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?

unexpected loss: r.i.p. al terrell

I took this photo of Al Terrell this fall

I took this photo of Al Terrell this fall

I do not even really know how to begin this post.  I am so sad, I am in shock.  Al Terrell my friend who made the clean up of Ebenezer AME on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer possible has died quite suddenly.

I knew in November when we were getting ready for the special ceremony at Ebenezer that Al was not feeling well.  We talked about it.  When I saw him at the ceremony he was so happy it was happening but I saw this stillness about him . And I could tell he felt poorly and it bothered me.

Al at the ceremony this past fall right next to our soldier Joshua's grave

Al at the ceremony this past fall right next to our soldier Joshua’s grave

After the ceremony we swapped emails, text messages and one or two phone calls.  Christmas and beyond it was just text messages.  He still did not feel well and wasn’t sleeping.  At that point he made me promise to not give up on Ebenezer in case something was really wrong with him.  I promised.

And oddly he had been on my mind because a couple of people had asked me if I heard from him.

One of the things we last spoke of was his disappointment in the AME Church not responding to him further about what he wanted to see happen at Ebenezer.  I had a licensed structural engineer look at Ebenezer.  The long story short on that is the long walls are showing signs of bowing and need to be shored up to save what is left of the church ruin.  In order to do a more comprehensive engineering report, the walls would have to be shored up and the center of the ruin hand cleared of debris.  If properly stabilized, the church could be saved as a ruin, and possibly restored if money was no option.   But for that the AME Church as landowner would have to give permission for any of this.  They never replied to him. SHame on them for doing that to him. He never asked them for a cent.

We were also trying to get someone with special radar equipment into the graveyard to properly map the graves once and for all.  I won’t give up on that and I hope Dr. Watson at Immaculata will help me with that.

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Clean up this fall

I won’t give up on Ebenezer but I am so sad that this is the second friend I have made because of this sacred place who has gone home to God.  Maybe somewhere in heaven Al will meet up with Ann Christie and they will talk about Ebenezer.

Al and I became friends only in 2016.  He had contacted me initially  to tell me he would get Ebenezer cleaned up.  AT first I was like “yeah, ok” because I was so disappointed in mankind and AME church professionals and leaders in particular who had led me on a merry chase about saving and cleaning up Ebenezer for a few years at that point.

But Al just stayed in touch and slowly things began to happen.  Throughout the summer and into the fall of 2016, Al was often my first message in the morning or before I went to sleep about Ebenezer.

Al and I used to visit the same soldier before Ebenezer got too overgrown.  We shared Joshua Johnson.

Al had this quiet doing about him, he just persisted until things happened.  Every new grave uncovered, or progress made by the Willistown Scouts he texted me about. Al restored my faith in humankind.  Sounds kind of silly or even trite to my ears, but it is true. He was just a decent, nice, and caring man.  He had a deep faith about him.

Myself and the other ladies of Ebenezer as I call them will miss him terribly.  They do not make people with such honor and godliness and human kindness like Al anymore.

After Luke Phayre the Eagle Scout’s mom Kathy called me this afternoon it was like someone had punched me in the stomach.  Al was someone I knew such a short time. But he made an impact.  He mattered.

To Al Terrell’s widow and family, my deepest condolences.  Heaven truly has another angel.  Selfishly, I wished  heaven did not.  Al and I had clean up plans for the spring already.

Al Terrell with reporter Adam Farence of the Daily Local in November.

Al Terrell with reporter Adam Farence of the Daily Local in November.

Kathy Phayre and I would like to keep this going for Al Terrell.  There is the page on Facebook Save the Ruins and Cemetery of Ebenezer AME Church Frazer PA   @saveebenezeramefrazerpa – when winter turns to spring we will need volunteers.

Al Terrell you were one of a kind.  I feel blessed having known you even a short while. You were a good man.  Whenever I visit Joshua I will think of you. You will be missed. I will miss your text messages with photos of what was uncovered at Ebenezer and even your unabashed joy when people in the area just stopped by Ebenezer to pay their respects.

Everyone, I wish I could write more or be more eloquent.  I am just so truly sad at this moment.

