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William Roy Overlease Collection

Identifier: 40
This collection is divided into six series: Publications, Research, Correspondence, Events, Subject Files, and Restricted.

SERIES I: Publications contains final drafts of professional publications, some of them co-authored with his wife, Edith Overlease, on ecology, botany, and ornithology. They date from 1966 to 1992, and are based on research found in the Series II: Research. Arranged chronologically.

SERIES II: Research consists of the research materials Overleases’ publications are based on. This includes research on birds in Indiana state parks, on Chester County forest ecologies, birds, and flora, and on the history of the William Darlington Herbarium (includes significant material on William Darlington himself and on another early American naturalist, C.S. Rafinesque.) This series is broken into eight subseries, based on topic.

Subseries I: Indiana Bird Studies: Contains raw computer data and other research materials relating to studies of bird populations at three locations in Indiana (Spring Mill, Turkey Run, and McCormick’s Creek State Parks), spanning 1970 to 1980, which served as the basis for several publications (see Publications Series).

Subseries II: Chester County Bird Studies: Contains material related to studies of bird populations along a section of the Brandywine River near Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania and material relating to the development of a publication on the subject (see Publications Series.) Subseries III: Chester County Forest Study: Contains notes and data related to the study of forest ecosystems in the Chester County area, apparently gathered as part of classwork for an Ecology course. The material is arranged chronologically and spans 1965 to 1982, but is missing material for 1971-72 and 1974.

Subseries IV: South Campus Forest Study: Contains data documenting the tree population of the South Campus, apparently gathered as part of classwork for Ecology courses. Spans 1964 to 1975.

Subseries V: Chester County Flora: Contains notes and drafts for the publication Checklist of the Flora of Chester County, published in the Bartonia no. 52, pg. 60-77 in 1986. This research also appears to have been used for “150 Years of Vegetation Change in Chester County, Pennsylvania.” Bartonia no. 53, pg. 1-12, 1987. (See “Publications” series for published draft.)

Subseries VI: Research for “A Short History of the William Darlington Herbarium” (see “Publications” series for published version.) Includes lists of samples according to original collector, correspondence, primary and secondary sources used for research, and student papers relating to the Herbarium.

Subseries VII: West Chester County Christmas Bird Count: The Overleases participated in an annual bird count at Christmas and kept records of the final counts.

Subseries VIII: Research on Constantine Samuel Rafinesque: Rafinesque was a 19th century scholar in a variety of fields, including botany, ethnography, and zoology. Part of his botany collection was acquired for the Darlington Herbarium. For a considerable amount of biographical information about Rafinesque, see the “Secondary Sources” folder.

SERIES III: Correspondence: Overlease’s professional correspondence from the 1960s through 1990, arranged chronologically.

SERIES IV: Events consist of material relating to events that took place at West Chester or in Chester County relating to ecology, botanical history, etc. Arranged chronologically. Overlease appears to have been involved in planning some, though not all, of the events.

SERIES V: Subject Files contains material that didn’t fit into the previous series. They have been arranged alphabetically according to topic.

SERIES VI: Restricted contains graded student work, which may be viewable at the discretion of the Special Collections Librarian


  • Majority of material found within 1963 - 1988
  • 1841 - 1990


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. The restricted section is avaiable at the discretion of the Special Collections Librarian.


10 Boxes (10 medium clam shell boxes)

4.25 Linear Feet


Dr. William Roy Overlease (1925-2007) was a botanist, ornithologist, ecologist, and educator who worked as a professor in the Biology Department at West Chester State College/West Chester University from 1963 to 1986. The collection contains final drafts of his publications, research data and notes his publications were based on, professional correspondence, material related to courses he taught, and material related to the establishment of the Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies on West Chester’s campus.

Biographical / Historical

Dr. William Roy Overlease was born in 1925 and raised in Elkhart, Indiana. He attended Michigan State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Forestry, a five year professional degree, in 1950, and an MS in Conservation in 1952. These were early days for academic programs in this field, and Overlease was required to get special permission from the graduate council of the university in order to pursue his MS. He also earned a Secondary Education Teaching Certificate in 1950.

From 1952 to 1957, Overlease worked for the Interpretative Program of the Indiana Department of Conservation, Division of State Parks, as the only full-time state park naturalist in the Midwest (the rest were hired seasonally or on a part-time basis on weekends). As such, he had broad responsibilities for developing educational programming for state parks throughout Indiana.

During this time, he met Edith Dymond at Turkey Run State Park, Indiana and they married there in 1955. Edith collaborated with him on his ornithological research and co-authored many research papers. Overlease returned to Michigan State University to pursue a PhD in Botany and Plant Pathology, which he completed in 1964. In 1963, he began working at West Chester, becoming a full professor in 1967. Some of the courses he taught were Ecology, Plant Taxonomy, Field Botany, Human Ecology, World Ecosystems, and undergraduate and graduate seminars, as well as summer mini-courses and workshops open to the public.

Overlease, along with undergraduate students, was instrumental in establishing the Gordon Natural Area at the South Campus as a permanent natural laboratory to study plants and animals. The process began the year after he began working at West Chester, when he found out that the Health and Physical Education Department wanted to develop 45 acres of forest on the South Campus. He urged that that land instead be preserved and used for ecological studies. At the first hearing, the project was turned down by the Board of Trustees, but the second effort in the early 1970s was fruitful, and on November 10, 1973, the Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies was dedicated.

Overlease’s curation of the William Darlington Herbarium was another important contribution to West Chester. The Herbarium originally belonged to the Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science, but when its membership dwindled in the later nineteenth century, the Cabinet donated all of its 17,000 plant specimens to West Chester. The specimens were mostly collected between 1828 and 1850, from all over the world: North America, Siberia, South Africa, Australia, Jamaica, the British Isles, the European Continent, and Egypt are all represented.

Over the years, various faculty members and students from the Science Department had ensured the preservation and organization of the specimens. In 1965, Overlease overhauled the cataloging system and created a card catalog to reflect the new system. Overlease also replaced the wooden cabinets the specimens had been stored in for decades with metal cabinets that offered the specimens much more protection.

Overlease published many scholarly papers on the subjects of ecology, botany, and ornithology, often co-authored with his wife Edith.

He retired in 1986 and passed away in 2007.

References Holt, Jack. 2011. “William R. Overlease (1925-2007).” Bartonia 65: 115-116. Accessed May 24, 2017.

Gordon, Robert B. “The William Darlington Herbarium of the West Chester State College.” [circa 1950s]. Box 1, Folder 30. Overlease Collection.

Overlease, William R. “A Short History of the William Darlington Herbarium.” 1989. Box 4, Folder 10. Overlease Collection.

Overlease, William R. [Curriculum Vitae]. [Circa 1983]. Box 8, Folder 19. Overlease Collection.


This collection possessed limited original order and only reflects any order imposed by Overlease in a limited way.
William Roy Overlease Collection
Jesse Brody
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Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the West Chester University Archives Repository