At this week’s East Whiteland Township Supervisors’ meeting the East Whiteland Historic Commission spoke about the ruins and graveyard of Ebenezer A.M.E. at 97 Bacton Hill Road in Frazer. It was nice to hear them talking about doing things I have literally suggested for probably a decade: cleaning up, a historical marker, ground penetrating radar (Dr. William Watson of Immaculata actually suggested it to me) and more like stabilizing and capping the ruin (my husband and I had an engineer look at the site in 2016 when we noticed the walls were bowing on the ruin, and gave the report to East Whiteland.)
I am so truly happy to hear this news, but something was missing from the presentation: any mention of me or the others who have also worked quite hard on this project, including their former chair, Tim Caban or former Eagle Scout Luke Phayre and his mom. (I name a bunch of these other devoted people throughout this post.) I presume that they will do a marker dedication ceremony when they erect the historical marker, and I would hope a lot of us will be invited including family of those who helped who are no longer with us? I ask because sometimes with East Whiteland Historic Commission they seem neglectful of saying thank you to those of us who without their assistance or encouragement actually have helped too. They have not done this all on their own, and neither has the AME Church in Philadelphia or the representative from Mt. Zion AME in Devon, which is blessed to have national historical status (National Register of Historic Places) thanks in great part to my dear friend, Pattye Benson, Chair of the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust.
The next little video is actually a compilation of photos I took up until November 12, 2016 of Ebenezer AME on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, East Whiteland Township. What I said on that date which was after a massive clean-up organized by us regular people (not East Whiteland Historic Commission) was as follows:
Ebenezer AME on Bacton Hill Road has been my passion project the past few years as most of my friends know. If my husband hadn’t stopped that winter’s day years ago so I could take photos, I wouldn’t have found my USCT soldier Joshua Johnson.
I wrote about it for three years straight on Chester County Ramblings until things started to click. First with the help of A.v. Christie even as she was battling breast cancer, having the ear of William E. Watson and him making himself available to talk to Christine Kantrowitz and myself, then onto some dynamic ladies including Susan Cook, Kecia Lee, Cathy Taylor-Wentz, Tsuhai Nzinga Fka Tia, Christine Johnson, Catherine C. Quillman , Dana Y Bowles and always truly grateful to Pattye Benson of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust for encouraging me…and saving the best for last, Al Terrell and those amazing Willistown scouts.
We went from a crazy overgrown site that no one loved to today at Ebenezer in Frazer! Al and Luke’s mom Kathy and Luke and scouts and WCU folks!
Look at this and be happy – this is what it means to be an American. This is what it means to honor your history and the dead. This is what it means to honor some of our older veterans – as in from the Civil War.
~me in 2016
A shout out to today’s guest star volunteers: WCU Student Veterans Group, WCU Men’s Rugby Club, and two WCU Fraternities, Sigma Epsilon and FIJI. About 50 students total. Kelby Hershey is apparently the super hero at WCU who brought these folks together today for us—and a new grave was discovered!
Thank you everyone for your interest. This is 184 years of history, amazing vibrant and important history, and we are all so thankful that so many are starting to realize it.
November 19, 2016 is when we held the Veteran’s Day Ceremony at Ebenezer to honor the black Civil War Soldiers there and others. It made front page news of The Daily Local. That was such an emotional day for me at that site, I cried. And I have no ancestors buried there, just my black Civil War Soldier Joshua Johnson whom I discovered one day many, many years ago in a pile of weeds that I thought were surrounding an abandoned farmhouse.
On that day I do not recall any members of the East Whiteland Historic Commission, then township supervisors, but members of East Whiteland Police Department showed up to be part of the honor guard and keep the traffic in check.
We did this ceremony on our own, just a small group of volunteers. I wrote about it :
I have been writing about Ebenezer since my early days moving into the township. In 2016, I placed two major articles with the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Through my love of this site, I have met the most amazing people who also loved this site. The late poet A.V. Christie, artist Claude Bernadin and Al Terrell, among others.
Learning about this site has been fascinating.
In 2017 I wrote about a gift of history sent to me by way of South Dakota. It was concerning 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.
Bacton Hill is fascinating and rapidly disappearing. That is why it would’ve been important to have had this preserved decades ago as it’s own little historic district.
Anyway people always have many things to say when it comes to how an area gets it’s name. And my friend historian an artist and author Catherine Quillman gave me some answers, I would like to share:
📌”Hey, finally got into the Chester County History Center. Bacton was formerly known as Valley View.
In 1871, a branch of the Reading Rail Co. was proposed and a stockbroker complained it was an unnecessary expense (though the rail line would connect to west Chester and Phoenixville). He complained it would just go through “back towns”.
I think Anselma was on that run, and that had a large creamery so it could hardly be a “back town” and the name stuck for Valley View – it officially became Bacton when the little post office which was once there opened in 1887.”📌
So Bacton came out of “back town“ and not “black town” which someone wrote to me once upon a time that I found a little bit offensive, but almost would’ve been understandable for certain times a century and longer ago.
Catherine also reminded me that this area also may have probably seen activity during the Revolutionary War. After all part of the Battle of the Clouds took place near where they have that “Ship Road Park” (West Whiteland), and other battles and encampments occurred close enough by in other municipalities which border East Whiteland like Tredyffrin.
The African American community at Bacton Hill was definitely significant once upon a time. They worked in the local quarries and worked for the railroad and even farmed where they could (A lot of the land there as you know is both scrubby, wet, rocky.)
So yes the little post office back then was renamed Bacton from Valley View. But people also speak of Pickering Valley railroad, but I am told it didn’t climb the “hill” of Bacton Hill. The story of conductor saying “Blacktown” instead of Bacton is probably more local lore and misremembering than fact.
