a new tale of ebenezer a.m.e. – an oral history

I have not written about the ruins of Ebenezer AME in a long time. But here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving and I have a wonderful story to share. It was sent to me by a former Chester County artist named Claude Bernardin who now lives in Bloomington, Indiana. He also knows my dear friend Catherine Quillman, the historian and artist who has helped me fill in the historical blanks on many an occasion.

What I am about to post are the words of Mr. Bernardin, and the lovely green bottle is a photo he sent to me. Oral histories like his are priceless. I wish my friend Al Terrell was alive to talk to Claude Bernardin!

From Claude Bernardin, his words (bold and italics):

Hiram Woodyard:

Died 12/20/1900 I believe. But certificate of death says 1/04/01.

He lived on an odd L shaped acre of land he was willed by Thomas Quay just below the corner of Conestoga Road and Bacton Hill Road. His parcel of land consisted ( I personally now believe… ) of a driveway easement that ran across Conestoga Road and up into the Church from the. Church rear.

His parcel of land would have been on the left side of Conestoga Road, after you turned right on Conestoga Road, heading downhill off Bacton Hill. You would first pass the old Peter Manning-smith Property ( pine trees ) a drive way and bridge on left.

Set of small woods separating the next larger Estate ( what we knew in the 1960’s and 1970’s as The Merith’s ).

That small stretch of woods used to be a long cart path heading up into the higher hills and woods between both Larger farms in the 1890’s.

Directly behind the white and green Meridith Victorian stucco farm house, back in the woods maybe 50 feet, along a little creek, on a hillside, over looking the Meriths, sits the stone foundation of an old One Room cabin. It had a small porch at one time over looking the stream and a circular well.

I grew up a stones throw away from it.

Today I think it belongs to whoever owns the Manning-Smith property and it is labeled a wild bird sanctuary.

My research suggests that this was the property of Hiram Woodyard. I dug antique bottles behind the foundation, by the big tree up stream, and even out in front of the ruins and down in that stream. That property clearly dates to 1880 – 1900.

About a decade ago an old high school friend of mine sent me some newspaper article that may have appeared in the daily local news about that region, and it mentioned some information that led me to believe that that was his property. I have since lost that information. However while working for an auctioneer I was able to get my hands on in the old 1800s map book of Chester County. Within it it showed the land parcels of that particular area and it clearly showed that property with a Cabin and I think an out house. I also own the Catherine Quillman book on the history of the Conestoga Pike, and I believe there is more information pertainingto that property within it. Putting all this information together, I have now come to the conclusion that that must be his property, and that the bottles that I dug belonged to him.

The last time I attempted to dig in that area I tried to dig out the cabin foundation from inside. It was just too much work for my friend and I. But I believe that there are bottles and other things down inside there. One of the things that we found was an old bedframe. The problem is that the foundation walls are collapsing into itself.

The hill beyond the cabin and down to the stream is some of the hardest clay soil I have ever dug!! If anyone was to try to do any digging in the future I would suggest using pitchforks. There are glass bottles on that hillside under the dirt, there is all kinds of barbed wire in the old wire as well.

Directly behind the cabin and in the woods further up the hill is an odd formation of land man made. I have never been able to quite figure out what it is. It is perhaps either the foundations of an old barn, or

It was a man made ice pond. In other words a deliberate formation to collect rainwater and to collect blocks of ice in the winter, a common practice back in those early days. If you are standing between the cabin and that formation, off to your far left is the Manning Smith pond, where there used to be a stone Springhouse. Off to your right back in the woods further up the hill there is the ruins of an old Springhouse as well.

This of course would be where they would need the ice.

This is a brief listing of the bottles that were found at this site:

Kickapoo Indian Sagwa

Dr. Chamberlain’s diarrhea cure

Ball and patent fruit mason jars

Ka-tonka, the Great Indian Remedy.

Note: both katonka and kickapoo came from a local traveling Penna. snake oil salesman wagon show.

Beer bottles: hollmans of Phoenixville, pa.

J. Harley of West Chester, Pa. and an apple green Chas. Jolly Blob beer from Philad.

Numerous unmarked clear whisky’ and medicines

Horlock malted milk

Heinz ketchup

Food product jars varying sizes

The Church:

My name is Claude Bernardin

I used to live at 425 Conestoga Road, east white land township.

My father: Charles, my mother : Elizabeth ( Betty )

They had 9 children.

We are all still alive.

In the 1960s I was between 5 to 12 years old. That neighborhood had a tremendous group of children of similar age. In fact at times we had little gangs.

