tales of bacton hill: elwood michael

Elwood’s greenhouse and tool shed. (1970s?)
Claude Bernardin photo

Today I received an e-mail from former East Whiteland/Bacton Hill resident, Mark Lanser. Today he has generously shared his recollections of Elwood Michael who was one of the local and beloved characters once upon a time.

These oral histories of everyday, ordinary folks are just as important to the fabric of the history of an area as our Revolutionary war heroes and the famous who passed through. The photos are from artist and former resident Claude Bernardin.

Enjoy!

🔏📍As I have a few moments I’ll share with you a bit about Elwood Michael. You have a picture that Claude supplied of his cabin on one of your past blogs.

Elwood told me he came to Bacton with his brother from Phoenixville along with his brother in a covered wagon in 1910.

All I know of Elwood was that he was basically a tenant farmer.

When I first met him as a little kid he was employed by Mary Cain to take care of the farm at the corner of Spring Valley & Bacton Hill Rd. I think he may have lived on the farm for a while. He also was farming a piece of ground at the top of Bacton Hill where Valley Hill Rd. intersects. That was on the left side as you went up the hill.

Elwood had a old Fordson tractor one of the gray & red ones. He had a sister who gave him a few cars over the years. A black 1941 Ford 2 door sedan (my dad bought it from him) a black Plymouth 4 door (1950 I think) and a light blue 1955 Ford 2 door sedan. Elwood would end up ruining them by driving them through the fields he plowed.

His cabin had two rooms. One had a large cook stove which was a wood burner. Besides cooking it was his only source of heat.

The other room was his bedroom/living room. It had one light bulb in the ceiling. No other lights in the place. He had 3 dressers stacked on top of each other. You needed a ladder to get to the top one.

He had a rooster named Pete who was an ornery cuss. You always had to be on the look out as he would come after you on your blind side.

He had two dogs. One was an Airedale named Jackie. Another smaller one was a black & white dog. I don’t remember it’s name. Elwood would tell us he kept a rattlesnake there but it got out of its cage so we better keep a look out.

Elwood had half his teeth missing, a few days of beard and smelled like smoke. At times he would show up at our house and others conveniently at dinner time. We knew he needed a meal and always asked him to stay. Often he would end up falling asleep. We would go to bed and he would be gone in the morning.

The next evening we would find a gallon of apple cider on the porch as a thank you. Sometimes when he needed a ride he would get on our school bus and he would get dropped off along out bus route. Can you imagine doing that now?

To help our neighbors he once drug old logs out of the woods from alongside the field he plowed at Valley Hill road. He drug them down Bacton Hill with his tractor and lined the one side of Kirby’s driveway as it had a steep bank on the one side.

Another time he took an old wood stove from the now abandoned green house on the Mary Cain farm and took it over to the Mannigsmith’s who lived just below Bacton Hill Rd. On Rt.401. He installed it in their spring house complete with a stove pipe chimney which of course he cut a hole in the roof to install it. Mr Manningsmith while appreciative of his thoughtfulness would have rather been asked first.

My brothers and I had gotten rides with Elwood over to a Baptist church in Charlestown Twp. He would stop along Rt. 29 at Mrs. Markley’s (KD Markley Elementary School) to get his water from her spring along side the road.

Sunday morning Elwood would put on his top hat and blow his bugle to get everyone up on the hill to go to church. He continued to farm and died on his old Fordson tractor while plowing the field along Valley Hill Road. He had a heart attack. I think he was 76 years old. I don’t know the exact date. My brother at some point is going to check into that. It was around 1966.

He was quite a character and helped make our childhood growing up on Bacton Hill unique and memorable. Hope you enjoy some of my memories.

~Mark Lanser🔏📍

Elwood’s two room shack. Claude Bernardin submitted photo. All of these old photos in this post are from his personal collection.

more tales of bacton hill

The farmhouse demolished a couple of years ago on Bacton Hill Road for development of houses yet to be built.

