As I said in 2013 when I first wrote about Duffy’s Cut, given the clouds of mystery and intrigue still surrounding Duffy’s Cut, I think the foggy afternoon I photographed the historical marker was perfect. You can never truly move forward into the future if you can’t honor the past, or that is just my opinion as a mere mortal and female.
I have written before about Duffy’s Cut and thanks to my friend Dr. Bill Watson at Immaculata, I have been blessed to have been to see Duffy’s Cut twice. And no, you can’t just go, you need permission. There is private property of homeowners and AMTRAK involved, and those who show callous disregard for either put the project at risk. So please, don’t just go exploring. Dr. Watson and his brother Rev. Watson and their team have worked so hard.
My last Duffy’s Cut adventure was about a year ago. I was invited to accompany them on a brief dig last summer. I was with the Duffy’s Cut team and teachers attending the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Duffy’s Cut Teachers Institute. Everyone was so warm and welcoming to a non-educator. It was an experience I will never, ever forget.
Earlier this year, a new film on Duffy’s Cut was released. “The Cut” by Irish American Films. I was originally supposed to attend the premiere of the documentary film at Immaculata, and this was yet another thing my blasted knee at the time did not allow me to do.
But I bought the DVD and it has sat on my desk, haunting me until today. Amazing. It is amazing. So very good and true.
In the very beginning of the film they discuss the “Irish Need Not Apply” of it all. I have personal family memories attached to that. When I was little my maternal grandfather (whom I called Poppy) would tell me stories of how the Irish were persecuted at different times in this country (John Francis Xavier Gallen was Irish and born in the late 19th century) . When he was a little boy, my great grandmother Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen was in service and was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt Family in Haverford. If I recall correctly, he lost a lot of family during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of the early 20th century, but I digress. Poppy would tell me of anti-Irish sentiment and tales of “Irish need not apply”.
I remember feeling wide eyed and incredulous as a child hearing that.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child”
Today as I watched this brilliant documentary that is so honest and true, I was struck by it all again. I was also struck by the parallels into the world today in which we live. Power, political power, the almost obfuscation of the law, prejudice, religious persecution. Here we are, residents of a country where out very forefathers fought and bled and died for our rights, our inalienable rights, and look how we treat one and other? And even in 1832, when the Revolutionary War wouldn’t have been as distant a memory, let alone the War of 1812, right?
This area in 1832 was farming and countryside and rather rural. These Irish rail workers were discriminated against, abused, persecuted, and ultimately murdered. And one who was complicit? A fellow Irishman named Philip Duffy. He was by most accounts a bully who exploited these men and women who had traveled thousands of miles to a different country in the hopes of a better life. Of course by the very nature of how Duffy treated these workers, he was was also a big coward, wasn’t he? The Philip Duffys of this world persist throughout history, don’t they?
This documentary also delves into the politics and political climate of the time, which seemed somewhat chaotic. I have to ask have we evolved enough from then? It seems like history is so often doomed to repeat itself unless we take the steps to be part of the change, right?
I am the child of immigrants, including Irish. I am not related to any of these workers (at least that I know of), but this inconvenient history of Duffy’s Cut hits me at the core of my being every time I read about it. These dead men could have been my ancestors, or yours, or anyone’s. These men and women mattered. All Americans are the descendants of immigrants. It is how the U.S.A. was founded, remember?
I was struck by an interview of Walt Hunter, Duffy’s Cut Board Member, supporter and long time KYW TV 3 reporter in Philadelphia. He spoke about having a certain feeling when onsite at Duffy’s Cut. I totally get it, I have felt it twice. It’s a feeling, a knowing, an awareness that great evil happened there.
Also Dr. Bill Watson and his brother , Rev. Frank Watson can always use our continued support of this magnificent and historically important archaeological project. Donate to The Duffy’s Cut Project. You can donate via the Duffy’s Cut website, just look for the little round button partway down the front page of the website with the PayPal icon. Or click here to see the Duffy’s Cut Donation Page. You can also donate via Square and checks are graciously accepted.
Donations can be made directly to Duffy’s Cut Project by check or money order and mailed to:
Duffy’s Cut Project
C/O William Watson
21 Faculty Center
Immaculata, PA 19345-0667
This history of Duffy’s Cut is so important. Yes it is ugly and brutal and raw. It is a true tale of the horrific things human beings do to one and other. But this was so awful that I totally understand why people literally tried to make this whole part of American history, local Chester County history, disappear. To the descendants of anyone involved, I am truly sorry. It doesn’t matter that it was 1832, it’s so ugly. But the dead will not rest until the workers are all discovered and honored. And that will be a good thing.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of visiting a Duffy’s Cut archaeological dig site thanks to Dr. William Watson of Immaculata. This is my second Duffy’s Cut tour thanks to the good doctor.
I also had the opportunity to meet his team, his brother, and the teachers attending the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Duffy’s Cut Teachers Institute. Everyone was so warm and welcoming to a non-educator.
