A lot of you would remember him as Christopher Arthur Thompson as the former Director of Land Preservation from 2006 to 2009 at the Willistown Conservation Trust.
Or simply as Chris Thompson who lived in Berwyn. Or as in Chris Thompson who used to own a sustainable food business, a true farm to table venture called Panache Foods.
Celestial Blue by Chris Thompson. Photo courtesy of family.
To me he was just Chris, father of Alexandra and Margaret. He was the former husband of my dear high school friend Sandra Hitschler Thompson (also Shipley 1981). He and Sandra had divorced after their move back to the Midwest around 2011, and at his death he was married to Jennifer Drackley Thompson. To all of them I send love and condolences. The dynamics of couples you know change over time, but that doesn’t mean you stop being their friends or thinking about people and remembering them fondly. Such is how I feel about Chris. He was just a good guy.
Writing about the death of someone you knew and liked is so darn difficult. I liked Chris a great deal and his former wife and daughters will always be close to my heart. When I heard about his passing I thought not only of his career in land stewardship and conservation, but his art. Chris was an accomplished artist and his work hung all over the Midwest and East Coast. His art was powerful and lyrical and always blew me away.
Violet Eclipse by Chris Thompson. Photo courtesy of family.
Christopher Arthur Thompson, 56, late of Three Oaks, MI and formerly of Berwyn, PA Joliet, Ill., passed away suddenly on Friday, June 3, 2016.
Chris in his element, Photo courtesy of Chikaming Open Lands Conservancy
Born January 27, 1960 in Joliet, he was the son of Arthur and Marilyn (Smith) Thompson. Surviving are his wife, Jennifer Thompson; two daughters, Alexandra and Margaret; his mother, Marilyn Thompson of Joliet, IL; two brothers, Jeff (Nancy) Thompson of Joliet, and David (Carla) Thompson of Coal City, IL; one sister, Marianne (Joe) Haake of Joliet; his former wife, Sandra Hitschler Thompson; and several nieces and nephews.
I mention this business not to diminish any other aspects of my late friend’s career but because this business at the time was at the head of the class when it came to CSA and locally sourced food. The so called Locavore movement was just revving up in our area when this business began in my opinion. There weren’t many businesses like this in existence if at all at the time. There were folks who were offering CSA shares, but not a direct to the consumer’s home business like this. This wasn’t pizza delivery, it was much more and they offered catering connections and introductions as well. It is through Panache I also made the acquaintance of the now very popular Chef Jennifer McCafferty, owner of JPM Catering in Ardmore, PA.
Panache Foods and Chris participating in Foodapalooza for First Friday Main Line in 2011
For 18 years while living in the Chicago area, Chris owned Event Management. He offered many jobs to local youth who helped him with the Food and Beverage at the Taste of Chicago. Those were challenging, but very fun times. That was part of the inspiration later in his life for Panache Foods.
He attended Joliet Catholic High School and received his undergraduate degree in Art and Anthropology, and Masters of Fine Arts degree from Northwestern University.
Chris, as I mentioned, was an accomplished artist. He was the recipient of the Scholastic Gold Key Award, a Scholastic National Gold Medal for painting, the Rotary International Scholarship for Art, the Ford Foundation Arts Fellowship, the Quita Brodhead Memorial Award from the Wayne Art Center, and the Squirrel Gallery Award of Excellence. Now as a related aside, the Squirrel Gallery was the brainchild of the late mother of my friend Averil Smith Barone (also an accomplished artist) named Valerie Lamb Smith.
Chris Thompson in his role as Executive Director of the Chikaming Open Lands Conservancy in Sawyer, MI. Photo courtesy of Chikaming Open Lands Conservancy.
Chris will be remembered for his dedication to preserving the natural beauty of both Chester County and Southwest Michigan and his appreciation for the arts. He was a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, athlete and most of all friend. He loved life and was a warm and welcoming and inclusive person by nature. He was so truly multi-faceted that on some levels he could be considered a true Renaissance man.
