Then and Now photos is an ongoing series from Keystone Crossroads that looks at historical images of the past and photographs of today from Pennsylvania cities and towns.

On a sticky summer afternoon, passing cars slowed and pedestrians paused to take in the view of more than a hundred T-shirts placed on the front lawn of Chester Eastside Ministries, in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Carmen Johnson, a Chester resident, walked to the shuttered church with a rose and teddy bear that she carefully placed in front of a T-shirt bearing the name of her son, Rasheem.

The memorial, 144 T-shirts, mark the names of Chester residents who have died to gun violence since 2009.

Johnson said she’s not sure what exactly happened the night her son died last January. “I just really miss him,” she said, wiping tears and sweat from her eyes.

Residents of Chester are all too familiar with the consequences of gun violence. The Philadelphia Daily News reports that Chester has double the number of homicides as compared to this time last year and six times as many murders per capita compared to neighboring Philadelphia.

But despite the statistics, some residents say Chester is misunderstood.

Mayor John Linder characterizes Chester as an evolving city.  

“We are working on it, diligently," said Linder.  "We are working to suppress that violence and mitigate it in the areas that we can.” 

Born and raised in Chester,  Dennis Blackwell said the city should be known for its rich history rather than murders and gun violence. He recited a laundry list of historical events from Chester’s past: the original landing of William Penn, a point of passage on the Underground Railroad, and Sun shipbuilding industry.

“We’re not getting credit for the history that has happened here,” said Blackwell.

Just outside of one of Chester’s endangered historic properties, Mario Hailey, of Fayetteville, North Carolina walked down the driveway of the Deshong Museum. The boarded up museum once housed the private art collection of Alfred O. Deshong, a wealthy stone quarry operator and philanthropist.

Earlier this year, the Deshong Mansion was deemed unsafe by public officials after a partial collapse and was demolished.

“You’ll never hear anything positive about Chester,” said Hailey.


Archival images courtesy of Delaware County Historical Society Museum and Research Library and the Library of Congress.