playing tourist in chester county: rambling around marshallton

Every once in a while you need a staycation day. Today was mine. My friend Chris and I went to Marshallton today.  We played tourist in our home county. We rambled in Chester County.

Everyone knows I have not been very mobile since my knee injury at the end of February/ first couple days of March and subsequent surgery in May.  (Yes, it took that long.  I couldn’t walk, and I certainly couldn’t drive and U.S. healthcare has a long and winding and irritating process if you do not practice Emergency Room medicine, as in push to the head of the line and bypass everything by going straight to the E.R.) So now, as I go through the process if physical therapy, I am thrilled to get out again.

My friend picked me up and we went to The Four Dogs Tavern.  I had forgotten how amazing the food is and how wonderful the ambiance, and the terrific and friendly staff. We had the beet salad, which was amazing, and split the mushroom and goat cheese flatbread.

Then we did the senior stroll of the village of Marshallton – I am moving like a snail still.  But oh, to take in the beauty of this village!  This is so what Chester County is about.

My late father loved Marshallton and in particular, the Marshallton Inn.  When some of my girlfriends and I were in our twenties we loved the then Oyster Bar and way back in the dark ages of the late 1980s some were dating guys who competed in the Marshallton Triathlon (and wow what a party afterwards!)

So flash forward to me as a quasi grown-up (some days are better than others!) and today.  Marshallton is more beautiful than ever and the gardens are marvelous!  Ran into another friend and met a nice man named Ernie and his wife.  Ernie was restoring an antique buggy on his front porch.

Ernie encouraged us to go back further down the lane by his home to see the Bradford Friends Meeting, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.  I am so glad he did!  I had never seen it in person before.

Marshallton is just the village to remind you what Chester County is about.  Marshallton is an unincorporated village in Chester County and a Federal Historic District. The Marshallton Historic District has 65 contributing structures and 3 contributing sites. Marshallton is like a living history site, living proof that historic districts and preservation can work. 

Marshallton lies within West Bradford Township.  In recent years it has faced encroachment of development from the surrounding area.

We did not wander up Strasburg Road to see where Marshallton Walk is, for example. Stargazers Village that thing that was  contentious enough, that it  doesn’t appear to be more than “coming soon” I guess? (Stargazers shows up on this “Envision” website.)

And then there was Embreeville, which started out life as the  Chester County Almshouse in 1798. It is also where Indian Hannah is purportedly buried.

Embreeville has had no news since February 2017 when West Bradford saidZoning Hearing #395 for Embreeville Redevelopment, LP scheduled for February 1, 2017 has been continued to a date uncertain.   There was no hearing on February 1st.  Any resumption of the hearing will be after public notice and will be posted on this website.”  (Embreeville has been so crazy it has it’s own page on West Bradford’s website.)

Now the Marshallton Conservation Trust which was created in 2009 exists to help preserve the village and surrounding rural area:

“Motivated by the desire to see the Marshallton area return to a safe, walkable community and its rich history preserved, several residents formed this 501c3 non –profit in 2009. Marshallton Conservation Trust is committed to preserving the historic integrity and the quality of life in this very special area for future generations….The Marshallton Conservation Trust (MCT) promotes the preservation and improvement of the Marshallton community through initiatives focused on maintaining and improving its livability along with its distinctive character.”

Marshallton Conservation Trust also sponsors many events.  As a matter of fact the 44th Marshallton Triathlon is October 1st. 

But back to the history.  Reference a website called Living Places:

The Marshallton Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.

…The Marshallton Historic District is located along the Strasburg Road in central Chester County. It assumed its present configuration between the 1760s-1880s, with scattered infill and rebuilding occurring into the 1920s. Of the 71 principal buildings in the Marshallton Historic District, 67 contribute to its historical and architectural significance. The 4 non-contributing buildings include three from the 1930s-40s (a dwelling, store, and apartment building) and a c.1965 brick dwelling. Of similar size and scale to the district’s contributing buildings (by which they are far outnumbered), these non-contributing buildings do not detract from Marshallton’s overall architectural unity.

Marshallton lies only four miles west of the county seat of West Chester; its surroundings are still rural. Leaving West Chester by the Strasburg Road, one passes sprawling farms, open fields, and pasture land. There is a small group of historic buildings near the nationally registered Cope’s Bridge on the East Branch Brandywine River, and then more open country….

