Chadds Ford Days: A tradition celebrates 50 years
By J. Chambless
Kyle Reynolds demonstrated how to make candles using 18th century methods in front of the John Chadds House during Chadds Ford Days.
By Steven Hoffman
For Kendal Reynolds and others who grew up in the community, there is always something special about the weekend when Chadds Ford Days rolls around.
“I grew up in Chadds Ford so this has always been a tradition for us,” Reynolds explained during the first day of this year’s event, which took place on the grounds of the Chadds Ford Historical Society on North Creek Road on Sept. 12 and 13. “This has always been a family event—a gathering place to celebrate the history in the area.”
This year, Chadds Ford Days wasn’t just a celebration of history, it made a little history—this was the 50th time that it has been held, and Reynolds, the president of the Chadds Ford Historical Society's board of directors, and George Franz, the chairman of Chadds Ford Days, were very pleased by the celebration of the milestone.
The weekend was filled with activities pertaining to history—there were Colonial demonstrations, Revolutionary War reenactors, Civil War reenactors, and visits from the likes of Gen. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and soldier Ned Hector thanks to a number of historical impersonators. The John Chads House was open for tours. Colonial demonstrators included blacksmiths, dulcimers, gunsmiths, tapeloom weavers, and potters. There was also a barn market with dozens of vendors showcasing their wares.
“We like to be a part of what makes Chadds Ford unique,” explained Franz, a past president of the Chadds Ford Historical Society’s board of directors who has been involved with Chadds Ford Days in one way or another since 1983.
Reynolds and Franz are always eager to share the history of Chadds Ford Days as a community event. Chris Sanderson is credited with starting the community tradition in the 1950s as a way to commemorate the anniversary of the Revolutionary War’s Battle of the Brandywine.
The Battle of the Brandywine took place on September 11, 1777 when Continental troops formed a line of defense along the eastern bank of the Brandywine. Gen. George Washington had selected this location to halt the British Army’s advance toward Philadelphia. Gen. William Howe divided his forces to outflank the Continental army in the Battle of the Brandywine. After a day of fierce fighting, the American forces were forced to retreat to Chester, leaving the British camped on the battlefield for five more days. The British soldiers ransacked nearby homes during the extended stay. While the battle was a loss for the Continental troops, the fact that Gen. Washington was able to lead the American forces away without being destroyed was very significant. Eventually, the Continental troops managed to turn the tide. The Battle of the Brandywine is a significant historical event.
Sanderson organized the first community-wide celebration of the battle in 1957. Another event took place in 1959, and several more were held in the years that followed. During these early celebrations, local residents would parade through the area.
While 2015 marked the 50th time that Chadds Ford Days has been held, it became an annual event starting in 1968. The event evolved into an old-time country fair with events for the whole family.
Chadds Ford Days became one of the major events for the the Chadds Ford Historical Society, which preserves and maintains the John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House. The historical society also operates the Barn Visitors Center, and continues the historical research and collection of records and artifacts of the region.
John Chads is an important figure in local history. He was heir to his father’s 500-acre plantation along the Brandywine. He hired John Wyeth, Jr. (no relation to the Wyeth family of famous artists) to build a house on the banks of the creek. Chads was moderately wealthy, but he was also a Quaker, and the simplicity of the house reflects his religious heritage. His house was completed sometime around 1725.
Chads married Elizabeth Richardson in 1729, and the house became their family home. Chads operated a tavern and eventually started a ferrying service across the Brandywine. Both businesses passed to a Chads' relative in the 1740s. Chads died in 1760, leaving his widow the use of the house and forty acres of land. The story about how she remained in the house as the Battle of Brandywine raged around her is often repeated.
The Barns-Brinton House is also an important piece of local history. In the early 1700s, William Barns, a blacksmith, saw the need for a tavern on what was then called “Ye Great Road to Nottingham”—a major road on the route between Philadelphia and Maryland. In 1714, Barns constructed a handsome brick structure that was to become a tavern. He first requested a license for a tavern in 1722 and operated it for at least several years. When Barns passed away in 1731, he was in debt to 78 of his neighbors.
The building changed owners several times until James Brinton purchased the house and farmland in 1753. Brinton was the grandson of the William Brinton, one of the earliest settlers in the area.
Maintaining these buildings is an important part of the Chadds Ford Historical Society’s mission, and the historical society sponsors several events—Chadds Ford Days, the Great Pumpkin Carve, and the Candlelight Christmas Tour—each year to help with the costs associated with that maintenance.
Educating the public about local history is another part of the mission. Programs for adults and schoolchildren utilize the Barns-Brinton House, the John Chads House, and the Barn Visitors Center. Visitors can see a demonstrations of 18th century skills, and guides lead groups on tours with interactive activities.
Earlier this year, the historical society hired Allison Schell as the program and development manager to expand the education programming and extend the outreach through various school visitations and summer camps.
Reynolds said that Schell “brings a lot of energy to our programs,” and talked about the importance of finding effective ways to share local history with young people.
“We’re looking at how our programs reach the kids of today,” Reynolds explained. “How are the kids of today going to learn about history?”
One example of how the historical society is successfully teaching youngsters about this period in history is Kyle Reynolds, who took part in the historical society’s Junior Guides Program and learned how to make candles using 18th century methods. He was doing a demonstration of this skill near the John Chadds House during Chadds Ford Days.
Schell, who previously served as the director of the Milton Historical Society, said that there’s a lot to like about 18th century history, and plenty of opportunities to make that history come alive for modern audiences.
“I like to make history accessible,” Schell explained.
The addition of an energetic newcomer like Schell helps with the historical society’s goal of respecting history while also keeping things fresh and interesting. Organizers are always looking for ways to add new elements to attract new people to the event.
“Even though this is the 50th year for Chadds Ford Days,” Reynolds explained, “some people may just be getting to know us.”
Tom Singer, a member of the Chadds Ford Historical Society’s board of directors, said that the opening of the barn market probably doubled the number of vendors for the event, just one illustration of how it keeps evolving to reach a broad audience.
“There are some cool, creative vendors this year,” Reynolds added.
One illustration of the enduring popularity of Chadds Ford Days is the number of people who are willing to volunteer their time and energy each year. Singer estimated the number of volunteers at about 200.
“Without our volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to put on an event like this,” Singer explained.
Reynolds singled out Franz for his extraordinary dedication to Chadds Ford Days. Franz has studied the battle and its place in local history. He also served on the historical society’s board of directors, and also is very involved with the presentation of Chadds Ford Days each year.
“He’s really a key figure in all of this,” Reynolds said.
For more information about the Chadds Ford Historical Society or next year’s Chadds Ford Days, visit www.Chaddsfordhistory.org.
To contact Staff Writer Steven
Hoffman, email firstname.lastname@example.org.