remains of the day…on bacton hill

Bacton Hill Farm house March 2013

Bacton Hill Road Farmhouse March, 2013

The other day I wrote one my last big post on Ebenezer AME on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, PA. I told you my faithful readers and local history buffs why I was giving up, and there is no need to re-hash that.  Nothing has changed.

However, my friend and I came down Bacton Hill on our way back from Fricks Locks.  As she was driving, I was able to snap a few photos.  I think it is important to record it now, because as soon as those development houses go up next to Ebenezer and the Malvern Courts mobile home park, what is left of old Bacton Hill will cease to exist for sure.

It’s almost gone, now. This farmhouse I have photographed should be some sort of historic asset, but it is not.  It has been rotting and will be demolished so the land can be cleared for part of this development that is coming.

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Bacton Hill Road  Farmhouse in Frazer August 26, 2018. This farmhouse was built in 1840, just a few years after Ebenezer AME was built. It was a four bedroom farmhouse and was undoubtedly purchased for it’s 2 acres of land. I think this may have been called the Benjamin Smith House but am not certain.

Bacton Hill has serious historic significance, but it doesn’t matter. Only progress and development seem to matter. The park East Whiteland is planning up the road towards where the road meets Swedesford will carry the name Bacton Hill, but give it 10 years more and no one will remember what Bacton Hill was.

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Alice Gassaway’s grave August 25, 2018. The only grave you can now see at all through the brush and weeds.  She is buried closest to the road.

Bacton Hill is a region in East Whiteland that was an early village (and one of the largest early settlements) in Chester County settled by and for African Americans. The Ebenezer AME Church and cemetery is a sacred space where at least three Civil War soldiers are buried.

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Alice Gassaway’s grave in 2016

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.

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. He was an inhabitant of Bacton Hill.

Soon all that will be left of the area will be my blog posts including this one from 2017 which is an oral history complete with some really cool photos courtesy of Claude Bernadin, or this one from 2015, this one from 2016, this one from 2017, the ceremony November 2016, a post from October 2016, another one from October 2016, when for  brief moment people stopped to visit the old souls now covered by weeds and brush once more, 2015 post which had links to earlier posts. Also will be the occasional newspaper article from every newspaper reporter who tried to raise awareness to this area and to Ebenezer.

Once upon a time people tried to get a Bacton Hill Historic District or something like that. It’s a shame it never happened.  Because at least then there would have been a more organized history of the place.

We can’t keep developing away our history, or can we?

I will leave you with that for now.

 

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Ebenezer AME August 25, 2018.  Once again swallowed by weeds and brush.

giving up on ebenezer

This photo is from 2016, but I drove past Ebenezer today and essentially, this is what it looks like..AGAIN.

In February, 2018 I wrote a post titled will 2018 mark the year of history at risk at the ruins of ebenezer on bacton hill road, frazer in east whiteland?

Well I am back to tell you sadly, I think I am right.  Ebenezer looks like hell. Again. I am done with trying to get people to pay attention and preserve and save this site.  It is pointless.

I drove past Ebenezer today and the photo above is from 2016, but essentially that is exactly the way it looks now. Perhaps worse. I couldn’t stop and take a photo as there was traffic.  Ebenezer has been swallowed by the green death of weeds.  The old farmhouse across the street is pending the wrecking ball as the development which alarmed me due to it’s proximity to Ebenezer was apparently approved?

These houses are going to be right next to  Ebenezer on one side.  A  concern I still have is a lot of us have always wondered if there were more graves on each side of the fences (See blue arrows). A new development right on top of this site of ANY size puts this historic site at risk, in my humble opinion. Which is why a lot of the conversations concerning any development anywhere has to also include protecting  historic sites, right? And this site is fragile so what will the vibrations of earth moving construction equipment do? My guess is nothing good.

This is a historic site that East Whiteland has never seemingly wanted to deal with (except for the historic commission as they have wanted it better preserved only how do we get there?), and the AME Church always seemingly wants to pretend it never exists. (I mean remember that promise Bishop Ingram made the Inquirer reporter Kristen Holmes to check this all out quite a while ago, right? And what do you bet he never, ever did? (Sorry I don’t see slick city bishop walking through the mud at Ebenezer, do you?)

