this and that

DSC_0071The nature of humans and writing is a weird and complicated process, often because of what the reader expects from the writer.

Some posts write themselves in the middle of the night.  That is the genesis of this post.

Sometimes I do not sleep well.  I am on a drug for the treatment of breast cancer called Tamoxifen.  I have three years to go and one of its side effects is it can affect your sleep.  I don’t often talk about the whole breast cancer thing here, I have a dedicated (and well-respected blog for that.)

On this blog, I have had people who have taken issue with me speaking about my breast cancer. But  it is part of me and like it or not, and it has shaped my life experience.

Ironically, having had breast cancer has taught me many positive things including the value of life and living life well and being happy.  It gave me the courage to pursue my dreams, yes, like writing.DSC_0140

A lot of what annoys people about my discussing my breast cancer is when I measure it against other experiences. As it is the hardest and most difficult thing I ever experienced personally, heck yes I measure other experiences against it if the spirit moves me.

I have learned in life that often if your opinion differs from the comfort zone of others that can prove problematic.  Especially when you write.  You can verbally state your opinion more easily than if you write it down.  But the thing at the end of the day that people don’t get is I write for me.  Writing is first and foremost something I do for myself.  And I do actually do research things which I am curious about.

Maybe someday I will have a book in me and not just a blog or occasional byline. Maybe I will write the memoirs of a female blogger.  I will say I do have self-published photography books that I have done, and that was quite an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

DSC_0109As I make my way through this writing experience, I am often amused at what strikes a nerve. One of the first nerves was writing about West Vincent Township.  Then came horse rescue. Wow horse rescue is still one of the largest read topics on this blog with a close second to Justice for Argus and Fiona. And then there is of course my asking if a favorite restaurant would survive because of listings in both sheriff’s and tax sales lists coupled with an additional land purchase for another restaurant in another county.  Chicken little you would think the world was ending for verbalizing what quite a lot of people are still talking about.

Also amazing to me is how many people like my recipes and photography. I am so pleased about that.  Recipes and photos are something really personal to me, so I really am happy that people are receptive to both.

Not all, however, have been receptive to my photos.  Take for example the odd responses from the woman who grew up with the Women’s Lib Barn (yes I did do some research to ascertain it was a woman writing to me.)  To this day I shake my head at that – I loved that barn for so many different reasons and my photographing it was like paying homage to it.  But she so soured me on it, that now I just drive by….I don’t even look at it.

That was my favorite barn in Chester County.  It is the first one I really noticed when I moved here.  It spoke to me.  As a woman I find myself often torn between the old and new, and the old roles of women versus the women of today. It also speaks to me because to me it also represents the uniqueness, individuality, and independence of the people of Chester County – traits I admire and respect.

I also write about parenting on occasion, collecting (as in antiques and collectibles) and gardening. At my core, I am part Domestic Diva or Suzy Homemaker.  I love that for the first time in my life I actually have time for all of this, and can experience it without guilt or reserve.  I love sharing those experiences with people. I even write about childhood recollections.

I used to focus more on activism based blogging. That was what I did then, and while it still has a role in my writing, it is not the main focus. I will write about things that I find curious. Or strange. Now, I write about whatever strikes my fancy, and share fun things I discover along the way.

DSC_0096Recently I have written a couple of things that are in the category of religion and beliefs.  We should be able to talk about this stuff.  I have in the past too.  As a Catholic and as a human being I have expressed my disgust over pedophile priests.   I have also  touched on born again Christian stuff.  No one had a problem with that or pedophile priest discussions.  But when I touched on Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy, holy tomato Batman! It is like I personally corrupted the Holy Grail.

To me Anthroposophy represents communes and cult-like behavior. (Communes are intentional communities and intentional communities are communes, right?)  Oh my!  I have had people rear up….all associated with Waldorf or Steiner Schools.  Am I the first to question Anthroposophy or Steiner? No.  Go ahead, read THIS and THIS and THIS and THIS and THISWaldorf Watch a site devoted to this.  And then there is Waldorf Straight Talk and a lot of things submitted by former teachers to different sites. I am sure some can say they are all disgruntled employees or residents, but are they? I know one story personally.  It is not mine to share, but suffice it to say it was a former Kimberton Waldorf teacher and the person is hardly an axe grinder.

