Kennett Township purchases historic home
By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
A vital piece of the history of southern Chester County has been saved from the wrecking ball.
At the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors' meeting on Jan. 20, it was announced that the township has purchased the 190-year-old Fussell House, located on 723 E. Baltimore Pike in Kennett Square, for the price of $200,000, and thus will preserve what was once a stop on the Underground Railroad.
The house had been appraised for $615,000. The purchase of the house was paid for through the township's Capital Fund. The home has not been occupied since 2006.
Also known as ・The Pines,・ the house once served as a refuge for runaway slaves to find safety, shelter, food and clothing along their journey north to freedom. More than 2,000 runaway slaves were helped to freedom there by Quaker physician and anti-slavery activist, Dr. Bartholomew Fussell and his wife, Lydia.
Dr. Fussell's activism drew the attention and praise of William Still, an African-American abolitionist, Underground Railroad conductor, writer, historian and civil rights activist. In his book, "The Underground Railroad," originally published in 1872, Still wrote, "Dr. Fussell hoped for the day when slavery and cruelty should have no abiding place in the whole inhabitable earth; when the rich and poor should know no distinction; the great and small be equal in dominion, and the arrogant master and his menial slave should make a truce of friendship with each other, all following the same law of reason, all guided by the same light of Truth!"
The house is one of more than three dozen Underground Railroad sites in southern Chester County, and part of the largest concentration of Underground Railroad sites in the United States. In recent years, commercial development near the now unoccupied home threatened its existence, as it is located on a commercial pad site, in a three-acre area along Baltimore Pike, that is now home to the Fairfield Inn, as well as additional development that is planned for the future.
In announcing the purchase, Township Manager Lisa Moore said that the house will be rehabilitated, and will include the addition of new doors and a new roof. The township will work with architects who have knowledge of historic structures, in order to retain the historic value of the house. The cost of rehabilitation is expected to be funded through grants.
Moore said that the house will be used by the township.
A virtual tour of the Fussell House is now available on the township's website.
"I am very hopeful that the community will learn that the Pines has been saved, and is in the process of being saved, and that there will interested people from the Kennett Underground Railroad Center, who will work with us on that space, because it is an important structure, and has been referenced in a number of documented reference books," said Scudder Stevens, board chairman. "It's not only important to the history here, but the history of the entire country."
John O'Neal, president of the Kennett Underground Railroad Center, said he was "ecstatic" about the purchase of the house.
"We will certainly work with the township," O'Neal said. "We've all been working towards this, and for you to be able to do this, is just magnificent. We will work together and get the house back in shape."
In other township news, a representative from the Kennett Consolidated School District will be a guest at the Feb. 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, and will give a presentation on the technological initiative plans for the school district.
The emergency services study that the township is working on with several other local municipalities is reaching completion. When finished, the results of the study will be shared with the public.
The township and the Kennett Borough are working with Genesis Healthcare and Longwood Gardens on an economic development study, the data of which will be shared at a public meeting on Feb. 11 from 6:30 to 8 p.m., at the Genesis Building.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.