I have always wanted to see what an archaeological dig was like in real time, so I found it all fascinating!
Thanks Bill for including me!!!
Here is the PBS video of a few years ago. I have watched it a few time now and it still gets me every time – really powerful stuff:
The auction people are very nice and gracious, but you do have to stop at their registration table and fill out a form so they know who is in the house. It’s no big deal, but it is an old house. Wear sturdy shoes or good sneakers, this is an old house with many rooms and floors and stairs.
La Ronda was an amazing example of Addison Mizner’s work and was at that time (2009) one of the last remaining examples if not the last example in this area. His mansions used to dot the East Coast up through New York State if I remember correctly. And in the end with La Ronda even the seller and owner were at odds over salvage rights.
La Ronda was an amazing property. I was lucky to be able to photograph her from outside her gates before she fell. I was there like like dozens of others on demolition day. I took photos as tears ran down my face at the sheer waste of something so amazing. Even local commissioner were there and crying. It was awful . It was a house that was beloved by her former community, just like Loch Aerie is today. And just as symbolic and recognizable which is why people sometimes call Loch Aerie Chester County’s La Ronda.
The clock is ticking but not all is lost. Loch Aerie just needs a preservation buyer and not a developer who is land greedy who will buy her for the 6 acres in total she comes with and let her rot as opposed as to just lie fallow with a caretaker in residence.
Loch Aerie has stood there on her hill and watched Chester County change. This mansion has survived Home Depot being built, turnpike and other highway expansions, motorcycle gangs and general ignorance.
Addison Hutton is one of the finest architects that ever worked or lived in Philadelphia. Loch Aerie is fanciful and lyrical in her Swiss Gothic style. Her original gardens were designed by Charles P. Miller, the landscape architect who designed Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. The gardens are all but gone and the difference between this spring and some other springs I have seen Loch Aerie go through seems to be that some of the last remaining foundation plantings are but memories.
I will note that East Whiteland Historical Commission has a meeting tomorrow evening – 4/6/2016 from 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm. Supposedly they will be discussing Loch Aerie although no agenda is posted as per usual. they also never seem to post any meeting minutes. So I can’t tell you what they are doing but they certainly have not gotten out in front of this. Or if they have it’s a secret they keep from everyone.
We can’t save every old house, barn, mansion, structure but we should save some, right? The crime here is just like with the Old Conestoga Inn in Tredyffrin, the Strawbridge House next to the boat place on 30 in Malvern, or Linden Hall on Route 30 in Malvern at the base of 352 and countless other structures all over, there is nothing legally keeping any of them from being torn down. The drawback to living in Pennsylvania, which is a heavy private property rights state (which of course given the eminent domain for private gain all over the state for decades is somewhat contrary in and of itself.)
But the thing is this: Pennsylvania needs more meaningful historic preservation. And there need to be more financial incentives available to preservation buyers. Other states in this country have them.
Communities around Pennsylvania desperately need balance and even protections from development. What defined a suburb and exurb in the past may no longer fit and how does historic preservation in communities fit in? The truth is historic preservation is more of a nice option in Pennsylvania rather than the occasional requirement.
Sorry, don’t mean to put you to sleep, but I feel quite passionately about preserving our open spaces and history.
Loch Aerie is a symbol to us. A symbol of the rich history and past, homage to a time gone by, an example of legendary architecture which has withstood the test of time and is still so beautiful. And Loch Aerie could be a private home again, or an adaptive reuse. It would be a fabulous boutique hotel and there is a need. I could see a small hotel with a chic restaurant on the first floor.
Even artists have been captivated by Loch Aerie over time. In a garage sale group I bought a print done by Chester County artist named Christopher Schultz. Schultz used to present the land and wildlife of the Brandywine Valley in his watercolors and prints of his watercolors. What I got was Loch Aerie. Apparently the print was popular 15 to 20 years ago. I have never seen anything else by this artist, and I bought this print because it was of Loch Aerie. Not terribly valuable but pretty and spoke to me because of the subject matter.
Loch Aerie speaks to me as she does to so many of you. She needs a preservation buyer. She deserves to be saved. But someone has to want to and be able to afford to do it. Here is hoping and praying that somewhere preservation buyers are thinking about this. It would be criminal for Pennsylvania to lose this treasure.
I saw Duffy’s Cut today. It took my breath away. It is such a compelling story, and it is an eerie, silent, almost sacred place. Yet it is also an inconvenient history, an inconvenient truth.
When I was little my one grandfather whom I called Poppy would tell me stories of how the Irish were persecuted at different times in this country (John Francis Xavier Gallen was Irish and born in the late 19th century) . When he was a little boy, my great grandmother Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen was in service and was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt Family in Haverford. If I recall correctly, he lost a lot of family during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of the early 20th century, but I digress. Poppy would tell me of anti-Irish sentiment and tales of “Irish need not apply”.
