as two more on Corbit St. and Delaware Ave. By 1947 he decided to retire, and in 1950 eventually sold his business to James H. Skinner, who formerly had been associated with the Gifford Ice Cream Co. of Silver Spring, Maryland. Powell and his wife continued to live on 43 E. Main Street until his death in 1959 or 1960, whereafter she lived at 45 E. Main Street until her own death in late 1978 or early 1979.

As mentioned above, George Powell was a prominent member of The Improved Order of Red Men, a nationally-based secret society that was dedicated to "Freedom, Friendship, and Charity." Its main purpose was to provide for its members, offering benefits and care to the families of sick or deceased members, and it was just one of hundreds of secret societies that were popular in the United States during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The order germinated from the tradition of secret societies which dated back before the American Revolution, and claimed to be a direct descendant of the Tammany societies which existed throughout the revolutionary period. Since 1813 there had been a number of disparate societies of Red Men throughout the country, but the Improved Order, the one to which George Powell belonged, was organized in Baltimore in 1834. This was an exclusively-male organization, though there were important sister societies, such as The Ladies of the Golden Eagle, which catered to women. The order flourished around the turn of the century, at one point claiming over half a million members nationwide. It possessed a sophisticated structure of leadership and organization which was based upon their understanding of tribal society, and positions within that structure, as well as forms of currency and the calendar, were given names colored with a Native-American tone. Thus, a local lodge would be known as a "tribe," a meeting site would be called a "wigwam," and a non-member would affectionately be referred to as a "pale-face."

Newark was home to several fraternal organizations, the Improved Order of Red Men being a particularly prominent one. Around 1900, Delaware had about 4,600 active members with 202 of these residing in the Newark area alone, making it the second largest tribe in the state. In 1909 the order purchased a house at 48 West Park Place in Newark, which was opened the following spring as a retirement home for Delaware lodge members. The house originally had been built in 1841 by James S. Martin, and came with an additional 17 acres of land which were used by the Red Men for growing crops and keeping livestock.

Membership in the order declined throughout the early 20th century, as apathy among members and the increasing number of welfare programs sponsored by the federal government undercut the spirit and purpose of this and other fraternal orders. By 1942 the Improved Order of Red Men could claim only 902 members in all of Delaware, and interest had waned so much in Newark that in 1953 the house was sold to the University of Delaware's Theta Chi fraternity.


John Clark & Co. Newark City Directory. 3 vols. Haddonfield, NJ: John Clark & Co., 1953-57.

National Archives. Index to the Population Schedule of the 12th Census,1900. Microfilm.

Newark Historical Society Newsletter. Newark, Delaware. vol.15. #1 (September, 1986)

The Official History of the Improved Order of Red Men. ed. Carl R. Lemke. Waco, Texas: Davis
Bros. Publishing Co., 1964.

R.L. Polk & Co. Newark City Directory. 22 vols. Richmond, VA: R.L. Polk & Co., 1961-82.

Note: Historical and biographical information derived from the collection

Scope and Content Note

The Powell Family Papers concern the affairs of Powell's Restaurant, a local business of Newark, Delaware, owned and operated by the Powell family between 1887-1950. Located at 43-45 Main Street, the site upon which the Galleria was built in 1995, it grew from a small oyster and ice cream shop to a restaurant and local ice cream distributor, taking on the name "Powell's Ice Cream Co." in the 1950s. After selling the business in 1950, Walter R. Powell retired, and Powell's Ice Cream Co. remained in business until becoming a malt shop in the 1960s, eventually being torn down to make room for the Galleria.

The collection itself contains business records and personal effects from George and Walter Powell. It consists of three linear feet of material comprising ledger books, tax records, canceled checks, correspondence, a bank statement, business transactions, and advertisements. The collection is divided into two main series: I) the business records of Powell's Restaurant and II) business and correspondence relating to George Powell's membership in the Improved Order of Red Men.

The first series concerns the business, ranging in date from 1887 to 1950, with three bulk periods: 1914-1918, 1926-1930, and 1946-1950. Most of this deals with the daily business of the ice cream shop as found in the ledgers and personal notes taken by Walter R. Powell, and a clear record of his expenditures and financial standing can be discerned from the canceled checks, tax receipts, and bank statements found in the collection.

The second series concerns the affairs of the Improved Order of the Society of Red Men during the period 1901-2, and contains letters, minutes from local meetings, the by-laws of the order, and other related ephemera collected and used by George Powell. It also contains an accordian file in which these items were found, though it is uncertain whether they were kept there by George Powell himself or later placed there by one of his relatives.