If you look at the comments regarding this touchy  topic I have this man who has popped up who told me I was “afraid of my neighbors” and that I had a “fear piñata” I swung wildly at. He is in addition to the woman who just seems angry in general that I have expressed an opinion on this.

The man wants to help me “confront” my fear and that by my opinion which as an individual I am entitled to have that I have instead performed an ad hominum  attack by “labeling” them. Oh and that I write in order to sound clever. And that I am not real.

Ah yes, the most devastating comment: because I don’t agree with what he is indeed trying to sell me, I am, therefore,  not “real”.

Am I a fan of CSAs, organic farming, taking care of the mentally and physically challenged in our community, and Kimberton Whole Foods? Yes to all of the above. Except when I measure saints among us, my definition of saints and Godly people are derived from a more traditional religious beliefs and practices. And yes I am aware that CampHill has done some truly nice things.  After all was it not CampHill Special School that took in the family of one of the defendant’s in the Milton Street trial a few years ago? That was very generous of them and honestly a good deed.

DSC_0247I am quite real, and I am clever, but not in the derogatory way the commenter intended.  And I am not fearful.  I merely stated my opinion based upon the research that I did.

It is always funny to me that people will feel free to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be writing about.  I have to ask why they aren’t writing if they feel so strongly about certain things?

Some accused me of perpetuating “hearsay” while stating my opinion.  I have to ask is the renowned publication The Atlantic “hearsay”? Is it only “hearsay” because they don’t want to believe people are writing about how they feel about Waldorf, Steiner, and Anthroposophy?

The Atlantic: Is This Grade School a ‘Cult’? (And Do Parents Care?)

 Nov 30 2012, 1:39 PM ET
Waldorf schools are popular with progressives. But how do you feel about a dose of spiritualism with your child’s reading and math?
Would you send your kid to a school where faceless dolls and pine-cones are the toys of choice? A school where kids don’t read proficiently until age 9 or 10 — and where time spared goes to knitting and playing the recorder? A school where students sing hymns to “spirit” every day?

I am a fairly simple person with a complicated brain . I think about a lot of different things.

Things like why people abandon their homes, factories, churches, and farms and so on fascinate me.  You know I love to photograph the old and abandoned and there seems to be a lot of that in Chester County, unfortunately.  I believe it goes with areas that still have a rural component.


Abandoned and desolate, this house suffers from not only overt neglect, but a dispute to its historical net worth. A friend was kind enough to share this photo. The location is (if I have it straight) is slightly west of Valley Forge Park , sort of behind VF Baptist Church.

Some days I write about things that make me go HMMMM and other days I also write about things I cook.  Other days I write about both. It’s just the way it is.

Like take this weekend for example – I made a tortellini saladtortellini salad with cucumber, shallots, string beans, tomato, tossed with fresh basil and Italian flat leaf parsley and rest with a homemade lemon tarragon mustard caper vinaigrette -The dressing ispeach pie homemade and came out of my head as I was preparing peach pie filling. Yes, I also made a double crust peach pie with the delicious peaches from Northstar Orchards whom I visit at The East Goshen Farmers Market.

And if Sears would ever come fix my oven, (even Whirlpool/Maytag is upset with Sears) I might roast tomatoes and write about it.  Roasted tomatoes make for awesome gazpacho as well as being delicious on their own as just a vegetable.

I also  write about simple fun things for my home when the spirit moves me.  I love the Smithfield Barn and Resellers Consignment for that reason.  This weekend at Smithfield Barn I got the vintage pie plate in which I baked that pie photo captioned above.

