Brandywine Battlefield supporters get an early glimpse of new museum
The museum will bring the issues behind the American Revolution to life.
By John Chambless
The fate of the United States of
America hung in the balance in 1777, and the men who fought and died
in Chester County played a pivotal role in whether the 13 colonies
On March 30 at the Radley Run Country Club, in the heart of the area where British and Colonial troops once clashed, a large group of people dedicated to preserving the memory of the American Revolution heard about a big step forward for their cause.
Scott Stephenson spoke at the annual meeting of the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force, offering an overview of the soon-to-open Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Stephenson, who lives in Landenberg, is the vice-president of collections, exhibitions and programming for the museum, which opens on April 19 in the heart of the city's historic district, near Independence Hall.
“This is one of the greatest parts of America to live in,” Stephenson told the audience, “and I feel privileged to live here.”
The Museum of the American Revolution has been a decade in the making, he said, and expectations are running high, with 30,000 advance tickets already sold for 2017. “Hang on, because a lot of those people will also want to visit this area, to see where the events actually took place,” Stephenson said.
In his illustrated presentation, Stephenson traced the history of George Washington's battlefield tents, and how, despite the odds, two have survived. The new museum will exhibit one of them in a theater of its own beginning on April 19.
But the museum also holds a rich variety of weapons, artifacts, printed works and manuscripts from the Revolutionary War, displayed with an eye toward immersing visitors in the era. “You can't just put teacups on a shelf anymore and expect people to get excited about it,” Stephenson said.
Visitors will be asked to consider some themes during their visit, he said. “How do people become revolutionaries? How truly revolutionary was this war? And what kind of nation did the revolutionaries create?” Stephenson said.
The museum has 16,000 square feet of core exhibition space, with the experience divided into 16 galleries or theaters. While Stephenson said “there are a lot of guns in the museum, it's not a military museum. We're telling the story of the creation of the republic, and we want visitors to think about this experiment in self-government.”
Toward that end, there is a surround-sound movie theater where visitors will be placed in them midst of battles that were staged by re-enactors at the Cheslyn Preserve, as close to a historically accurate landscape as possible, Stephenson said. “There will be the smell of smoke, and the floor will shake,” he said. Visitors can climb aboard a recreated Philadelphia Privateer boat, use touch screens to examine artifacts in ultra-high-definition video, and walk through a town square. Groups will be assigned the names of real people who lived during the Revolutionary War, learning what happened to their character when the tour is over.
“We want to make the point that this is not just a story set in the past,” Stephenson said. “When people are leaving, there's a wall of photographs of 74 people who lived during the Revolution and lived long enough to have their photograph taken. You can look into the eyes of these people, and at the end, you feel like you're swimming in the same stream of history.”
The Museum of the American Revolution is at 101 South Third Street in Philadelphia. Visit www.AmRevMuseum.org for more information, or to purchase tickets. With battlefield sites so close to Philadelphia, there will be an effort to link visitors to places like the Brandywine Battlefield. “We're going to be bringing museum guides to Chadds Ford to show them what's available to visitors here,” Stephenson said, “as well as to Washington's Crossing and Valley Forge. The best marketing is word of mouth. We think we've dropped a line into 2 to 3 million people who will want to see more, and we want to ramp up that interest.”
The first part of the meeting on March 30 detailed the accomplishments and future plans of the Task Force, which is in the midst of a Strategic Landscapes project that is trying to highlight significant areas of the Brandywine Battlefield. A major challenge has been the sheer size of the historic area – some 35,000 acres in 15 municipalities and two counties.
The Battle of Brandywine was one of the largest single-day land battles and involved the most troops in active combat of any battle in the Revolution. The Strategic Landscapes planning, being undertaken by the Chester County Planning Commission, is now focusing on the southern battlefield, where the Crown Forces camped the night of Sept. 10, 1777 and marched in two columns the following morning from today’s Kennett Square Borough and New Garden and Kennett townships, through East Marlborough and Pennsbury townships, to attack the American Army positioned along the Brandywine Creek. Project funding is coming from the National Parks Service's American Battlefield Protection Program and in-kind support by Chester County Planning Commission.
This summer, there will be a series of tours that highlight the campaign of 1777. “Town Tours and Village Walks” is a series of free strolls through historic neighborhoods, villages and significant sites from June 16 through Aug. 25. Tours last about 50 minutes, and begin at 7 p.m. The tour schedule is:
June 15 – “The Land of Goshen 1777, From Turk's Head to County Seat,” with a kick-off celebration at the Chester County Historical Society;
June 22 – “Two Days Before Brandywine: September 9-11” in Kennett Borough;
June 29 – “The British Flank at Trimbles Ford – An Archaeological Journey”;
July 4 – A special observation at the Revolutionary War Soldiers Cemetery;
July 6 – “Witness to Battle: Two Armies Clash on the Farm Fields of Birmingham”;
July 13 – Bus tour (reservations required) for “Advance With the Hessians”;
July 20 – “West Whiteland's Role in the Revolutionary War”;
July 27 – “Remains of the Day and the Retreat From the Battle of the Clouds”;
Aug. 3 – “Revolutionary Era Powder Mills and More”;
Aug. 10 – Sept. 20, 1777 – Remember Paoli”;
Aug. 17 – Self-guided driving tours, “The Furnace Region During the Revolutionary War”;
Aug. 24 – “Walking With Washington, Literally!”
The schedule is still being finalized. Visit www.chesco.org/planning/towntours for updated information.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email email@example.com.