A step forward in preserving history
● By J. Chambless
Washington's Headquarters is part of the tours offered at the Brandywine Battlefield.
By John Chambless
From last December through early June, the public face of the Brandywine Battlefield was the “closed” sign on Route 1 in Chadds Ford.
The park, which is operated by the volunteer Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates, is usually closed for maintenance from December through early March, but a renovation project last winter ran longer than expected, and then the visitors center was found to be structurally unsound, requiring further emergency repairs. That led to the prolonged shutdown that had many people wondering if the park would ever reopen.
The bad news and the prolonged closure was offset last week by the completion of the first specific Battlefield Landscapes Plans that assess aspects of the sprawling 35,000 acres of the battlefield and recommend specific steps toward preservation. A celebration was held at the Radley Run Country Club on the evening of June 29 for the many groups involved in making sure the Brandywine Battlefield isn't lost to development and neglect. But finally, on June 8, the staff got the building up and running, and the park is open to visitors for the summer.
In a posting last week on their Facebook page, the Brandywine Battlefield staff wrote, “The 2013 Brandywine Battlefield Preservation Plan recommends 13 battlefield strategic landscapes for further consideration and planning. These strategic landscapes are being examined in phases due to the complexity of the battle and large size of the battlefield. ... Collectively, such planning efforts within the battlefield honor and preserve areas that exhibit Chester County's and Delaware County's role in American history and our nation's founding.”
The complexity of the task is obvious. The battlefield extends across 15 municipalities and two counties. Much of the property is prime residential land, and thousands of properties are scattered across the historic area. The first three published plans focus on small areas within the region: ‘‘Behind the Lines: Marshallton Strategic Landscape Plan”; “Breaching the Fords and the British Advance: Trimble’s & Jefferis’ Ford Strategic Landscapes Plan”; and “Preparing for Battle: Sconnelltown & Strode’s Mill Strategic Landscape Plan.” The plans were prepared by Chester County Planning Commission with the assistance of John Milner Associates. They were largely funded through a grant to Chester County from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP).
There are also grant funds available for the next phase of the project, which will include the Two Columns and Encampment areas in East Marlborough, Kennett, and Pennsbury townships, and Kennett Square Borough.
What each publication does is survey the history, topography, historic attributes and challenges of each area, with maps of historic roads, troop movements and structures, and modern-day features, and recommend specific steps forward. They are available, free of charge, online at: www.landscapes2.org/publications/PubHistoric.cfm. Nothing is left out of the plans, and reading through them makes a strong case for how much history happened here on Sept. 11, 1777.
The Battle of Brandywine was the largest single-day battle of the American Revolution, and although the Continental Army lost, George Washington showed, for the first time, his army's ability to withstand a fight with Gen. Howe's army and survive to fight again. The battle, with about 30,000 British and American soldiers, took place on Sept. 11 at Brandywine Creek in Chadds Ford. Washington was trying to block Howe's forces from marching to Philadelphia. After the battle, Howe continued to march into northern Chester County, where Washington again tried to block him. By Sept. 26, Howe occupied Philadelphia, leaving Washington and his men to survive the winter at Valley Forge.
The completion of the three Battlefield Strategic Landscapes Plans is a big step toward helping municipalities understand the process of preservation, and uniting the many groups and volunteers working to save the properties. The June 29 celebration featured remarks from Brian O'Leary, the executive director of the Chester County Planning Commission; Jeannine Speirs of the Chester County Planning Commission and the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force; and a keynote address by Wade Catts of CHG, Inc., the project consultant. Brandywine Battlefield Park was established as a 50-acre state park in 1949. It contains the Ring House, which served as Washington's headquarters in Chadds Ford. Today, the Brandywine Battlefield historic site sits on 46.5 acres of the location that was the Continental encampment. But keeping development away from the property has been a long, complicated, and expensive task.
Another huge resource is the Brandywine Battlefield Preservation Plan, which was prepared by the Chester County Planning Commission as part of Landscapes2. The plan, available online, presents recommendations on how to better preserve the battlefield's open spaces and historic landscapes. More than 200 historic resources are inventoried, including buildings, meetinghouses, fords, and landscapes that were the location of combat and of battle-related events.
Funding for the strategic landscapes project is provided by the American Battlefield Protection Program, and in-kind support from the Chester County Planning Commission and the Delaware County Planning Department.
From July 12 through August, The Brandywine Battlefield Park (1491 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford) is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. (Closed Monday). Visit www.brandywinebattlefield.org.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.