Some of the things I write about are things that I grew up with.  Like lamps.  My mother had these two lamps in our home growing up.  She hasn’t used them for years in her current home and had put them in a closet.  Over the weekend she passed them along to me along with for a lack of a better description, lamp parts.  You would be amazed how much better a lamp can look with a harp that gives a shade a different height.

The lamps are totally “me”.  The shades I plunked on them I had in the attic.  They came from a lady who used to be at Black Angus or Stoudt’s Antiques in Adamstown – she made these amazing pierced lampshades. I don’t even know if she is there any longer.  My friend Anna’s mother got me hooked on these lampshades as well as my mother – they both had this style of shade on lamps in their homes.

See the lamps – they are so fun:

lamp 1lamp 2









The lamps are in different parts of the house and I am so enjoying them! But as my mother said I like quirky lamps.  I think these are very cool!

I love old stuff. Not necessarily antiques, but vintage.  Setting my table with funky old dishes and vintage linens is total fun to me.

I actually organized my old linens yesterday.  I have accumulated them in essence for pennies on the dollar because I get them at thrift shops, tag sales, church sales – wherever I see them that I like them.  But I refuse to pay oodles of money for them. I love vintage linens basically because the quality is so much better than a lot of what you see today.  Also a lot of times it is just that much more fun.  I have a few kitschy 1950s and 1960s tablecloths for example – totally fun.

Also in the textile area are vintage and handmade quilts.  Again, I look at church sales, farm/barn and even on eBay.  I only buy what I can use and I am limited on what I am willing to pay.

Not one of mine. Made by a friend of mine for her granddaughter. A modern quilt that captured the vintage essence I love.

Not one of mine. Made by a friend of mine for her granddaughter. A modern quilt that captured the vintage essence I love.

What else is on my mind today?  Something troubling my friends who live in Schuylkill Township.  They are facing quite the unsavory and dense development more suitable for urban living on a parcel of land that makes some refer to it as Groundhog Day – apparently it is a bad repeating nightmare for residents in a particular spot where they have bog turtles, rare bats, serpentine asters, bald eagles roosting and the DEP, US Fish and Game, have all been involved in the past.  There are apparently steep slopes, egress and traffic issues.  It feels like an uphill battle to these folks where the developer always wins.  Who even cares about environmental and social degradation anymore is the last thing one friend said to me.

I know nothing except there is a public hearing TONIGHT.

Schuylkill Township

I know nothing much about  Schuylkill Township.  I think this is what has residents upset (click LINK). Here is their agenda.

I will fully admit that this whole create zoning to satisfy a particular developer or a slew of developers is problematic.  One needs to look no farther than Lower Merion Township in the heart of the Main Line.  When I tell you I spent years at meetings on similar development nightmares, I kid you not.  They have these zoning overlays that were in essence designed for specific developers so they could build (one developer who is familiar to Chester County even referred to one overlay as “his zoning” and a meeting.)  Another thing?  When new developers appear on the scene, they then append the original zoning to satisfy even more developers.

Now Schuylkill Township says (and I quote):

“Planned Residential  Developments” which are designed to afford flexibility to respond to growing demand  for housing of all types and design.  The  proposed Planned Residential Development Ordinance will allow mixed residential  uses on properties of at least 60 acres in Schuylkill Township.

The thing is this – I keep waiting for any of this zoning in any municipality to actually be about the residents with the best interest of the residents born in mind. I hate to sound jaded but it never is.  These weird zoning things are for the lining of the township ratables pockets and the developers.  The most bang for the buck on the profit margin side. If the zoning doesn’t fit the plans politicians want, they change the zoning. The flip side is when you try to get them to change the zoning to protect residents, environment, open space, you choose, it never seems “doable” does it? Or if they do regurgitate changes they are insufficient or weak enough that what people were trying to avoid happens anyway.

Zoning boards blame planning and commissioners/supervisors.  Supervisors/Commissioners/Planning Commissions blame the Municipalities Planning Code

Yes, community planning is a passion.  Where you live is a big deal.  And I hate to sound like a Myna bird but once open space is gone, it’s gone.  Once historic and older homes are gone, they are gone.  You can’t save everything, but communities should plan better to save some things.