My other grandfather, Pop Pop, would tell me of anti-Italian sentiment. Poppy’s wife, my grandmother (my Mumma), who was Pennsylvania German, would tell me tales of anti- German sentiment during both world wars. And so did my own mother. Yes, I am off on a slight tangent here, but for all that the United States was founded as a nation of immigrants, different sets of immigrants have been persecuted at different times throughout our history and even today. Considering the immigrant stock that runs through my veins I identify with this and am basically unapologetic about my views.
So maybe while Duffy’s Cut is one of Chester County’s most astounding and horrific pieces of history, can it also be said cruelty to various sets of immigrants is as much a part of this country’s inconvenient history as slavery and indentured servitude were?
But back to Duffy’s Cut. I heard about that from my Poppy as a little girl, yet we never learned about it in history class in school. Well one history teacher I had knew of it, but it wasn’t taught to us.
I first wrote about Duffy’s Cut in 2013. I happened to be passing by the Duffy’s Cut historical marker at the time, and stopped to photograph it. Given the clouds of mystery and intrigue still surrounding Duffy’s Cut, I think the foggy afternoon was perfect. I also think that given the development occurring in Malvern (borough and East Whiteland) by developers who don’t truly give a rat’s fanny about the area, the history, or the current residents (they care about building and selling projects) it is also appropriate to remember the history. You can never truly move forward into the future if you can’t honor the past, or that is just my opinion as a mere mortal and female.
Duffy’s Cut is a big deal. What was Duffy’s Cut? Most simplistically the mass murder of Irish rail workers in 1832 around the time of a cholera outbreak they were blamed for but most say in actuality didn’t cause.
…..Duffy’s Cut, the….tale of 57 Irish immigrants who left their deeply divided homeland in search of a better life in America, only to be discriminated against, struck with disease, and tossed into a mass grave beside the tracks within two and a half weeks of their arrival….. The tale of Duffy’s Cut is more than a local story; it’s even more than an Irish story. It’s a story of human indifference and cruelty, of family legends, and of the power of technology to uncover the truth.
In April 1832, a ship called the John Stamp embarked on a journey from Derry, Ireland, to Philadelphia. Aboard the ship were about one hundred Irish immigrants. They left poverty and religious strife in Ireland; they came in search of “The American Dream.” After a long journey, the John Stamp arrived in Philadelphia safely on June 23, 1832, during an unusually hot and humid summer. Historian Earl Schandelmeier III sums up what it was like for an immigrant at this time, “you came over and either made your way or you didn’t.”
…..In charge of a particularly difficult portion of this stretch [of Railroad] was Phillip Duffy, an Irish contractor who lived in Willistown Township, Chester County. He had many contracts with the Philadelphia & Columbia and West Chester Railroads from 1829 to 1849. Track Mile 59 of the former was significantly more difficult than any other mile and delayed the whole project for over a year….Track mile 59, later known as Duffy’s Cut, was a setback. Duffy was in need of men who would work tirelessly for little pay.
Phillip Duffy ventured down to the Philadelphia docks on June 23, 1832, and met the immigrants who had just come ashore from the John Stamp. He greeted the immigrants and persuaded 57 of them to work for him on track mile 59 (Duffy’s Cut). The men were put up in a shantytown and given strict orders not to leave the camp. Duffy’s new laborers were loathed by locals; they were looked upon as less than human…. within two and a half weeks all 57 were dead.
There had been a cholera outbreak. People believed the Irish bought the disease with them. They didn’t as the records for the ship would later prove, but it didn’t matter. Those 57 men (and a woman) were immigrants who spoke mostly Gaelic and lived in the shanty town created to house them next to the railroad (Philadelphia and Columbia line) they were helping create in Malvern.
These immigrants were different. They were “dirty Irish” and locals at the time were suspect of them and threatened by them. I am sorry that sounds awful, but it is an unfortunate truth. I think that and the murder of at least some of these Irish rail workers is why this story has taken so long to unfold and is still continuing.
For example did you know that there is an edition of a paper that was a predecessor (I believe) of the Daily Local called the Village Record.
The October 3, 1832 edition of the paper had an accurate telling of what happened down at Duffy’s Cut earlier that year. The edition of the paper disappeared. The only thing that still exists is the November 8th correction article. The more palatable version of events (yet how was any of it ever palatable or acceptable?)
So my friend and I met with Dr. William Watson at Immaculata today, and he took us to the site. I will not disclose the exact location of the site because well, shall we say, Duffy’s Cut still makes people uncomfortable. And modern day residents who live near this piece of history deserve to NOT be pestered by amateur sleuths and ghost chasers.
Dr. Watson and his brother Reverend Frank Watson became intrigued by Duffy’s Cut when they were given a file that had been in the possession of their grandfather, Joseph F. Tripician. Their grandfather had been a secretary to Martin Clement, the 11th president of The Pennsylvania Railroad. Their grandfather had Clement’s old file on Duffy’s Cut. (And it was Clement who put up the stone monument at the edge of the tracks.)
