Bits of history can be as fascinating. I stumbled across this check from 1867 when I was looking for treasures at one of my favorite spots. This was drawn on the National Bank of Chester County.
The National Bank of Chester County was founded around 1814. In 1837 it’s iconic bank building opened at 17 N. High Street in West Chester, PA. And another fun fact? Until 1857 it was the only bank in Chester County. The bank no longer exists, but its location/building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
I found a little about Francis H. Gheen:
So that check was written to him two years before he got married. $300 was a larger sum in those days, I wonder what he was being paid for?
📌Francis H. Gheen, son of Edward H. and Phebe J. (Hickman) Gheen, was married to Ann E. Brinton in Philadelphia, Pa. on February 25, 1869.
Daily Local News, West Chester, Chester County, Pa January 25, 1921
Francis H. Gheen
After an illness lasting about ten days, Francis H. Gheen passed away last evening at his home on North High street. He was in the 85th year of his age.
The deceased was born July 6th, 1836, on the farm of his parents, Edward and Phoebe Hickman Gheen, in East Bradford, on the property purchased by the late Bayard Henry. He received his early education in the public schools of the township, and was then sent to a private school in Vermont, but came back home later, and remained on the farm. When his father ded he took possession of the place, making it a model farm. He afterward purchase a farm of his own.
It was n 1869 that he came to West Chester and started in the banking business, being located where the Farmers & Mechanics Trust Company now stands, the firm being known as Gheen, Morgan & Co. Later, Mr. Gheen decided to open an establishment for making wagons and selling the same, and established himself on East Chestnut street, where he continued in business for along time. Later, when he quit this line, being a fine judge of horses and cattle, he entered into a partnership with the late William Wells, which he continued until the death of Mr. Wells. Mr. Gheen then retired from active usiness life, and has since enjoyed remaining at his home or visiting his children at their homes.
Francis H. Gheen may be truly termed the “dean” of fox hunting in Chester County, for at the early age of ten years he possesed a pony which he rode to the hunts near his home, and later owned a fine pack of hounds. He loved the sport in a sense more than words can express, but any violation of ethics of clean sportsmanship brought his views to light quickly. He attended almost all hunts, and when not in the saddle he was on the hills and could tell nearly all the haunts of the foxes in the county. He believed that the younger foxes should be protected and taught to lead the hounds and as a result, frequently went to their dens and fed the little ones. His recountals of hunts of the past always brought a crowd of young and old listeners, for he know (sic) many incidents of great interest. For several years past he had been preparing for publication a book entitled “seventy Years a Fox Hunter” which will be published. He also enjoyed gunning and frequently went South, always returning with much game.
He was a devoted father and husband and will be sorely missed by those left behind. In 1869, he married Annie E. Brinton, of Thornbury Township, and she survives him, as do the following children: Gertrude (now Mrs. Robinson, of New York); Miss Marion H. Gheen, at home; Francis H. Jr., of New York; Mrs. Helen Hunsicker, at home, and Phoebe (now Mrs. A. H. Howard), of New York. John J. Gheen, Esq., is the only living brother, Admiral Edward Gheen having died two years ago. The only sister living is Mrs. Richard Strode, of West Miner street.
While not a member of any church, Mr. Gheen frequently attended meetings of the Society of Friends.
He was a member of the F. & A. M., of this place, the West Chester Club and the West Chester Golf Club. Summing up the life history of this man, a friend expresses the view: “He was a clean and honest sportsman, a friend to all, and agood citizen.”
GHEEN- On Jan. 24, 1921, Francis H. Gheen, in his 85th year.
Pretty cool, huh? You never know we’re a little slip of historical paper will take you. If there is anyone out there who is a relative of this man and can prove it to me I am happy to give you this quirky bit of history.
4th of July. Our country’s annual birthday party. It’s not just about fireworks.
On July 4, 1776, the United States gained independence from Great Britain by the Continental Congress when 12 of the 13 “colonies” voted for the separation from Great Britain.
However, a lot of people don’t have a warm and fuzzy feelings about the 4th of July. Some people are ambivalent. Some people like myself don’t like the overt commercialism that tends to follow American holidays around.
