4th of july 2021

4th of July. Our country’s annual birthday party. It’s not just about fireworks.

On July 4, 1776, the United States gained independence from Great Britain by the Continental Congress when 12 of the 13 “colonies” voted for the separation from Great Britain.

However, a lot of people don’t have a warm and fuzzy feelings about the 4th of July. Some people are ambivalent. Some people like myself don’t like the overt commercialism that tends to follow American holidays around.

I like and appreciate the history. I think we need to remember and appreciate our history. Is it perfect? Were things like slavery and indentured servitude acceptable during part of our history and world history for that matter? Were most women treated like chattel? Yes and yes and yes. Those things are part of our history and were (again) also part of world history at that time. We need to acknowledge that past as a different time, yet part of what formed this country.

BUT it doesn’t diminish what our founding fathers accomplished because times were different.

Yesterday I celebrated part of my 4th of July weekend at Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr. I have loved this magical and historical place since I was introduced to it when I was 12 by a neighbor.

Harriton House was originally known as “Bryn Mawr”, and was once the residence of Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress. This was originally built in 1704 by Rowland Ellis, a Welsh Quaker, and was called “Bryn Mawr”, meaning “high hill.”

The town of Bryn Mawr in Lower Merion Township is named after the house, and the National Register of Historic Places has it listed under the original name.

Historic Harriton House yesterday

The history of Harriton is undeniable, as well as the connection to the founding of our country. So it was an absolutely perfect place to celebrate part of the 4th of July weekend! People were invited to picnic (and we made ice cream with an old fashioned and fully functional ice cream machine!) and there was a lovely program and music.

Harriton House around 1919

The program was introduced by a wonderful man I am lucky to know because we have mutual friends. Chef Walter Staib. He was proprietor of The City Tavern for decades, and most of you know him as the host of A Taste of History which you can find streaming or on PBS. A Taste of History is one of my favorite shows. I love cooking, I love history, including the history of cooking. (They are filming a new season now.)

Chef Walter Staib addressing the guests yesterday.

Born in Germany, Chef Staib emigrated to America many years ago. He became a citizen, started his family here. He became a US Citizen a couple of years before the Bicentennial. And as well as loving to cook, he is a perpetual student of history. His love for the United States was the perfect was to kick off yesterday’s program which also featured this truly amazing brass ensemble called Festive Brass. I have included two snippets filmed with a phone. Sorry, not the best but I wanted to share their sound with my readers. Beautiful and festive music.

Yesterday at Historic Harriton House the program was free of charge and they asked for a free-will offering. These beloved historic sites need and deserve our support. Look no further than to the historic sites owned by the National Park Service that are either closed to tours or just closed and moldering.

Closed and moldering would be a lot of the houses in Valley Forge Park like the Kennedy Supplee Mansion which I have written about twice.

Closed to tours would include the houses of my childhood in Society Hill like the Bishop White House and the Todd House, places I actually gave tours of leading up to the Bicentennial as a child. I love those houses and I helped plant the kitchen garden in the Todd House way back when. It was there I learned a deterrent for cabbage worms in the garden were marijuana plants. Seriously. Fun little fact of historical gardening.

Also closed is a place I remember being saved and restored as a child. Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s house on 3rd Street in Society Hill. Most of you probably have no clue this place exists or the historical significance. And I swear that place has been closed more years than it has been open. Also owned by the National Park Service.

The City Tavern for that matter, also owned by the National Park Service. Also shuttered now that Chef Staib is not there. That in particular, is truly prime real estate, so one would think they would be polishing up the tavern and marketing her for a new chef and restaurant in residence, right? But are they? Or will The City Tavern go the way of the Kennedy-Supplee Mansion?

Do you sense a theme? Sorry for the segue, but literally every time I go to Valley Forge I think of all the wasted potential of the historic structures. Not all have to be open for tours, but the National Park Service should be more open to restoration and adaptive reuse. I also feel the last administration in Washington harnessed the red, white, and blue of American patriotism for their own selfish ends (including abject ugliness and tyranny) and did nothing for preservation or true patriotism of any kind. And the current administration should get on the ball with preserving more of our history.

History is not something to be neglected and erased. It should be embraced, even the less savory and inconvenient parts because it is all part of how we got to be quite literally.

History, metaphorically speaking, is a living breathing thing we need to embrace and preserve. Even the parts we don’t like because when people try to erase history like it never happened, we are doomed to repeat past mistakes. Look no further that two world wars for proof of that.

Today on the 4th of July, I hope you all pause and think about our history. Think about our founding fathers who bled and fought and died for us. What they accomplished was no small feat.

Me and some friends, mid 1970s doing a costumed re-enactment in the kitchen at Harriton House.

