London Britain hosts town tours and village walks08/24/2021 04:11PM ● By Richard Gaw
Richard L. Gaw
London Britain Township, formed in 1725 from a tract of land belonging to the London Company of Great Britain, is tucked in a wedge between Maryland and Delaware and its history is a confluence of stories told, documented and protected by a dedicated group of residents whose mission is to preserve those stories as both a testament and a lineage.
On Aug. 19 and 21, members of the township's Historical Commission and the PA Friends of the White Clay Creek Preserve-London Tract Historic Committee brought those stories to more than 60 guests as part of Chester County's “Town Tours and Village Walks” program – now in its 27th year -- a collaboration between the Chester County Planning Commission, the Chester County History Center, the Chester County Historic Preservation Network, and the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau.
Presented with the theme “Chester County….Journeying Toward Freedom,” the two programs stopped at the Welsh Baptist Historic District and the Tri-State Marker, where Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland connect at the Mason Dixon Line. The programs focused on topics that included Quaker and Welsh Baptist values of tolerance, boundary disputes with Maryland, the drawing of the Mason-Dixon Line, and stories of abolitionists and freedom seekers.
Guest speakers and docents included township supervisors Aileen Parrish and Brian Sachs; Paul Lagasse from the Franklin Township Historical Commission; Julie Rickerman from New Garden Township; and Eric Baker, Jim Martin, Susan Moon, Monica Quann and Martin Wells from the township's Historical Commission and the PA Friends of the White Clay Creek Preserve-London Tract Historic Committee.
The group is especially indebted to Historical Commission Chair Jim Martin, who dedicated countless hours to the program.
For Moon, these tours formed a dovetail that both showcased the township's history and brought public attention to the need to preserve the historic structures of the district, including the John Evans House, which was severely damaged by fire four years ago. She credited long-time county preservation coordinator Karen Marshall for helping the township's Historical Commission in designing the tours.
“Karen has been very important in helping us to organize, to help us know the proper steps to preserve these structures, and this event is an educational event but also brings awareness to the struggles of preservationists,” Moon said. “Getting people from all over the county to help us coordinate these efforts is crucial to the preservation of sites like the John Evans House.”
'Prioritize the gifts we have here'
“We have great hopes that the more exposure and education people have about the importance of these structures and how they are connected to the very beginnings of our township, there will be more interest in supporting the kind of initiatives we are going to have to have in order to save these structures,” Parrish said. “We need as much focus on what we do here as what we have here. We feel that with Karen Marshall's encouragement, we can prioritize the gifts we have here which we don't wish to lose.”
Public interest aside, saving historic structures such as the John Evans House and the Welsh Tract Meeting House – which is currently closed because of the need to repair its ceiling – will also require having to navigate the sometimes choppy waters of obtaining certification and designation.
As part of those efforts, Moon recently authored a historic resources survey form that was reviewed by the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission to establish the Welsh Baptist Historic District as eligible to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We have a lot of unanswered questions, and having our eligibility for the National Register gives us more credibility when it comes to applying for grants, research and planning,” she said. “It establishes our resources as 'an official place' in the mind of the state and the powers that be, so that we may be able to hire outside professionals to help us dig deeper into our history.”
The township is also working with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the National Park Service in coming up with a master plan on how to manage the White Clay Creek Preserve and subsequently, the adjacent Welsh Baptist Historic District.
On the heels of two well-attended events, Parrish and Moon hinted at the idea of the township and its commissions sponsoring historical tours in the future. The concept may have cemented itself by the interest shown by those who attended the tours and talks on Aug. 19 and 21.
“There was a man who rode up to the Meeting House on his bicycle,” Moon said. “He told me that he has ridden by the Welsh Tract Historic District hundreds of times over the years, and yet he never knew anything about its historic impact of the area. Now he does.”
“When people move to an area like this – one that is so steeped in history – many of them do so because of that appreciation of history,” Parrish said. “It is hard not wanting to know more about the history of where you live when you move to a place where you are surrounded by it.
“It awakens in people a real interest to know more.”
To learn more about Welsh Baptist Historic District history, visit The Friends of the White Clay Creek website at https://friendsofpawccp-org.doodlekit.com/home/historic-resources or e-mail:
[email protected]. To learn more about the London Britain Township Historical Commission, visit www.londonbritaintownship-pa.gov/
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].