This is what the ruin of Ebenezer A.M.E. church and graveyard looks like THIS week as in right now. You see, some of the East Whiteland Public Works folks went by this week to see if there was anything they could do to help those of us interested in saving this piece of history before it is too late. They were so nice to even consider doing this.
They asked how to get permission from the A.M.E. Church (national) to do this.
Good freaking question since the A.M.E. church elders are not overly communicative is a substantive way when you contact them.
Oh the irony that here they are allready to celebrate their bicentennial in Philadelphia right after July 4th and this is how they value their history and pay tribute to their dead. What a bunch of holy hypocrites.
A.M.E. Church can you hear me now? People are willing to help and you still don’t seem to give a good god damn about these people buried here! Historically important yet everyday people.
What would Bishop Richard Allen who founded your church think? What would Bishop Richard Allen who founded your church do? Personally I think he would have come out himself to help clear the weeds. I also think he would be ashamed and disappointed in you for not being better stewards of history and of the departed.
Loch Aerie at the most recent auction preview last week.
This morning Loch Aerie a/k/a Lockwood Mansion a/k/a Glen Loch is front and center with attention where she deserves to be thanks to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Kristin Holmes wrote a beautiful article and I can’t thank her enough for the time she has spent over the past few months with my friends and I. We pitched her the story of Chester County’s LaRonda starting months ago, and the nature and cycle of news being what it was, only recently did the hard work on the article begin. Kristin told me the mansion’s story would be told again. She is a woman of her word!
Thank you Kristin.
East Whiteland’s Historic Commission ended up featured somewhat prominently in the article with a somewhat dramatic statement from it’s chair:
Loch Aerie will be razed over “my dead body,” vowed Timothy Caban, chairman of the East Whiteland Township Historical Commission
Hope he means it. Oh and he is welcome for the attention that Loch Aerie has been getting in the hopes of attracting a preservation buyer.
A small correction to the article is the misperception that Linden Hall also in East Whiteland is actually saved. It’s not. The developer said they would save it if they could build the cheap looking stick frame townhouses going up around her at Routes 30 and 352, but nothing has been done restoration-wise that is noticeable to residents thus far, isn’t that true? If some restoration has actually begin, it would be nice if East Whiteland’s Historic Commisison would share the details, wouldn’t it?
And yes I drove past Linden Hall twice yesterday. (I will stop harping about Linden Hall when I actually see some restoration and preservation occurring. Until then she is just looking like demolition by neglect.)
There is nothing substantive in East Whiteland Township to save historic structures. That needs to change. What also needs to change is East Whiteland’s historical commission needs to join the modern era and cease operating like a secret society. It should not take a reporter to get a statement out of them. They should be publicly posting agendas and meeting minutes and preservation initiatives and they do not.
Thank you to everyone who cares about Loch Aerie because #thisplacematters . And that includes the auction company. They have been so gracious and I think even they want the old gal preserved.
It will take a village and then some to save Loch Aerie. Holding my breath until it happens.
Thank you again Kristin Holmes for caring and writing a terrific article. Thank you Philadelphia Inquirer for the amazing, amazing placement!
Here is an excerpt of the article and please take the time to read the entire piece and look at the amazing photos he Inquirer took:
Before the Sheraton moved in across the road, before Home Depot set up shop next door, Loch Aerie was the bewitching summer estate of a gentleman farmer who amassed a great fortune manufacturing paper shirt collars…..Loch Aerie’s admirers worry for its future.
“What tends to happen with sites like these is that because they are outside the city, they are viewed as only locally significant, when that’s not true,” said Aaron Wunsch, an assistant professor of historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania. “This house is regionally significant, and we are losing the interesting big suburban houses of that period.”
La Ronda, a Bryn Mawr mansion by renowned resort architect Addison Mizner, was razed in 2009….The two-acre property is owned by the family of Daniel Tabas, who bought it in 1967. With his brother, Charles, Tabas amassed a business and real estate empire that included Mickey Rooney’s Tabas Hotel in Downingtown, Twelve Caesars banquet hall on City Avenue, and the Riverfront Restaurant & Dinner Theater in Philadelphia. He died in 2003.