Here is Al’s death notice and the service is this coming Saturday, January 21 at Saints Philip and James in Exton. The viewing starts at 9:30 am:

Al Terrell  May 2, 1945 – January 15, 2017 (Age 71)

 TERRELL Al, age 71, of Malvern and Cape May Point, NJ, died on January 15, 2017. Survived by his wife, Darryl (Waller); his children; Lana, Andrew (Jessica) and Joseph Terrell and his grandchildren; Ella and Sophia. Relatives and friends are invited to his Visitation on Saturday, 9:30-10:45 AM followed by his Funeral Mass at 11 AM at Sts. Philip and James Church, 723 E. Lincoln Highway, Exton, PA 19341. Interment Private. In lieu of flowers, contributions to Willistown Boy Scout Troop 78, 2 Mill Rd., Malvern, PA 19355 or Triangle Park, P.O. Box 74, Cape May Point, NJ 08212 would be appreciated.

 Here is a tribute that came in from Kimberly Boddy a friend of mine (and grand daughter of the late and beloved Chester County Artist, Lee Carter):

There are no words that can possible alleviate the shock and heartache that Mr. Terrell’s family, friends and associates are feeling at this moment in time. 

We know God has spoken and we are left to say Amen, while simultaneously asking ourselves, WHY. You are right Mr. Terrell was a special soul who touched the hearts of those who were blessed to meet him. I agree that we must carry one the Restoration of Ebenezer in honor of Mr. Terrell.

We can take solace in the fact that he did indeed honor the Civil War Colored Troops buried at Ebenezer in spite of the run around he received from the A.M.E Church, District and Local Leaders.

Mr. Terrell did not have historical amnesia or seek notoriety or financial gains. His only desire was to honored those that came before him in the most respectful way and even when he received no response, support or acknowledgement from the landowners he still honored those souls interred at Ebenezer. 

And here are the articles about Ebenezer:

Updated: OCTOBER 16, 2016 — 5:34 AM EDT

By Adam Farence, Daily Local News

POSTED: 11/19/16, 7:11 PM EST

EAST WHITELAND >> During a humble autumn afternoon, a small ceremony paid homage to a long since abandoned graveyard housing African-American Civil War veterans, and others whose names have been lost to time and erosion.

For Bruce Reason and Al Terrell, the sight of the cleaned up Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church cemetery on Saturday was a welcome one…

The person who came along and led the clean-up effort was Henderson High School sophomore Luke Phayre.

Phayre, a member of the Willistown Boy Scout Troop 78, had been looking for a project to complete so he could become an Eagle Scout.

And Terrell, himself a former assistant scoutmaster working on rejoining the troop, suggested to Phayre that he clean up the graveyard as his own son, Andrew did almost two decades earlier.

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for the love of god and country: the ceremony at ebenezer

dsc_9202Today’s ceremony at the ruins of Ebenezer A.M.E. on Bacton Hill Road today literally made me cry.  I was so overcome with emotion that the ruin and cemetery are finally getting well-deserved recognition and attention.  #thisplacematters , all 184 years of it.

dsc_9253When I got to the graveyard, people were assembling. Media, neighbors, passers-by who decided to pull over and stop, descendants of those souls buried there, a representative from the East Whiteland Historical Commission, some of my “Ladies of Ebenezer”, the Willistown Troop 78 Scouts, Luke Phayre the Eagle Scout and his family (including his mom Kathy and grandfather) , many local veterans, three member of the East Whiteland Police Department,  WCU Student Veterans Group members, and  Al Terrell.

dsc_9082It was so overwhelming to me, it truly was such a beautiful sight. It was indeed something I was not sure I would ever see and among other things I so wished Ann Christie had lived long enough to see this happen – which is why some of the Ladies of Ebenezer were there today – we had made Ann a promise because she truly loved the site and had tried for years before my interest to get to this point.  We also felt today we were able to honor her, along with the black Civil War soldiers and other souls buried at Ebenezer. After so many decades of truly wanton neglect, these people were honored.

dsc_9300It was long overdue, but our very history is often such a cruel mistress.

dsc_9108Our ceremony was opened by Luke Phayre. He spoke about his project and thanked people who have been helping him.  He spoke very well and is truly a poised and wonderful young man.