One of my favorite bits of Chester County, which is in my opinion completely under recorded and insufficiently remembered for what it represents is the area in Frazer, East Whiteland, Chester County known as Bacton Hill. That is where my favorite ruin, Ebenezer AME is located on Bacton Hill Road. Ebenezer was a very early AME church, and Bishop Richard Allen was still alive when the Quaker, James Malin, deeded the land to the AME Church so Ebenezer could be built. The origins of the AME Church go back to the Free African Society which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established in Philadelphia in 1787. Richard Allen was born a slave in 1760. He was owned and then freed by Benjamin Chew.

Ebenezer on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer (East Whiteland) is a sacred and historic place. It’s no secret I have written about this place for years.

As referenced above, the AME Church grew out of the Free African Society in the late 1700s, but the church became it’s own entity founded in Philadelphia around 1816. So you can see given the age of Ebenezer AME in East Whiteland, Chester County, PA that it is truly part of the early days of a church and religion founded in Philadelphia. Bishop Richard Allen died in 1831, just months before Ebenezer came to be after Joseph Malin deeded the land.

Hiram Woodyard was a Township resident and former slave who served in the Union Army as a teamster. He was a leader in the African American community and is buried at the Ebenezer AME Church. His home still stands on Congestoga Road. Other homes he built still stand. He was an inhabitant of Bacton Hill.

Without active preservation there will come a time that all which will be left of the area will be my blog posts including this one from 2017 which is an oral history complete with some really cool photos courtesy of Claude Bernadin, or this one from 2015, this one from 2016, this one from 2017, the ceremony November 2016, a post from October 2016, another one from October 2016, when for brief moment people stopped to visit the old souls now covered by weeds and brush once more, 2015 post which had links to earlier posts. Also what will survive will be the occasional newspaper article from every newspaper reporter who tried to raise awareness to this area and to Ebenezer.

Once upon a time people tried to get a Bacton Hill Historic District or something like that. It’s a shame it never happened. Because at least then there would have been a more organized history of the place. (See Juneteenth post for more.)

Bacton Hill was an early freed black settlement and not just important in Frazer, East Whiteland, but Chester County. It has always been of historic import, yet it never made it to a historic district.

Today I am sharing some memories of Bacton Hill from former resident, Mark Lanser. He grew up with artist Claude Bernadin, whose memories and photos I shared before.

Here is Mark in his own words:

đź“ŚJust wanted to share a bit of my memories growing up on Bacton Hill. I am not sure of what be of interest. I have memories which some may be bit fuzzy but I believe they are mostly intact.

We : my parents Richard & Norma and my 4 brothers Rick, Chris, Scott & Elliott. I was number two son between Rick & Chris. The area before Rt. 202 was built was relatively quiet. I traveled around the area with Claude Bernardin collecting bottles.

I also had a paper route for the daily local news when I was 12 (1967). One of my customers was Mary Cain. Their original home was their farm at the intersection of Bacton Hill & Spring Valley roads. I remember when Mrs. Cain turned 100. She eventually lived to be 108. I think her son was named John (?) Don’t remember her daughter in law’s name. Her son died in his 80’s before his mom. They told me that she was the last proprietor of the Bacton General Store. That was the residence of Barry & Judy Love at the time. It is located on Bacton Hill (401) almost directly across from Bacton Hill Rd. It is literally just several feet off the road. They told me of a time in the late 1920’s when 5 people froze to death in a blizzard out side the farm in a snow drift. At the time they were telling me this they were living on Spring Valley Road a few hundred yards west of Bacton Hill Rd.

I think that the town itself lasted until the Second World War and then lost the post office. My recollection was the general store was built in 1810. Our house midway up the hill was supposedly built in 1732 but the date stone had been removed from the second floor so I never confirmed that.

I was told by Miss Hopper who lived in the log cabin next to us to our west that it was built in 1704. Then was the tavern the next house up just above Spring Valley Road. My recollection was the date stone there was 1765. In regards to the tavern Mr. Cain said the “colored folk” (Mr. Cain’s description back then no offense meant) had some gatherings that went late into the night and were quite lively.