Photo courtesy or Rev Frank Watson and Dr William Watson – Part of the PRR employee Julian Sachse document from the papers of Mr. Tripician from Martin Clement. This image appears many places including where I found it Duffy’s Cut: The Murder Mystery of Malvern By William S. Patton III, Spring 2014 (PSU.edu)
In April 2010 Smithsonian Magazine had this amazing article on Duffy’s Cut. You can read it online today.
And articles keep being written . Especially because Dr. Watson and his brother and their team have actually gotten some of the remains returned to family descendants in Ireland to be buried with other family members.
The world has taken notice of Duffy’s Cut and what happened there. Perhaps more so than around here truth be told. However, in 2012 an Inquirer reporter named Kristin Holmes wrote a wonderful article about the Duffy’s Cut workers remains which were given burial space at West Laurel Hill Cemetery.
When the bodies of the 57 Irish immigrants were dumped into a mass grave in 1832, it was a secret, perhaps meant to shroud a violent end.
But 180 years later, in a ceremony to commemorate the railroad workers’ deaths, there was pomp and fanfare.
Bagpipes, a procession, and a regal, 10-foot high Celtic cross grave marker were part of a funeral service Friday meant to give five of the 57 the proper burial they never had.
The observance at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd was the culmination of a 10-year research project, known as Duffy’s Cut, to determine the fate of the workers who stepped off a boat from Ireland in June 1832 and were dead eight weeks later.
While most died of cholera in an epidemic that swept the region, researchers say some may have been slain in an act rooted in fear and prejudice….The investigation began in 2002 when the Watson brothers, 49, read a secret file that mentioned the workers and a mass grave. The papers were left to them by their grandfather, who worked as a secretary to the president of what was then the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, and is now part of SEPTA.
The brothers began research that would eventually involve geophysicist Timothy Bechtel; the Chester County Coroner’s Office; Earl Schandelmeier, an adjunct professor at Immaculata; Janet Monge, the keeper of skeletal collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; and others. Project researcher John Ahtes died of a heart attack in the midst of the investigation….
The men from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry Counties sailed to the United States and were promptly hired by railroad man Philip Duffy of Willistown. The mass of workers lived in a shanty near the tracks. The washerwoman served them. Within eight weeks, they were dead – of cholera and other causes.
Four skulls unearthed at the shanty site show signs of blunt trauma, investigators said. One has a hole that might be from a bullet.
The men probably were the victims of anti-Irish sentiment, the fear of cholera, and prejudice against immigrants, researchers say.
“Their sacrifice has been our motivation,” Frank Watson said.
“Their sacrifice has been our motivation.” How beautiful a sentiment is that?
In the spring of 2013, the New York Times continued with another part of the story: they covered the remains of young John Ruddy being returned to his descendants in Ireland:
MALVERN, Pa. — They laid his bones in a bed of Bubble Wrap, with a care beyond what is normally given to fragile things. They double-boxed those bones and carried them last month to the United Parcel Service office on Spruce Street in Philadelphia. Then they printed out the address and paid the fee.
With that, the remains of a young man were soon soaring over the Atlantic Ocean he had crossed once in a three-masted ship. His name is believed to have been John Ruddy, and he was being returned to the Ireland he had left as a strapping teenage laborer. In 1832.….Three weeks ago, the Watson brothers joined a small crowd gathered in a church cemetery in the small Donegal town of Ardara. They prayed and sang under a limestone sky, as a young laborer, late of Duffy’s Cut, received his delayed but proper burial.
Decades ago, just before the Pennsylvania Railroad was auctioned off, Watson’s grandfather — who worked for the company — saved key company records before they were destroyed. Among them were documents that hypothesized the location of the mass grave and reported the deaths of 57 workers.
The documents also clearly stated that the information was intended to remain a secret.
It was a “crazy coincidence” that the railroad company’s records survived through his family, Watson said.
The papers confirmed fears of a cover up. If the men’s deaths were due to cholera, why weren’t they recorded in a local paper, like most cholera deaths were at that time? And why would some of the bodies have been brutalized?
The answers remain elusive.
Have you noticed when you mention Duffy’s Cut you get many reactions/opinions? Ok I get it. Some day the entire truth will come out….and I wouldn’t want to be related to people who either took part in making these workers disappear or the cover up which ensued. It will be like saying you are related to Benedict Arnold. Or a slave owner. And it is something else historically wonky that basically happened in East Whiteland. (Dare I say it? Has the East Whiteland Historical Commission ever opined on this? Participated in research in any way? Or just erected a slightly historically inaccurate sign?)