The collection, though failing to provide a complete record of Powell's business, can nonetheless be of great use to researchers of Newark history. Walter R. Powell kept very detailed records of his business, and there are numerous pages within the collection of random calculations. The names (and occasionally even addresses) of those who placed orders with the ice cream shop are listed in the ledgers. Many are listed repeatedly, making it possible to trace Newark individuals and families throughout the first half of the 20th century. Prices for various items - such as a gallon of ice cream, a quart of milk, or a ham sandwich - are meticulously listed as ordered by customers, and as a result it is also possible to chart price increases for foodstuffs during this same period. Of related interest may be an analysis of how the business fared during the Depression, though unfortunately the collection suffers from a general, though hardly total, lacuna of data between the years 1929 and 1946. The ledgers also provide other, less data-driven information that may be of use to researchers, such as occasional mention of deaths of Newark residents, weather accounts (particularly for 1917), and local social events. One highlight of the collection is a brief narrative history of the restaurant, penned by Walter Powell himself, and datable to about 1950. In it he looks back at his experiences in the ice cream business, and provides otherwise unrecorded details about the restaurant's very early years.

The collection also serves as a very good source of information about The Improved Order of Red Men. The by-laws and an instruction manual for the swearing-in of recently-elected chiefs provide a close look at the internal structure and rituals of the order, and the correspondence to and from the office of "Great Sachem" George Powell offers a glimpse into the activity of the Delaware tribes and their members in 1901 and 1902 -- including judicial appeals, appointment requests, and correspondence with other regional tribes. In addition, illustrations and seals from the various tribes with which he corresponded provide interesting information such as organization dates, tribal leadership during this period, or what types of Native-American motifs were used to represent the various tribes. The letters also provide a partial account of those tribes active in Delaware at the turn of the century: the Delaware, Osage, Minqua, and Hiawatha tribes of Wilmington; the Waneta tribe of Dover; the Ottawa tribe of Williamsville; the Chippewa tribe of Milton; the Beaver Dam tribe of Greenwood; and theAppoquinimink tribe of Odessa; as well as the Shawmut tribe of Chesapeake City, Maryland. This type of documentation provides details that may be difficult to find elsewhere.

Related collection:

Wilbur Wilson Maps

Contents List

Box -- Folder -- Contents

    Series I.   Powell's Restaurant
          This series contains a wide variety of items pertaining to the business and
          management of Powell's Restaurant from 1887-1950.  Included are order ledgers,
          canceled checks, tax information, advertisements, and correspondence.

          I.1. Order Ledgers
          These cover the period 1887-1933 and come in various sizes, bound in hardcover,
          on lined ledger-paper.  Entries are written in several hands, most in ink but some
          in pencil.   They include orders, charges, and payment of bills by customers.
          Occasional receipts and adding-machine printouts are found between pages. Aside
          from daily accounts, these include numerous interesting side notes written by
          Walter R. Powell himself, and are generally found either near the top margin or
          within the text.  There is an extensive, though not continuous, record of daily
          temperature and weather for Newark; occasional mention of local events, such as
          a carnival or the DuPont Chemical Works fire of December 12, 1917; and
          occasional tidbits of personal information.  This is not an unbroken record, but
          bulk dates span from 1914-1918.

1    F1   1887 Jan 1 - 1891 Jan 22

     F2   1904 Oct 7 - 1906 Aug 26
          In the back of the ledger there are loose folios of customer accounts ranging from
          Jan 1, 1905 to Oct 1, 1905.  Also a bound insert from Oct 31, 1909 to Dec 24,

     F3   1909 - 1915
          List of individual customer accounts, arranged by name and not date.

     F4   1910 - 1915, 1925 - 1931
          Includes expenditure records

     F5   1914 Jan 1 - 1915 Jun 30

     F6   1914 Jun 26 - 1915 Jun 30

     F7   1915 Jul 1 - 1916 Apr 6

     F8   1916 Oct 3 - 1917 Apr 12

     F9   1917 Oct 24 - 1918 Jan 25

     F10  1925 may 23 - 1927 Sep 20

2    F11  1928 Jul 22 - 1929 May 3

     F12  1929 May 1 - 1930 Sep 22
          List of student employees, monthly bills.

     F13  1930 Oct 22 - 1933 Oct 5

3         I.2. Canceled Checks (in Box 3, no folder #s)
          There are 29 items in various accounts ranging from 1920 - 1952.  Most of these
          are the stubs and come from an unknown bank, but one set, bound in hardcover
          and coming from the Union National Bank of Wilmington, contains the stubs with
          the canceled checks reattached to them.  Also, the collection of checks spanning
          the dates 1945-1952 are bound in spiral covers.