I like and appreciate the history. I think we need to remember and appreciate our history. Is it perfect? Were things like slavery and indentured servitude acceptable during part of our history and world history for that matter? Were most women treated like chattel? Yes and yes and yes. Those things are part of our history and were (again) also part of world history at that time. We need to acknowledge that past as a different time, yet part of what formed this country.
BUT it doesn’t diminish what our founding fathers accomplished because times were different.
Yesterday I celebrated part of my 4th of July weekend at Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr. I have loved this magical and historical place since I was introduced to it when I was 12 by a neighbor.
Harriton House was originally known as “Bryn Mawr”, and was once the residence of Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress. This was originally built in 1704 by Rowland Ellis, a Welsh Quaker, and was called “Bryn Mawr”, meaning “high hill.”
The history of Harriton is undeniable, as well as the connection to the founding of our country. So it was an absolutely perfect place to celebrate part of the 4th of July weekend! People were invited to picnic (and we made ice cream with an old fashioned and fully functional ice cream machine!) and there was a lovely program and music.
The program was introduced by a wonderful man I am lucky to know because we have mutual friends. Chef Walter Staib. He was proprietor of The City Tavern for decades, and most of you know him as the host of A Taste of History which you can find streaming or on PBS. A Taste of History is one of my favorite shows. I love cooking, I love history, including the history of cooking. (They are filming a new season now.)
Born in Germany, Chef Staib emigrated to America many years ago. He became a citizen, started his family here. He became a US Citizen a couple of years before the Bicentennial. And as well as loving to cook, he is a perpetual student of history. His love for the United States was the perfect was to kick off yesterday’s program which also featured this truly amazing brass ensemble called Festive Brass. I have included two snippets filmed with a phone. Sorry, not the best but I wanted to share their sound with my readers. Beautiful and festive music.
Yesterday at Historic Harriton House the program was free of charge and they asked for a free-will offering. These beloved historic sites need and deserve our support. Look no further than to the historic sites owned by the National Park Service that are either closed to tours or just closed and moldering.
Closed to tours would include the houses of my childhood in Society Hill like the Bishop White House and the Todd House, places I actually gave tours of leading up to the Bicentennial as a child. I love those houses and I helped plant the kitchen garden in the Todd House way back when. It was there I learned a deterrent for cabbage worms in the garden were marijuana plants. Seriously. Fun little fact of historical gardening.
Also closed is a place I remember being saved and restored as a child. Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s house on 3rd Street in Society Hill. Most of you probably have no clue this place exists or the historical significance. And I swear that place has been closed more years than it has been open. Also owned by the National Park Service.
The City Tavern for that matter, also owned by the National Park Service. Also shuttered now that Chef Staib is not there. That in particular, is truly prime real estate, so one would think they would be polishing up the tavern and marketing her for a new chef and restaurant in residence, right? But are they? Or will The City Tavern go the way of the Kennedy-Supplee Mansion?
Do you sense a theme? Sorry for the segue, but literally every time I go to Valley Forge I think of all the wasted potential of the historic structures. Not all have to be open for tours, but the National Park Service should be more open to restoration and adaptive reuse. I also feel the last administration in Washington harnessed the red, white, and blue of American patriotism for their own selfish ends (including abject ugliness and tyranny) and did nothing for preservation or true patriotism of any kind. And the current administration should get on the ball with preserving more of our history.
History is not something to be neglected and erased. It should be embraced, even the less savory and inconvenient parts because it is all part of how we got to be quite literally.
History, metaphorically speaking, is a living breathing thing we need to embrace and preserve. Even the parts we don’t like because when people try to erase history like it never happened, we are doomed to repeat past mistakes. Look no further that two world wars for proof of that.
Today on the 4th of July, I hope you all pause and think about our history. Think about our founding fathers who bled and fought and died for us. What they accomplished was no small feat.
And remember your favorite historic sites with even a small donation. Like Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr. Remember your local historical societies that help preserve our history and keep it alive.
🪶🇺🇸In Congress, July 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.🪶🇺🇸
We were in Delaware over the weekend. We met people at Cantwell’s for an early dinner one night. I love Cantwell’s. It’s historic and the food is good.
And Odessa, DE? Odessa is one of my favorite little towns, ever. It’s quaint and historic and they take their history and preservation seriously. Awesome historical society with wonderful events. (Check out Historic Odessa Foundation.) Communities like Odessa, DE should be an example to other communities. They show you preservation IS possible and communities will embrace it.