But it is part of our history around here. And for those of us with at least partial Irish lineage, well, don’t you just want to know? Will finally learning the truth be so bad? John Ruddy from Donegal and the woman Catherine Burns from Tyrone have been returned to their modern descendants and buried in Ireland. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to identify the remains of more workers so that they could be sent home to their modern day descendants and rest in peace?
Fresh research and searching for the truth is underway. That has gotten a lot of coverage the past few months in Ireland, incidentally:
You will notice in the Walt Hunter report the incorrect verbiage on the Duffy’s Cut sign by the stone monument – by the East Whiteland Historical Commission. I mean I guess they tried but they state the wrong year (1834 when the incidents occurred in 1832) and the well wrong cause of death – black diphtheria, and the disease was cholera. The text of the sign is “Burial Plot of Irish Railroad Workers. Died Summer of 1834 of Black Diptheria- East Whiteland Historical Commission.”
Core samples are being taken. Amtrak seems to be cooperating a little more (I call that a true Christmas miracle – hopefully that continues.)
And oh yeah, thanks to the latest Walt Hunter story Duffy’s Cut has even made People Magazine. So what of other local media? Since it was the paper that possibly eventually became the Daily Local (Village Record, West Chester, PA) had that article that disappeared from October 3rd, 1832 how about an in-depth update from our local paper or any of the other Chester County newspapers?
Dr. Watson took us to the little museum at Immaculata where we saw the artifacts and heard the tale. I also find it fascinating how many songs and musical tributes to Duffy’s Cut exist. (You can buy a CD of songs on the Duffy’s Cut Project Website.) But it was when he took us to the site where it hit home ten days before Christmas.
The site feels almost sacred and is so quiet except for the occasional piercing whistle of a passing train or a hawk overhead. Dr. Watson told us not only the tale of the workers but his tale of his grandfather’s file and all the twists and turns it has taken to get this far.
And as his words floated in the air around us and I gazed at a stone monument and surrounding woods, could I heard in my imagination the sounds of the workers? Did they just sort of float in the air outside of our normal consciousness? I am not being fey or deliberately dotty but when you stand there and you hear what happened to them, you can almost see and hear the past…and feel it.
We need to put this right. We need to support this ongoing project as a community. It is part of our history on so many levels, like it or not. We can’t undo what happened, but we can help correct it on some level by finally getting the entire story told.
And finally we can learn from this. Every generation in this country founded by immigrants fleeing persecution, we somehow as a nation seem to persecute over and over different sets of NEW immigrants to this country. How is that showing the religious and cultural tolerance on which this country was founded?
As a society, we can do better. We need to honor our dead locally whether at Duffy’s Cut or the ruins of Ebenezer AME Church on Bacton Hill Road, or farther out towards Kennett Square and elsewhere where other bits of our history is disappearing whether it takes the form of old houses involved in the Underground Railroad, to all the abandoned graveyards that dot Chester County and the rest of the state.
We shouldn’t whitewash our history or pretend uncomfortable and horrific things didn’t happen. We learn from those mistakes. If you cover them up, as human beings we are then doomed to repeat them unless we break the cycle and face the past.
I have a bunch of photos from today from the site and the museum. I will get to them over the next day or so. You can visit the Duffy’s Cut Museum in the Library at Immaculata when the library is open. The actual Duffy’s Cut site is NOT open to the public it is impossibly located to do that, so kindly respect that fact because so many over the years have not. People folly hunting for Duffy’s Cut only jeopardize the work that archeologists, geologists, and historians are trying to accomplish and that is not right.
Before I sign off, a big thank you to Dr. William Watson. He is kind of a big deal history professor and he took the time for us to show us Duffy’s Cut and tell us all about their work surrounding that. Educators like him make all the difference in how you learn and I think his students are so very lucky to have a professor with a passion for history like he has.
This has been a very long post….so thanks for reading through until the end and for stopping by.
Look at it crumble. Astounding. Soon the vines that twist and cover will own what I believe to be an 18th century house next to Clews & Strawbridge on Route 30 in Frazer, PA. Does anyone know anything about this? And is this the ultimate historic preservation in what I assume is East Whiteland? Structures just molder until they completely rot away? So if I am say, “Getting on Board With Bill”, is this what I am signing up for? Should things like this that rot (Loch Aerie, Linden House, Ebenezer AME just to name a few in East Whiteland) be considered accomplishments during his tenure? I am a realist, and I know that not every old house can be saved, nor every truly historic structure, but wow, it just seems like East Whiteland Supervisors need to kick it up a notch, don’t they? Why can’t they ask all these deep pocketed developers in the Township to assist?
Where is historic preservation in East Whiteland? I mean other than what Immaculata has accomplished for Duffy’s Cut that is?
Sounds a bit dramatic, but it got your attention, didn’t it? On Good friday, one of the holiest of holy days, I ask you to remember a small but historically significant church that is rotting in Frazer in East Whiteland Township, Chester County. It is on Bacton Hill Road and it is Ebenezer AME Church.