I will also repeat my assertion that The Municipalities Planning Code is incredibly outdated and needs an overhaul.  How they looked at suburbs and exurbs and rural areas in 1968 is different from today. And the part of the code that Schuylkill Township is claiming like the divine right of kings has to do with Article VII of the  Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, Act of 1968, P.L. 805, No. 247, as  reenacted and amended. Now this portion was last updated in 1988.  Don’t you think a few more things have changed since 1988?

What does this portion cover? Here:


To empower cities of the second class A, and third class, boroughs, incorporated towns, townships of the first and second classes including those within a county of the second class and counties of the second through eighth classes, individually or jointly, to plan their development and to govern the same by zoning, subdivision and land development ordinances, planned residential development and other ordinances, by official maps, by the reservation of certain land for future public purpose and by the acquisition of such land; to promote the conservation of energy through the use of planning practices and to promote the effective utilization of renewable energy sources; providing for the establishment of planning commissions, planning departments, planning committees and zoning hearing boards, authorizing them to charge fees, make inspections and hold public hearings; providing for mediation; providing for transferable development rights; providing for appropriations, appeals to courts and penalties for violations; and repealing acts and parts of acts. (Title amended Dec. 14, 1992, P.L.815, No.131)

Note this covers Transferable Development Rights?  That is what many residents in West Vincent are fighting as they also fight to keep their tiny, rural community from being overdeveloped.

You know, to control things like this from happening:

cluster f

cluster f 2

clster f 3

Having nothing to do with Chester County, I also have the Syria of it all on my busy brain.  I guess I just have an Obamariffic problem with a purportedly peace-loving president who pulls troops out of places like Iraq and Afghanistan to send them to Syria. So yes, I am thinking in this case a little isolationism might be good for the United States. 

We can’t be everyone’s champion and big brother world-wide if we can’t fix issues on the home front.  We have people starving and dying every day in the United States.  We also have a crappy economy that could deal with a little love not a few more smoke screens to divert away the attention of the average American.

Anyway. That is it for the day.  Love me or hate me, this is my blog.  If you do not like what I am writing about, I will miss you, but will completely understand if you go find other blogs to read. But the reality of life is we can all have different opinions.

cults, communes, or just creepy?



For The Anthroposophical Society, see Anthroposophical Society.

Anthroposophy, a philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner, postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development. More specifically, it aims to develop faculties of perceptive imagination, inspiration and intuition through cultivating a form of thinking independent of sensory experience,[1][2] and to present the results thus derived in a manner subject to rational verification. In its investigations of the spiritual world, anthroposophy aims to attain the precision and clarity attained by the natural sciences in their investigations of the physical world.[1]

Anthroposophical ideas have been applied practically in many areas including Steiner/Waldorf education, special education (most prominently through the Camphill Movement), agriculture, medicine, ethical banking, organizational development, and the arts.[1][3][4][5][6] The Anthroposophical Society has its international center at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland.

So how many of you know that in Chester County is a hub for Anthroposophy? And other commune-ish beliefs for lack of a better word? Don’t want to use the word “cult” although I am hard pressed not to.

What, don’t believe me?  Heard of Kimberton-Waldorf School or Camphill Special School?

I fully admit I am a traditionalist when it comes to religious beliefs.  I am not one for magic underwear and double Jesuses. Not quite sure what to do with eurythmy or social finance.

I try to be live and let live, but I am amused to rediscover that in a sense the art of commune is alive and well in Chester County.  Only it’s not your good natured hippies of 1960s San Francisco. To me, while I mean these people no ill will, I find it all a little creepy.  Kind of like how I find polygamists creepy.