The Marshallton Historic District is primarily significant for its association with Strasburg Road, established in the late 18th century as a thoroughfare between Philadelphia and Strasburg in Lancaster County. Throughout 200 years of its history, Marshallton’s focus has been on Strasburg Road, and both literally and figuratively its growth has paralleled the road’s. With its integrity of setting and well preserved collection of buildings representing a variety of historic uses, Marshallton today conveys a clear, sense of the past — when the Strasburg Road was a primary transportation route and, capitalizing on its location, the village functioned as a rural service center for both travelers and nearby farmers.

Marshallton can trace its origins to the 1760s when a few houses, a Quaker Meeting, an inn, and a blacksmith shop were loosely grouped near the intersection of the roads to Strasburg and Downingtown. At that time the Strasburg Road was actually a fragmented series of local roads leading west.

 

More on Marshallton:

Unionville Times Living History: A tale of two names, Marshallton and the Marshalton Inn Aug 10th, 2012 

 

Marshallton Conservation Trust: The Village of Marshallton, West Bradford, Chester County PA

 

Marshallton History Off of West Bradford Website

 

National Register of Historic Places Marshallton

I had one of the best afternoons I had in a while.  Good company, a nice lunch, and photographing one of Chester County’s most beloved gems.

Go to Marshallton.

Soak it in, have a meal at Four Dogs, support the village’s ongoing preservation efforts and events.

Walk down the street like we did and wonder about all of the people who walked it before us. Be in the moment of some amazing history and just a lovely and charming spot.

It’s what Chester County is all about.

public parks and private money: good partnerships?

The Willows Radnor Township

The Willows in Radnor has been the subject of controversy in recent years. The buildings needs massive renovations to bring it up to code. And the past few years residents and Radnor Township have struggled on how to best use the site.  They put out an RFP a few years ago and people thought a caterer would take over the house and make it a wedding venue. That fell through. Then a nursery school wanted to move in, and another proposal involved a private citizen buying the house (people incorrectly refer to it as a mansion, it is in fact just a house that sits on a spectacular property!)

Now the Willows is being studied yet again. It has been in the local papers.  It is an example of how communities struggle with publicly owned properties being run by private concerns. Hypothetically these are great adaptive reuses and can be great to keep the life in old and historic structures, but it’s a balance.  The problem as I see it with the Willows has always been the disconnect between the politicians and the people.  

Kennedy Supplee Mansion

For over 20 years the Kennedy Supplee Mansion at the edge of Valley Forge Park was a successful high end restaurant. But then around 2006 that came to an end when the business that owned the restaurant went under.  Since then, the place has slowly deteriorated. Last year I had seen on the National Park Service website an open RFP to I guess get a new tenant. I do not know whatever happened with that RFP.

This is not a new concept at Valley Forge National Historic Park, but over the past couple of years the topic has been getting more attention.

Daily Local: Valley Forge is renting out historic buildings to businesses
By Gary Puleo, gpuleo@21st-centurymedia.com
POSTED: 01/26/15, 4:58 PM EST | UPDATED: ON 01/27/2015


UPPER MERION >> How would you feel about heading over to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a double shot cappuccino and a blueberry scone — in a quaint café setting where memories faintly resonate off the walls?

It could happen before too long.

The National Park Service has put a few historic buildings up for commercial use, including the venerable Maurice Stephens House, which one entrepreneur is eyeing to transform into a charming cafe.

“We’ve had a couple of groups through the building and one is interested in turning it into a café of sorts so that people at the park will have a place to go to get a cup of coffee and a bite to eat,” explained the park’s business manager Patrick Madden, standing outside the 1816 stone farmhouse nestled off of Route 23.

Valley Forge Park needs help. No doubt. I am not sure how the money was spent over the past few decades, and I think it was a huge mistake when they lost the now new and opened and fabulous American Revolutionary War Museum to Philadelphia.

Now Valley Forge just had some great news I learned courtesy of my pal Caroline at Savvy:

Thanks to its newly invigorated citizen militia, the nonprofit Valley Forge Park Alliance, it’s marching forward with dazzling plans that will affect ALL of us – anyone who “recreates” in the park (90 percent of visitors), brings guests there, or even drives through. Ten Hut!

Here’s what’s afoot:

1. A TV show. Star fixer-upper Jeff Devlin, host of “Stone House Revival” on HGTV/DIY Network wants to film six episodes in the park and forge an ongoing partnership….