dsc_9088Captain Howard A. Crawford, USAF, MSC (Ret) who is the Commander of the West Chester American Legion Post 134 (Bernard Schlegel Post) spoke simply and eloquently

“We’re here today to honor Civil War soldiers…African American soldiers that died…[who] weren’t given the honors of a true [military] burial.”

dsc_9273His son played taps for the soldiers on a bugle.  Veterans gave a military rifle salute, and if memory serves I think it is called a three volley salute.

dsc_9149And East Whiteland Police Department sent three representatives.  These fine gentlemen came in full uniform and participated.  I was so touched that they wanted to do this, especially today when they were on their way to bury a former brother officer who had served with them and passed away.  At a time in this country when people are so darn critical of our men in blue – like those Bryn Mawr College students this week for example – I think these are the quiet moments that most police critics tend to overlook that speak volumes as to the characters of those who serve. Bravo, East Whiteland Police Department. Such a generous gesture on your own day of loss.

dsc_9317In 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 and local police and others who believe in our quest to save Ebenezer and honor those buried here.

Today we saw people leave their politics at home and come together. It was such a poignant and beautiful thing to be part of the week before Thanksgiving. This is what it means to come together and be Americans. There was no race, creed, color, or political divide we were all just Americans coming together to honor our dead. It was so inspiring and true and good a thing. Days like this give us all hope.

Thanks for stopping by.  Read the Daily Local tomorrow too.

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community love for ebenezer grows

Al Terrell photo

Al Terrell photo taken October 11, 2016

Today while Al Terrell was on site at Ebenezer AME on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, a couple of things that are so delightful occurred. People came to visit.

Not people with family buried there, but just people coming to visit Ebenezer and East Whiteland’s amazing history!

First, a  family stopped by Ebenezer to take pictures this afternoon and spoke with Al Terrell . Unbelievable. Their Girl Scout Troop wants to volunteer to help. Al is getting their information.

Then a woman and her daughter stopped by to take photos.  Al said the lady was a photographer.

Can I just say how awesome it is?

After a few years feeling like the voice in the proverbial wilderness, all these people are taking an interest.

God is good. Don’t know what else to say ❤️  My heart is so happy right now that people obviously DO care about Ebenezer.

A photographer and her daughter stop to visit Ebenezer today October 11, 2016.  Al Terrell photo

A photographer and her daughter stop to visit Ebenezer today October 11, 2016. Al Terrell photo

(For my years of writing about my journey with trying to get help and recognition about Ebenezer click here and here and here .)

Every day seems to bring good news.   The only thing I will say is to caution people to not go climbing in the church ruin itself and to be careful.  That is 184 years of history in there, and way before most of our time, the roof of Ebenezer collapsed through to the stone pier foundations.  We want to preserve that, but it is NOT safe at this point for people to do anything other than view the church ruin from the outside.

Ann Christie are you watching? Chris and I promised you we would get Ebenezer help. It is happening.  All these wonderful people are coming forward.  I wish you were here to see her emerge from her green prison of overgrowth, but I would like to think you are watching like an angel over Ebenezer.

Ann was a brilliant poet as well as a fervent champion of Ebenezer.  I think I will finish with one of her poems:

Already the Heart

The spinal cord blossoms
like bright, bruised magnolia
into the brainstem.
And already the heart
in its depth — who could assail it?
Bathed in my voice, all branching
and dreaming. The flowering
and fading — said the poet —
come to us both at once.
Here is your best self,
and the least, two sparrows
alight in the one tree
of your body.

A.V. Christie / The Housing

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.

ebene

(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.)

dsc_8335

the song remains the same

This photo was taken the day many of us were interviewed for the Philadelphia Inquirer article. We had brought the reporter Kristin Holmes out to see the state of the site herself.

This photo was taken the day many of us were interviewed for the Philadelphia Inquirer article. We had brought the reporter Kristin Holmes out to see the state of the site herself.

Well as lots and lots of people know, The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the story of Ebenezer A.M.E. that was once located at 97 Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, East Whiteland Township, Chester County, PA.