Odessa and the surrounding small towns aren’t perfect. There are houses that you see that are distinctly unloved. But these communities are trying and it is SO nice to see farm and fields and water and a distinct lack of townhouses and ugly apartments. And there are some little bed & breakfast inns tucked here and there.
Because of the Sunday Delaware beach traffic, we took some windy and twisty back roads coming home. I saw some cool little crossroads towns and hamlets, all chock full of historic houses. Including in Port Penn, where I saw a fabulous but boarded up house owned by the State of Delaware. Another Linden Hall, AKA the Cleaver House.
“The Cleaver family dominated Port Penn throughout the nineteenth century. Joseph built this Federal-style brick house, which included an office and store at right, divided from the residence by a firewall. The whole resembles two urban town houses. Cleaver maintained the adjacent wharf, practiced law, founded an insurance company, served on the board of a bank, and was local postmaster. The contents of the house are known by a room-by-room probate inventory undertaken after his death in 1858. In 1977 a new owner altered the interior for rental units and redesigned the roof of the wing, which caused the front wall of that section to collapse. In 1994 the State of Delaware bought it.”
The State of Delaware hasn’t done much with it. It’s a beautiful structure even in decay. It was built around 1814. Thanks to the Port Penn Historical Society, I learned a little more about the property and found some old photos (mixed in with photos I took):
Yep, I can find old structures to be obsessed over everywhere. Also flew by the Augustine Inn…too fast to get photos so I looked them up. Also found the place written up in Delaware Today. And a piece on Augustine Beach too.
The Augustine Inn was on Ghost Detectives once upon a time:
Port Penn was kind of cute. Did not realize until I looked the area up that a lot of the houses were moved from Reedy Island. This is all on the Delaware River, which you take for granted exactly HOW wide it is until you see it again. The Augustine Wildlife Area is here. There are beaches too. Saw lots of folks fishing.
Delaware has a lot of cool little nooks and crannies. It was fun exploring them a little bit again. Just like Route 9 in NJ leads to some fun meandering, so does Route 9 (and other roads) in Delaware.
When I was little my family went to Avalon after we went to Ocean City. We started going to Avalon as a family in the early 1970s because Ocean City at that point was getting so overwhelmed by new development we didn’t like it as much.
We had friends who loved Avalon. They had houses on 17th St. and 13th St. and a couple back up on the bay in those fingers where all the new houses with docks were popping up.
Seeing videos wanted me to buy the history book that was referred to throughout these videos by Robert Penrose who passed away a year ago this time. So I hunted around and couldn’t find any copies of the book anywhere so I wrote to the Avalon History Center/Avalon Historical Society. Could I buy a book, make a donation, and pay for shipping.
I don’t know any nonprofit large or small that isn’t willing to ship items they sell. I wasn’t asking for the item to be shipped for free, I wasn’t on any particular time schedule, I just would like to buy a copy of the book and pay someone to ship it.
Guess what? They couldn’t possibly. Quite literally they won’t. They are small, they have dedicated volunteers, but they couldn’t possibly ship anything.
Now I am not some crazy wealthy heiress who’s going to leave them a bucket of money, but I am a lover of history and a supporter of historical societies and small history-based nonprofits. I will never give anyone tons of money because that’s not in my wheelhouse to do at this point in time, but I do support organizations like this with annual memberships and whatnot. And what I can’t do in check writing, I try to make up in kind by paying it forward as a blogger.
From California through to the Montauk Lighthouse I have never had a nonprofit say they wouldn’t be willing to send me something if I was willing to pay to ship it. and for the most part I’m not talking huge non-profits.
I don’t go to Avalon anymore. It’s quite simply too built up for me. The last visits to the Jersey shore were years ago, and seriously? In South Jersey with the exception of Cape May a lot of these other towns have lost their charm because the development took over. So it’s not like I’m going to summer down there and I can just ride my bike over to the history center and pick up a copy of the book.
And I don’t really think I should impose on anyone to pick up the book for me. It’s kind of the principle of the thing at this point.
Nonprofits can be very shortsighted. I’ve seen it around here. One of my favorite examples is the uber insular and I can’t believe they’re not dead already Radnor Conservancy. They are one of those nonprofits that I do not understand at all. I don’t even understand how they’re still in existence. and that’s just one example.
