Local philanthropist helped found or was a member of numerous organizations
One of the area’s best-known and influential people passed away this week, leaving behind a historic, indelible legacy.
Thomas C. Marshall – or “Tom” to his friends – died on Feb. 12, after a long illness, at the age of 94. He is survived by his wife, Ruth Marshall, of 34 years.
Marshall was a founding member of the Wilmington and Western Railroad, and a founding director of the Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve.
He also served on the boards of many other philanthropic and non-profit groups, including Mercersburg Academy, Historic Red Clay Valley, the Friends of Old Drawyers and the Red Clay Valley Association.
Marshall’s family is well known for the formation of National Vulcanized Fiber (NVF) in Yorklyn, established in the early 20s, and for the 1890’s Auburn Heights Victorian style mansion that sits on a hill at the Auburn Heights Preserve.
Marshall spent the first 84 years of his life residing in that mansion until 2008, when he and Ruth Marshall decided to donate the mansion and the surrounding 360 acres to the state.
In November 2018, the site of the former Auburn Heights Preserve officially became Auburn Valley State Park – Delaware’s 17th and its first state park in decades.
According to a press release from the Marshall Steam Museum at Auburn Heights, in addition to his philanthropy and historical work, “he was widely respected among antique car collectors all over North America as one of the world's foremost authorities on Stanley Steamers.”
In his lifetime, Marshall had amassed the largest working collection of steam operated cars in North America, and is known internationally for his collection.
A 1941 graduate of the Wilmington Friends School, Marshall attended Mercersburg Academy for a year before going on to M.I.T. in 1942-43.
He then served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946 as a weather forecaster in New Mexico and then as an aerial weather observer on a B-24 flight crew in the Western Pacific.
Following his service, Marshall worked in the travel industry, eventually building and managing two Holliday Inns in New Castle County.
Throughout all that time, Marshall stayed focused on his growing collection of Stanley Steamers – a fascination that began when his father, Clarence, served as the sales agent for the Stanley Motor Carriage Co. from 1910 to 1920.
Marshall began his collection in earnest, eventually finding and restoring 17 cars that he gifted to the Marshall Steam Museum, bringing their complement to 20 working steam cars.
New Castle County Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick, Dist. 3, said she was saddened to hear of Marshall’s passing, adding that she had first met Marshall years ago while serving on the Wilmington and Western Board.
“Over the years I got to know him, and realized what a wonderful giving person he was. While he asked for little, he was always ready to give.” Kilpatrick said. “He was a special, unique and unpretentious man who will be missed by many.”
Charles Shattuck, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, said Marshall never had an unkind word to say.
“He’s leaving behind a huge legacy,” Shattuck said. “He could have sold that house and the land and we’d have a Toll Bro’s. [housing development] there now. Instead, they donated it.”
“With the railroad, he did a lot of [historic] work - he loved steam” said Joe Lake, Hockessin historian and founding member of the Historic Red Clay Valley Association, which eventually helped found the Railroad.
Lake added that Marshall, as a HRCVA member, was instrumental in preserving the Greenbank Mill, which was later destroyed by arsonists in 2016 and eventually restored.
Marshall Steam Museum executive director Susan Randolph that while Marshall’s passing was not a surprise due to his illness, the fact that he died on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday couldn’t be a coincidence.
“The man planned everything – he hated surprises,” Randolph said. “And he was a great admirer of Lincoln, so it comes as no surprise that he chose that day to leave us.”
Calling Marshall “the most non-elderly elderly person I ever knew,” Randolph described Marshall as a big kid with a knack for talking with children and a lifelong interest in technology.
“We had a younger staff member show him and explain [the Pokemon Go! mobile application], and he shook his head and said, ‘isn’t it just amazing what they can do?’” Randolph said. “We expected him to say something like, ‘boy these kids today.’ But no, he was fascinated. He was an extraordinary individual.”
Further details about Marshall, including memorial information, can be found at auburnheights.org.