The family attempted to auction off Loch Aerie several years ago, and turned down an offer of more than $600,000, said Bob Dann, the auction house’s chief operating officer. This time the family will accept the minimum bid, he said…Chester County historian Eugene DiOrio contends that Loch Aerie would easily qualify for the National Register of Historic Places
You have survived so much Loch Aerie. Finger crossed for your future.
Spotlight was the movie we had all heard of sort of, but not really. It wasn’t featuring Marvel superheroes, didn’t have R2D2 and Hans Solo skipping across galaxies far far away, it wasn’t embroiled in Hollywood’s color war. It is a movie so incredibly freaking profound that if you DON’T see it now, you are missing something extraordinary, significant, moving and very, very real.
…when critics call for more transparency and accountability, it’s Cardinal Bernard Law they often point to.
Law was forced to resign as bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston after a series of stories by a team of investigative reporters at The Boston Globe found victims and uncovered documents showing that church authorities had protected pedophile priests from prosecution — a story that will be revisited by the release next month of a new movie called “Spotlight.”
But despite the disgrace that befell Cardinal Law in Boston, he found a comfortable and influential second career at the Vatican….
The Globe’s Spotlight team of investigative reporters had revealed that Law and other bishops before him had covered up the priests’ crimes against children, then moved the priests to new parishes and, as it turned out, new victims.
But during that press conference, the cardinal insisted not once, but three times that it was all in the past. Not a pedophile priest was still in service.
“When he made those statements, we knew they were false,” says Globe editor Walter Robinson, who was on the team that uncovered the abuse….Like Nixon, Law said he wouldn’t go. But eventually he had to — a grand jury was afoot and both priests and parishioners were demanding he step down….
A poster boy for the sexual abuse scandal in one country, Law came to another, the Vatican, in May 2004, where protected and assisted by friends and allies he actually became more influential than he had ever been in Boston.
Pope John Paul II named Law archpriest of one of Rome’s four papal basilicas, and its most magnificent: Santa Maria Maggiore, the first church dedicated to Mary….Law, who had only given up his position as archbishop of Boston, was allowed to keep his seat in the College of Cardinals….
Law is about to turn 84 — he’s grown old in Rome, listening to Italian church bells.
Now retired, he can no longer cast a vote to elect a new pope or to recommend the appointment of new bishops. But he still wears a red hat and, by all accounts, lives comfortably in the earliest Renaissance palace in Rome — the Palazzo della Cancelleria, or the Papal Chancellery.
This movie Spotlight moved me like no other in years, truly. It wasn’t cute or sweet or a date night movie. It was raw and real and while you don’t want kids to see it they almost should.
And I so got this movie.
Because for years, I lived in a neighborhood in Lower Merion Township loaded with small children and a slightly creepy priest who is now convicted and jailed pedophile priest (now inmate number KL8296 look him up)
After the Boston Globe and their groundbreaking series of articles other major cities in the US with major Catholic Church strongholds started investigating and publishing. It happened with the Philadelphia Inquirer. I believe 2003 was the start. You can’t seem to find that far back on the the Inquirer’s website, but Bishop Accountability has articles dating back from the paper to December 2003.
There was the priest from my neighborhood. He had been placed on administrative leave in 2003. Eventually he was de-frocked. But no one watched this guy, he wasn’t on Megan’s List, he roamed our neighborhood. And when both his mother and brother passed he inherited a very valuable apartment building property in our neighborhood and lived there.
He drove a Lexus with vanity plates even while a priest. He was even seem driving through our neighborhood in warmer weather in what we swore was an older gold Rolls Royce convertible in a panama hat.
“Father Ed” … liked to hang out at Smokey Joe’s and drink beer with college kids. He was into sleepovers with altar boys. He also preferred to spin records as a DJ rather than say Mass….The priest, a defendant in the archdiocese sex abuse case, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child, and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old, and faces a prison sentence of 2 1/2 to 5 years. But that guilty plea didn’t end Father Ed’s role in the ongoing archdiocese sex abuse case.