And remember your favorite historic sites with even a small donation. Like Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr. Remember your local historical societies that help preserve our history and keep it alive.

🪶🇺🇸In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.🪶🇺🇸

paying it forward for a non-profit – items for sale

One of my favorite historic sites in southeastern Pennsylvania is Historic Harriton House.

Every year they have their annual fair in the fall to raise money. They have been gifted to things that they are putting up for sale now in the event that someone would like to purchase them.

Serious inquiries only go to info@harritonhouse.org or telephone 610-525-0201.

The rug is absolutely spectacular and I can say it with first hand knowledge. It is 12’ 8” x15’! It’s huge and gorgeous! Mint condition.

Harriton has also been donated a harpsichord. Also beautiful but I don’t know enough about musical instruments to speak intelligently about it.

So if either of these items would be of interest to you, please contact Historic Harriton House and help pay it forward by buying one of these via a donation. Nonprofits need our help right now and this one is a little slice of heaven in the middle of the Main Line. And historically important regionally, locally, as well as playing a part in our nation’s history,

the evolution of gardens

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Echinacea ‘Butterfly Rainbow Marcella’ Purchased from Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market

A garden is a constant evolution. Mine evolves in layers.

A few years ago I planted my red rhododendrons and native deciduous azaleas along with some favorite viburnum (Brandywine and Winterthur).  Over the past couple of years including this year, I have layered in witch hazels of different colors and blooming schedules that were purchased from Rare Find Nursery and Yellow Springs Farm.

This year I have also added Mountain Laurels.   They came from the annual plant sale at Jenkins Arboretum that the Valley Forge Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society puts on –  they are the NICEST people at that society and very helpful. (I also find this person called Rhody Man helpful FYI.)  These kind folks also sold me a native deciduous azalea that is red.

I also bought two really great Mountain Laurels from Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market – Kalmia ‘Sarah’ (Mountain Laurel). Species is native to North America.

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Kalmia ‘Sarah’ (Mountain Laurel)
Species is native to North America. I purchased mine at Applied Climatology and this is a stock photo which shows what my blooms will be like next spring!

And hydrangeas.  Hydrangeas are so amazing and there is such a wide array available for planting.  I have a special affinity for Mountain Hydrangeas.  But I plant them all.

I have planted layers of color as well as plants. For my shrubs and perennials, there are a lot of shades of pink and blue reds. I am not an orange red person, so you rarely see orange in my gardens.

Gardening is a favorite thing with me as everyone knows, and when I did not have as much room as I have now for me to plant, I planted elsewhere.

Many, many years ago when I was living on the Main Line and only had my tiny courtyard garden of my apartment, I used to volunteer at this little slice of heaven in Bryn Mawr, PA called Historic Harriton House. I loved walking my dogs over to there and truthfully, I have been wandering around Harriton House since I was 12 as is evidenced by this photo:

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Harriton is an amazing piece of historic preservation that works.  The land it sits on is a park owned by Lower Merion Township.  But the historic structures? Owned and maintained by the Harriton Association which I watched acquire properties over the years to sew up a good sized parcel safe from development.  The original farm and plantation was originally around 700 acres or more and was part of a Penn Land Grant (yes like Lloyd Farm and Happy Days Farm in Chester County which are currently at risk from development.)

The Executive Director, Bruce Gill, and the Harriton Association Board have truly created a very simple preservation model that works.  Part of why it all works at Harriton is the place has never been tarted up.  It has remained loyal to it’s agricultural heritage and history.

Years ago, a couple of years after the conversion of the old dairy barn into an education center and administrative offices was completed, one day I was looking at the ruins of the rest of the stone barn fragment which had been turned into a pool house, a pool, and gardens in the 1920s (I think that is when that happened).  When Harriton acquired this structure a reclusive little old lady had formerly called it home.  Before she died, it was not part of Harriton, it was a little adjoining property in the midst of Harriton, much like two other properties they raised funds and acquired.

Now this little old lady was quite the hoarder, and I remember what it was like when volunteers, myself included, help clear things out.  A lot of the decades of contents was literally garbage, but things that were salable were sold at the annual fair in the White Elephant section for a few years.  Even what had been the swimming pool was full of stuff.  It was crazy.  I had never seen what a real hoarder’s home looked like until this.

After the clean out the restoration and conversion of the barn to education center was completed, I kept looking at the ruins when had been garden spaces from the 1920s until I guess the little old lady inhabitant had gotten too old.  I saw potential for planting and I was itching to do more planting.  So I asked the Executive Director Bruce if he would buy a bunch of plants next time he was up in Lancaster,  I would totally plant up the area.