Bacton-newsInterestingly, a  couple of fairly powerful and influential members (or so I was told) of the A.M.E. Church were interviewed : Rev. Dr. Teresa L. Fry Brown, executive director of the national denomination’s department of research and scholarship and Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia.

I had contacted Rev. Dr. Teresa L. Fry Brown in the past and it kind of got nowhere. I have contacted the A.M.E. Church Elder Rev Charles H. Lett and that was late December, 2015. He never responded after we had a brief telephone conversation where he instructed me to write to him.

Most recently because of the Inquirer article, I contacted Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia.  Three times. I have not even received an acknowledgement of my efforts to reach him.

So either the A.M.E. Church cares very little about honoring their history and their dead or they don’t want to hear from a woman who is not of their faith and is not related to anyone buried at Ebenezer AME in Frazer.

How sad and too bad, I am not giving up. The A.M.E. can’t just talk the talk of their history, they need to walk the walk of their history.  And if they could afford a giant bicentennial celebration in the city of their faith’s birthplace, surely they can afford one cleanup of one small old and sacred and historic place, right?

Here is the article before I tell you who I wrote to today for help:

Updated: JULY 17, 2016

Tia Manon trudged through the swampy cemetery of the old Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, looking for two names belonging to one man. (SLIDESHOW)

Perry Ringgold was a slave who escaped the South on the Underground Railroad. James Williams was the free man he became after he was harbored by a Quaker family in Exton.

According to family lore, this relative of Manon’s helped found the East Whiteland church in 1832, but none of the stone markers bore a trace of him, by either name. She did come across one name she recognized, a Reason – William Reason. Could he have been an ancestor of her late husband, George Reason?

….”It makes you feel very, very sad,” said Manon, 47, of Paoli, a student at Immaculata University.

She is among a group of neighbors and history buffs who want to clean up and preserve the two-acre tract on Bacton Hill Road. Officials of the Chester County township said that they will coordinate the effort, but that they first need permission from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which they believe owns the property….

The 2.5 million-member A.M.E. Church, founded in Philadelphia by Bishop Richard Allen in 1816, is the oldest independent Protestant denomination established by African Americans. It currently has 7,000 congregations, but the number that sprang up over the centuries and then vanished is unknown.

Chester County is filled with the ghosts of churches past. Like Ebenezer, they grew in concert with pre-Civil War black communities in locations such as Uwchlan and Downingtown, said Renee Carey, a Chester County history enthusiast and South Coatesville borough councilwoman who has researched black churches and cemeteries.

 

I have only included an excerpt of the article, please read it in it’s entirety.  I worked for close to a year alone to get that article placed, and I am grateful to Tia for agreeing to be part of it.

EBeneSo anyway, today I decided to read a biography from the Mother Bethel website of this senior pastor  Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler. I got the bio off a Google cache truthfully because the Mother Bethel website is down more than it is up. I noticed he had been interviewed by a gentleman I believe to be the foremost authority today on African American history, Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates of Harvard University. A lot of you would recognize him as the brains behind the PBS Series Finding Your Roots.

So I decided to e-mail Dr. Gates, it can’t hurt. Here is part of what I said:

Dr. Gates,

You don’t know me but I am a huge fan of your work. I watch your shows on PBS.  I live in Chester County, PA, and I am desperately trying along with others including the people on this e-mail to get the A.M.E. Church to save a 184 year old church ruin and cemetery.

The Church is named Ebenezer AME and land was deeded by a Quaker named Malin around 1831 and the church was completed in 1832. It was one of the earlier black churches out here and there is a graveyard too. In the graveyard there are USCT Civil War soldiers and freed slaves.  It is because of one of the Civil War soldiers I became interested in the first place. His name was Joshua Johnson. Ebenezer A.M.E. is still located even as a ruin on 97 Bacton Hill Road, Frazer, PA (East Whiteland Township, Chester County, PA)

I am a blogger and a native Philadelphian who moved to Chester County, PA a few years ago.  I have been trying for a few years now to get help.