Anyway….I am repeating myself (sorry.)

But my post in February was noticed by a lady named  Patricia J. Henry who was doing Quaker research on the Malin family (and it was James Malin who deeded the land in 1831 to the then fairly new AME Church.) She was researching East Whiteland Malins in connection with “some individuals connected with Valley Meeting burial ground as well as Tredyffrin area residents.” (I have a couple of emails I am quoting from.)

To continue…this Patricia emailed Bertha Jackmon the historian at the uber historic Mt.Zion AME in Devon, PA. (I will digress for a moment and wonder aloud about Mt. Zion as it looked like it needed a lot of love when I drove by earlier this summer. I have heard like many other old historic churches they have an aging and dwindling congregation?)

Back to my topic at hand: Ebenezer.

This Patricia asked them if they were familiar with Ebenezer.  Bertha replied yes. (I laughed to myself reading the e-mail chain because when I started my Ebenezer odyssey years ago I went to the Pastor of Mt. Zion April Martin. Pastor Martin was super interesting and inspiring to speak with, but nothing ever happened back then with Ebenezer via Pastor Martin.)

From this email I learned that as according to Bertha that Ebenezer was “originally known as Bethel AME Church as stated in the Deed. A/K/A Bethel Bacton Hill AMEC and names.”

Aha, I thought, quite the light bulb going off.  Another link to the AME Church that seems more tangible, no? As in Mother Bethel in Philadelphia from whence the Mothership of the AME Church was born? As I have always suspected? (You see I have never been able to find definitive proof that the AME church ever divested itself of Ebenezer. It was more like over time, they just ignored it as they have ignored so many other sites across the country, right?)

Then there was discussion of me and this blog.  That always amuses me when these things get forwarded.  Mostly what was said was really flattering. This Patricia lady thanked Bertha and said that “this should give me plenty to follow up with.” ( I never heard from this Patricia, although not sure I was supposed to.)

Bertha next contacted Steve Brown at East Whiteland Township and eventually me as well. Apparently with Steve from East Whiteland they discussed East Whiteland and this Bacton Hill development site. Steve also gave Bertha the court reporter information for the zoning hearing on the Bacton Hill development plan I guess it was.

So then Bertha and Pastor April reached out to me again.  We had a nice phone call back on February 20.  I will admit being snippy at first because well, they were among the first I reached out to years ago when I started this odyssey. And back then they made me feel like the teenage girl dumped at the high school dance – they just evaporated at the time. Or at least that was my perception….

Amusingly enough, apparently East Whiteland  really did not notify the AME church of this plan because well, the non-existent mailing address for Ebenezer was (as in decades ago, right?)  RD1 Malvern Pa, and ummmm… hey now it’s been a long time since there were any RD rural delivery addresses around these parts due to all the freaking development, hmmm?

East Whiteland should know the address of the church was/is  97 Bacton Hill Road.  East Whiteland should have maybe tried contacting the corporate offices of the AME Church or Mother Bethel in Philadelphia, right? But government is government and if something appears abandoned, how far do you go on the notification process? Especially when no one has really stepped forward to say Ebenezer is their responsibility, right?

So I did then have a conversation with Bertha and Pastor April back in February.  At that time there was limited time for the AME Church to file a zoning appeal if they wanted to go that route.  I do not know whatever happened, because I had no standing in the zoning matter and zero involvement because I knew I had no standing (I don’t live over there on Bacton Hill Road and I am not on the East Whiteland Historic Commission), even if I worry about the history of Ebenezer. You need standing in zoning matters.

The AME Church had they chosen to get involved with their history on Bacton Hill could have possibly sought an appeal based on ground vibrations or perhaps the impact to a historic site and also perhaps for the basic fact they did not receive good notice of a zoning hearing and should have if they are admitting the AME Church still owns the Ebenezer site, so is that what the AME Church was contemplating admitting here? Since I do not think an appeal was ever filed would that be part of why they didn’t appeal? Because then they would have to admit they let their own historic site rot and go to hell in a hand basket?