According to the East Whiteland Historical Society (which I am not sure what they do because all I see are historic structures rotting in East Whiteland) this church used to serve as a “hub” of African American society in Frazer. So again on Good Friday I ask again why isn’t any of it being protected?
In any Christian religion, Easter is a very big deal. Imagine Easters of the past in this little church. Ladies and gents in their Sunday best, the ladies sporting spring hats. The laughter and joyful sounds of children outside after services have concluded? The pastor standing outside wishing his congregation well and God speed?
The headquarters of the AMEC church are as follows:
500 8th Avenue South Nashville, TN 37203 Phone:(615)254-0911 Fax:(615)254-0912 Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
I am going to e-mail these posts to AMEC and see if they will care. Certainly no one else I have e-mailed to date has appeared to care.
East Whiteland always seems to be Johnny on the Spot for historical data yet all this stuff just rots. Peter H. Spengeman, a member of the East Whiteland Township Historical Commission wrote to me recently in part:
I appreciate the writer’s interest and concern about the considerable historical resources in the Township , and the ongoing need for protection of structures such as the Ebenezer AME Church, a recent focus of beginning conservation planning. All of us shudder when we pass a formerly stately structure crying for help.
He continues with what East Whiteland has done in the past, and well, the past is the past. What is going on today? I am going to not try to sound harsh, but what is it they do besides bemoan the fact that a heck of a lot of history in East Whiteland is rotting? Loch Aerie, Linden House, and more? For example (I do not know all the municipal boundaries so feel free to correct me) but isn’t part of Duffy’s Cut that Amtrak won’t allow any more archeological digs on in East Whiteland? Is the mass grave important enough that maybe another marker closer to the actual site is in order?
I get that part of the problem is East Whiteland has probably more commercial zones than residential so why not get smart with zoning and planning? Is it possible to write into ordinances and make conditions of approval that not only include these developers to improve the roads and infrastructure, but to kick in towards the preservation? I mean seriously they have developers with huge, deep pockets like Brian O’Neill and Eli Kahn, right? I mean Brian O’Neill is Catholic with a sense of religion, right? Why couldn’t they ask someone like him to save a church? Help get another historical marker closer to the actual location of Duffy’s Cut mass grave (Where AMTRAK halted archeological digging) ? Or help find a conservation minded buyer for say Linden Hall or Loch Aerie?
Both developers and their partners have made noises out here and elsewhere about how their developments add to the character of an area, so why not have them put their money where there mouths are on historic sites? Paoli Battlefield and Battle of the Clouds are important, but why is it I see neighboring municipalities succeeding with preservation efforts? Historic Sugartown, Historic Goshenville, and even though sometimes I think they need to do more, Historic Yellow Springs?
This church meant something to residents of Chester County for generation upon generation. I was also told (and I quote) “Some of the family names on the gravestones are the same as families still living in Malvern Borough. I can’t blame the Township when the church and the families don’t seem to care.”
I will tell you what, if some of my people were buried in an abandoned churchyard I sure would care.
So here is wishing on Good Friday that apathy dies an untimely death and people remember this site before my photos are the only things left standing.
Again, I am happy to share the photos I have taken to date. If the African Methodist Episcopal Church were to roll up with East Whiteland to save it, I would continue to offer my photographic skills as a donation as well as my PR talents. But someone other than I has to care, first.
Ironically and as life might have it, as I was out yesterday taking photos, someone from the East Whiteland Historical Society popped by to leave a comment on my post. His name is Peter H. Spengeman and this is what he had to say:
As a member of the East Whiteland Township Historical Commission, I appreciate the writer’s interest and concern about the considerable historical resources in the Township , and the ongoing need for protection of structures such as the Ebenezer AME Church, a recent focus of beginning conservation planning. All of us shudder when we pass a formerly stately structure crying for help. To mount preservation efforts , it does require committment, time and often public advocacy and substantive funds to ensure that bricks and mortar are added to create stability of these structures as well as interest in publicizing our rich history. We are pleased that the Supervisors of the Township have supported the Historical Commission over the years, as well as past and recent efforts by the County of Chester and private societies to catalog all resources and provide new and excellent research into the Paoli Battlefield and Battle of the Clouds. The Township Historical Commission now has openings, and those in the community who feel strongly about historical preservation are welcome to come to a meeting, held the second Tuesday of each month, and see if they would be interested in contributing. Thank you,
Peter H. Spengeman, Member, EWTHC
I am going to not try to sound harsh, but what is it they do besides bemoan the fact that a heck of a lot of history in East Whiteland is rotting? Loch Aerie, Linden House, and more? For example (I do not know all the municipal boundaries so feel free to correct me) but isn’t part of Duffy’s Cut that Amtrak won’t allow any more archeological digs on in East Whiteland? Is the mass grave important enough that maybe another marker closer to the actual site is in order?
Or Linden Hall or Lock Aerie? Have they sought commercial conservation minded buyers or donations from the developers getting rich off of East Whiteland?