We were quite adventurous, inventive, and curious. Many of us got to know every single character, and adult at that corner on a personal basis. We would do chores for them, many of us even took care of them in their old age. A specific legendary character that lived right at the crossroads in a two room handbuilt shack, was L with Michael. Mr. Michael was kind of a hobo subsistence farmer of legendary status in the community.

As I recall, the inside of the church was lined in cherry wood paneling the pews we’re still in it and what color cherry wood so was the podium.

He used to drive up and down Bacton Hill Road and Conestoga Road at all hours of the day but mostly at sunrise and the sunset on his silver gray Ford tractor to doing his bugle for all the kids to come running to say hello. He often left families with the gifts from the fields.

He was a welcome guest at our house, and in his very old age we took care of him and would bring dinner to him at his bedside. To us he was like our quirky uncle. I knew Elwood so closely that I can still hear the singsong high-pitched slangy twang of his voice. He actually talked in some sort of meter. He was a lovely man, who cared for his community.

As far as I know he never graduated from high school, and yet was one of the most intelligent man I ever knew. He read books all the time. He could recite hundreds of poems from memory, and often did while sitting on the edges of our beds to wake us up to come down and join him for breakfast.

He used to give us a ride up and down Conestoga Road and Bacton Hill.

To repay his kindness, we did our chores for him around his property, including chopping wood for his woodstove. We rode with him to the old Kane form across from the trailer court, and would help fix up his Haywagon’s and the old barn.

To him I was always “Claudey”.

My brother is Richard, and Peter were the mechanics and engineers in our family, also sometimes brother guy. They would help Elwood and others in the region with all kinds of mechanical needs.

Back in the mid-1960s the church was abandoned. Two children that stood out in the neighborhood from the trailer park, Doug Buettner, and George Berry.

Slightly up the street towards the corner was Bruce McNaughton. Bruce was my brother Peter is my brothers closest childhood friend, also a character.

The old church was a wonderful place. Back then it still had a roof , a wooden floor, and altar, a podium, and even church pews.

The windows were huge, with deep inset windowsills and very large wooden shutters. The floor was beginning to show signs of wear, and rot.

If my memory serves me correctly there wasn’t one broken glass window. However the roof did have holes in it.

When you walked in the front door off BactonHill Road, to your far right against the wall in the corner, was a ladder that ran to the top of the wall, it was quite rickety back then. I climbed it on several occasions trying to reach the attic, but I was afraid of heights and so I never made it. But the church must have had in the attic that ran the entire ceiling.

I can actually remember one of the older children standing at the podium to court order to our meeting, a little bit like the dead-end gang in those James Cagney movies I think. 🙂

We loved that church, and we never told anybody that we would have meetings in there and just hang out in there. By the time I was heading into college in 1976, all those children had grown up and moved away or gone their separate ways.

I had become a much more brooding artist type, so it became one of my favorite places to go to for privacy. Every now and again I would run into a raccoon.

Unfortunately by 1980 I became so busy in my life and my career I never got back there until the place had fallen in.

It remains one of my fondest memories of my childhood. I always found peace of mind in that place. The interior paneling was beaded wood paneling color of mahogany, it ran just under the windowsills. There were louvered shutters inside. Windows on outside had heavy 1890’s era double hung shutters. And deep sills. There was an attic crawl space the height of the church roof rafters with a floor, that ran full length of the church. When one entered the church door off Bacton Hill Road. The ladder up to it, It was in the front right corner. I climbed it twice – it seemed very high up to young boys.

Today I am a very well-known artist of the Chester County, in 2010, I was featured in a Catherine Quillman book called the 100 artists of the Brandywine Valley. I have done many many many paintings of that entire area. But my greatest joy was knowing all those people, and growing up in that specific spot. All of us still say we were lucky to have grown up in that region. Between the woods, the streams, the wildlife, the history you just couldn’t have asked for a better place to grow up.

My brother Richard took much care and concern throughout the 1970’s to try and cut the grass. More than most. We just got busy with our own lives.

Back in the late 60s, 1966 – 1971 my brother Richard and I, Jeffrey Manning Smith, Doug Buettner, Bruce McNaughton, we all periodically would go over to the church and cut the lawn and try to keep the weeds back. None of us really knew any history about the place, may be a bit of information came from L with Michael. But mostly no one really understood what the place was, and who once used it.

But I can recall numerous occasions we would take the lawnmowers there and cut the grass and grass with the tombstones. On several occasions we picked up the tombstones and had the wedge them up because they would have fallen.

