name that park!!! (on bacton hill road)

I love parks.  And a park naming contest is just good fun!  East Whiteland Township is having a park naming contest through March 8th.  And two of the finalist names involve parts of Chester County history right in East Whiteland that I feel very strongly about.

The suggestions to name the East Whiteland Township’s next park are in and the finalists are Bacton Hill Park, Woodyard Park and Patriot Park. You can vote on the next name until March 8.

Finalist Name Number  1: Bacton Hill Park

Bacton Hill is a region in East Whiteland that was an early village (and one of the largest early settlements in Chester County for African Americans. The Ebenezer AME Church and cemetery is a sacred space where at least three Civil War soldiers are buried. (Blogger Note: the ruins of Ebenezer and graveyard are currently in a somewhat precarious position due to proposed development)

To vote on the new name, please email info@eastwhiteland.org with a selection from the three finalists by March 8, 2018.

Finalist Name Number 2: Woodyard Park

Hiram Woodyard was a Township resident and former slave who served in the Union Army as a teamster. He was a leader in the African American community and is buried at the Ebenezer AME Church. His home still stands on Congestoga Road. Other homes he built still stand. (Blogger Note: the ruins of Ebenezer and graveyard are currently in a somewhat precarious position due to proposed development)

To vote on the new name, please email info@eastwhiteland.org with a selection from the three finalists by March 8, 2018.

Finalist Name Number 3: Patriot Park

This name reflects the historical significance of the Township, region and members of the East Whiteland community.

To vote on the new name, please email info@eastwhiteland.org with a selection from the three finalists by March 8, 2018.

My opinion? Please e-mail East Whiteland for either Woodyard Park or Bacton Hill Park.  It is the most fitting due to the physical location of the park, and it is a VERY important piece of Chester County History, as well as East Whiteland history.  Some of the dearly departed who lay in the Ebenezer graveyard have descendants who still live in and around East Whiteland, Malvern Borough, and Chester County today.

As a matter of fact, a slight segue but related to the importance of this particular area is in neighboring Charlestown on Bodine and Valley Hill Roads are the ruins of a little school for slaves and/or the children of the African Americans that settled in this area (like Bacton Hill).  It is the Longwood School and the school was built in 1857 as a one-room schoolhouse for African-American children. Charlestown Township secured the ruin and stabilized it – something I wish for Ebenzer.

Junior Girl Scout Troop 1773 adopted Longwood School. There is an essay written by a girl named Caroline. She speaks about the history of the school which was founded in 1857. It is fascinating.  Here is a long excerpt off of Charlestown Township’s website:

On March 27, 1858, the “colored” school was opened for business. It was the place where the School Board sent their “colored” children. All the “colored” children had to pay $0.04 to go to school everyday. This marked the beginning of the Longwood School.
In December of 1858 the school board agreed to add a stove, and a month to the school year now making it five months. Although the school year was increased, the schoolmaster’s salary went down.
In 1859, vast changes occurred for Charlestown Township Schools. For example, they required each student to purchase a textbook for every subject. This was a hassle for many parents. The board also demanded that the pupils were to bring absent notices, and be given an exam at the end of the year. These changes were attempts to make the schools more high quality learning systems. Exams were given at every school EXCEPT Longwood School.
During the next five years, the School Board dropped the term “colored” school and started to call it “Longwood School”. Even though this act may have seemed more respectful, it would take a lot more for Longwood to be noticed as a school.
The summer school session stopped, and the Board changed the school year to nine months. That is, in every school EXCEPT Longwood School, where it was still only five months.
By 1873, all of the “regular” schools had funding for new facilities and had been completed by this time, EXCEPT Longwood School, where no funding was made.
In 1879, Mary Lloyd was to be the teacher, but she didn’t remain long. After trying to get a new teacher, they gave up, and the children at Longwood School had no teacher for that term.
In 1887, a new teacher, Linda McPherson began taking attendance records to the public’s attention. She noted that nearly 50% of all the students had perfect attendance or missed only one day of school. This was a step to show others what a great school this was. To show that it was just like all the others, and they didn’t slack off. They worked as hard as any other school.
Finally in 1889 the Board decided to equalize the Longwood school term to the other schools, as well as the teacher’s salary. The board finally started to realize that Longwood School was a regular school.
Acceptance of the school grew when a 94-1/2 foot well was built for the school in 1895. On March 18, 1895, the Pride of Pickering Council gave the Longwood School a flag and flagpole. At last, the students were beginning to feel like a respected part of the community.
On April 26, 1885, a celebration was held for attendance of the pupils. They sang songs, read poems, and planted an oak tree. They named the oak tree “Bryant” in honor of a poem’s author, William Cullen Bryant. Under “Bryant” a glass bottle with the names of people who attended, as well as the pupil’s names was buried.
In 1901, the final teacher was reassigned, and after serving 44 years of educational services, the Longwood School was closed.
On June 1, 1902 Longwood School was sold for $2,000 dollars.