I get that part of the problem is East Whiteland has probably more commercial zones than residential so why not get smart with zoning and planning? Is it possible to write into ordinances and make conditions of approval that not only include these developers to improve the roads and infrastructure, but to kick in towards the preservation? I mean seriously they have developers with huge, deep pockets like Brian O’Neill and Eli Kahn, right?
Both developers and their partners have made noises out here and elsewhere about how their developments add to the character of an area, so why not have them put their money where there mouths are on historic sites? I would even say welcome them making corporate offices out of a historic structure in a commercial zone – we all know it is not going to go back to residential so why not encourage a developer to preserve the facade and do an adaptive reuse of the interior?
Paoli Battlefield and Battle of the Clouds are important, but why is it I see neighboring municipalities succeeding with preservation efforts? Historic Sugartown, Historic Goshenville, and even though sometimes I think they need to do more, Historic Yellow Springs?
I note that East Whiteland’s Historic Commission has openings, but I am a writer, not a board person. I have little patience for boards where not much has changed in decades and trust me, they would not like my impatience. I am doing them a favor by raising awareness, what I do not get is how they seem unable to think outside the box here. Why not go to their supervisors and ask for more public and private partnerships? After all, Chester County has great wealth in it, and it is win-win for those who have those beautiful estates and properties to have what lies around them look nice too. Preservation and adaptive reuse can do that.
Also to be commented upon is that I sent out my initial post to historical groups who keep records of the black soldiers who served in the Civil War and others interested in local history and preservation and not one acknowledged receipt of the e-mail or commented on the post. I also sent to media outlets and did not hear anything. But that part doesn’t surprise me because history, crumbling history, and historic preservation aren’t sexy to the masses that feed off local and regional media. I will remind the print and t.v. media that you used to cover stuff like this.
So on Palm Sunday I offer you photos of Ebeneezer AME, or should I say her ruins in Frazer. This church meant a lot to a lot of people for a lot of years, right? Is this how we honor her dead buried in her church yard, or what was her church yard? I wondered as I took my photos yesterday if descendants of the dead buried there even know they have people in this old abandoned churchyard?
I have no idea who owns this, maybe the state, but I know from paying attention to other cases involving abandoned churches and grave yards, local municipalities like East Whiteland can take them over. And seriously what would it cost to put a little fence and marker up and to cut the weeds? You could probably interest more boy scout troops and archeological types to help right the graves. All it would take would be a little effort on the part of say, East Whiteland Historical Society.
EWTHC I have started something here for you, am happy to share my photos. Am happy to volunteer in as much as trying to raise awareness and take photos of preservation efforts should they actually occur. But you have to actually want to care about this stuff and again, not trying to be mean, it is a little hard to decide what it is you care about – on East Whiteland’s website there are no current agendas or meeting minutes since 2009.
Duffy’s Cut victim John Ruddy, late of Chester County, is to be buried after services March 2 in County Donegal, Ireland.
Ruddy was one of up to 57 Irish immigrants who died of cholera and probable mob violence at an East Whiteland railroad construction site known as Duffy’s Cut.
Ruddy and the others are believed to have died nearly 181 years ago in the last two weeks of August 1832. Ruddy was 18.
His are the only remains thus far identified from an incident that was successfully hidden from the general public until recent years.
Professor William Watson of Immaculata University released details of the funeral arrangements. Services are set for 3 p.m. at Holy Family Church in Ardara, Donegal. Burial will be in the church cemetery.
A week or so I happened to be passing by the Duffy’s Cut historical marker (I got a historical marker approved a few years ago and it is a lot of work to get one of them) and stopped to photograph it. Given the clouds of mystery and intrigue still surrounding Duffy’s Cut, I think the foggy afternoon was perfect. I also think that given the development occurring in Malvern (borough and East Whiteland) by developers who don’t truly give a rat’s fanny about the area, the history, or the current residents (they care about building and selling projects) it is also appropriate to remember the history. You can never truly move forward into the future if you can’t honor the past, or that is just my opinion as a mere mortal and female.
In June, 1832, a group of 57 Irish immigrants from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry arrived in Philadelphia. They were brought to Chester County by a fellow Irishman named Philip Duffy as laborers for the construction of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, Pennsylvania’s pioneering railroad. Within six weeks, all were dead of cholera and possibly violence, and were buried anonymously in a ditch outside of Malvern.
Two brothers, Frank and Bill Watson have done yeoman’s work on this topic of Duffy’s Cut. Read about them in the Wall Street Journal:
The Mystery of Duffy’s Cut
Historians Dig for Truth About What—or Who—Killed Early Rail Workers
MALVERN, Pa.—Frank and Bill Watson recently led a group hoisting shovels and pick axes into a wooded hollow here in Philadelphia’s suburbs.
“Let’s find some bodies,” said Bill Watson, a professor of history at nearby Immaculata University.