Please let me know if this is of any interest. I am obviously not a writer but I could share some more details about Elwood that Claude wrote about , Miss Hopper, & the cave among others as I can recall them.đź“Ś

The oral histories of an area are as important as the historical facts and recorded historical activities. For example, I heard at one time it was rumored adjacent to the trail where there are office suites at Swedesford Road and Bacton Hill Road there were possibly remains of Revolutionary War Soldiers at one time. But there is nothing documented that I can find so it might not be true. But given the age of the area and the documented historical sites all around, could it be possible? Sure. And that’s another thing where I wonder if people have memories of finding arrowheads, or other little relics?

Bacton Hill today is nothing like people remember even only back to the 1960s and 1970s. Because it’s not a preservation area, structures come down. Like what I knew as the old green farmhouse which will be the last photo here on this post today, as well as the first photo. A lot of the road feels industrial today, which were not the origins, it’s just how it evolved .

There are a smattering of homes on and off Bacton Hill Road up near the intersection with Conestoga Road or Route 401 which still exist. Most of the truly old homes that have stood since the 18th and 19th century are on Conestoga Road. And they are lovely. I love that they endure in spite of all that is torn down around them.

As a blogger, if there is something I can give to this area, it’s bits of the history of individuals who lived there. I am also interested in the history of the black settlement which once existed because that’s so historically important vis a vis Ebenezer AME. If you have anything to add, or tales to tell, historical photos, old area photos, either on Bacton Hill, what was once the village (general store, post office, etc), or close by on 401/Conestoga Road, I am happy to listen and view the photos.

Thanks for rambling with me today.

the old hershey’s mill continues to come back to life!

In June of 2020 much to my delight, I discovered the old Hershey’s Mill at Hershey’s Mill Road and Green Hill Road was getting a new lease on life.

We passed by today and the restoration continues! This is so refreshing and lovely to see!

Restoration is possible with unique old buildings. We can’t wait to see it completely restored!

new life for a consignment store settee

After Christmas in 2013, I purchased the below settee from Consign-It Furniture in Kennett Square, PA. This had been manufactured for Hess Brothers in Allentown. The tag on the bottom of the piece said Hess Brothers. At the time I researched it and found it to be mid-century vintage.

I am not a big pattern person but I loved the settee’s shape and the arms and back in particular. So I lived with it for a few years and grew accustomed to the pattern until this year. I decided I was sick of the fabric and the piece was starting to sway in the middle underneath and get a little bulge.

So I began the hunt for an upholsterer. I did not wish to use the same person I used on a vintage wing chair a few years ago. It wasn’t that the upholstery job itself was bad, it’s that the price I was paying went from being agreed-upon to a moving target without notice. And when I compared notes with people and other upholsterer’s after the fact I paid probably $500 to $600 more for that chair to be reupholstered than I should have. It was a learning curve.

So I start looking for upholsterer’s and took a look at Ken’s Upholstery on Facebook. When I saw some of the work he had done from the bare bones of a stripped down furniture frame to finished piece, I knew this was the person I wanted to call.

We spoke and I think at first he didn’t know what to make out of me. I can be tough. But I kind of want to know what somebody’s about before I do business with them. The owner Ken and I bonded initially over 4th Street in Philadelphia. You see, 4th Street below South is where I went for years as a child with my parents to pick out fabric and sewing notions and trim.

My mother has always sewed, and we would also go into the fabric district there on 4th street for upholstery fabric for furniture and fabric for curtains and draperies. I remember being little and playing under the big workbenches where they would roll out the giant bolts of fabric to measure and cut. It was really kind of cool. Most of those places don’t exist anymore. I have all of these memories including back-and-forth discussion with the fabric sellers about what fabrics had a hard enough finish that would survive as upholstery and drapes.

So Ken came out to visit with sample books of fabrics which had been wiped down with sanitizing wipes. He came with gloves and a mask on. Which made me comfortable because face it, this year has been anything but normal with COVID19.

We discussed what I wanted and he took initial measurements and left me with the fabric books for a few days to decide what fabric I would choose.