…A psychological examination of the priest concluded that Father Ed had a bi-polar disorder, and a history of alcohol abuse. A psychologist wrote to tell Msgr. Lynn that Father Ed was also “dealing with shame.” It happened after the victim confronted Father Ed at St. John Vianney. After treating the priest, the psychologist wrote Msgr. Lynn that he had “concern about other victims.”
Yup this guy was not only roaming free until he went to prison (which I wrote about on this blog in 2012) but when he went for “treatment” it was to that St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown. I was told this is a quasi-open campus? And is it near schools?
So anyway there is a scene in Spotlight where one of the reporters realizes a “treatment center” for problem priests was around the corner from his home. It made me think of all of this.
In late October 2009 while at a political event for a potential local candidate from my old neighborhood, he approached me. Why me I will never know, because we weren’t buddies. He was always filed as be polite and keep on moving whenever I saw him. He sat there with a beer in his hand and told me how he was being targeted blah, blah, blah. There I sat with camera in hand not knowing what to do. It was horribly uncomfortable to listen to someone you did not believe for one hot moment with empathy. I remember saying to him his choice of venue to discuss his current events with neighbors and locals was inappropriate at best, and if he was innocent, the truth would will out. Ick.
What I did not write about at the time was later speaking to the person running for office and people volunteering for him asking them if they ever read the newspaper because at that point in time, that guy had already been on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer and in a slew of other articles. Would you have wanted this guy at a political fundraiser where kids were actually in attendance? (Again he eventually pled guilty to abuse charges in 2012.)
Flash forward a couple of years and it also brings to mind a conversation I had with a then very pompous and sour Monsignor at St. Catherine of Siena in Wayne a few years back during of all things a viewing before a funeral. At the time, I was planning a move to Wayne and that would have been my new parish had I chosen one. This man was all up in my face about getting married in “The Church.” In March 2011, that parish had a priest removed on suspected abuse charges. And it was the one who had given me a “talking to” as it were.
Once again it made me think about the irony of the Catholic Church being worried about my immortal soul, yet for how long in the greater Philadelphia area did they move pedophile priests around like some sort of twisted shell game or chess pieces on a board?
And when I moved to Chester County I was reminded of even more pedophile priests removed from Chester County parishes. They were written up in an article in Main Line Media News in 2011. They were from St. Isaac Jogues, Our Lady of the Assumption (rectory), and St. Patrick’s parish right in the Borough of Malvern. At the time NBC10 Philadelphia did a great report on this (CLICK HERE).
I will freely admit as a Catholic that I still can’t reconcile what my church and the Archdiocess of Philadelphia did over the years. I can remember when I was in my early twenties when a guy who was dating a friend of mine at the time recounted a story of a abusive priest when he was growing up. The obvious pain when he spoke about it at the time was palpable. Can’t remember the guy’s name – it was too long ago. But I can still remember the pain on his face as he spoke of it and the experience of basically no one much believing him.
These abuse stories have grown and multiplied over the years locally, internationally, and nationwide. They aren’t going away, yet the Catholic Church here in the US really doesn’t want you dwelling on them.
This also should make us respect and want to keep our print newspapers across the country alive. So many newspapers are essentially on life support. They tell our stories, they risk their own careers and lives to tell a lot of these stories.
(CNN)“Spotlight” is basking in the golden glow of Oscar….when the last award of the evening was read, it was the little film about Boston Globe investigative reporters digging into a sex abuse scandal involving Catholic priests that was left standing.
“This film gave a voice to survivors,” producer Michael Sugar said. “And this film amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican.”
It was one of just two awards “Spotlight” took home. The film also won for Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer’s original screenplay.
I will freely and fully admit that it was the Oscar buzz and subsequent win that made me sit and watch the movie “Spotlight”.
I urge everyone to watch this movie regardless of their faith, but especially if they were raised Catholic.
When you are raised Catholic unless you experienced the horror of clergy sexual abuse you have a hard time wrapping your head around the topic. At first. Then you realize some of the accused are a little too close to where you call home. Then you wonder why your Church expects the fealty and obedience of the devout and faithful is so hypocritical. It’s quite a dilemma.