Two children playing nearby scampered away before the men led by the Watsons—twin brothers and historians—started chipping away at a hillside hemmed in by two housing developments and busy railroad tracks.
The Watsons are on a macabre mission that began with a file of railroad company documents left behind by a grandfather and curiosity about what exactly happened at this spot—known as Duffy’s Cut—nearly 180 years ago.
This much is clear: Nearly 60 Irish laborers died here in 1832 as they built a land bridge for what became the thriving railroad that lent its name to Philadelphia’s affluent Main Line suburbs.
Their bodies were believed to be buried in a mass grave next to the railroad line, used today by Amtrak and local commuter trains. Tales of ghost sightings nearby were passed down through generations of area residents.
Cholera seemed the most likely culprit. Newspaper reports from the time reported that the disease killed several of the laborers at Duffy’s Cut. And an 1833 letter written by a superintendent of a precursor of the Pennsylvania Railroad said the contractor who hired the workers, Philip Duffy, lost “nearly one half of his men” to cholera. But early in their research, the Watsons began to suspect there might be more to the story….
In 2009, they began finding skeletal remains of at least four people. While many questions linger, the Watsons have become convinced at least three of them didn’t die of cholera.
One skull has holes with traces of lead on the edges, indicating a bullet’s entry and exit wounds, as well as a narrow slit that appeared to be delivered by an axe or hatchet. Another has a compression fracture suggesting it was caused by a blunt object. The third had dents in the skull indicating violence….
The work at Duffy’s Cut has received media attention in Ireland, and the Watsons have told the story to Irish heritage groups here. Michael Collins, the Irish ambassador to the U.S., has visited Duffy’s Cut twice.
“I was really struck by the human tragedy of all these young people dying so soon after coming here, and family back in Ireland never knowing what happened to them, or even knowing that they were dead,” he said. “Their story needs to be told.”
Unfortunately as of October 31, 2011 from what I can tell the archeological digs stopped. It seems AMTRAK had enough. I am not surprised. I made a bit of a project out of them once upon a time and they are souless money grubbers who are horrible neighbors, charge ridiculous amounts for often dirty, smelly trains and piss poor service, so why would I be surprised history was also not their forte? The short answer is I am not.
I have not found anything more recent than a 2012 YouTube video put out by The University of Pennsylvania. Of course one would think our Congressman Jim Gerlach and our US Senators, State reps, State Senator Any Dinniman, and Gov. Corbett might show an interest in getting whatever that is left to be done gets done? But until they do, I daresay the ghosts of Duffy’s Cut will wander.
The dig for Irish remains at Duffy’ Cut in Pennsylvania has come to an end.
Frank and Bill Watson, the historians who first located the remains of Irish railroad workers, many of whom are believed to have been murdered in 1832, say that the mass grave they have been seeking is unreachable
It has been located 30 feet underground but too near to an existing Amtrak track to unearth it. It is said to hold the remains of up to 57 Irish emigrants from Donegal, Derry and Tyrone.
The Watsons, believe most of the Irish were likely victims of lynch mobs driven by anti-Irish sentiment which was widespread at the time.
The discovery of the mass grave came when geophysicist Tim Bechtel used updated equipment electrical imaging and seismic surveys, to discover the mass grave 30 feet below the surface.
It’s also on Amtrak property. They will not permit any digging because of its proximity to the tracks, spokeswoman Danelle Hunter told Associated Press.…The mass remains are of Irish immigrants, mostly from Donegal, who were building the railroad near Philadelphia when they all mysteriously died….
Frank and Bill Watson with the help of volunteers and archaeologists proved via DNA and testing that most of the Irish had been murdered and did not die of cholera.
“Since the beginning, we have seen it as our job to get their story out of folklore and into actual history, and we hope we have done that,” Bill Watson told Associated Press.
A local monument stated the men had died of “black diptheria” in 1834 but it is known they died two years earlier.
Soon after they started digging they found the remains of six people and a nearby shantytown.
University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Janet Monge found proof of savage violence done to the remains including a bullet wound to the head of one of them.
Many locals had been sceptical that anything would be found. East Whiteland Township Manager Terry Woodman told AP.
“Some people thought that this was lore, a story that through the telling had been exaggerated,” Woodman said. “There was a lot of skepticism.”
The rest who were killed were ordered buried in a mass grave and their shantytown burned to the ground.
One victim was identified victim as 18-year-old John Ruddy, based on his bone size and the passenger list of a ship that came from Ireland to Philadelphia shortly before the men died.
The brothers plan to bury the remains found in a suburban Philadelphia cemetery around St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.
Dennis Downey, a history professor at Millersville University, said the work done has been invaluable.
So Malvern, as you look at the developer tarting up one end of the town to sell his project, remember what happened in the East Whiteland side of Malvern. Here’s hoping some day the dead there can all rest. They certainly didn’t get what they deserved coming to America looking for honest work.