Anyway, to the best of my knowledge the development of those houses is going to happen and Ebenzer is SO overgrown  that no construction crew is even going to notice what is there except a seemingly empty lot.  But I am done. If the AME Church doesn’t care about preserving it’s early history, why should I care? It’s not my Church, after all. I did not expect this development plan to stop, but I was hoping that for once the AME Church would at least act to see Ebenezer’s ruins were stabilized and preserved.

Yes, I am really done.

I have ridden this pony as far as it can go.  My last hope was the late Al Terrell. But he is dead more than a year and no one is stepping into his shoes to get the site cleaned up.  And that is not anyone’s job truthfully other than the blasted AME Church. And they do not seem to care.

So why should I?

Some day, I predict, in the not too distant future the only records of what was Ebenezer AME will be what I have saved on this blog.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

I am tired of expecting different results.  I will post news as I get it, but I am divorcing myself from this.  It’s too aggravating to care about a place that no one else, let alone the church that apparently still owns it, cares about.

History is important, but time is fleeting.  I am sorry to the old souls buried at Ebenezer. I tried. 

But I am done.

 

 

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….. ****

will 2018 mark the year of history at risk at the ruins of ebenezer on bacton hill road, frazer in east whiteland?

Veterans at Ebenezer on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer PA in November, 2016

It has already been a year since my friend Al Terrell left this earthly plane. And almost two years sine Ann (A.V.) Christie has died. I am glad both of them are not around to find out what I discovered this morning.

I have been home with the flu, so I have been playing catch-up with municipalities. I started with East Whiteland.  They have a Supervisors’ Meeting this Wednesday, January 10.  

One of the things there of note, is a couple of more resignations from within the township building.  One resignation is the guy who has only been there a short amount of time but came to East Whiteland from the Montgomery County Mall Township known as Upper Merion.  Scott Greenly is leaving.  He was/is East Whiteland’s Planning & Development Director. But I digress.

BACK to the reason for this post, only it actually what worries me was from RIGHT before Christmas (always have to pay attention before major holidays or in the dead of summer or stuff sneaks on it, right?) as in the  Planning Commission December 20, 2017:

Sketch Plans
1. HP Flanagan, Inc.: Sketch plan proposing a 6 lot subdivision and associated improvements. The property is located at 100 N. Bacton Hill Road, is zoned R-1 Single Family Residential and is approximately 6.6 acres in size.

 

(Deep breath)

This is proposed for right on top of and across the road from….wait for it….the ruins of historic Ebenezer AME Church and Cemetery.  When I last wrote about Ebenezer, it was late November, 2017 and it was about an oral history.  Before that, you know all of the posts about the history and the various articles from 2016 (click HERE and click HERE for two of them.)

Well shame on me for not paying closer attention in December 2017.  Here is what it looks like (100 Bacton Hill Road Sketch Plan):

Here is a close-up so you can see (right or wrong) why I am alarmed:

These houses are right on top of Ebenezer on one side.  A  concern I have is a lot of us have always wondered if there were more graves on each side of the fences (See blue arrows). A new development right on top of this site of ANY size puts this historic site at risk, in my humble opinion. Which is why a lot of the conversations concerning this development have to also include protecting this historic site, right?

This is a historic site that East Whiteland has never seemingly wanted to deal with (except for the historic commission as they have wanted it better preserved only how do we get there?), and the AME Church always seemingly wants to pretend it never exists. (I mean remember that promise Bishop Ingram made the Inquirer reporter Kristen Holmes to check this all out? And what do you bet he never, ever did? (Sorry I don’t see slick city bishop walking through the mud at Ebenezer, do you?)

Do we need to worry that if the AME Church finds out about development they will try to sell these old souls to the highest bidder to make a buck or two? (It’s a valid concern, I think.)

Here is a close up of general notes on the plans so the players and potential need for a variance are made plain:

Doug Buettner still owns the land now.  I have met him.  A nice guy. He actually helped with Al’s clean-up of Ebenezer in 2016. I have also been told that owns Malvern Court the mobile home park on the other side of Ebenezer.  The developer is listed above at HP Flanagan in Malvern.  They are an unknown to me.

I have been told that Mr. Buettner has wanted to develop some of this land for years.  I seem to remember he mentioned it to me in conversation the day I met him cleaning up at Ebenezer.