We were aware of some bad kids in the neighborhood that had done some damage to the markers. They were scolded and warned.

We love the place and did as much work as we could after school when we would come off the school bus at that corner.

But as we grew from teenagers into young adults we became far too busy with our own lives to keep up with it.

It was also at this time that the rain water washing off Bacton Hill had become so severe that it was starting to cause erosion down through the graveyard. I can recall on several occasions complaining to my mother about it and saying I wish we could get someone to do something about this. My brother Richard and I on several occasions went there with shovels and buckets and did whatever we could to fix it back up. I do recall several graves being eroded enough that one could see down into them.

There was a specific grave that got hit the hardest every year we would have to go and fix it up. That grave was behind the church down maybe 6 feet, down the hill and behind a couple large trees off to the left. On one occasion I recall actually seeing skeletal remains. My brother and I did everything we could to cover them up and to keep the place sacred.

I had no idea the linkage of history between the church and the cabin off in the woods that I would go to to dig antique bottles. From 1970 to 1985, I spent much time campus seeing those hillsides, those woods and studying every inch of that as I could to preserve and try to find any artifacts and old bottles.

Behind the Meriths’ house and perhaps connected to woodyards cabin, I found another bottle dump. Out of that dump came many blob top beers, medicines, old jugs.

One of the bottles that made me laugh, was a mosquito bite cure, with a picture of a mosquito on it.

That area really hadn’t changed much in 100 years, as kids growing up there it could be awful at times with the mosquitoes!

Bottle I dug in stream probably used by Hiram Woodyard, dating 1895 -1889. Very rare color variant.

In my 30s, I was busy carrying on an art career, teaching art, and starting my own family. However I never forgot that place, and researched it when ever possible. One of my favorite places to research Montgomery and Chester County was the pottstown public library.

Back in the early 90s probably 1993 or 94 I checked out a book on the history of both counties.

It was a small book, and in fact now maybe it was two books I checked out. Hard for me to remember. Anyway within those books there was some documents written by soldiers in George Washington’s troops, I suppose taken from some sort of diary that they kept or reports giving back to the general.

In those reports, there was quite a lot of detailed information from soldiers in charge of their encampments. After the winter at Valley Forge, I suppose that Washington was still concerned with British troops. And so they needed to keep look out on the major roads, coming in and out of the area.

They wound up camping on that ridge, I truly believe that.

So cool. So awesome to learn even more about the area. And this re-affirms my belief the area is history worth saving and preserving for future generations. He also tells me that the Lenape Indians used to camp near there as well.

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deluxe pumpkin bread

Let the madness begin! Almost time for Thanksgiving! This morning I made the cranberry orange relish and this afternoon, pumpkin bread.

I somehow managed to pinch a nerve in my neck/shoulder so it has been slowwww going.

Here is the recipe for the pumpkin bread:

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon each ground nutmeg, cloves, cardamon

3 eggs

2 cups canned pumpkin

1 cup canola oil

2/3 cup white sugar

2/3 cup packed brown sugar – I prefer light

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup diced dried apricots

1/2 cup dark raisins

1/4 cup minced candied ginger

In one mixing bowl combine all the dried ingredients

In a second mixing bowl combine all the wet ingredients with the sugars.

When the wet ingredients and sugars are mixed, stir in the dry ingredients. Then fold in the nuts and dried fruit and candied ginger.

Pour into two greased and floured 8″ x 4″ loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 50 to 55 minutes (or more- today my oven took 1 hour and 5 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

YUM!

barclay friends neighbors sent me photos

I was visiting a friend in Chester County Hospital today and remarkably, you can smell the smoke from the fire inside the hospital. It’s crazy. It was like someone had a fire in their fireplace.

I have friends who live in that part of West Chester and they have smoke infiltration in their homes. I am only publishing a couple of photos, but there but for the grace of God go all of us.

Other friends of ours (as in a couple of different families) had family members evacuated from Barclay Friends last night. Their family members are safe and sound elsewhere.

Another friend who has been on the scene texted that the fire was not completely out.

Neighbors of Barclay Friends are among the scores of unsung heroes who helped residents to safety. Some media outlets are saying not all are accounted for? (See this report from ABC News ):

Authorities struggled on Friday to account for the whereabouts of all the residents of a Pennsylvania senior living community after a massive blaze tore through their complex during the middle of the night, injuring nearly 30 and leading to a chaotic evacuation.

West Chester Mayor Jordan Norley said Friday afternoon that a few of the more than 130 residents of the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community, located west of Philadelphia, were unaccounted for following the huge fire.