And that is what I did. It was so much fun creating something out of nothing.  After I had planted the ruin, one of the couple of garden clubs that gardened at Harriton thought Bruce had let in another garden club.  They didn’t quite believe him for a while that it was just me who had dug in the dirt and played and planted.  I never took photos back then of what I had done, which now, is close to 20 years ago if not more than 20 years ago.

But the thing about gardening is once you start, other people follow suit.  And after the first time I planted in the ruin, garden clubs took over and planted it going forward.  I can’t remember which garden clubs did this, except I think perhaps the Villanova Garden Club or the Garden Club of Bala Cynwyd.  I don’t know which garden clubs are still gardening there today.

Here are some circa 2006 -2010 photos of the garden ruin planted (again, I never photographed my work before them, sadly):

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I returned to Harriton this past weekend for their Father’s Day Ice Cream Social, which is just as lovely and old fashioned as it sounds.  I was so happy to see that the ruins were still being gardened, though not as much.  In spots it looks like whichever garden club it was lost interest. But the positive thing is it was still being gardened so many years after I dug the first plants in. And there is a community garden and the tenants garden. I do not know if any of the perennials I planted are still there or not, but after not having been back to Harriton since either 2011 or 2012 I was happy to see any continued gardening there:

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I hope whichever garden clubs are still on Harriton continue.  People change, garden clubs and plant societies are definitely groups where people age out, and not necessarily by choice. But gardening should endure. Wherever we can garden.

I close with some of my own garden’s posies:

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#tbt my history with history

The photo above has me in the center. Circa 1976- 1977. It has just been too long that sadly, I don’t remember the exact date.

Where am I? At one of my favorite historic sites on earth. Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr. I think technically, my friends and I at the time, beat Chef Walter Staib into the kitchen there by a few decades.

When we first moved to the Main Line from Society Hill, I missed the history and old houses of Society Hill. Yes, I was kind of obsessed by old houses even then. So neighbors introduced our family to historic Harriton House. And as a related sidenote, Historic Harriton House is a remarkable story of preservation. I urge everyone to take the time to go visit. The site is a little slice of heaven.

Before we moved from the city to suburbia, I also did something kind of historically minded for a kid.

At 11, I was probably the youngest volunteer tour guide the Park Service ever had in Society Hill. I gave tours of the Todd House and Bishop White House. In Colonial garb with a little mob cap.

How? Well my parents knew Hobie Cawood. Mr. Cawood was the Superintendent of Independence National Historical Park from 1971-1991. I wrote about this before.

But this is just something I have always loved since I was a kid. Our history, our architecture, our old houses.

I am not a new house person. I am a preserve the old house person. It’s just the way I am made. I am a realist and I don’t think every old house can be saved, but I think a lot more can be saved then are actually being saved.

Whenever I have these conversations with anyone about historic preservation, I go back to my childhood in Society Hill. And the reason is simple: that area was a total slum when people like my parents as newlyweds bought wrecks of old houses in Society Hill for peanuts from the redevelopment authority in Philadelphia.

My parents and their friends restored these houses with architectural details and hardware and windows and woodwork from houses that were too far gone to save. And as kids, a lot of the time we went with our parents when they were visiting these wrecks of houses to see what they could salvage out of them. And salvaging then wasn’t so much a big business as it was sort of a neighbor helping neighbor collaborative. People would give you the stuff out of the houses being torn down. It was a very different time.

It was through these expeditions that I learned about things like shutter dogs. Busybody mirrors. Box locks and more. The details of historical architecture which have traveled with me throughout my life.

This is where my love of old houses began. And it has been a lifelong affair.

A lot of people don’t like my opinions. And I’m sorry they don’t share my love of old houses and history. But as Americans we have a magnificent history. And we can’t just keep bulldozing it away.

Thanks for stopping by.

berry, berry good

When I was little, one summer I picked blackberries that grew wild along the creek at Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr.  It was a hot summer day, and a memory that stayed with me.

I am sorry, maybe it is simple, but there is something so awesomely cool about being able to pick your own berries….and guess what has been growing along one fence line that I did not notice until today?

Blackberries.

They are just starting to ripen.  I picked about a pint in the twilight.

Hopefully I missed the poison ivy :<}  And I also noticed the pear trees are actually producing fruit.

I love discovering things in my own garden.

 

a fine how-dee-do

Readers, I have been sitting on something.  I have debated writing about it for nearly a week, and that is my litmus test on writing about something.

I make no apologies for my opinions. After all, we all have them, it is what makes this country great.

A little over a decade ago I became a community activist in Lower Merion Township.  What spurred me towards something I was hardly raised to do was respect and love for my friends the Foos who own a restaurant in Ardmore called Hu Nan.