My largest concern is how close this all is to the ruins of Ebenezer. This is not a big plan being proposed, mind you, and it would have escaped my radar except for the fact it is next door to our beloved Ebenezer. And well a development could detrimentally impact this historic site as I feel the site is fragile to begin with. I have fears that once construction vehicles move in to start construction if this plan is approved that it will cause the remains of the church to crumble from vibrations.  When Al Terrell was alive we had wanted to try to get the AME Church to give permission for funds to be raised to stabilize the ruins.

A development of a 6 lot subdivision like this adjacent to a historic resource and a mobile home park is one of the ways Chester County Zoning is so strange to me.  None of the things go together.

I still feel the pace of development is staggering in East Whiteland .

When does it stop? I have to ask if Mr. Buettner owns clear to the corner as I was told, would it be possible to shift those houses down? Or eliminate one from the plans to create a buffer zone next to the old souls of Ebenezer?  After all, it is not generally considered good karma to disturb a burial ground is it?  Freed slaves, member of a once vibrant early black community and black Civil War Soldiers matter, don’t they? Shouldn’t they?

And you see on the plans they also want setback variances? Bacton Hill Road is a speedy road.  So no new development anything should be perched right on the edge of the road in my humble opinion.

Look, I wish this proposed plan, this sketch plan, wasn’t on top of Ebenezer, but it is.  And Hiram Woodyard, Joshua Johnson, the Reasons and the other dear old souls here deserve respect. (See Daily Local article November 2016)

Bacton Hill is the location of some of the richest black history in Chester County.  It was an early settlement of freed blacks among other things.  This history here just keeps getting erased. I don’t think that is right.

Here is my wish list:

  1. NO development (which I doubt will happen as it is East Whiteland, after all.)
  2. More realistically, REDUCED development to protect the cemetery with a good buffer.
  3. As a condition of approval the developer gets permission to stabilize the church ruin and put up a better and more proper fence with a gate and a couple of pebbled (drainage is a problem over there already, right?) parking spaces in the buffer zone so people can visit Ebenezer.
  4. And developer also helps with maintaining the grass and weeds going forward

Here is hoping if something comes of this, the dead are respected, right? Ebenezer has been around since what? 1831 into 1832?

Ok signing off now.  My thoughts are simple: Ebenezer should be and needs to be preserved.  It is history that matters.  And more people need to care. (For more on East Whiteland history click HERE.) People, this is a sketch plan, but it is under active review.  If you have an opinion, please voice it to East Whiteland (politely.)

Ebenezer AME and her ruins are just something which should be saved, right?

a gift of chester county history from south dakota: learning about hiram woodyard

Above is the grave of Hiram Woodyard. He was a freed slave and Black Civil War Soldier who resided in the village of Bacton, “Bacton Hisotric District”, AKA “Bacton African American Community”.

In 1991, Jane Davidson, the then Chester County Historic Preservation Officer certified that one of the houses attributed to him on Conestoga Road as a “County Historic Resource”. She said “The events and activities that have occurred in and around the site form a chronological record of past knowledge that portrays a history of the area.”

The historical information listed in some of the paperwork states:

This resource is part of the Bacton Historic District which is a post-Civil War, Afro-American community. This resource is also connected with Hiram Woodyard who was a prominent member of this community….Due to previous development there is an eminent potential to widen Rte. 401,this threat would negatively impact the integrity of this resource.

In other paperwork, the same author continues:

Hiram Woodyard, one of two leaders in the Bacton African-American community, has become a local folk hero in recent years. While part of the timber industry as a fence maker, he also commanded a great deal of respect for his leadership ability, not only in the community, but also in the Union army.

 

This fascinating information would have been something my friend the late (and missed) Al Terrell, would have loved.  He and I shared another soldier (it’s how we both became interested in the site),  Joshua Johnson  (Pvt., Co. K, 45th Reg., United States Colored Troops (USCT) (Civil War). I find this to be incredibly historically significant as the army began to organize African Americans into regimental units known as the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in 1863.

Al was so excited this time last year when grave after grave was uncovered, including Hiram Woodyard, whom we knew had started out life as a slave.  As a freed slave he did so much, including by all accounts being a revered community leader, and he fought for a country which had originally enslaved him.