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

I will freely admit it, to see Ebenezer rise like a Phoenix from the ashes at 97 Bacton Hill Road and to have people from all over recognize how historically important Ebenezer and her departed souls are is what I would love to see.  I would also love to see a park named either Bacton Hill Park or Woodyard Park so the history (much of which we can no longer see) is remembered.

I learned more about Hiram Woodyard from someone who now lives in South Dakota

Photo is of  the grave of Hiram Woodyard at Ebenezer. 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.”

See

https://www.scribd.com/document/359542104/The-House-That-Hiram-Built

https://www.scribd.com/document/326428817/Hiram-Woodyard-s-House

https://www.scribd.com/document/359632691/Hiram-Woodyard-Chester-County-Paperwork

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.

This history is all interconnected. Naming a park to reflect the history that took place right there, and to remember the people of Bacton Hill just seems right.

Anyway, the name for the new park, a 16-acre property off Bacton Hill Road that is currently known as the Swanenburg Property, will be announced at the March 14th, 2018 East Whiteland Board of Supervisors meeting.

To vote on the new name, please email info@eastwhiteland.org with a selection from the three finalists by March 8, 2018.

Find where East Whiteland posted the naming request on their website BY CLICKING HERE. ***Also note that in the screenshot below the information, historical information is different than what I have written or which the historic commission will provide. That is because (I guess) of whomever does the East Whiteland website is very, very busy because this is one of many historical fact errors I have found in the past couple of weeks alone. The devil is in the details as they say….. ****

a new tale of ebenezer a.m.e. – an oral history

I have not written about the ruins of Ebenezer AME in a long time. But here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving and I have a wonderful story to share. It was sent to me by a former Chester County artist named Claude Bernardin who now lives in Bloomington, Indiana. He also knows my dear friend Catherine Quillman, the historian and artist who has helped me fill in the historical blanks on many an occasion.

Ebenezer AME in 1976 – photo was sent to me by Claude Bernardin who took it. This was from the side of Ebenezer that faces the mobile home park today.  None of us had seen this side until Al Terrell cleaned up the graveyard last fall.  

What I am about to post are the words of Mr. Bernardin, and the lovely green bottle and the photo of Ebenezer in 1976 are photos he sent to me. Oral histories like his are priceless. I wish my friend Al Terrell was alive to talk to Claude Bernardin!

From Claude Bernardin, his words (bold and italics):

Hiram Woodyard:

Died 12/20/1900 I believe. But certificate of death says 1/04/01.

 

He lived on an odd L shaped acre of land he was willed by Thomas Quay just below the corner of Conestoga Road and Bacton Hill Road. His parcel of land consisted ( I personally now believe… ) of a driveway easement that ran across Conestoga Road and up into the Church from the. Church rear.

His parcel of land would have been on the left side of Conestoga Road, after you turned right on Conestoga Road, heading downhill off Bacton Hill. You would first pass the old Peter Manning-smith Property ( pine trees ) a drive way and bridge on left.

Set of small woods separating the next larger Estate ( what we knew in the 1960’s and 1970’s as The Merith’s ).

That small stretch of woods used to be a long cart path heading up into the higher hills and woods between both Larger farms in the 1890’s.

Directly behind the white and green Meridith Victorian stucco farm house, back in the woods maybe 50 feet, along a little creek, on a hillside, over looking the Meriths, sits the stone foundation of an old One Room cabin. It had a small porch at one time over looking the stream and a circular well.

I grew up a stones throw away from it.

Today I think it belongs to whoever owns the Manning-Smith property and it is labeled a wild bird sanctuary.

Bobcat on Daniel P. Mannix farm, June 1971 – Claude Bernardin photo

My research suggests that this was the property of Hiram Woodyard. I dug antique bottles behind the foundation, by the big tree up stream, and even out in front of the ruins and down in that stream. That property clearly dates to 1880 – 1900.