          1920 Oct 8 - Nov 17 (#1-97)   1921 Jan (#199-141)
          Checks from the Union National Bank of Wilmington.  Some checks have been

          1928 Jun 12 - Dec 28 (#4147-4439)

          1929 Jan 4 - Jul 14 (#4-291)

          1929 Jun 15 - Nov 8 (#306-589)

          1929 Nov 13 - 1930 Apr 15 (#605-892)

          1930 Apr 2 - Sep 16 (#895-1200)

          1930 Sep 16 - Feb 14 (#1206-1515)

          1931 Feb 21 - Jul 20 (#1517-1810)

          1931 Jul 23 - Dec 28 (#1817-2097)

          1932 Jan 5 - Jun 30 (#2117-2412)

          1932 Jul 5 - 1933 Apr 1 (#2417-2716)

          1933 Apr 4 - Dec 12 (#1-296)

          1933 Dec 14 - 1934 Oct 4 (#301-599)

          1934 Oct 4 - 1935 Jun 26 (#601-885)

          1940 Jan 8 - Nov 30 (#2700-3002)

          1940 Dec 2 - 1941 Nov 3 (#3003-3302)

          1944 Jan 5 - Jan 29 (#3772-3803)
          These are 11 loose pages once held together with a safety pin.   

          1945 Jul 12 - 1946 Mar 25 (#4308-4559)

          1946 Mar 27 - Oct 15 (#4560-4811)

          1946 Oct 15 - 1947 May 19 (#4812-5027)

          1947 Mar 10 - Dec 11 (#1-252)

          1947 Dec 13 - 1948 Jun 26 (#253-504)

          1948 Jun 26 - 1949 Apr 12 (#505-762)

          1949 Apr 12 - 1950 Apr 24 (#766-1020)

          1950 Apr 21 - 1951 Jul 7 (#1021-1272)

          1951 Jul 10 - 1952 May 14 (#1273-1399)

          1947 Mar 15 - 1948 Jul 6 (#1-252)

          1948 Jul 6 - 1949 Oct 13 (#253-504)

          1949 Oct 13 - 1950 Dec 28 (#504-752)

          I.3. Business Records

2    F14  N.C.R. Cash Statement Book (1909 Jun 1 - 1910 Dec 16)
          Hard-cover ledger issued by the National Cash Register Co. of Dayton, Ohio.

     F15  Bank Account Book (1921 Feb 3 - 1929 May 6)
          Account of Walter R. Powell with the Farmer's Trust Company in Newark,

     F16  Advertising
          Includes pamphlet by C.L. Rayfield Co.; a newspaper clipping announcing
          the new proprietorship of James H. Skinner; a calendar page for February
          1916 by Oscar Smith & Son; and 3 advertising cards, 2 of which are from
          Newark businesses: Neverdust Sweeping Compound, run by George F.
          Jackson and located in the Opera House Building, and The Delaware
          Ledger Printing and Publishing Co.

     F17  Financial Records, 1946-1951
          Includes a handwritten numerical analysis of receipts and checks for the
          years 1946-47, undated calculations on scrap paper, and calculations for
          expenses and revenues spanning 1946-1951.

     F18  Floor Plans
          Includes 3 sketches of Powell's Restaurant on scrap paper and several sheets of
          blank paper.

     F19  Business Transactions
          Includes contracts, bills to customers, receipts for products ordered, and a
          program from the Pennsylvania Lumbermen's Association Conference in
          January 1930.

     F20  Taxes and Federal, 1925-1948
          Includes tax returns and receipts of Walter and Maxine Powell, withholding and
          exemption certificates, and tax notes written by Walter Powell - primarily from

     F21  Correspondence with potential buyers, 1948-1950
          Includes 1 autographed and 7 typed letters of inquiry by companies
          interested in purchasing Powell's business, as well as responses to these
          letters, requests by Powell for advertising in several trade journals, and
          clippings of a few of the advertisements.

     F22  [History of Powell's Restaurant] written by Walter R. Powell, n.d. (5pp.)
          Hand-written and in pencil on unlined paper, reviewing the history of
          Powell's Restaurant, and probably dates from 1950.  This concerns
          primarily the management of the business, the methods of producing ice
          cream, and some of the early employment activity of Walter R. Powell.

     F23  "Dairy Industries Catalog and Directory," 1932  (3 sections, 391pp.)
          Trade catalog.

          Series 2.  The Improved Order of Red Men
          This series contains the personal correspondence of George R. Powell in
          his capacity as Great Sachem of the Delaware tribe from November, 1901
          to November, 1902; several other letters relating to the business of the
          order; transcriptions of regional meetings; as well as other ephemera.  It
          also includes the accordion file in which all of these items had been

     F24  Correspondence, 1901 Feb - 1902 Nov, (57 letters, 3 undated)
          Includes typed and handwritten letters to and from George Powell on both official
          and non-official letterhead.  All of the official letters from Powell are affixed with
          the seal of the Great Council of Delaware on the lower left-hand corner, and 2
          letters from the Great Councils of Texas and Maryland are marked with their own
          seals as well.  Also included are several letters from the Grand Temple of the
          Ladies of the Golden Eagle.

     F25  Ephemera
          Includes a copy of the by-laws of the order, transcriptions from several
          regional meetings; a price list from the company of George F. Harding in
          Boston, supplier of Native-American costumes and supplies; a ticket for a
          reception; a manual for the rituals of induction; and several official

3    F26  Accordion File (in Box 3)
          "Foster's Scrap Holder" labeled on the front.

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