And people who work for nonprofits that would never send anything anywhere, started rethinking everything when Covid hit. All the zoom platform talks and lectures and gatherings, to yes indeed they would ship their gift items if you were willing to pay for it.
Quirky bits of history are kind of one of my things. That’s why I wanted the book on Avalon. But it’s not worth it to them to extend themselves to try to get more people interested and more donations. Because if these folks were willing to extend themselves, they would offer to ship books, T-shirts, memorabilia they sell. It’s not so difficult to do. And people understand with small nonprofit they might only ship a couple of times a month or something like that.
So I will close the door on wanting this book. And it will make me think twice about ever visiting Avalon in the future. Right or wrong it doesn’t leave a good impression.
I wish them all the best and keeping the history going on the island. And maybe someday a copy of the book will show up on eBay.
Let this be a cautionary tale to small nonprofits. and having volunteered with very small nonprofits in my life, I usually found them to be the most generous of nonprofits —-the fewer the hands the more open the hearts.
I used to love Avalon as a kid. I stopped going in my mid to late 20s because the more it got developed, the less I liked it.
When I was a kid there was the penny candy story on 7th street. A tiny cedar shake shingled general store down around 7th street that had penny candy. Once when we were really little a friend of our parents and their friends named Weezy gave us each $1 and told us to go “blow our minds.” Root beer barrels, Charleston Chews, Mary Janes, those little colored sugar dots on white paper, caramels, and more. My mother would maybe give us a quarter if we were really good.
When it rained at the beach it was like the sea and air met as one. I remember going as a little girl to the then tiny and old Avalon, NJ library. Not the new library that stands today, but the little old dark one which still stood in the early 1970s. When you went up the stairs and opened the doors they gave that old creaky and heaving sound. Inside the library was dark and had that beach smell of sand mingled with mildew. I remembered picking out well worn copies of Nancy Drew books to take home and read. Or maybe we would go to the Paper Peddler and buy a book or a copy of Mad Magazine (which my mother hated).
In those days, Avalon had really tall dunes and the island began at 7th street. The first few blocks of Avalon washed away before I was born. That was the famous Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, which was truthfully a Hurricane Sandy-like storm. But the only a block of houses were swallowed by the sea at that time – 6th street. Below that had never been really developed because of tides. This 1962 storm was what caused the Avalon Hotel to be moved to 8th street. As a little girl I remember looking out over those beaches down by 7th street and wondering what the swallowed block of houses looked like? Was it a perfect bunch of houses just underwater like the fictional Atlantis, or a jumble of destruction? After watching the videos I discovered on You Tube which prompted this post, I learned more.
When I was little, the dunes were magnificent. I remember going through the twisty beach paths with mountains of sand and dune grass and scrubby pines on either side and even some old beach (probably rugosa) roses. This is where I first fell in love with black eyed Susan’s and beach daisies which grew in and on the edges of the dunes along with other wild flowers and cacti. In the summers when I was little too you could often see the sea turtles come ashore and lay their eggs and then wait for them to hatch and see all the little turtles head for the sea. It’s where I first fell in love with waxy bayberry bushes, and those memories are why I am trying to get a pair to grow in my own garden.
These videos done by the Avalon History Center are wonderful. It takes you back to the 1700s…and all the way through to today. And with the 19th century photos what I never knew before was how heavily forested the island was. Cedars and oak trees…and even cattle at one point. In the late 19th century there was a sawmill on the island that gave developers back then their wood for structures…and eventually deforested the island.
By the 1970s when we first started going to Avalon because Ocean City even down in the gardens was getting too developed, Avalon was developing but there was still a lot of room and cool old houses. The grey monster a big grey stone house around 10th street, and the cute little yellow cottage around the corner. I was fascinated by the old houses, a lot of them literally humble cottages. My parents’ friends owned the historic cabin on 13th street once owned by Woodrow Wilson when he was at Bryn Mawr College.
Listening to the history lectures presented by the Avalon History Center I literally watched a time line of how a small community became overdeveloped over time, including a garish recent example known as the Utz house that is this utterly vulgar high dune gobbling mega McMansion that created such a battle it even made the New York Times.