And there is a Big Love Chester County community that has been approved by London Grove Township for this West Grove thing called Three Groves EchoVillage:

HOMES Imagine living in a beautifully crafted home with no energy bills, a home filled with daylight and free of chemical toxins, a home that will save you money and support your family’s health, a home built to build memories. Welcome to Three Groves Ecovillage.COMMUNITY LIVING Imagine living in a place where your kids can play safely outside without supervision, a place rich with elders and youngsters, a place where neighbors look out for one another, a place that makes you feel really happy. Welcome to Three Groves Ecovillage.

Can you say commune boys and girls?   It might end up being LEED certified (another acronym for expensive building), but this is communal living. How do you feel about your neighbor washing your underwear?

Chester County Press: Supervisors give final approval to Ecovillage construction  15 Aug 11:35 , Published by ACL,  Categories:  In Print News

By Richard L. Gaw  Staff Writer

The London Grove Board of Supervisors gave final plan approval at their Aug. 7 meeting for the development of the long-awaited Three Groves Ecovillage in West Grove, an environmentally conscious development that is expected to break ground adjacent to Goddard Road this September.

Located on the corner of Prospect Avenue and West State Road, Three Groves will be a 37-unit complex that will incorporate sustainable and energy-efficient practices. It will include a common house, a natural pool, a rain garden, an orchard and walkways. The community has been designed to meet Net Zero Energy and LEED Platinum Certification.

Prior to receiving the 5-0 approval, representatives from Three Groves asked for and received waiver requests that asked for a reduction in township recreation fees for residents of  Three Groves; to remove a sidewalk to the end of the Three Groves property along State Road; as well as requests for waivers on various internal parking and roadway concerns.

Think I am being a ninny?  Check out a site called “Waldorf Watch”. They say right on their front page:

Anthroposophy, the bizarre religion concocted by Steiner.

There are nearly 1,000 Waldorf schools in the world today. Advocates of Waldorf education boast that theirs is the fastest growing independent-school movement in the world. Many thousands of children attend Waldorf schools — where they are subjected to covert occult indoctrination.
Despite the religious nature of Waldorf education, efforts are increasing — in the United States and elsewhere — to secure taxpayer support for the schools.
Humanity faces bigger problems than the proliferation of Waldorf schools and the spread of Rudolf Steiner’s esoteric doctrines. Nonetheless, the Waldorf movement should alarm anyone who is opposed to occultism.
My name is Roger Rawlings. I attended a Waldorf school from second grade through high school. My mother was secretary to the headmaster at that Waldorf school. Because I was in the school for so long, and because I occasionally questioned the headmaster, I gained some insights into Waldorf schools’ secret, occult agenda. More to the point, as an adult I have studied approximately one zillion books, booklets, and essays about Waldorf education and Rudolf Steiner’s doctrines. (It feels like a zillion, anyway.) Some of these materials were written by Waldorf educators, but the great majority were either written by Rudolf Steiner himself or they contain transcripts of lectures, meetings, and private conversations conducted by Rudolf Steiner. **  My objective here at Waldorf Watch is to share the results of my research with anyone interested in understanding the educational program that Rudolf Steiner laid out and that Waldorf schools embody today. There is nothing for sale at this website; there are no advertisements; I do not solicit anyone’s financial support. I am not looking for money or applause. My purpose is simple: It is to tell you the truth about Waldorf schools.

Chester County is also a hub of many off-shoot churches and extremely evangelical churches. These churches are off-shoots of traditional religion. One example?  Vineyard Community Church in Chester Springs. Ironically,  I know a Vineyard church pastor with a church in Ardmore.  Very nice guy, very spiritual. But this new-age approach to religion isn’t my cup of tea and these Vineyard Churches in my opinion are like a religious pyramid scheme. I know they will all be praying for me now, but I just don’t get it.  Kind of like how I do not get these new breeds of  evangelical Born Again Christians.

I guess this all goes back to my belief that I do believe religion should be part of your life if you so choose, I just don’t feel it should be captain of your life ship.  Religion like many other things in life is something I believe should be experienced in moderation.  And yes, I have touched on religion before on this blog. I try to be careful about it, because I don’t want to offend or cause villagers to raise up pitchforks, but there is stuff that just escapes me.  But I don’t have magic underwear so what do I know anyway?