About a decade ago an old high school friend of mine sent me some newspaper article that may have appeared in the daily local news about that region, and it mentioned some information that led me to believe that that was his property. I have since lost that information. However while working for an auctioneer I was able to get my hands on in the old 1800s map book of Chester County. Within it it showed the land parcels of that particular area and it clearly showed that property with a Cabin and I think an out house. I also own the Catherine Quillman book on the history of the Conestoga Pike, and I believe there is more information pertainingto that property within it. Putting all this information together, I have now come to the conclusion that that must be his property, and that the bottles that I dug belonged to him.

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

The last time I attempted to dig in that area I tried to dig out the cabin foundation from inside. It was just too much work for my friend and I. But I believe that there are bottles and other things down inside there. One of the things that we found was an old bedframe. The problem is that the foundation walls are collapsing into itself.

The hill beyond the cabin and down to the stream is some of the hardest clay soil I have ever dug!! If anyone was to try to do any digging in the future I would suggest using pitchforks. There are glass bottles on that hillside under the dirt, there is all kinds of barbed wire in the old wire as well.

Directly behind the cabin and in the woods further up the hill is an odd formation of land man made. I have never been able to quite figure out what it is. It is perhaps either the foundations of an old barn, or it was a man made ice pond.

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

 In other words a deliberate formation to collect rainwater and to collect blocks of ice in the winter, a common practice back in those early days. If you are standing between the cabin and that formation, off to your far left is the Manning Smith pond, where there used to be a stone Spring house. Off to your right back in the woods further up the hill there is the ruins of an old Spring house as well.

This of course would be where they would need the ice.

This is a brief listing of the bottles that were found at this site:

Kickapoo Indian Sagwa

Dr. Chamberlain’s diarrhea cure

Ball and patent fruit mason jars

Ka-tonka, the Great Indian Remedy.

Note: both katonka and kickapoo came from a local traveling Penna. snake oil salesman wagon show.

Beer bottles: hollmans of Phoenixville, pa.

J. Harley of West Chester, Pa. and an apple green Chas. Jolly Blob beer from Philadelphia.

Numerous unmarked clear whisky’ and medicines

Horlock malted milk

Heinz ketchup

Food product jars varying sizes

The Church:

First of all, my name is Claude Bernardin

I used to live at 425 Conestoga Road, east white land township.

My father: Charles, my mother : Elizabeth ( Betty )

They had 9 children.

We are all still alive.

In the 1960s I was between 5 to 12 years old. That neighborhood had a tremendous group of children of similar age. In fact at times we had little gangs.

We were quite adventurous, inventive, and curious. Many of us got to know every single character, and adult at that corner on a personal basis. We would do chores for them, many of us even took care of them in their old age. A specific legendary character that lived right at the crossroads in a two room hand built shack, was L with Michael. Mr. Michael was kind of a hobo subsistence farmer of legendary status in the community.

As I recall, the inside of the church was lined in cherry wood paneling the pews we’re still in it and what color cherry wood so was the podium.

He used to drive up and down Bacton Hill Road and Conestoga Road at all hours of the day but mostly at sunrise and the sunset on his silver gray Ford tractor to doing his bugle for all the kids to come running to say hello. He often left families with the gifts from the fields.

He was a welcome guest at our house, and in his very old age we took care of him and would bring dinner to him at his bedside. To us he was like our quirky uncle. I knew Elwood so closely that I can still hear the singsong high-pitched slangy twang of his voice. He actually talked in some sort of meter. He was a lovely man, who cared for his community.

As far as I know he never graduated from high school, and yet was one of the most intelligent man I ever knew. He read books all the time. He could recite hundreds of poems from memory, and often did while sitting on the edges of our beds to wake us up to come down and join him for breakfast.

He used to give us a ride up and down Conestoga Road and Bacton Hill.

To repay his kindness, we did our chores for him around his property, including chopping wood for his woodstove. We rode with him to the old Kane form across from the trailer court, and would help fix up his hay wagons and the old barn.

To him I was always “Claudey”.

My brother is Richard, and Peter were the mechanics and engineers in our family, also sometimes brother guy. They would help Elwood and others in the region with all kinds of mechanical needs.

Back in the mid-1960s the church was abandoned. Two children that stood out in the neighborhood from the trailer park, Doug Buettner, and George Berry.