The New York Times also featured the reminiscences of a beach goer long ago that resonated. Jen Miller is her name. She talks about her memories before it became a summer McMansion boom town:
“On a hot August afternoon in the late 1990s, I waited at Donnelly’s Deli in Avalon, N.J., for our family’s sandwich order. This was a rare treat. We were a bologna-and-cheese-on-white-bread kind of family, loading up the car with beach chairs and boogie boards and a basket of towels for the drive to the Avalon beach from our trailer at a campground a few miles away.
But on that day, near the end of the summer, when my mother was tired of fixing our family of six a summer’s worth of beach sandwiches, we went to this one-story, brick-front deli that smelled like chips, sweat, pickles and meat, to let someone else do it for us.
In 2005, Donnelly’s closed, and the building was torn down — along with the rest of the block. In its place now is a three-story retail and residential building whose first floor features a Lululemon and a Lilly Pulitzer, both open for the summer only….The erosion of local character that I saw take over the South Jersey Shore is underway there too.
But who cares, other than some old, nostalgic saps like me? Someone who on a recent cold spring day walked around town worrying that Circle Pizza and Avalon Freeze would go the way of the deli, to make room for a strip mall I could see in any other wealthy town in the country?”
I totally get her sentiments. I am one of those who remembers communities in the proverbial “way back when” of it all for lack of a better description. But what we see happening in and already has happened in quaint beach communities is happening on an even larger scale out here. Farms and estates and any open space getting gobbled up for condos, townhouses, and housing developments of all shapes and sizes where it’s crap, not quality construction and it’s packing them in like lemmings. You can’t even garden in a lot of these communities.
Watch these videos. It’s a cautionary tale as well as being a very well done history of a place I once loved…before McMansions and trying to make it the South Jersey Hamptons. The difference is in the Hamptons, they actually DO historic and open space preservation, it’s just ungodly expensive.
Oh and don’t forget to check out the news about the high rise in Miami that had half the building just collapse overnight. Surfside. Some news report said something about what the building was built on and how it was sinking. (see this story HERE.) This news is a cautionary tale of development for sure, and it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
And some day in a time far far away, maybe some historical society will be doing oral history videos and presentations where we live, and will talk of a time before pipelines arrives, and development gobbled up all the forests, farms, open space, and little hamlets.
The battle to save Crebilly in Westtown is perhaps at its crescendo tonight. I am asking if you have the time to be at this virtual meeting, please do so. You don’t have to speak, but please bear witness. Let Troll Brothers and the Robinson family know we are all still out here.
Anyone is welcome to virtually attend this meeting. Westtown has provided simple instructions HERE:
Instructions for Westtown Board of Supervisors Toll Bros./Crebilly Farm Conditional Use Hearing #12 Virtual Public Meeting via the Zoom Platform Wednesday, May 26, 2021 Meeting Start Time is 7:00 PM
Anyone wishing to attend the virtual Conditional Use hearing may do so by calling this phone number: 1-646-558-8656 When your call is answered, you will be required to enter the meeting ID#: 843 6206 3236
If you are prompted for a participant ID, press # (a participant ID is not required).
You may connect to the meeting up to 15 minutes prior to the start time. All attendees will be placed in a waiting area before being permitted into the hearing.
The hearing audio and video will be recorded and be used by the Court Reporter to assist in transcribing the testimony. Following the completion of the hearing transcript, the Zoom recording will be destroyed.
If you have party status, please ensure that you enter your full name so that the host will be able to recognize you. The parties will be recognized individually, and given the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses. If you have party status and join by phone, please indicate your presence by pressing *9 for the hearing host to recognize you. You will then have to press *6 to unmute yourself when prompted by the host. The non-party members of the public will have the opportunity to observe the hearing, but public comment is deferred until the end of the evidentiary portion of the hearing.
Due to the online nature of the system, there is a slight delay, so please take your time and be patient. There will be a slight pause when one person finishes speaking and another person starts. While in this virtual hearing, we ask that you conduct yourself in a civil manner. Any conduct deemed inappropriate (language, etc.) will result in your being removed from the hearing.
No in-person attendance at the Township Building will be permitted.