I chose my fabric, and my quote was firmed up and emailed to me in writing and I provided a deposit for the fabric cost.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving they came and picked up the settee. I received photos all the way through the process, including when they took it down to the studs and found out that indeed the front legs were loose. So they stopped everything and put the settee frame back together the way it should be, and rebuilt her. Ken literally kept me updated every step of the way. I didn’t have to do the follow up, he just does it as a matter of best business practice.

The finished product speaks for itself. I had no idea such a gorgeous piece of furniture was living inside my consignment store settee! Ken’s Upholstery knocked it out of the park for us!

The settee is so gorgeous to me. The attention to detail and the time they took is self-evident. Oh I have provided a close-up of one of the arms in a photo because that’s very difficult to pull off and the tucks and everything have to be just right.

I will note that I am just a regular customer and the reason I am writing up my review is I think this business owner deserves all the accolades possible for just doing an amazing job and being a super nice, decent person. He’s very positive in a time when it is hard for anyone, let alone a small business owner to be positive.

I recommend Ken’s Upolstery highly! And his pricing is beyond fair.

I have attached a screenshot of the business card to give anyone interested all their information. Lots of interior designers in the greater Philadelphia/Main Line region he has been a best kept secret. But why go through the up-charges when you can deal directly with a craftsman like this?

If any of you out there are looking to get anything recovered I hope you will consider them!

Thanks for stopping by!

lisa rocks! (and votes)

#VOTE (And she was at Frazer Post Office too!)

always love for loch aerie

My friend Catherine Quillman, who is a Chester County artist, author, and historian sent me a note the other day. Yes , she is one of those people like myself who occasionally sends real notes. (Only hers are always so much better because they usually involve a little piece of her art or a cartoon she has drawn.)

Anyway she sent me this old art advertisement she came across and it’s about Loch Aerie. It was done for Chester County artist Christopher Schultz in 1994 when he was selling a print he made of Loch Aerie that was slightly fanciful.

What makes this old advertisement so special is I don’t think Catherine knew I used to own one of these prints! I had bought it off a yard sale group and it lived on my guestroom wall until I found a C. Phillip Wikoff print I liked better. (I also found that print on a yard sale group.)

So when I heard the current owners of Loch Aerie (the Poiriers ) had rescued her, I decided I would give the Loch Aerie print to them as a housewarming/welcome to the neighborhood kind of thing. And I did just that. But this advertisement is part of the provenance of the print so I will give them this too!

Local history and local artists are always intertwined and this is just a cool thing! Thanks Catherine for always thinking of me!

chester county landmarks and a chester county artist

A while ago, in between people cursing me out on my blog’s facebook page for daring to discuss things rationally out of their comfort zone, I had posted something and a relative of the Chester County artist Henry T. MacNeill told me about his pen-and-ink sketches. So I hunted down a copy of this super cool little book that was full of his sketches, done by his family printers owned by his son, Stephen Moylan, for Chester County Day in 1956.

Ok so how cool is that to stumble across thanks to one of my readers? I am also including an article about the Stephen Moylan Press.

We are nothing without our history.

I am also including links embedded here because sometimes people have a hard time with Scribd.

What I realized as I got into this was I often see Henry MacNeill drawings as vintage postcards! A website Postcard History wrote about Mr. MacNeill this summer. I also found an old blog post by one of Mr. MacNeill’s great granddaughters Jennifer MacNeill (who is also a brilliant artist and photographer.)

Now a plug for Chester County Day. This is a beloved Chester County Tradition. COVID-19 forced them off their normal routine and they have done virtual tours (CLICK HERE TO TAKE THEM.) They also need our donations to keep the tradition alive. CLICK HERE TO MAKE A CHESTER COUNTY DAY DONATION. I will be doing so before year end.

Happy Sunday!

days gone by…frazer

Sometimes it’s just lighting. But it sets a mood.

I stopped to take pictures of the laundromat and car wash in Frazer, East Whiteland that are now closed and frozen in time. Eventually the wrecking ball will come a calling, but right now I can take some photos so one day when someone asks what was there, we remember.

A car wash and a laundromat. Things people still use. But not sexy enough when it comes to development and the future, right?

Enjoy the photos.