Living History: Chadds Ford Days brings past alive

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By Gene Pisasale, Special to The Times

A historic reenactor works on an 18th century loom, during a demonstration at the 2011 Chadds Ford Days, which take place Sept. 8 & 9. Photo courtesy of the Chadds Ford Historical Society.

Local residents and visitors to the Brandywine Valley know it as the home of the famous Wyeth family of artists and picturesque countryside, but few know the history behind Chadds Ford Days, which has been celebrated here since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.

The area around the quaint village of Chadds Ford was inhabited by the Lenni- Lenape Indians for centuries before European explorers arrived. The first settlers were Swedish who arrived in 1638 and discovered the Brandywine River, which became important to local farmers as a source of water and also rich soil along its banks. In 1707 “Ye Great Road to Nottingham” (now U.S. Route 1) was laid out from Baltimore to Chester and more settlers began coming to the region. One of the early settlers was John Chads, who operated a ferry service across the Brandywine in the 1730’s- 1740’s at a ford in the river. The spot came to be known as Chadds Ford, the extra letter added due to colloquial spelling of his name.

The American Revolution arrived in Chadds Ford on September 11, 1777 when George Washington faced off against British forces led by General William Howe in what would be the largest land battle in America up until the Civil War. Combat raged all around the village, with fighting occurring from west of the river all the way up to the north around the Birmingham Meeting House and Dilworthtown. Although Washington lost, he proved his ability to stand up against a powerful British force and survive to fight again.

A craftsman demonstrates his work during the 2011 Chadds Ford Days. Photo courtesy, Chadds Ford Historic Society.

Village historian Christian Sanderson lived for many years in the nearby Benjamin Ring house where Washington had his headquarters during the battle. Chris enjoyed talking with visitors about the Battle of the Brandywine and gave numerous lectures on the topic. He collected thousands of pieces of Americana detailing our rich heritage and in 1958 he, Virginia Peters Morgan and other locals began celebrating what was called “Chadds Ford Days” to commemorate the conflict. Chris dressed up as the “Town Crier”, leading them in a local parade. The Chadds Ford Historical Society was begun in 1968 to preserve some local historic buildings around at the time of the battle- the John Chads House and later the Barns-Brinton House. Since then, the Society has promoted Chadds Ford Days as a way to honor our local heritage and enjoy arts, crafts, food, fun and music around the first week of September.

Chadds Ford Days 2012 will be celebrated on Saturday, Sept. 8 and Sunday, Sept. 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the grounds of the Chadds Ford Historical Society at 1736 Creek Road in Chadds Ford. This year’s event will include: live music from The Brandywine Creek Boys, The Skyline Band and others, along with a Colonial tavern serving beer and wine, arts and crafts, Colonial demonstrators, games and hay rides for kids, Civil War re-enactors, tours of the John Chads House and an antique car display. For more information, please contact the Chadds Ford Historical Society at 610-388-7376 or visit their website at www.chaddsfordhistory.org.

Gene Pisasale conducts historical lectures series and is the author of four books, including historical novels of Chester County “Lafayette’s Gold- The Lost Brandywine Treasure” and “Abandoned Address- The Secret of Frick’s Lock”, along with the historical review “The Christian Sanderson Museum- Tom Thompson Remembers”. He can be reached at Gene@GenePisasale.com or by visiting his website at www.GenePisasale.com.

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