…..2. A new café with character – and a scenic deck for walkers and cyclists. A local real estate guy (not allowed to tell you who yet) is in serious talks with the National Park Service to lease the Maurice Stephens House….For the record: Of the 113 buildings scattered around the park, 74 are historic and 12 of those are colonial era. Bare bones budgets have left many in rough shape, or worse. The Stephens House was built in 1816.

Already a hit: Weddings in the park. Spiffed up and leased by Robert Ryan Catering, the old Philander Chase Knox Estate and adjoining tent hosted 30+ shindigs its first year and will host at least 44 more in 2017.

Ok I make absolutely NO secret of it that I am an old house geek. I am a HUGE fan of Jeff Devlin. He is the real deal and his work is gorgeous. So I think his potential investment in Valley Forge is awesome.

I do not think creating a respite for tourists, cyclists, etc in the form of a café  at the Stephens House is a bad idea per se, although a “scenic deck” gives me pause because I think the historic structure should remain intact so how will a “scenic deck” be constructed? What money will stay with this old house to help it in the future? I have that concern given the condition of Kennedy Supplee and the fact that mansion had a long term tenant …..until they didn’t.

Reader submitted photo pre-wedding venue days at Knox House

So another park structure the Philander Chase Knox House is now a wedding venue. And it is NOT cheap to marry there according to weddingspot.com which said:

The average wedding cost at Philander Chase is estimated at between $15,705 and $23,044 for a ceremony & reception for 100 guests.

Knox House has gotten freshened up. It is a rented space, but it sits in the midst of a PARK as in Federally owned, taxpayer funded land. They have put up signs asking people to walk a longer way around during events and that seems to be mighty inconvenient if you want to get to Mt. Misery from the main park side. (I have not seen with my own eyes and given the way my knee is still wonky post-surgery.)

Reader submitted photo

I am guessing preservation here comes at a cost because yesterday a friend of mine who is an avid outdoorsman and who loves Valley Forge Park sent me a note about Knox House as a wedding venue:

….People go to hear bird chirping, and enjoy peace and as much quiet as possible without piped in music from loudspeakers. Yesterday got to listen to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder while enjoying Mt. Misery and Mt. Joy. Unreal!

Since Knox went wedding venue I know people who were used to cutting through to a public parking lot by using the house driveway have been stopped by I presume catering or valet staff. Now if an event is in progress maye that would be understandable, but I keep coming back to this house sits in a publicly funded park, so how does all of this work? How should all of this work as a public private partnership?

Should the tenant have to put up some sort of aestheticslly appealing fencing that would delineate the space in its entirety?

So when structures are rented out on publicly owned land to private parties is it a good thing or is it a form of prostitution? Some critics actually DO consider these partnerships sacrelige and not respectful of the history.  Advocates see these partnerships as a necessary evil: adaptive reuse helps old and historic structures survive in a modern world. 

But….are the rules defined enough with these public- private partnerships? And what money out of revenues earned are put aside for historic structures these businesses are renting? Should there almost be managed trust accounts for these buildings?

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?

saving history through salvage

Pattye Benson photo

When you love history and historic preservation, there are things that make your heart beat faster.

Preservation is a balancing act. Not everything can be saved in perpetuity. Such was the case of Fritz Lumber in Berwyn. But now I have learned from my dear friend and Preservation  Wonder Woman, Pattye Benson, that Fritz’s beautiful big old red barn as it is deconstructed, will be going to the restoration of the Jones Log Barn!  

Here is what Pattye wrote:

 

The final phase of the rebuilding of the Jones Log Barn is finally underway! With the generous help of Stacey Holmes Ballard and Eadeh Enterprises, the Trust is now able to complete the Jones Log Barn at Duportail House. Scott Walker of Axe Handle Timber is the contractor for the project. 

 The Barn Saver of Lancaster County is deconstructing the large red barn at Fritz Lumber — the materials from the red barn will help complete the Jones Log Barn. How wonderful that a part of the of the Fritz Lumberyard Development project will also include the rebuilding of the 18th century Jones Log Barn.

For all of those who support historic preservation, we are asking you to ‘like’ the Rebuilding the Jones Log Barn Facebook site and follow the progress of the project. The Living History Center at Duportail will be a win-win for the community!

This is what it is all about: all these different people coming together with true generosity of spirit to save history, salvage history, and pay it forward! Bravo!