“We’re hoping for the best obviously here,” said Norley, who put the number taken to area hospitals at 29.

Officials said fewer than 20 remained hospitalized and all were in good condition.

County emergency officials said there was the possibility someone could have died in the fire, which erupted late Thursday night. But a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which was on the scene, told an afternoon news conference that no relatives had reported any family members missing.

Some patients are at Chester County Hospital. These people have lost everything. Especially photos and memories. It’s devastating.

At West Chester nursing home fire, a heroic effort to evacuate residents
by Laura McCrystal, Justine McDaniel, Tricia L. Nadolny & Emerson I. Max, INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS

Flames Rip Through Chester County Senior Living Community Displacing 150 Residents and Staff, Hospitalizing 27-The senior residents of the facility were evacuated into the bitter cold, and while more than 20 people transported to hospitals, officials did not elaborate on any injuries
By NBC10 Staff

The ATF was on scene this afternoon as well, so that should help people get answers, right?

It has been a very long day in the Borough of West Chester. On the eve of Thanksgiving I am grateful for all those neighbors, fire fighters, and EMTs and police who responded to this. I am told by friends that we can always drop off food or snacks to these volunteer fire companies. These men and women do this day in and day out.

Have a good night, all.

prayers for barclay friends

Most of us in Chester County woke up to those devastating news. Barclay Friends in the Borough of West Chester went up in flames as many of us, myself included, were sleeping. I have a friend whose mom was there, thank goodness she is now home and safe with her family. There are many, many displaced seniors as a result.

It is the eve of Thanksgiving and I think we must be grateful for the absolutely amazing first responders we have in Chester County. Firefighters, EMTs, police, and so on. I am not one to toss around the word blessed lightly, but we are so blessed with these heroic individuals because this could have been so much worse without their expertise and valor.

Daily Local : At least 20 injured, 100 flee into night as fire roars through West Chester senior living center (Photos)

Prayers go to the families with displaced seniors and the staff of Barclay Friends . I am happy to post legitimate fundraising efforts one Barclay Friends gets this sorted out to where they can do that. I am also happy to post efforts of groups who will be collecting clothing and other basics for these seniors. And if someone is planning to get Thanksgiving dinner to these displaced seniors.

These senior citizens could be anyone’s family members, and at least one is a family member of a friend.

I will admit I am so terrified at how fast Barclay Friends went up in flames. All media reports this morning indicate fire investigation is already beginning.

Also, and VERY important: you will note my photos come from social media. I am not going anywhere near that scene and neither should any curiosity seeker. Let the professionals do their jobs and stay out of the area in the Borough of West Chester.

Prayers up on this.

the fall into winter garden

I start this morning with a picture of one of my November roses. I have a handful of rose bushes still blooming, and yesterday I was able to cut a small bouquet.

Another oddity given the weather, is this morning I picked fresh raspberries from my raspberry bush. Yes, really!

I have not only planted a “layered” garden, I have done my best to make this garden four seasons. The beauty is different in the fall and in the dead of winter, but if you open your eyes and look around you see it.

I planted a lot of the red twig dogwood shrubs throughout my garden. Some have a variegated leaf some a solid green leaf. Once they start to shed their leaves, the other part of their attractiveness shines through. These shrubs get brilliant red stems that give you the most glorious color from late fall through the winter. There are few things as pretty as seeing a red twig dogwood against freshly fallen snow!

And my hydrangeas – they also provide their own four season attraction. The hydrangeas keep their flowers through most of the winter until winds and what not start to knock them off. (I finish dead heading them in the spring which is NOT the same as pruning. ) It becomes more like a dried flower still life versus the crazy vibrant colors of the growing season.

A lot of my herbs overwinter nicely in this garden as they have enough protection in the beds. I will never get things like basil to overwinter outside, but I have even had tarragon over winter here, which I hadn’t had before. My two big pots on the front walk are filled with lavender and thyme. I will not cut them back I will leave those herbs exactly as is. I finally figured out the trick to lavender was NOT cutting it back if you found a spot where it can overwinter.

I have a much more laissez faire attitude to my garden in the fall then a lot of people. First of all I have a lot of garden and I have to accept that I can’t do everything. So much to the surprise of many, I kind of let my fall garden do what it wants to do. I do not dead head everything. Among other things if you leave the seedpods and whatnot on your shrubs and perennials, it’s food for birds.

But I have discovered if I let my fall garden do what it wants I have this whole other display. It’s almost like looking at a whole other garden. Instead of nothing, I have interest.