This new information (and I will embed everything shortly within this post), did not come to me via Chester County.  It came to me all the way from Winner, South Dakota, thousands of miles away!

This information started to arrive on September 12, 2017 from Eleanor Miller, who along with her sister, Grace English, once lived in East Whiteland at 416 Conestoga Road.

In the first packet of information was a letter and here is an excerpt:

Enclosed please find the papers in regards to my grandparents’ home. (Charles and Stella Rost, 418 Conestoga Road.)

I married and moved away from my home, 416 Conestoga Road, in 1967…In 2012, Malvern Patch identified the house on 414 Conestoga Road as Hiram Woodyard’s.  I believe they were incorrect….My sister and I try to visit Bacton Hill once a year.

To follow (embedded) is what Eleanor sent to me.  It is part of Hiram’s history she gained through personal research.  This is such a treasure to receive!

Ebenezer is hanging in there and one of Al’s sons still comes back and cuts the grass and weeds when he has time, but Ebenezer needs ALL of our love.  I put out the plea once again if anyone can interest the AME church in their own important history, please do.  These old souls belong to us and all of our history in Chester County as well as being crucially important historically to the AME Church and black history in general.

Say a prayer in remembrance for the old souls buried at the ruins of Ebenezer on Bacton Hill road in Frazer, and remember Al Terrell too.

Pax

 

 


 

 


 

 

 

Hiram Woodyard Chester County Paperwork

Hiram Woodyards House

The House That Hiram Built

 

media advisory: ceremony planned to honor soldiers at ebenezer on saturday, november 19th 1p.m.

dsc_8466

We get by with a little help from our friends.  And this coming Saturday, November 19 at 1 PM sharp, thanks to the kindness of Captain Howard A. Crawford, USAF, MSC (Ret) who is the Commander of the West Chester American Legion Post 134 (Bernard Schlegel Post) there will be a simple ceremony courtesy of the Captain and other members of the Chester County Veteran’s Council including  Kelby Hershey of the WCU Student Veteran’s Center.

Captain Crawford learned of Eagle Scout Luke Phayre’s project to clean up Ebenezer (Luke is part of Willistown Boy Scout Troop 78), and wanted to help those of us in the community who love Ebenezer to honor the USCT soldiers buried at Ebenezer.  This honor will also extend to the old souls buried there.  I am so thrilled this is happening as it was my black Civil War soldier, Joshua Johnson who first inspired me to write and care about the ruins of Ebenezer AME.

Captain Crawford can be reached at paamericanlegion134@gmail.com 

At 1 PM the following will happen:

A small honor guard, taps will be played, a small dedication prayer by an American Legion Chaplain.

This might very well be the very first time the USCT soldiers buried here have ever been honored like this.  We also expect some veterans of every branch of service throughout Chester County.

The address of Ebenezer was 97 Bacton Hill Road, Frazer, PA when it was an active church.  For those not quite sure where Ebenezer is, they are next door to the Malvern Courts Mobile Homes at 94 Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, and not far from where Bacton Hill Road meets 401 (Conestoga Road).

Please be advised that there is not really off-street parking available, so park along the side of the road with care and caution.

Media and members of the public are encouraged to attend. In a nation currently torn asunder by varying political factions and beliefs, those of us involved at Ebenezer are humbled by this kind gesture on the part of Chester County veterans who believe in our quest to save Ebenezer and honor those buried here.  So please, we most kindly request that people leave their politics at home if they choose to attend.

As a related aside, Ebenezer is in the news once again today:

Newsworks.org: NOVEMBER 15, 2016

For the most part, historic burial grounds do not get the same attention that is paid to birthplaces or battlegrounds. In Pennsylvania, some historic cemeteries have been relocated and the land redeveloped; other sites are neglected and overgrown; and some have been completely lost….

On the list of priorities for historic preservation, cemeteries tend to rank low. But there is some movement to protect the sacred grounds.

“These places deserve to be saved,” said Carla Zambelli, who is working to research and preserve a long-overlooked graveyard in East Whiteland Township, Chester County. “Those people meant something to someone.”