Slightly up the street towards the corner was Bruce McNaughton. Bruce was my brother Peter is my brothers closest childhood friend, also a character.

The old church was a wonderful place. Back then it still had a roof , a wooden floor, and altar, a podium, and even church pews.

The windows were huge, with deep inset windowsills and very large wooden shutters. The floor was beginning to show signs of wear, and rot.

If my memory serves me correctly there wasn’t one broken glass window. However the roof did have holes in it.

When you walked in the front door off BactonHill Road, to your far right against the wall in the corner, was a ladder that ran to the top of the wall, it was quite rickety back then. I climbed it on several occasions trying to reach the attic, but I was afraid of heights and so I never made it. But the church must have had in the attic that ran the entire ceiling.

I can actually remember one of the older children standing at the podium to court order to our meeting, a little bit like the dead-end gang in those James Cagney movies I think. 🙂

We loved that church, and we never told anybody that we would have meetings in there and just hang out in there. By the time I was heading into college in 1976, all those children had grown up and moved away or gone their separate ways.

I had become a much more brooding artist type, so it became one of my favorite places to go to for privacy. Every now and again I would run into a raccoon.

Unfortunately by 1980 I became so busy in my life and my career I never got back there until the place had fallen in.

It remains one of my fondest memories of my childhood. I always found peace of mind in that place. The interior paneling was beaded wood paneling color of mahogany, it ran just under the windowsills. There were louvered shutters inside. Windows on outside had heavy 1890’s era double hung shutters. And deep sills. There was an attic crawl space the height of the church roof rafters with a floor, that ran full length of the church. When one entered the church door off Bacton Hill Road. The ladder up to it, It was in the front right corner. I climbed it twice – it seemed very high up to young boys.

Today I am a very well-known artist of the Chester County, in 2010, I was featured in a Catherine Quillman book called the 100 artists of the Brandywine Valley. I have done many many many paintings of that entire area. But my greatest joy was knowing all those people, and growing up in that specific spot. All of us still say we were lucky to have grown up in that region. Between the woods, the streams, the wildlife, the history you just couldn’t have asked for a better place to grow up.

My brother Richard took much care and concern throughout the 1970’s to try and cut the grass. More than most. We just got busy with our own lives.

Back in the late 60s, 1966 – 1971 my brother Richard and I, Jeffrey Manning Smith, Doug Buettner, Bruce McNaughton, we all periodically would go over to the church and cut the lawn and try to keep the weeds back. None of us really knew any history about the place, may be a bit of information came from L with Michael. But mostly no one really understood what the place was, and who once used it.

But I can recall numerous occasions we would take the lawnmowers there and cut the grass and grass with the tombstones. On several occasions we picked up the tombstones and had the wedge them up because they would have fallen.

We were aware of some bad kids in the neighborhood that had done some damage to the markers. They were scolded and warned.

We love the place and did as much work as we could after school when we would come off the school bus at that corner.

But as we grew from teenagers into young adults we became far too busy with our own lives to keep up with it.

It was also at this time that the rain water washing off Bacton Hill had become so severe that it was starting to cause erosion down through the graveyard. I can recall on several occasions complaining to my mother about it and saying I wish we could get someone to do something about this. My brother Richard and I on several occasions went there with shovels and buckets and did whatever we could to fix it back up. I do recall several graves being eroded enough that one could see down into them.

There was a specific grave that got hit the hardest every year we would have to go and fix it up. That grave was behind the church down maybe 6 feet, down the hill and behind a couple large trees off to the left. On one occasion I recall actually seeing skeletal remains. My brother and I did everything we could to cover them up and to keep the place sacred.

I had no idea the linkage of history between the church and the cabin off in the woods that I would go to to dig antique bottles. From 1970 to 1985, I spent much time campus seeing those hillsides, those woods and studying every inch of that as I could to preserve and try to find any artifacts and old bottles.

Behind the Meriths’ house and perhaps connected to woodyards cabin, I found another bottle dump. Out of that dump came many blob top beers, medicines, old jugs.

One of the bottles that made me laugh, was a mosquito bite cure, with a picture of a mosquito on it.

That area really hadn’t changed much in 100 years, as kids growing up there it could be awful at times with the mosquitoes!

Bottle I dug in stream probably used by Hiram Woodyard, dating 1895 -1889. Very rare color variant.

In my 30s, I was busy carrying on an art career, teaching art, and starting my own family. However I never forgot that place, and researched it when ever possible. One of my favorite places to research Montgomery and Chester County was the pottstown public library.