We do rake and blow the leaves, and our forest and woods are mostly oak trees, so we put the leaves on the flower beds.

A garden in fall and winter doesn’t have the lush beauty of spring and summer and the riot of color. It’s more subdued and it’s also more structural. You are, after all, looking at the plants without their spring and summer finery.

I do spray everything for deer around now, and I will have to do so again even in the dead of winter. That is the trade-off for having a garden in deer country.

I planted the last of my fall perennials that I picked up on sale and one more shrub. After this weekend I just have some bulbs to plant. But I hadn’t felt like planting them because honestly it was too warm.

I plant mostly daffodils and Narcissus. I gave up on tulips years ago as they are just squirrel food. I like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs for mail order bulbs. Most local nurseries do not get the variety I like, and they are simply more expensive. I have also used a company out of Connecticut called Color Blends.

Today I bought the ceramic vintages birdbaths in and put them in their winter homes in the basement. I bought in one concrete birdbath top, leaving the largest one for my sweet man to flip over and cover for me. It’s just too heavy for me to move.

The kitchen herbs that I have in pots that I do not overwinter inside I will take out of the ceramic and clay pots and put into the flowerbeds. As a result I have a healthy bed of thyme (makes an awesome ground cover), and returning sage and other things like oregano and even some rosemary. I just dig them in and they get covered with leaves and what survives is meant to be and that’s the way it is.

My house looks sort of like a jungle because the Boston ferns have come in from their hooks in the backyard and once a week they get a good water and misting every other day.

During the winter months I will keep myself busy with my ivy topiaries, clivia, and my ferns. I used to do a lot of amaryllis bulbs but I really don’t have the room anymore and the last few years of bulbs I have purchased I have been disappointed in.

Anyway, the time has come for the gardens to sleep. We will be getting a hard freeze over the next couple of days. I will get in the balance of my bulbs, and look to my gardening magazines and catalogs for inspiration for next year. But I will also enjoy my garden in fall and winter. I hope you will too.

Thanks for stopping by.

swedish meatballs….my way

I love old school recipes.  One from my childhood is Swedish meatballs.  Not because we had any Swedish heritage – it was just one of those dishes my mother would make for us.  Over the years I have tweaked a basic recipe to suit me.

The weather has finally turned crisp and fall-like so I thought tonight would be a good night to dust off the recipe and prepare Swedish meatballs.  My recipe is NOT made with heavy cream and I add mushrooms and a couple of other herbs/spices. But the flavors work and you get that old school Swedish meatball flavor…enhanced.  Some add caraway seeds to either the gravy or meatballs, I add celery seed to the gravy

I also do something that I doubt anyone else does – I will prepare the meatball mix ahead of time the day I am cooking and refrigerate until it is time to make the meatballs.  That allows the spices to meld and perfume the meat mixture better.

Panko bread crumbs are superior to regular bread crumbs in my opinion, but the most important thing to remember is to use PLAIN breadcrumbs. This is not the recipe for flavored breadcrumbs.

Some use mashed potatoes, I like wide egg noodles.

I hope you enjoy my recipe if you try it. Watch the salt you add because of the sodium in most broths.

Swedish Meatballs My Way

  • 1 pound meatloaf mix
  • 1 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup onion, finely chopped x 2 or 1 cup
  • ½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon White Pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • Splash of buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon dill
  • 8 oz package baby bella mushrooms slices thin
  • 1 egg
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 2 cups beef broth or bison broth
  • 1 cup evaporated Vitamin D canned milk (also great for homemade macaroni and cheese) or half and half
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a medium sized bowl combine ground beef, panko, parsley, allspice, nutmeg, onion, garlic powder, white pepper, cumin, paprika, mustard powder, dash of buttermilk, salt and egg. Mix until combined. Put in refrigerator and chill a couple of   I do this because meat mixture flavor deepens.
  2. Roll into  20 + small meatballs. In a large dutch oven heat olive oil and 2 Tablespoons butter. Add the meatballs and cook turning continuously until brown on each side and cooked throughout. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil.
  3. Quickly sauté ½ cup minced onion and baby bella mushrooms
  4. Add 4 Tablespoons butter and flour to skillet and whisk until it turns brown. Slowly stir in beef broth and milk. Add Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard and dill and bring to a simmer until sauce starts to thicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Add a small dash of nutmeg (I mean small!) and celery seed.
  5. Add the meatballs back to the skillet and simmer for another few minutes. Serve over egg noodles or as the Brits call it, a “good mash” or plain mashed potatoes. I prefer egg noodles.