Now I am going to share thoughts from two women I know and call friends:
From Kathleen Brady Shea:
And from Mindy Rhodes (and I am including a plea she made to the Robinsons back when this first began:)
This coming Wednesday, May 26th at 7pm will be the 12th Conditional Use hearing regarding the Crebilly II application and the agreement of sale between Toll Brothers and the owners of Crebilly Farm. THIS hearing needs all hands on deck because public comment will begin as soon as Toll completes their rebuttal of last hearing’s witnesses. This is an opportunity for every single one of us to make our voices heard. It does not matter where you live. It does not matter whether you have party status. It does, however, matter that every single one of us rise to this opportunity and speak up by stating how this development will negatively impact our community and why the Westtown Township Board of Supervisors should deny Conditional Use to Toll Brothers.
HEARING #12, WEDNESDAY, MAY 26TH, 7PM to be held virtually
To attend via zoom, click on the link below and enter the passcode if/when prompted:
The time and energy all of us have invested over the last (almost) five years, needless to say, has been substantial. When compared to the permanent impact a development of this magnitude will have on our community, American history and the devastation it will do to land, nature and nearby waterways- the time and energy is invaluable. I still believe the owners of Crebilly Farm have every right to sell their land for profit. However this plan and this developer is simply unacceptable. And it is up to the rest of us to continue to speak up and stand firm: Westtown Township must deny Conditional Use to Toll Brothers.
If not you, then who?
And one last thing? This YouTube about the history of the land. It’s not just about saving a spectacular swath of land from greedy Toll Brothers and their horrible developments, it’s about our very history:
We all lead busy lives. But it requires nothing of us to spend a little time on a virtual meeting. I don’t have standing, but I will tune in out of solidarity for those who do and who have been valiantly fighting the good fight here. We drove past Crebilly on 202 and 926 not so long ago. You couldn’t help but notice the deterioration of the structures on the edge of Crebilly….and that horrible forest of development signs at the corner of 202 and 926. We need to come together as a county every damn time one of these projects is featured at a meeting. It doesn’t matter what township we are from, we are all affected by this crap.
And all of this new development is crap. Pure and simple. Chester County is losing more and more open space and farmland by the day. And with the potential for more crap coming out of West Chester Borough regarding the Wyeth site, this is even more important from a traffic standpoint alone.
I know, I know, it’s like yes we are coming out of a global pandemic, but apparently it hasn’t slowed down the developers, has it? And with virtual meetings we really can put in an appearance occasionally as residents.
Please make time for Crebilly tonight. It cold be the last time. Take a stand Chester County, Take a Stand. Don’t let Crebilly become the next Foxcatcher Farm/Liseter.
I have loved the historic village of Yellow Springs down Art School Road in Chester Springs for years and years. I was first introduced to the village by my late father. He loved the art show and the antique show the village no longer hosts in the fall (but should.)
We would come out to the village, attend the art show or antique show and have lunch at the now closed Yellow Springs Inn. At first the restaurant was in the building known today as “The Washington”, then it moved to the Jenny Lind House.
Truthfully the history of Yellow Springs Village is so very interesting. As a related aside, Margaret Holman is but one of many women who played important and pivotal roles in this village over time and throughout its history. Now we add my friend Meg Veno to that list of historically important ladies. With her renovation of the Jenny Lind house and the amazing adaptive reuse that still nods to the past in process, she is bringing new life and a fresh set of ideas to Yellow Springs Village.
Restoring Jenny Lind is so positive for this magical village. And I was so glad to see people out enjoying the art show and picking up their box lunches from at the Jenny Lind today!
The restoration is not complete there are still at least a couple more months of solid work ahead of them. But today I had the privilege and honor to see the progress and how the renovation was coming along. I was literally almost reduced to tears. I had no idea that once upon a time at a Life’s Patina Barn Sale when Meg mentioned to me that she was looking for another project, and I happened to tell her that the Jenny Lind house was in bank foreclosure and the restaurant gone, that this would happen.
I was thinking today when you mention to people that a great historic asset is for sale you never know if anything will ever happen. A lot of times it doesn’t. And this time it has. And the transformation is as magical as it has been watching Loch Aerie come back to life. Completely different periods of history and styles of architecture but both have these spots in my heart.
Oh and the lunches sold are a preview of what we can expect in the cafe to be? Amazing! And it was all environmentally friendly packaging down to the disposable wooden utensils.