I myself am Catholic. I was raised Catholic. I am still Catholic but have I been to Catholic church in a few years? Except for funerals, no. Do I consider myself lapsed? No, even if some would disagree. I am still a Catholic but I have somewhat lost faith in my church. How have they protected the children with their ongoing cover their ass? How are those actions God speaking through them?
I can’t answer that. Maybe someday I will. Until then, I know where God is and that anyone can speak to him, you just have to believe.
I am sure this post will be a bit heavy for some, and I am sorry for that. But seriously? Spotlight really mad me think about this whole thing again. Go see it and if you live in Chester County support non-profits like Justice4PAKids.
photo courtesy of Pattye Benson and Community Matters. artistic filters applied courtesy of Simple Shots Photography: The Magic of Ordinary Days
When my friend Pattye Benson told me about what was up for discussion at a recent Tredyffrin Township meeting, I thought I misunderstood her. I thought they could NOT possibly raze the old Covered Wagon Inn located in Strafford on the corner of Lancaster and Old Eagle School. After all, it is one of the most rcognized landmarks on that part of the upper end of the Main Line in Tredyffrin, Chester County. It also is an ongoing example of adaptive reuse. No matter who rents or owns the site, it endures.
The last item in front of the Planning Commissioners tonight has personal interest – a land development application to demolish a building a construct a CVS Pharmacy and drive-thru. Summit Realty Advisors will present a plan for the 1-1/2 acre property located at 625/629 East Lancaster Ave. in Wayne. This property is located on the corner of Old Eagle School Road and Lancaster Ave – the Paddock Restaurant (previously John Harvards Brew House) property.
I have no issue with the redevelopment of this property, including the demolition of the ‘new addition’ located at 629 Lancaster, which housed the Paddock Restaurant. But … I have a real problem with demolition of 625 East Lancaster Ave, the historic building that currently houses Thos. Moser Furniture. According to Tredyffrin Township’s 2003 Historic Resource Survey, the building was built about 1780 as a private resident. John Palmer owned a farm which included this structure in 1873, indicated on the 1881 atlas map. The structure was enlarged during the 20th century and was known as the Covered Wagon Inn. Well-known on the Main Line for fine dining and dancing, in its heyday the Covered Wagon Inn featured big name bands and performing artists such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington and their orchestras.
I personally also have no issue with redevelopment per se (although I will admit I do not see the need of yet ANOTHER big box of a chain drug store or a big box store in general) but like Pattye I have a HUGE issue with razing this historic building. The old Covered Wagon Inn has stood for 250 years. It’s a local landmark in use currently, means something to the area, so why demolish it? Especially when the Summit Group ironically was involved with a very special adaptive reuse in Ambler, PA as Pattye continues:
In a review of the Summit Realty Advisors website, there are many, many CVS Pharmacy development projects, including a similar current project in Media. However, in the midst of their drug store building portfolio, I discovered a very special project by John Zaharchuk, owner/developer with Summit Realty Advisors. Zaharchuk oversaw the redevelopment of Ambler Boiler House, the 19th century power plant of an abandoned asbestos factory. Working with historic architectural firm, Heckendorn-Shiles (a former historic house tour sponsor) of Wayne, the project redesigned the circa 1897 brick building, preserving its architectural integrity and recycled it into a clean-and-green office development.
Now…what to do with this? You see a major stumbling block is Tredyffrin, like many Chester County municipalities, historic structures are NOT protected (you know like Linden Hall and Loch Aerie in East Whiteland for two other examples?)
So what can we do? Quite simply raise awareness and try to change the developer’s mind. Can we do it Chester County and beyond? The answer is we can darn well try! The building is in good shape and occupied and has been basically continually throughout the course of time.
In less than 24 hours we have just shy of 500 signatures already on the petition (and growing!) and well OVER 1000 Facebook page likes and growing. Thank you to those who have joined us already and here is an invitation for any of you out there wherever you are to join us!
