Q&A: Allison Schell
By J. Chambless
this year, the Chadds Ford Historical Society launched the Escape
Brandywine escape room, just one of the innovative ways that the
organization tries to engage and educate visitors. West Chester &
Chadds Ford Life caught up with Allison Schell, the program and
development manager of the Chadds Ford Historical Society, to discuss
the new escape room, the efforts to protect and preserve the
Barns-Brinton House and the John Chads House, and other activities
that the organization is planning.
Q: The Chadds Ford Historical
Society (CFHS) is a private, non-profit organization that preserves
pre-Revolutionary buildings that are open to the public as
museums—the Barns-Brinton House and the John Chads House. What can
you tell us about the preservation of these community treasures?
A: Community is the key word there! From the start, the community has been involved in making sure the Barns-Brinton House and the Chads House, both great examples of their own architectural styles, were preserved for future generations. Like any house, over time repair work and upkeep needs to be done, so by becoming a member or donating you can help keep these buildings standing longer.
The Chadds Ford Historical Society debuted the Escape Brandywine escape room earlier this year. Can you tell us about this new offering?
At the CFHS, we love to explore interesting and new ways for our visitors and supporters to experience our sites. Escape Rooms have been very popular throughout the country. We thought this would be a fun, engaging and educational way to teach visitors about the Battle of Brandywine and Revolutionary War spycraft techniques. All of the puzzles in the house are based on real spy techniques used in the 18th century and takes place in our historic Chads House, which makes our Escape Room more unique than others in the area.
What are some of the other initiatives that the Chadds Ford Historical Society currently is working on?
Developing more innovative, immersive experiences and programming at our sites to keep people engaged and intrigued. We’ll create a little suspense here, but you’ll just have to follow us to see what we come up with next!
Can you tell us about the Tavern Talks series? When is the next Tavern Talks taking place?
Tavern Talks was an idea I had to create a more hands-on education program for adults. Just about every month we feature fun, interesting topics in 18th century history and culture, such as “Chocolate & Courtship,” “Beer for Breakfast,” and “Colonial Selfies.” We explore these topics at our historic Barns-Brinton House tavern by using demonstrations, games, hands-on activities, food and drink tastings and more. I wanted to provide something for adults that was more than just a lecture – I’m a very tactile learner, and I hoped that other people would be as well! The next Tavern Talks event takes place on Nov. 9 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the topic of Feast Mode! We will be covering an array of delicious, intriguing and surprising foods that the Colonists would have enjoyed, and that guests will have the opportunity to sample. Monty "Moe Train" Wiradilega, a local competitive eater and podcast personality, will be made to try some of the more bizarre dishes.
Can you tell us about your educational background that led you to become the program and development manager of the Chadds Ford Historical Society?
I have a Masters in museum studies from the George Washington University and an undergraduate degree in American history from Dickinson College. I’ve been involved in some capacity in the museum world for 14 years, and have interned and worked in places such as the National Women’s History Museum and the Smithsonian.
What is the best part of your job as program & development manager for the Chadds Ford Historical Society?
The opportunity to be creative and design interesting programs and activities to get people more engaged with history. I love seeing that spark when someone learns something new or unexpected!
What is your favorite spot in West Chester or Chadds Ford?
I clearly spend most of my time in Chadds Ford and I know I’m going to be cliché answering this, but I just love our Barns-Brinton House tavern. One of the first museums I started volunteering at as a teenager was a historic tavern and I’ve volunteered and worked at a few other ones during my museum career, so they hold a special place in my heart. The Barns-Brinton House is a beautiful structure that I still love going into and finding new little details throughout the building. Doesn’t hurt that Chaddsford Winery is next door either!
If you could invite any three guests, living or dead, to a dinner party, who would it be?
As a historian, I’m going to have to go with dead guests: Peggy Shippen (I think there’s more to the John Andre and Benedict Arnold story that I would love to know), Agent 355 (A Revolutionary War female spy whose identity is still unknown to this day) and Sally Hemmings (I would love to hear her side of the story). If you don’t know who any of these women are, it’s a great opportunity to look them up and learn!
What food is always in your refrigerator?
People that know me know I would be lying if I said something other than cheese. It’s just too Gouda to pass up!
How can people connect with the Chadds Ford Historical Society for more information about upcoming events?
We constantly update our website, www.chaddsfordhistory.org and we’re also very active on social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter).