I fell in love with historic Harriton House when I was 12. I volunteered there for oh so many years, and still visited after I moved to Chester County. After I moved to Chester County, I actually introduced my husband and others to the place.
And part of why I loved the place so much, was the man who made Harriton House his life‘s work for almost 50 years, Bruce Cooper Gill. He literally made Harriton what it became. Or that is how I feel.
But Mr. Gill is no longer with Harriton House. There is a new executive director. She’s not so new at this point she’s been there almost a year. I think she was the wrong choice. And I’m allowed to have that opinion.
This year I will not be renewing my annual membership. I didn’t even go to the fair this year. I had been down near Harriton a couple of times after medical appointments in 2022, and I don’t like the way the property feels now.
Harriton House had always been a happy place for me, which is why I did a quick drive-by. I just wanted to see the place. It was almost like going back to look at your childhood home after your parents sold it.
I thought then that Harriton looked a little sad. The way I understand the arrangement is Lower Merion Township owns the land, but the Harriton Association owns the structures.
As I was growing up, and as an adult, I watched as they raised the money for Harriton and did the work and acquired the parcel that exists today piece by piece. It was very exciting. It was such a fine example of historic preservation in action.
When Harriton turned 300 years old a bunch of years ago now I actually got Harriton House on The Today Show. Willard Scott wished the house a happy 300th birthday. How it happened is my mother had some kind of a connection to Willard’s executive assistant, because of some other charity work she had done years before.
When they acquired what was the education center, which was formally the domicile of a little old lady who was quite the pack rat, I helped plant the first sunken garden in the ruin adjacent to it. There were other garden clubs involved caring for flowerbeds and other gardening at the site, but no one had done anything with this one area and first plants were purchased and I planted them as an act of volunteerism. After that initial time, a garden club took over and that was one of my favorite garden areas on the whole property for years. I forget which garden club it was, but they made it simply fabulous! It was gorgeous!
And that was one of the things that I noticed when I went by this summer in addition to the fence being gone from the front of the house. It didn’t seem like anybody was really tending to any garden beds any longer and that also made me sad. It was at that point that I decided I was kind of done with Harriton.
I had friends who stopped by the fair this year, and they said it just wasn’t the same. And I don’t think it can be the same because I don’t think there’s the energy there anymore. They had an executive director for decades who had boundless energy, talent, and knowledge. He inspired all of us to be there and to love the place as much as he did.
So now I think like all sorts of nonprofits they are hurting post-Covid. But this letter I got today just struck a nerve. I haven’t been particularly public about how I feel now about Harriton, but it’s my right as an American, and Charles Thompson did sign the Declaration of Independence and help us with those inalienable rights we know and enjoy today.
Anyway, part of the letter is they want to ask people for money to support the animals. I don’t remember them ever asking for money to specifically support the animals, and I find this a bit concerning because if they can’t take care of the animals on site any longer, they just shouldn’t have them. Right?
The letter goes on to say that the animals are part of the tradition of Harriton. maybe they are part of the “tradition”, but really who started that tradition? Oh, yes, the former executive director. It’s like they can’t say his name.
So to the President of the Board of the Harriton Association, I wonder aloud why the board can’t take care of the animals? Why can’t the not so new executive director?
Sadly, at least, for the time being Harriton has just become a pleasant memory. I hope for their sake, they raise the funds necessary, but it’s just not an organization I can support until I think things change for the better again.
This is just my opinion, I am not some giant benefactress with a bottomless checkbook, but I think there are a lot of people like me out there. We are just the regular people who give as they can for as long as they can.
Wishing the board of the Harriton Association the best of luck. Obviously they need it.