#ThisPlaceMatters so we have shared our early efforts with The National Trust For Historic Preservation too! In addition to the petition and Facebook page we invite anyone who is preservation minded especially when it comes the the old Covered Wagon Inn to take a photo outside the building with a simple hand lettered sign on a pie of copy paper that says #THISPLACEMATTERS and either post it on the Save The Covered Wagon Inn Facebook Page or post it on Twitter to @SavingPlaces @tredyffrin @TredyffrinTwp .
Also we are looking for photos of the Old a Covered a Wagon Inn throughout the years. You can send them to Pattye Benson directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or post them on or message them to the Facebook page.
One thing that has come out of this since we launched the Facebook page is people sharing memories of The Old Covered Wagon Inn throughout the years. My friends and I in our early 20s danced many a night away at the then “Main Lion” . Here are some of the other memories:
“My parents met at the Covered Wagon! It was a family favorite…..for so many reasons.”
“I have a personal connection, it was the site of my wedding reception. More long term, my family, Davis’, have a long history in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County ,dating back to the 1600’s as shown by Graves in the Valley Baptist Church off Valley Forge Rd, Devon. Please preserve and protect the history of this area and this building in particular.”
“My mother took me to see Harry James at the Covered Wagon. She convinced me to go backstage to get his autograph. He must have been in his 70s but he could really play. Nicest guy you’d ever want to meet.”
“They can’t do it!!! Our Saint Katharine of Siena eighth grade graduation celebration was there!! It’s like tearing down Independence Hall, or Betsy Ross’s house. Buildings that involved very very important people and/or events MUST be preserved, cherished and maintained.”
“I remember the 70’s when Mt. Zion AME Church Devon had many Fashion Shows at The Old Covered Wagon Inn. It was gorgeous. So much history. Hopefully it will be restored.”
“The Old Covered Wagon was a frequent advertiser in the Radnor Historical Society Bulletin years ago; feel free to use this ad if you wish to post it.”
from the Radnor Historical Society
There is also another post on Community Matters you should read:
The holiday season is here. There are many in Chester County facing hardships of all kinds including losing their homes or needing resources for health related issues. People of all ages, races, religions. With small children and without. Families as well as individuals.
If you know of services or non-profits faith based and otherwise which help families in need in Chester County PA please post a comment or post a comment on the Chester County Ramblings Facebook Page. Include any links, contact names and numbers, and so on. I am talking food, clothing, pro-bono legal assistance, shelter, housing, health related…YOU NAME IT! (and food banks and non-profits seeking donations you may also post comments regarding what you are looking for and how people can find you.)
As human beings we need to pay this forward. The economy has been tough the past few years. And but for the grace of God any of us could fall on unexpected hard times.
I know sometimes pride prevents people from reaching out for help, but I am hoping maybe if they see this post and my readers post helpful links and suggestions in comments we can help people out there.
A friend of mine and I met recently with another Chester County lady interested in preserving the ruins of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church on Bacton Hill Road.
She gave us this fascinating report written in 1989 by another Eagle Scout named Daniel P. Baker. Eagle Scout Mathew Nehring also adopted this site in 2010 and documented graves and did a clean up. I find it interesting that even with clear interest in this site throughout the years, that no one from the A.M.E. Church to East Whiteland Township Historical Commission, to East Whiteland Township, or any other of the non-profits nationally and locally one would think would be interested in this site have done anything.
And isn’t it past time to preserve this site? (Check out photos I took a couple of years ago here) I wrote to Justin Heinze the latest Patch reporter to mention the church (Pete Kennedy had already done it in 2012), but never heard back. He may not have cared for my corrections. I suggested he clarify that the location is Frazer. On Bacton Hill Road in East Whiteland Township. (I would’ve hoped that the East Whiteland Historical Society would’ve pointed that out. )
We do have our own identity everything is not “Malvern” and to say Malvern should even have clarity because Malvern is not just a borough, it is a town in multiple municipalities in addition to the borough.
I got back nothing and I am sure my mentioning East Whiteland Historical Commission will elicit more comments on this blog from them but the truth is they have to be more than seat warmers (a friend describes them something akin to that).