I am including photos I took a few years ago of the Jenny Lind when it was the restaurant so you can fully appreciate the remarkable and painstakingly gorgeous restoration. The Victorian decor of the former Yellow Springs Inn was never right for the structure although for years the restaurant was quite good.
Life’s Patina Mercantile & Cafe at the Jenny Lind House is going to be perfection.
Someone a while back asked me about Bacton Hill. I don’t remember who exactly so I’m putting this in a post and putting it out there.
When we think of Bacton Hill, we think of Bacton Hill Road. But it actually used to be more than just the name of the road. It was an entire community.
Historically speaking, it was a significant an early free black settlement in Chester County. Which is why in my opinion along with Ebeneezer AME it should have always been in a historic district.
In 2017 I wrote about a gift of history sent to me by way of South Dakota. It was concerning Hiram Woodyard. He was a freed slave and Black Civil War Soldier who resided in the village of Bacton, “Bacton Hisotric District”, AKA “Bacton African American Community”.
In 1991, Jane Davidson, the then Chester County Historic Preservation Officer certified that one of the houses attributed to him on Conestoga Road as a “County Historic Resource”. She said “The events and activities that have occurred in and around the site form a chronological record of past knowledge that portrays a history of the area.”
The historical information listed in some of the paperwork states:
This resource is part of the Bacton Historic District which is a post-Civil War, Afro-American community. This resource is also connected with Hiram Woodyard who was a prominent member of this community….Due to previous development there is an eminent potential to widen Rte. 401,this threat would negatively impact the integrity of this resource.
In other paperwork, the same author continues:
Hiram Woodyard, one of two leaders in the Bacton African-American community, has become a local folk hero in recent years. While part of the timber industry as a fence maker, he also commanded a great deal of respect for his leadership ability, not only in the community, but also in the Union army.
Bacton Hill is fascinating and rapidly disappearing. That is why it would’ve been important to have had this preserved decades ago as it’s own little historic district.
Anyway people always have many things to say when it comes to how an area gets it’s name. And my friend historian an artist and author Catherine Quillman gave me some answers, I would like to share:
📌”Hey, finally got into the Chester County History Center. Bacton was formerly known as Valley View.
In 1871, a branch of the Reading Rail Co. was proposed and a stockbroker complained it was an unnecessary expense (though the rail line would connect to west Chester and Phoenixville). He complained it would just go through “back towns”.
I think Anselma was on that run, and that had a large creamery so it could hardly be a “back town” and the name stuck for Valley View – it officially became Bacton when the little post office which was once there opened in 1887.”📌
So Bacton came out of “back town“ and not “black town” which someone wrote to me once upon a time that I found a little bit offensive, but almost would’ve been understandable for certain times a century and longer ago.
Catherine also reminded me that this area also may have probably seen activity during the Revolutionary War. After all part of the Battle of the Clouds took place near where they have that “Ship Road Park” (West Whiteland), and other battles and encampments occurred close enough by in other municipalities which border East Whiteland like Tredyffrin.
The African American community at Bacton Hill was definitely significant once upon a time. They worked in the local quarries and worked for the railroad and even farmed where they could (A lot of the land there as you know is both scrubby, wet, rocky.)
So yes the little post office back then was renamed Bacton from Valley View. But people also speak of Pickering Valley railroad, but I am told it didn’t climb the “hill” of Bacton Hill. The story of conductor saying “Blacktown” instead of Bacton is probably more local lore and misremembering than fact.
Another aspect of this area that has never really been adequately studied was its relationship to the Underground Railroad. Because there was one, as some homeowners of historic homes alone 401 can attest.
Anyway that is what I have to share with all of you today about this fascinating topic and I do think it’s fascinating. If any of you have other recollections of the area of Bacton Hill or Ebenezer, I love to hear about these things so leave me a comment and write into the blog. I am also always happy to share old photos of the area.
Someone said to me that the greater Philadelphia region spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on the Revolutionary War and not other parts of our region’s history. To an extent, that is true. I think that’s why things like Duffy’s Cut got buried forever as well. It’s not fun for a lot of people to talk about the inconvenient or even uncomfortable aspects of our own history. And I think as complete a picture as it’s available helps all of us.
