Landenberg Q & A: Joseph Birmingham
By Richard Gaw
Landenberg native Joseph Birmingham missed his hometown – its people, its stories and its history -- so he created the “Landenberg – You Can't Get There From Here” Facebook page four years ago. Since then, it has become the town's coolest meeting place for ideas, stories and reflection. Recently, Landenberg Today met with Birmingham to talk about the Facebook page, a celebration he's helping to plan for the town, and an actor he would like to have dinner with.
Landenberg Today: You were born and raised in Landenberg.
Birmingham: My family moved here in 1968, and are still here in the house I was born in, so that makes us almost Landenberg natives! Typically, the requirement is to have at least three generations in order to be granted native status -- where people know your family name, and your house is still your house, although you may have sold it years ago. I went to New Garden Elementary School, and spent my childhood playing in the fields and streams and woods and hills of Landenberg. It was wonderful.
Landenberg Today: What first spawned the idea to begin the Facebook page?
Birmingham: After I grew up here, I moved away, traveled the country as a performing artist, and then moved back to the area a few years ago. I wanted to know who was still around, what had changed, and what had remained the same. I had been on Facebook for four or five years, and I had been blogging. I am a writer and author. I was looking for a format where I could reach out and try to re-connect.
Landenberg Today: To what degree are you surprised that the “Landenberg- You Can't Get There From Here” Facebook page now counts more than 1,100 people in its membership?
Birmingham: I established the page four years ago as a very simple format to allow people to meet and reconnect socially online from far and wide. The “Landenberg – You Can't Get There From Here” catch phrase was the common theme that I felt would strike a chord with most of the long-term residents. I didn't expect 1,100 members, because when I grew up in Landenberg, I do not believe there were even 1,100 residents.
Landenberg Today: Your Facebook page has come to mean much more than merely a place to post opinions, reflections and events. In your view, what does the Facebook page represent for the people who use it?
Birmingham: I think it represents, in a small way, an opportunity to hold onto the past, while using the convenience of modern technology such as social media. It serves as the equivalent of a small-town newspaper, which back in the day was often mailed out to wherever someone moved to, so that they could keep up with local events, and that when they came back twice a year, they weren't shocked to find that the local grainery had closed, or that the pastor's daughter had married the wrong guy from the wrong side of the tracks. It's that small-town news feel that reaches people who now live in other parts of the world.
Landenberg Today: In addition to maintaining the Facebook page, you are also in the beginning stages of organizing an event you're calling Landenberg Day. What are your reasons for doing so?
Birmingham: Since I've returned to the community, I've seen the revitalization of Kennett Square, specifically when it wraps itself around the Kennett Mushroom Festival. We initially had the idea about two years ago, but it was hard to get the impetus to get something going. Now that the FaceBook group page membership is in four digits, I'm certain we can get something going -- even if just to get a half dozen people who can help preserve the memories of Landenberg the way it was. A lot of people don't remember or know that Landenberg was one of the largest commercial centers in the area in the late 1800s, and that its population was once larger than it is now. The White Clay Creek resource was a powerful financial incentive to settle the area, and it was built from the ingenuity of men who figured out that: this water is moving this fast, at this grade, which will enable the ability to harness that power to run these machines, to support these buildings, that enabled thousands of people to be employed and live here.
Landenberg Today: So the initiatives for Landenberg Day are the same as those that began the Facebook page.
Birmingham: Absolutely. It's a call to arms to the people who remember Landenberg a certain way, and it gives them an opportunity to celebrate that.
Landenberg Today: What have you found out about Landenberg from the Facebook page that you hadn't previously know, since launching it?
Birmingham: I had always known a lot about the history of Landenberg because I researched it a lot. I was fortunate to read Coreen Haggerty's book on New Garden Township, and found that particular complicated historical recounting of events fascinating. What has surprised me the most as a result of the inception of this page is just how many different connections have been made between people, places and events, with all generations and geographical locations intersecting. I am amazed at just how small a world it is.
Take the peacocks, for instance. When you have one thousand people sharing stories about the peacocks, you get many, many different memories.
Landenberg Today: What is your favorite place in Landenberg, and why?
Birmingham: I think about the rock outcroppings, the preserve, the moving water and the open woods, but I guess if I had to pick one place, I probably wouldn't be alone in my choice. Anyone of my age group would have to pick the Landenberg Store. The store was known by so many contributors, and it served as the lifeblood and the well-being of our community for over 100 years. If we want to remember it, we need to either re-source it, or revive it as it was, and/or find someone to run it under its current restrictions. I can't think of going over the Landenberg Bridge and through the valley, and not having some reason to go by the store -- just to hear what's going on. When I think of my hometown, my youth, the Landenberg Store is an iconic part of that. It's still a landmark.
Landenberg Today: Who are your dinner party guests?
Birmingham: I would have to invite Sean Penn. I find myself drawn to people who are creative individualists, who also selflessly give back to the world around them.
Landenberg Today: What food is always in your refrigerator?
– Richard L. Gaw