Communes have a politically correct name now – “Intentional Communities”.  I found a website called Fellowship for Intentional Community and they list on their website a handy directory of your local communes.  Here is what they have listed for Chester County:

Camphill Village Kimberton Hills/Kimberton, Pennsylvania, United States:

Camphill Village Kimberton Hills is one of 10 North American communities in the Camphill movement–each one unique, yet all with similar purposes. We seek to create a renewed village life and to establish healthy social forms of human interdependence. Our approach is based on the inspirations of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, which allows each person to evolve to their potential as a respected individual

Altair Cohousing, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, United States

Altair has been active for twelve years and currently consists of five families who have invested in cohousing. We follow the traditional cohousing model and are looking to build 30-40 units ranging in size from studios to four-bedroom units. We have our eye on sites in Kimberton….We seek people of all ages and income levels. At the moment, we need a solid group of investors!  You can visit our website or contact us by email or phone.

Concord Ecovillage/Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, United States/Newark, Delaware, United States/West Chester, Pennsylvania, United States

Concord Ecovillage envisions 30-40 very environmentally friendly homes, clustered around a central walkway, with a lively, well-used common house. We will have a community organic garden, native plantings, play space for the children, and many other amenities. We are actively seeking individuals and families with or without children and value diversity. We will be located within walking distance of a small town in southern Chester County PA or New Castle County, DE. We are both a cohousing community and an ecovillage. We place an emphasis on excellent facilitation of meetings, building social ties before we build homes, and honest group dynamics.     Status: looking  for land.

Three Groves Ecovillage, West Grove, Pennsylvania, United States (Corner of State Road and Prospect Ave.)

Three Groves Ecovillage is an organization of local people seeking to build and reside in an environmentally and socially sustainable neighborhood. We will break ground in Fall 2013! We have land in London Grove Township, on the south edge of West Grove PA, and intend to build a LEED-certified Platinum ecovillage neighborhood…An inter-generational, friendly atmosphere that is safe for children and conducive to visiting with neighbors.

* A large Common House, for optional shared meals and other activities.    * A pedestrian village that is clustered around walkways and the common house, with cars parked on the periphery of the site for safety and to maintain open spaces for nature and recreation.

There is even a magazine about this stuff called “Communities” :

Since 1972, Communities has been the primary resource for information, issues, stories, and ideas about intentional communities in North America—from urban co-ops to cohousing groups to ecovillages to rural communes. Communities now also focuses on creating and enhancing community in the workplace, in nonprofit or activist organizations, and in neighborhoods, with enhanced coverage of international communities as well. We explore the joys and challenges of cooperation in its many dimensions.

This whole “group process” stuff is just weird. When did being in a traditional religion or even being in your own home or whatever it is go out of fashion? Is communal living a new trend? Are we morphing into some Logan’s Run society where soon we will make no decisions, they will be made for us? Of the sheeple, by the sheeple, for the sheeple?

I don’t get it. But Chester County has a history of cults and communes and group living.  I am told it just exists out of the normal view shed.  Here check out the “Battle Axe” Cult of North Coventry Township of the 1840s:

A quote from the Bible explaining the name. The actual quote is from Jeremiah 51:20, not 51:6: “Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms;”

Religious cult spread through Norco in mid-1800s

Sunday, January 4, 2009 2:31 PM EST

By Michael Snyder, Special to The Mercury

One Sunday in 1843, the members of Shenkel Church, in North Coventry Township, Chester County, had their weekly service interrupted by a procession of interlopers cavorting down the main aisle waving their arms and crying out. Not only were they noisy, they weren’t dressed in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes; in fact, they weren’t wearing any clothes at all.

These cavorters were not outsiders. Most were former members of the Shenkel congregation and relatives of the people seated in the pews. They weren’t thrill seekers or practical jokers, but members of the Battle Axes, a cult that made its appearance in northern Chester County in 1840.