I was close with what the screenshot is you see at the top of this post. While I was looking for my things on Bacton Hill and Ebenezer I came across this marvelous photo that came out of the East Whiteland Fire Company archives. I don’t have an exact date, but it is always been common practice for fire companies to get their squad practice in by burning dilapidated structures. Is this Ebenezer? I want it to be. It’s just interesting to note that if hindsight was 20/20, would they have chosen to do that knowing the history of the area? I don’t think so.
A reader sent the next screenshot with the following note:
“This is Bacton Hill chapel. The fire was set to provide a drill for the Upper Main Line firefighters association. Summer 1961. My family attended Bacton Hill Chapel in the 1950’s. The new Bacton Hill Church was on Yellow Springs Road. I believe It was destroyed by fire in the late 60’s early 70’s.”
Thanks for stopping by! This chapel that looks like Ebenezer adds another layer to the community of Bacton Hill, doesn’t it?
Last evening, I attended a virtual zoom lecture via the Willows Park Preserve titled “Lost Mansions of the Main Line.” It was presented by Jeff Groff of Winterthur who is the Estate Historian there.
It was like opening the Pandora’s Box of history. It was fabulous. I wished the program had been longer. The program was primarily mansions and houses which no longer exist. Some that still exist in a mostly adaptive reuse capacity.
So I grabbed some screenshots:
I posted the screenshots to show people the coolness of the lecture and the response was amazing. So many people had memories of some of the properties, like my weird connection to the Cassatt Estate in Haverford which was discussed.
My great grandmother, Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen, who was in service back then, was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt Family. My grandfather and one of his brothers found pieces of old bicycles in old stables or perhaps a garage and built their own ramshackle bikes out of parts and learned to ride bikes on Grays Lane. When he was in his 80s and my parents had moved us to the north side of Haverford (late 1970s), I wonder what he thought about his daughter and her family living but a minute from where his mother had been in service during the summers?
And I have another weird Cassatt connection, or my husband does. His late mother was one of the many, many Tredyffrin residents years ago who tried for years in vain to stop the development known as Chesterbrook that completely changed the face of not only the Main Line, but part of Chester County. (see this history as compiled by TEHistory.) The Cassatts’ Chesterbrook Farm
So anyway, sharing about this lecture and the response led to other things. People interested in Bloomfield (the Radnor Township estate on S. Ithan Ave that burned in the spring of 2012) and as always, La Ronda which was demolished October, 2009 in Lower Merion Township.)
I have photos of both Bloomfield and La Ronda. I chose to document both with a camera back then. La Ronda over the last few months she stood, and Bloomfield after the fire.
What I also found startling are all of the people who vaguely recall the names of some of these places, but have no idea of the history. Or locations. Or the families that lived there.
We live in such a transient world that the very context of history of an area, and the history itself is getting lost. It goes hand in hand with people don’t know what the “Main Line” is, where the name came from and where it ends ( Name came from the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad for the “Main Line of Philadelphia” or “Pennsylvania Main Line”, ends as Paoli, not Malvern or points west.) It also goes hand in hand for realtors and developers who want to call Malvern and points west “Main Line” or things properly in Downingtown “Chester Springs” or something sitting on Route 3 “Radnor Hunt.”
The history matters. The facts and people and places give said history context. Maybe it’s me, but how can you want to put down roots in a community and not have a clue as to how that community came to exist? Or what are area traditions and beloved celebrations and why? Why certain non-profits have specific fundraisers?
Now more than ever, our history is important, along with the context that goes with it. COVID19 has seriously stressed out especially the smaller non-profits. Big non-profit machines will survive the economic fall-out of COVID19, but our small non-profits need our support. Here’s my list of some I think we all should show the love to and whom I am supportive of:
I will note that the Jeff Groff Lost Mansions of the Main Line lecture will be given via zoom and the Chester County Historical Society on May 12th. It’s free, but if you are not a member a small donation would be nice.
Also, there is a Lost Gardens of the Main Line lecture which will be given via zoom and Jenkins Arboretum on March 18th. It is also a Jeff Groff lecture (and I can’t wait!) Also a free event, but if you don’t already support Jenkins, consider a small donation.
All of the institutions I named are wonderful, and offer very reasonable memberships. There are many more I didn’t name, these are just some of my favorites.