I have always been fascinated with people who do metal detecting and treasure hunting. I think it’s just cool and I also like the history involved. So this morning, Chester County Metal Detecting came out to our home and scanned our property and woods.
Sadly no fabulous examples of local history were found but we did find a lot of really old shotgun and looks like rifle shells. The rifle shells are interesting because one of my neighbors tells me that Chester County is shotgun only.
These lovely people do this for fun there is no charge they’re not treasure stealers and they love what they do! I met them in part because they scanned a friend of mine‘s home and they were at a nonprofit event for the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust recently.
They have a Facebook page and a website if you would like to connect with them and have them come visit you. It’s a totally fun experience and I highly recommend it! Besides, you never know what little bit of history will be unearthed!
Damage from Hurricane Ida was a hot topic among fair goers at the Harriton Fair yesterday. I know because I saw Lower Merion Commissioner Scott Zelov getting his ear bent about it, especially about the Mill Creek Road Bridge.
Now sometimes over the years I have been hard on Commissioner Scott Zelov. We know each other from things Lower Merion. But where I will always give him credit is unlike others, he shows up to events in Lower Merion Township, and listens and engages with residents. I especially give him credit for supporting Historic Harriton House and the fair because the commissioner whose ward contains Harriton can never seem to show up for anything there which I find strange because it’s a wonderful place.
Anyway, River Road in Gladwyne was hit horribly and other places in Lower Merion as well. But I did not know about other Ida collateral damage until this morning when a member of Gladwyne Civic posted the following (and I am re-posting verbatim):
‼️📌MILL CREEK ROAD BRIDGE From Scott Zelov, LM commissioner: the Mill Creek Road Bridge at the 1690 House has to be demolished and re-constructed due to extensive damage from Ida. The engineering and design could take 9 months, and then construction could be another 9 months, meaning that the bridge won’t re-open until March 2023. This bridge is owned by Montgomery County, not Lower Merion Township. We are working with the County to try to compress both the design and construction periods. TO CONTACT COMMISSIONER ZELOVhttps://www.lowermerion.org/services/township-secretary-s-office/board-of-commissioners/commissioners/v-scott-zelov 📌‼️
This makes me really sad. The history of the 1690 house is amazing. There is this website called Living Places which has a history. I will share an excerpt:
📌The Mill Creek Historic District is located in Gladwyne, Lower Merion Township, on the west side of the Schuylkill River. Approximately ten miles from downtown Philadelphia, it is situated at the juncture of Mill Creek and Old Gulph Roads alongside of Mill Creek.
…,The area was originally settled by a Welsh Quaker named John Roberts “the miller” who purchased the rights to 500 acres of land in the Welsh Tract in 1682. Taking title to 250 acres; he set up his grist mill called “The Wain” by 1690 or earlier….The house at 543 Mill Creek Road is the oldest in the area and possibly in Lower Merion Township. Originally it was the log house of John Roberts, the Miller, c.1683. The house, which is commonly called “the 1690 house” has been expanded several times and now bears no resemblance to the original. It is 1 1/2 stories has brick chimneys, and dormers with slanting overhangs. Presently, it is sheathed with wood shingles. Over the years, Mill Creek Road has been raised giving the house the appearance of being in a gully.📌
The 1690 house is a private residence. It’s a gem. I actually had senior portrait photos taken at the old mill across the street- way before it was restored into a private residence.
But my point is even THAT is taking forever. And you can’t get around easily and it’s right where 76 has an exit. The Mill Creek Road Bridge being out will mean a need for a huge work around connecting parts of Lower Merion Township to other parts of itself.
But I am glad the 1690 house can be saved. Here’s hoping the re-engineering can lift it up some and save parts of the original structure to incorporate into the re-build.
Ida was a real natural terror and my heart goes out to the people who own the 1690 House and my friends on River Road and elsewhere. And no, I have not seen photos of the 1690 house post-Ida
Catherine Renzi from Yellow Springs Farm came over last week to drop off plants. My current garden is one of many over the course of 20 years that I have incorporated plants from Yellow Springs Farm into.
During this visit, Catherine entrusted me with the news she and her husband Al are now allowing me to tell all of you: Yellow Springs Farm is for sale. And before we go any further, know one thing: this is a conserved farm. This land will remain protected in perpetuity from subdivision or development because Catherine and Al Renzi donated a conservation easement in 2001.
While many land parcels in Chester County are NOT safe from wanton development, Yellow Springs Farm is.
I have know Catherine for many, many years. Before there was Yellow Springs Farm, she was a well respected financial advisor and for a few years I was a sales assistant in her office. As a matter of fact, I remember when she said she was taking her life in another direction and she and Al were buying a farm. To many of the stock jockeys, that sounded crazy. To me, it sounded wonderful.