…While historic buildings and other sites have opportunities for government protection on local or national historic registers, cemeteries are rarely designated on such lists….Many of the older cemeteries have become wards of the state or their local towns because the original congregations or organizations that operated them have faded or moved on….Survival falls on the caretakers or institutions that may still run them and their “financial wherewithal,” explained Aaron Wunsch, an assistant professor in University of Pennsylvania’s historic preservation program….The Ebenezer AME cemetery is one of 42 burial grounds of black Civil War troops identified so far by the Pennsylvania Hallowed Grounds Project, launched in 2009 to raise awareness of these cemeteries and establish ways to preserve them. The small volunteer group received a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to host annual gatherings of preservationists and caretakers who share strategies to meet the challenges of protecting the burial sites.

 

the important things, visiting an old friend, and every day heroes

dsc_8277Yesterday while many were posting photos of their interrupted Opening Night Gala (the Philadelphia Orchestra went on strike again) I was taking photos of something that I think matters a little more: 184 years of history unearthed from the weeds, overgrowth and underbrush. Ebenezer AME and her graveyard on Bacton Hill Road.

dsc_8252When Al Terrell posted on the Save the Ruins and Cemetery of Ebenezer AME Church Frazer PA Facebook page and said he was going to get the weeds cleared I was so grateful to hear of his interest and the interest of Willistown Boy Scout Troop 78 I was truly happy.  But at the same time I wasn’t sure if it would happen.

It.Is.Happening!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

dsc_8168My personal dealings with regional and national folks in the AME Church were mostly negative and had made me a little dejected.  Kristin Holmes had written such a beautiful article on Ebenezer this past July, and then….nothing. Heck I even sent Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr an email to his office at Harvard. Even he didn’t respond. Neither did Lonnie Bunch from the brand new Smithsonian African-American History Museum.

dsc_8159For the past few years, I have been writing about this.  I see the importance of this site intertwined with its 184 years of individual history combined with the 200-year-old history of the AME Church founded by freed slave Benjamin Richard Allen.  (The AME Church as all know celebrated its 200th anniversary this year in Philadelphia.)

Allow me to quote from Kristin Holmes’ article from July:

The parcel’s 1832 deed of trust transfers ownership of the land from James Malin, a prominent Quaker farmer involved in the Underground Railroad, to three African Americans – “Samuel Davis, Ishmael Ells, and Charles Kimbul” – for the purpose of constructing a church with a burial ground in East Whiteland.

Ebenezer’s floor was a raised platform on stone piers, according to research by archival consultant Jonathan L. Hoppe, for the Chester County Historical Society. Its single room had a door facing the road; opposite was the raised pulpit. The interior walls were covered in wainscoting.

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(See deed of trust by clicking on it.)

I first photographed Ebenezer in 2013. Then June 2016 when the Inquirer article was in process. Then yesterday, October 1, 2016.

dsc_8184So Al and I have been messaging back and forth.  He and the scouts from Willistown have been clearing brush.  Trust me, you remember the photos from June.  It was a horrible mess with 10 and 12 foot weeds and more. A complete sea of poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Brambles, wild weed trees.  Completely sad and crazy.

As we drove up yesterday to meet with Al Terrell for a little bit, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I almost couldn’t focus my eyes from the tears that kept welling up.

dsc_8198These aren’t my people, this isn’t my religion or church, yet those souls buried there mean something to me. It all started with a soldier named Joshua.  Al Terrell visits Joshua too.

To see the weeds disappearing and to see graves I had not even seen three years ago was almost overwhelming it made me so happy.

dsc_8241Think, just think, of what the people buried here saw. The history they lived through.  Slavery. Becoming free.   How can we as a society which values our freedoms and ancestors let these people disappear without trying?

We can’t.

Before me, the poet Ann Christie also tried to save this graveyard.  She and I met and became new friends because of Ebenezer.  Then cancer took her from her daughter and family this past spring.

I promised Ann in her last months of life I wouldn’t give up.  And I almost did. Until Al Terrell, Joe Rubino and scouts from Willistown came along with volunteers from Al’s bible study, a wonderful lawn service gentleman and more.