It all started one night long ago, when my friend Betty, who is one of the most serene and lovely women I know said to me with tears in her eyes “they want to take my building.”

That was it.  That was my defining moment that I could no longer just be a casual observer in the place I called home.  Eminent domain for private gain just does that to a person.

Over the years I have worked hard on issues important to me and those I care about.  I have the respect of many in municipal government and politics, some who scorn me, some who fear me.  It is what it is. Of all the amusing things there is even a regional Patch editor who has never met me but who cut my freelance for certain Patches because I was a community activist and blogger. (yes, she has never met me.)  I found that very limited in her, but then again, if you are looking for someone to photograph and write about disposable diapers, that is not me anyway, so we’re cool. But I am grateful that I have the respect of many others in the local, regional, and even national media. And ditto for many people in many different communities.

When I heard about the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Grounds being threatened by eminent domain for private gain late in the fall of 2011, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut on the topic.  I just despise eminent domain for private gain. The Daily Local even published an editorial I wrote on December 13Main Line Media News  picked it up a couple of days later.

But being active in the communities where I live has never been all I have been about.  I volunteer not just for community activism purposes but to help out friends who do cool stuff – like my friend Molly who was the driving force behind the establishment of the now very popular Bryn Mawr Farmers Market.  I lent her my voice when she needed it and a few photos in the beginning because I believe in what she was doing.  And then there is my friend Janet, the brains behind Clover Market in Ardmore.  I love vintage and antiques, so when I can take photos for her at one of her markets, it is absolutely my pleasure. And on a monthly basis, save major holidays, you will find me in Ardmore with my dearest pal Sherry, snapping away for First Friday Main Line and so forth.

I have also spent years off and on volunteering for Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr, where my first volunteer gig was when I was 12 years old. A memorable adult volunteer experience was getting Willard Scott to wish the house happy 300th birthday a few years ago live on the Today Show.

And when I had breast cancer a year ago, these people  were among my supporters to get me through.  Paying it forward – it is what it is all about. And these people are fully and completely aware of my activism side when a crazy issue arises, and they respect me for that. And they do not judge me for it.

I just like people, and I like cool community stuff, so when I stumbled upon the East Goshen Farmers Market I was thrilled.  So I wrote about it a couple of times up here on this blog and have taken some glorious photos the past few markets.

About ten days ago, one of the market organizers contacted me about this blog and said they would like to link to this blog, chestercountyramblings.  I was so happy at that news.  But then the link didn’t happen.  The woman who had e-mailed me was very apologetic, she had been out-of-town, etc.  But to make sure to stop by their table at the market to say hi.

So last Thursday, along with taking more fabulous photos, I did.  The ladies were super nice, but the one who had corresponded with me pulled me aside and said she hoped I understood, but everything was so political that they couldn’t link to my blog.

Huh?

Aha.  I knew immediately – it was because I have written about West Vincent Township politics and the supervisors Ken Miller, David Brown, and Clare Quinn.  And I like to read Chickenman and say so. Who would have thunk the warped Mayberry of Chester County had a reach into pristine East Goshen?  Well they do, because Ken Miller’s farm, Birchrun Hills Farms sells product at the East Goshen Farmers Market.  And I have said, and I mean it, that I will NOT purchase products from his farm because of the part he played in an attempted eminent domain land grab of the Ludwigs Corner Horse Show, along with being part and parcel of what ails that beautiful community.

Now trust me, that is very tame for me.  If I decide to get my Irish up, it can often be much worse.  But because I took that position, the people who created the East Goshen Farmers Market won’t be able to  link to my blog and I doubt will ever use my photos.  That is their right, they are uncomfortable, that farm I won’t support is one of their vendors.  I am sad that they had to go all super political PTA mom on me, especially since I am now a resident of East Goshen, but hey I am different, I get that.  Some women can’t handle that.  They see what they want to see, and do not take the time to get to know the person.  It’s cool, it’s life.

So anyway, I had told some of you that the market people had approached me to link up my blog to them, but since they hadn’t, I wanted to let you know and why it wouldn’t happen.

Life isn’t fair sometimes, but for the record I am not sorry about what I have said about West Vincent because there is a big bag of wrong going on there.  With publicly stated opinions come consequences – my blog has been shunned by my local farmers market so to speak.  And that is o.k.  People have to do what they are comfortable with, and play politics the way they know how.

I will of course continue to support the East Goshen Farmers Market because I think it is simply awesome.  I will support my favorite vendors too.   And I strongly encourage all of you to do the same.

Have a great day y’all. And if the spirit moved you, remember to nominate this blog for a Blue Ribbon Blogger Award with Country Living Magazine – it is very politically correct to do so :<}