Although Catherine started out essentially a boss, she has become my friend over the course of many, many years we have known each other. I have been buying goods from her farm as long as they have been selling them.
Yellow Springs Farm is a magical place and so beautiful. It has been a happy place for me in Chester County over the years. I always knew spring was truly here when there was an open farm day, and I could see the new kids. Kids, aka baby goats, are among the most joyful animals to be around. Goats can be a little stinky, but they are funny creatures guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The Yellow Springs goats are now gone from the farm. They went to live at another dairy.
Change can be hard, and Catherine and Al didn’t make this decision lightly. BUT people are entitled to new and different chapters, and if I am honest, when I saw Catherine had picked up her paint brushes again and started creating beautiful paintings, I knew change was coming.
Now while their location might be changing, Catherine will still be offering landscape design and consulting services (and hopefully plants!) from a new, TBD location.
With Catherine and Al’s permission, I am sharing their note to their Cheese CSA members:
📌📝Yellow Springs Farm Native Plants Nursery and Artisanal Goat Dairy will close this Fall. After 20 years of goats, gardens and countless community connections, Al and Catherine Renzi are ready to begin a new life chapter.
We are extremely grateful for the knowledge, friendships and warm memories you, our valued CSA members, have shared over the years. We could not have pursued our mission of connecting sustainable landscapes with local foodscapes without our customers, colleagues, chefs and so many Farm supporters, near and far.
The Farm real estate is for sale, but it remains protected in perpetuity from subdivision or development because of the conservation easement we donated in 2001. We imagine new owners will live their dreams here, and continue to care for this beautiful place. The goats were the soul of the Farm. They are safe, and have moved to another dairy. We receive their milk to continue making cheese until later this Fall– likely November. The dairy and cheesemaking equipment is available for purchase. Nursery plants not sold this season will come with us to our new location TBD. Change is hard to process, but we are focused on being glad that YSF happened (2001-2021), not sad that it is coming to an end. When we started this adventure in 2001, and now again in 2021, we made choices to take chances, and look forward to change ahead with refreshed aspirations. Every ending is a new beginning
We will connect with community venues and other means to pursue our interests in nature, conservation, and local food. Catherine’s creative muse, and Al’s analytical penchant for science are alive and well. We will share specifics as we know more details in coming weeks and months.
Thank you for sharing this fulfilling, challenging life chapter with us. Your support and enthusiasm for our Farm has been priceless. A piece of this place lives forever in our hearts, and we hope you too have fond memories of Yellow Springs Farm.
With warm regards and heartfelt thanks,
Al and Catherine Renzi📌📝
So there is the news. If you are a realtor or a potential owner who is a farm lover with a conservation soul, follow this LINK and this LINK to the listing and schedule a showing. The farmhouse is sensitively and beautifully updated, and some lucky family could move in “as is.”
Yellow Springs Farm sits on a glorious conserved 8 acre parcel. The farmhouse as mentioned is restored and dates to 1850. A spring house, a bank barn, run in sheds and more await the right owner. The barn has a fabulous 1 bedroom apartment, suitable as a rental or space for visiting friends/family. If you think it’s you, contact:
Linda Burgwin Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. Office Ph: (610) 225-7400 Cell: (484)- 716-0163
And no, I am not getting into the real estate listing promotion business. This is a special place and the Renzis are special people. Please if you are interested in the farm, schedule a visit through a realtor properly. Please do not just drive up the driveway for a look see.
Catherine and Al, you know I wish you nothing but the best and look forward to your next chapter. Cheers to you both!
To those interested in preserving the character of Chester County, be like the Renzis and consider conservation. Conservation and preservation go hand in hand.
That is a photo of a history book about Lower Merion Township from 1988. It was this great book that was privately printed that only had 1000 copies ever printed on the original publication, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this book out there for sale other than on eBay. I bought it for $10 at an estate sale.
Inside the book was a treasure trove of articles mostly about things in Lower Merion Township but one about Radnor Township as well. The articles were from The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Main Line Times when it was still advertised as an independent newspaper.
I have only just started to read the book but I am sharing screenshots with all of you fellow history buffs that I hope you will find of interest. One thing I loved in particular is a screenshot about things in Gladwyne. it was obviously an old map and it was lent to the folks who put this book out by the father of a childhood friend.
There is so much about the history of the Main Line and Chester County the disappears year-by-year. This is why I love when I can get my hands on one of these really good local history books. I don’t know who owned this particular copy of this book but it’s a wonderful book, and the articles are fabulous.
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.