Back in the early 90s probably 1993 or 94 I checked out a book on the history of both counties.

It was a small book, and in fact now maybe it was two books I checked out. Hard for me to remember. Anyway within those books there was some documents written by soldiers in George Washington’s troops, I suppose taken from some sort of diary that they kept or reports giving back to the general.

In those reports, there was quite a lot of detailed information from soldiers in charge of their encampments. After the winter at Valley Forge, I suppose that Washington was still concerned with British troops. And so they needed to keep look out on the major roads, coming in and out of the area.

They wound up camping on that ridge, I truly believe that.

How very cool. So awesome to learn even more about the area. And this re-affirms my belief the area is history worth saving and preserving for future generations. He also tells me that the Lenape Indians used to camp near there as well. I think Al Terrell and Ann Christie would have loved to have learned about what Claude Bernardin has so generously shared with all of us!  I have been blessed to meet the most interesting and nice people because of Ebenezer.

It is my wish for Thanksgiving that the AME Church of today has an epiphany about this site and recognizes it’s importance and the wonderful people who have shown an interest and cared for the grounds over the years.  We are all but temporary stewards for the souls of Ebenezer, but I still want it to live on long after we have left.

Photo submitted by artist Claude Bernardin

eagle scout luke phayre honored at east whiteland for his ebenezer project!

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See 26.37 of the recent East Whiteland Meeting for Eagle Scout Luke Phayre being honored and deservedly so by East Whiteland Township.
Luke Phayre addressing the Board of Supervisors in East Whiteland on December 14th , 2016 when they honored him ~ Adam Farence Daily Local photo

Luke Phayre addressing the Board of Supervisors in East Whiteland on December 14th , 2016 when they honored him ~ Adam Farence Daily Local photo

I noted in East Whiteland Supervisor Bill Holmes’ comments that he (like many others)  do not know that  Ebenezer is  actually184 years old (deed of trust for land is 1832) – and yes this is a black historic cemetery solely. This is in my opinion and that of many others a very important piece of black history.  This history of ours in Chester County has people laid to rest there whose relatives still live in the area today.
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The AME Church grew out of the Free African Society in the late 1700s, but the church became it’s own entity founded in Philadelphia around 1816.  So you can see given the age of Ebenezer AME in East Whiteland, Chester County, PA that it is truly part of the early days of a church and religion founded in Philadelphia.  Bishop Richard Allen died in 1831, just months before Ebenezer came to be after Joseph Malin deeded the land.
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Ebenezer is cleaned up thanks to Willistown Eagle Scout Luke Phayre (and his fellow scouts) ,  Al Terrell and the many volunteers including local arborist Robert Phipps, Doug Buettner , Kelbey Hershey and all the volunteers from West Chester University (veteran’s group and fraternity brothers from at least two fraternities – FiJi was one of them), Captain Howard Crawford and the American Legion folks, Charae Landscape Services,  Tim Caban from East Whiteland Historic Commission, and many, many more. It has literally been a pretty large village of amazing volunteers the past few months.  I apologize if I neglected  mentioning anyone – would never wish to offend the wonderful volunteers who have come forward in 2016.

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Luke Phayre has done a truly amazing job with his Easgle Scout project.  He is an amazing young man.  He is so bright and very polite, and dedicated with an amazing work ethic.  And he has leadership skills and compassion which will take this boy far in life – such a credit to his equally amazing mom Kathy!

This has been a labor of love for me personally because until Al and Kathy and Luke came along after I had placed the first article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, up to that point no one, not even the AME Church was interested in the history and importance of the site. For years. And before me, the late Ann Christie had tried to get the place cleaned up.

People get upset for me that East Whiteland doesn’t acknowledge me for helping raise awareness, but seriously? Don’t sweat it. Local elected officials view as something like poison ivy half of the time and I am o.k. with that 🙂   I do not do what I do for any other reason than it is the right thing.

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As  soon as I first realized what Ebenezer was in 2013, I knew I had to raise awareness.  And I will continue to do so because I want this piece of serenity and history preserved for future generations.  My reward is seeing Luke Phayre and the Scouts recognized, and seeing what a community can do when it comes together.  To see Ebenezer rise like a Phoenix from the ashes at 97 Bacton Hill Road and to have people from all over recognize how historically important Ebenezer and her departed souls are is the best thing ever!

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