Another aspect of this area that has never really been adequately studied was its relationship to the Underground Railroad. Because there was one, as some homeowners of historic homes alone 401 can attest.
Anyway that is what I have to share with all of you today about this fascinating topic and I do think it’s fascinating. If any of you have other recollections of the area of Bacton Hill or Ebenezer, I love to hear about these things so leave me a comment and write into the blog. I am also always happy to share old photos of the area.
Someone said to me that the greater Philadelphia region spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on the Revolutionary War and not other parts of our region’s history. To an extent, that is true. I think that’s why things like Duffy’s Cut got buried forever as well. It’s not fun for a lot of people to talk about the inconvenient or even uncomfortable aspects of our own history. And I think as complete a picture as it’s available helps all of us.
Richard Allen (February 14, 1760 to March 26, 1831 was a minister, educator, writer and one of this country’s original, most active, and influential black leaders. In 1794 he founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. This was the first black denomination and independent church in the US. The first actual church opened in Philadelphia in 1794.
Richard Allen was born into slavery on one of the properties of Benjamin Chew as another piece of property because he was a slave. He bought his freedom around 1780 at the age of 20 from a subsequent master named Stokeley Sturgis.
In 1816 the AME church was founded more formally and Allen was elected the first Bishop. He had bee a minister for years prior to this and Mother Bethel in Philadelphia actually first opened her doors to worship around 1794. Bishop Allen organized this religious denomination where freed blacks could worship without racial oppression and where slaves could find dignity and a welcoming place. He worked to literally lift up the black community, also organizing schools to teach literacy and promoting national organizations to develop political strategies. Bishop Allen died the year Ebenezer A.M.E. at 97 Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, PA Chester County opened. Their history, their dead, our country’s history – it is all in this ruin of a church and a cemetery of folks of a local A.M.E. Church founded only 30 some odd years AFTER the entire religious organization was founded and they opened their doors the year Bishop Richard Allen died.
Sociologically learning about and loving Ebenezer has also been fascinating. From people steeped in ignorance asking me literally “Why do you care about an old black church?” to being continually blown off by the modern day AME Church because I am essentially a middle-aged white woman. Maybe I am wrong about that, but that is how it felt.
After the Inquirer article appeared on the ruin of Ebenzer AME in Frazer, I remember I contacted Rev Dr. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel in Philadelphia via e-email with a few interested folks on the e-mail including local historians.
Why email? Because also included was information to help them make an informed decision. I stupidly thought maybe if they could see what we’d been researching, and see photos, they would be interested in working together to clean this place up. Crickets. Not even an acknowledgement I had written.
What I have learned since and from the recent East Whiteland Supervisors’ meeting is they are seemingly coming around, and that’s good. Finally.
But the take away lesson I learned back then is that I am not of their flock and couldn’t do anything for them and when it comes to ANY organized religion, sadly not so unusual, is it?
I really wanted to save this place but over the years I have found myself sad in human kind and thoroughly disgusted. I thought doing God’s work meant you tried to save places like Ebenezer AME. You do it for community, future generations, for ancestors of those living today, for the history and the fact it’s a sacred place, and you do it because it’s the right thing to do.
I did what I could and I stepped away. I have continued to watch Ebenezer mostly from afar. I tried twice to join the East Whiteland Historic Commission.
The first time I tried to join was after an obnoxious comment from a former supervisor years ago that the essence was I only complain, I don’t volunteer. (Yeah I know, let’s forget about all the things I have done to help where I live, but anyway.) At that point in time, I was told by the then historic commission chair that they weren’t sure what this supervisor was talking about because there were no vacancies.
The second time I tried to join, was before COVID. I was actually excited about belonging and did my application and went through the fairly rigorous interview process. Then magically, although I met the criteria, two supervisors seemed to take issue with me being on the historic commission. One even wanted to interview me personally, although he had actually spoken to me before in person. I said o.k. and then COVID hit. This supervisor who had to interview me never even ever contacted me by phone. I didn’t need a neon sign to realize people didn’t want me on the historic commission.
During COVID I tried for a while to participate by virtually attending the historic commission meetings. It felt awkward. But I tried. But then when I realized that two members I really liked were cycling off the commission (the ladies who did the update on the history of East Whiteland and really did not get thanked by the historic commission that I could tell), I decided to bag the whole idea.
So the historic commission in East Whiteland has grown up some since the onset of COVID. They have some new blood, and one now not so new member in particular I find to be quite amazing and knowledgeable and they are lucky to have him on board. And their chairman is a very nice man whom I really do like. But it still feels to me like I wish I could get more from them. For example, other historic commissions and societies locally have created social media presences to engage residents with their own history. I seem to recall offering to help East Whiteland Historic Commission once upon a time to establish a Facebook Page so people could learn about all of the history that is in East Whiteland. Crickets. I also offered alternately to write about historic sites and whatnot if they would simply email me what they wanted to get out there. Crickets.
But now I am somewhat heartened to learn they haven’t abandoned Ebenezer and progress is happening. But they need to remember that quite a few ordinary people over the years have loved Ebenezer and tried to help. So when they do their sign dedication, here’s hoping that invitations, mine included, aren’t lost in translation.
I have written so many posts throughout the past decade, below is just a random selection. Please consider supporting East Whiteland Historic Commission as they try to preserve what’s left of Ebenezer. They actually are doing a newsletter now. I really like it!
Here are links to two newsletters:
East Whiteland Historical Commission Newslettter Vol 8 Fall 2022
East Whiteland Historical Commission Newslettter Vol 9 Winter 2023