I walked around taking it in. I visited the Reasons, who still to this day have family in Malvern and East Whiteland and elsewhere local.  Al says to me that our friend was waiting.  Joshua Johnson.dsc_8229

When I saw Joshua’s grave unearthed from all the weeds and debris once again my eyes were so filled with tears I really couldn’t speak for a couple of minutes. My friends will tell you that is a rare occasion.

dsc_8146I also saw graves that we have never seen before.

The whole time I was there with Al Saturday morning, cat birds sat on the fence and nagged and scolded us. To me it was a good omen. And I have to tell you when you visit this graveyard you will notice an extraordinary thing – it’s not a sad or creepy place — it’s a very peaceful place that felt somehow inexplicably  happy that people cared about it once more.

The history these people lived was remarkable.  I can’t imagine being born a slave, and some of the people buried here were freed slaves.  Like one gentleman in particular whose grave was discovered by boy scouts today, Hiram Woodyard.  Hiram was also our other USCT member – a black Civil War soldier.

Willistown Troop 78 scouts discovered Hiram today. ~Al Terrell photo

Willistown Troop 78 scouts discovered Hiram today.
~Al Terrell photo

Hiram was discussed in boy scout  Eagle Scout project papers in 2010 (Malvern Troop 7 Matthew Nehring) and 1989 (Exton Troop 65 Daniel Baker).

….Only none of us have seen his grave for a very long time. So I was tremendously excited when Al texted me from the graveyard.

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Willistown Scouts cleaning up Ebenezer October 2, 2016 ~Al Terrell photo

Al and these boys and the other volunteers who have taken on the Herculean task of unearthing the graveyard and church from their green prison are my every day heroes.

They have restored my faith in people just doing the right thing.

In a day and age when every day when you pick up a newspaper or turn on the television all you see is the ugliness of humanity and political battles tearing people apart, this is what brings it all back around and takes you home to what is important. Home, hearth, faith, history, humanity.

dsc_8264I bet most people do not even know what happened in Philadelphia in 1830 right before Malin gave the AME Church this land do you?

On September 15, 1830 the first National Negro Convention was held in Philadelphia. It was the idea of a young guy from Baltimore named Hezekiel Grice.  He was a free man who was not satisfied with life due to the   “hopelessness of contending against oppression in the United States.” 

dsc_8343This first convention, which occurred before the Civil War hosted about 40 people, including Bishop Richard Allen of Mother Bethel AME Church, and founder of the AME Church. (He died in 1831 a few short months before the land to Ebenezer was deeded to Mother Bethel and/or the AME  Church.)

During the first ten years of this organization’s existence white abolitionists worked with the black members to try to come up with ways to deal with oppression and racism in this country.  The last convention of this very important yet short-lived movement which was ahead of its time was in Syracuse, NY in 1864.

(Read more at ColoredConventions.org .)

Ebenezer AME when it was first built was built within the midst of a thriving and historically important black community of which very few traces actually remain.  As people died and moved, like many other communities, it shifted, rearranged, disappeared. Which of course is yet another reason WHY Ebenezer’s preservation is so important.

There is a house that I am not sure if it still sits on Conestoga Road that freed slave and former soldier Hiram Woodyard actually built.  418 Conestoga Road.  Family members whose grandmother lived there many, many years ago when they were growing up, used to go to the graveyard and leave Hiram flowers on his grave.

The people buried here saw so many things.  All ordinary people who lived in some cases during extraordinary times.(Which makes them somewhat extraordinary to me.)  And many of these souls still have ancestors in this area today in many cases.

Ebenezer is living to see another day.  I hope as time progresses now a more permanent solution to her upkeep and preservation is found.  I would love to figure out when exactly Pennsylvania might have a year where a historical roadside marker might become a possibility.  I would like to see the Chester County Historical Society to become a little more proactive here.

I would also love it if that  Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture would take an interest.  And the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

We can’t make people care about Ebenezer even if they should care. But we should encourage them to care.  It’s worth saving, and the work has just begun.

Come on now. If you can help out Al and the scouts, contact the troop. Or post on the Facebook page Save the Ruins and Cemetery of Ebenezer AME Church Frazer PA.  Sometimes it does take a village.  In this case maybe several.

But don’t you think these souls are worth it?

I do.

(Check out all the photos taken October 1st HERE.)

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