Honoring a valued member: Liz Jarvis retires

by Chrissy Clawson, programs and communications manager for the Chestnut Hill Conservancy
Posted 6/13/24

The Chestnut Hill Conservancy would like to thank Liz Jarvis, who retired on May 3 after 30 years of growing the Conservancy’s archives.

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Honoring a valued member: Liz Jarvis retires


The Chestnut Hill Conservancy would like to thank Liz Jarvis, who retired on May 3 after 30 years of growing the Conservancy’s archives, for her many years of service. 

We were lucky to have her. After earning degrees in art history and fine arts and a Master's in museum studies, Liz worked at the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Modern Art, where she was an exhibition cataloger. She arranged transportation for Picassos, checked Renoirs and couriered Ansel Adams photographs. She once couriered a Matisse in a taxi across Manhattan!

After a year at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Liz worked nine years as the Museum Curator for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. There, she cataloged a large collection of artifacts and paintings, culminating in a long-term exhibition about Philadelphia's history. These are now part of the Drexel University collection. 

After leaving the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Liz freelanced for many institutions, including the Union League, Awbury Arboretum, and Christ Church. In 1994, she joined the Chestnut Hill Historical Society/CHHS (now the Chestnut Hill Conservancy) for a six-month position funded by an anonymous donor. “After six months, no one asked me to leave,” says Liz, “so I kept working two days a week for the next 30 years.”

In her first year, Liz introduced public open hours, developed a collections policy, implemented a standardized collection numbering system and collected donor records. She also digitized the collection early in her tenure. Much of this was done by more than 85 volunteers and student interns trained by Liz.

In 1997, Liz secured funding from the William Penn Foundation to hire an assistant archivist, allowing for Saturday open hours. She strengthened relations between the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, the Germantown Historical Society, and the Springfield Township Historical Society, serving on the boards of the latter two for more than a decade.

Her most visible accomplishments are her three photographic history books: Chestnut Hill (with Thomas Keels), Chestnut Hill Revisited, and Mount Airy. She gathered material from repositories all over Philadelphia, soliciting photographs and stories from area residents, uncovering previously undocumented information, broadening the understanding of our community's social history and extending the conservancy’s reach to new people. These books have preserved valuable historical photographs and narratives that might otherwise have been lost.

Her dedication to preservation is personal as well as professional. Liz and her husband Andrew restored their 1854 Italianate house and, in 2000, placed façade and open space easements on the property to protect this Chestnut Hill landmark for the future.

Liz led the award-winning restoration of the historic Yeakel Cemetery with Jerry Heebner and Jack Yeakel, a ninth-generation descendant. This led to the creation of the Yeakel Cemetery Preservation Committee, which raised more than $80,000 to catalog, repair, and conserve gravestones and rebuild the wall.

Alex Bartlett, who succeeded Liz as the conservancy’s curator/archivist, highlights Liz’s push for technological advancements: "Migrating our data into PastPerfect [software] 24 years ago was critical. It allowed us to create a searchable database.”

During her time here, Liz mentored many volunteers and student interns who processed an ever-expanding collection of photographs, maps, drawings, letters, records, and other documents. And she always understood the value of relationships. "It is important to respond to donors and researchers promptly as we are a community service organization," she says. 

Alex Bartlett, who joined CHHS as a volunteer in 2009, knows firsthand the quality of her work. "Liz has many attributes that contributed to her success, including her focus on accuracy and her love of history," Alex says. "She totally 'gets' Chestnut Hill!"

For Liz, the feeling is reciprocal. 

"The Conservancy is fortunate to have Alex leading the Archives. He has deep roots in the community and has been here for 15 years," she says. 

"When I came to the Conservancy, I found a remarkable organization that integrated preservation, conservation, and archival collections,” said 

Our executive director, Lori Salganicoff, credits Liz with turning the archives into a distinctive asset for the organization. 

“The archives, developed under Liz's guidance, set us apart from similar organizations, strengthening advocacy efforts and enabling programs like Night of Lights,” she said. 

We hope that Liz thoroughly enjoys her retirement – painting, creating ceramics, and working on the many other projects she cares about. 

We know that we will long appreciate her legacy and the work of cataloging our shared history. We expect it to remain a valued resource for generations to come.