Friends of mine and I have for the past couple of years try to get in touch with people that we think would be interested in saving this church – the structure is basically gone and needs to be secured as a ruin, but the graves represent extraordinary historical significance for the area. My research indicates that the AME national church still owns the land. I tried writing them different times over the past two years about the site and they never even acknowledged that I contacted them. (Anymore than this latest Patch reporter.)
Since I moved out here from the Main Line I have heard stories of Civil War soldiers and Revolutionary war soldiers sort of just getting paved under with progress. (one of the supposed paved over locations of Revolutionary War Soldiers was around Bacton Hill and Swedesford Roads but I have no documentation.)
I think the site deserve some sort of recognition and preservation. Which was why a friend of mine and I were so thrilled to have coffee with another lady of a similar mind set. She brought with her the document above and another cool book that I knew of because I know the author, Catherine Quillman.
A stone building, dilapidated and crumbling from the outside in, still stands on Bacton Hill Road….The gravestones which surround the building clearly show that it was a church. Nearly all the headstones have fallen downhill and lie, face up crumbling from the wind and rain.
Records show that this church, formerly named the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church, was built in 1832 on what was originally known as the Yellow Springs Road. A celebrated gospel church, it was regularly attended by Negroes who lived and worked on Bacton Hill. Very few of the lives of these people, who were once a great part of the history of East Whiteland, have ever been chronicled.
Early tax records for Chester County show a listing of “free men”. Actually these “free men” were colored slaves who had been given their freedom from bondage when they reached the age of 38. Later on, the age of freedom was lowered to 23 years of age and finally a state law granted that any person born in the state of Pennsylvania was a guaranteed free man.
The farmers of Valley Hills would often give these free men, after their term of bondage was up, a small plot of land for their own upon the hills in Bacton. On these, the former slaves built small log cabins or stone buildings. Many ran small farms while still working during the day timbering the summit of Bacton Hill and carting lumber down to the Great Valley for the lime kilns.
In or around 1832 these free men who lived and worked around Bacton Hill built a church, and eventually a stone building was built. Gravestones date back to that era, I have seen them and photographed them. In 1989 when the paper was written, 80 graves were documented. When the next Eagle Scout documented graves, I believe he only documented 26. When I photographed the site a couple of years ago now, I did not even see that many. The graves are disappearing. Sinking into the murky and often swampy land (several springs underneath apparently), and it would not surprise me if other headstones had simply been removed. Yes, people steal from the dead and that includes headstones.
Anyway, riots and “disturbances” between 1848 and 1870 caused the church to not be used as much and it apparently fell to ruin the first time. But in 1872 the old church was brought back to life and reopened December 8th 1872. “:Important” clergymen were reported as having been present, and in June of 1873 the church was re-dedicated as Ebenezer African American Methodist Church.
At this point the church remained in use until 1910. Then the church may not have been used again until the 1940s. In the 1940s it was reported to have been some sort of a big the church to celebrate it’s history. It was said people from all over Chester County gathered with “prominent” members of the A.M.E. Church. It is believed that is when the church was electrified. After that, the church stopped being used, and the woods and swampy marsh grass grew up around it, and a mobile home ended up next to it.
Bacton Hill Road is a hodge podge today. Occasional houses, a couple down long, long driveways we can’t even see. It also has a mobile home/ trailer park, a couple corn fields, and industrial buildings. Where it meets Swedesford is an office park and part of the Chester County Trail System.
May 30th of this year was my most recent post on the church and graveyard. I love the history of this area, and to me, this site, the church, and the deceased buried so long ago are important pieces of history. So why is it in Chester Couty many remember the part this county played in the Underground Railroad, yet no one can preserve this site, let alone formerly remember it?
Anyway, if East Whiteland Historical Commission is going to continue essentially sitting on their collective hands while history like this rots, maybe the people of Chester County and beyond can help? Ebenezer A.M.E. is important. How can we save it? It deserves to be saved and have a secure and recognized place in history.