The Battle Axes, one of the many cults that sprang up during the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival that swept through America in the early 19th century, was the creation of Theophilus Ransom Gates….

Almost all of Gates’ recruits came from northwestern North Coventry Township. This was called Shenkel’s Valley, but after the Gatesites began practicing their faith, the name Shenkel lost out to Free Love.

There probably were never any more than 35 Battle Axers. Strangely, even though Gates continued as their leader, he is seldom mentioned as having an active role in that sect in the Coventry area. According to North Coventry historian E. Spencer Claypoole, Gates and his wife, Mary, lived with Samuel Reinhard in East Coventry Township. He died Oct. 30, 1846, and is buried amongst members of the Reinhart family in the Union Cemetery in Parker Ford.

The movement was so poorly organized; there were no written codes of conduct, no formal liturgy was developed, and there doesn’t seem to have been a set time or location for their meetings. However anecdotal records reveal that group nudity, emulating the pure state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, played an important role in Battle Axe service.

They were known to have had meetings in Hannah Shingle’s spring house, present day 1525 Shenkel Road, and at the farm of George Snyder on Unionville Road. One of their favorite ritual spots was a pond on the west side of Cold Springs Road. Here, according to the historian Charles Sellers, “they would enter the water in single file.” “It was the greatest sacrilege . . . to look behind,” but “once in the water the ‘natur’of ‘em’ broke lose.”

From Farm Community to Haven for Free Sexual Affairs

Sunday Local News, West Chester, PA, pp A17-A18, March 29, 1987 Identical text to original article – added to this site Oct. 6, 1997

 By ELIZABETH HUMPHREY of the Local News Staff

In the northernmost wooded country side of Chester county lies a village called Shenkel, its serenity only a cover for the tumultuous hedonism of the past.

Consider the mid-19th century – as straight laced as women’s corsets, covered by the layers upon layers of frills and enshrouding societal “lace.” Somber and reserved.

Ironically considering the severity of repression at the start of the Victorian age, the era brought on the antithesis of reserve in many an unassuming American town.

Such was the advent of Free Love Valley (so designated on certain old Chester County maps): religious cult, nudist colony, alleged Utopia. The transformation of the small North Coventry township corners from a peaceful farming community to a haven for sexual exchange and un-inhibited nudity followed the arrival of an evangelist by the name of Theophilus Ransom Gates.

The story is told in detail by Charles Coleman Sellers in “Theophilus the Battle-Axe.” A sickly boy, born in Connecticut in 1787, he was haunted by visions of the pits of hell.

Thrown into Philadelphia’s Old Arch Street Prison for debt, Gates gained note for an impassioned public plea in which he attacked the practice of jailing debtors.

I remember in the 1980s someone telling me of some sort of communal living thing somewhere off Route 926 in Westtown.  It was described as more of a Shaker-like community. Of course, Shakers were religious commune communities, weren’t they? There was that whole Utopian mind-set and communal living, right? The Shakers gave us many things interestingly enough. Beautifully simple architecture, form meets purpose.  Baskets? Chairs? Furniture? Yet everything in its simple beauty had a purpose.

And students of history? Owenism? A communal Utopian community was in Valley Forge based on Ownenist principals – Valley Forge Community, Valley Forge, Chester County, PA (1826). Also known as “Friendly Association of Mutual Interests.”  (Check out the list of Communal Societies from the late 1600s)

I guess we can safely say communes and quasi-religious communal living is as American as apple pie.  We are a land of religious freedom, but these groups seem to forgo both religious and individual freedoms for group mentality, don’t they? Our founding fathers provided this right when our country was formed, but do these groups in fact, harken back to  (in a sense) what people were escaping from in the first place?

Any thoughts? Do we call these communities cults, communes, or just creepy?

Some further interesting reading? An old, old  book called History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, with genealogical and biographical sketches (1881) – you can read it online or get for Kindle, etc.