All records indicate the AME Church still owns the land.  We just really want to get this place saved.  And I am hoping the reason I am ignored by the AME church doesn’t have to do with the fact it’s not my church and these aren’t my ancestors. To you, I respectfully submit these ARE the ancestors of people in the area, and there are more in addition to Tia who was in the article I placed with Kristin Holmes recently in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

I think you might be surprised by the people who wish to help get Ebenezer cleaned up before it is too late.  The A.M.E. Church needs to spearhead the initial clean-up as we all believe land is STILL owned by the AME Church and merely not owned by a church congregation that no longer exists. But there are people interested in helping the church after that as in volunteering their time.  The boy scouts always want service projects, in addition. And there is a history with local scouts and this place.

The A.M.E. Church just finished hosting their bicentennial in Philadelphia.  This is part of the history they celebrate this year.

I have been routinely ignored by the A.M.E. Church for three years now.

I am not the only one.

I am a realist, and not every sacred and/or historical place can be saved. But this place is special, truly special.

I also promised the poet A.V. (Ann) Christie before she died this spring of breast cancer I would keep working with others to save this.  I want to keep my word.

Most recently I contacted someone you interviewed not so long ago, Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler of Mother Bethel in Philadelphia. He was interviewed in the Inquirer article.  I alone have now sent him 3 emails with information to try to get Ebenezer saved. He has not even acknowledged receipt of the e-mails.  I can’t tell you how discouraging it all is.

I know you are so incredibly important a person and busy, but I thought maybe if someone like you expressed an interest, the A.M.E. church would actually respond to us.  We just want them to help us get it cleaned up.  It is so badly overgrown, we can’t just go onto their property and clean it up. We need their permission, and we need them frankly to pay for the initial clean-up.  After that we feel we can get volunteers organized and with the permission of the A.M.E. church hopefully keep it cleaned up going forward.

But we are at a critical juncture, and we need to get the A.M.E. Church moving now before all is lost forever.

I am not asking you for any sort of financial input, but I am asking you to help us because of your unique academic and celebrity position.   You are the one who teaches us how to find our roots and the importance of our personal histories.  You are also the foremost authority on African American History in this country today.  The people buried at Ebenezer are part of that history. Plus there  are local residents and not so local residents interested in honoring their ancestors buried here.

I hope you can help us.

 

So we will see if that helps, or if Dr. Gates responds. He is kind of famous, so maybe he won’t. But I hope he does.

Here are some e-mail addresses for any of you out there interested in getting Ebenezer saved:

The pastor at Mother Bethel interviewed in the Inquirer is Mark Kelly Tyler.  Markkellytyler@gmail.com

Rev Dr. Calvin H. Sydnor III, The 20th Editor,
The Christian Recorder — Since 1852
“The Official Newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church”

www.the-christian-recorder.org
Office: 615. 714-0986
chsydnor@bellsouth.net

Other emails I found to add to emails:

Dr. Richard Lewis Richlew1@aol.com

journeyministry@aol.com

cio@ame-church.com

info@stpaulsamecmalvern.org – Unfortunately note that the Malvern folks have never replied to anything. Ditto for Info@MotherBethel.com

Rev. Dr. Teresa L. Fry Brown teresa.brown@emory.edu or AMECHistoryintheMaking@yahoo.com

Bishop Ingram  BishopIngram@firstdistrictame.org and alternate e-mail for First District AME is Clinton@FirstDistrictAME.org

Click HERE for a Google Cache of organizers of the A.M.E’s bicentennial.

Be polite but please consider writing to these folks to get them to help save the ruins and graveyard of Ebenezer AME Church on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, East Whiteland, Chester County.

If you are a member of an AME congregation please tell them and the location of your church. If you have ancestors or think you have ancestors buried at Ebenezer, tell them that as well. I would also suggest including a link to the Inquirer article.

Seriously, just because they don’t respond to me it doesn’t mean they won’t respond to you- the MORE emails they get the more likely they will pay attention.

In closing, yes the song remains the same, but we can hope the more people talk about Ebenezer, the better our chances to save it and what remains of the graves.

#ThisPlaceMatters

The only photo I have ever seen from a book by Chester County Historian Catherine Quillman (History of the Conestoga Turkpike)

The only photo I have ever seen from a book by Chester County Historian Catherine Quillman (History of the Conestoga Turkpike)