To The Editor:
My first nightmare occurred right after recent news that the three white bungalows along Rt. 1 at Longwood were doomed to demolition. Those houses were built in the 1920s by P. S. du Pont for some of his closest employees. Rather I saw in their stead a grand entrance with blinking marquee, announcing a Broadway show or band at the new indoor theater, constructed on the once grassy meadows and hills trod by Indian Hannah and her family. Tourist buses arrived in droves afternoons and evenings throughout the year, and Rt. 1 between Chadds Ford and Kennett Square crawled with traffic worse than at present.
In the second nightmare, I saw the slowly crumbling Pines/Fussell House on the Fairfield Inn property a few miles farther west on Route 1. Contrary to understandings at the time of Kennett Township’s approval in 2006 to convert this 1823 historic property to modern office use, it is anything but. Rather the House now has water intrusion from broken windows, structural damage from termites and dry rot, a rotten and dangerous front porch, and who knows what else. Interested and concerned preservation groups have been denied entrance for safety reasons. In short, this area icon of the Underground Railroad is being neglected. The historic figures who inhabited the house — medical doctors and Abolitionists such as Gillingham, Fussell, and Stebbins, early feminist Hannah Darlington, as well as fugitive slaves once reputedly harbored there –-all must be having their own graveyard nightmares about this sorry state of affairs.
And then came the dream. I saw The Pines/Fussell House as a tourist gateway to Kennett Square a mile away and as a stop along the Harriet Tubman Byway. The unusual cellar-beneath-a-cellar was showcasing the House as a likely Underground Railroad “station.” Maps were available for a self-guided tour to other URR “stations.” There was plenty of parking, some restrooms, and benches under the shade of the old trees; there were lots of brochures and coupons for various Kennett Square sites, shops, and restaurants. A couple of quiet electric jitneys carried visitors into town, returning them to their cars on a regular schedule. While awaiting the return bus, tourists sipped cooling drinks at various cafes or indulged in a dreamy mango ice cream cone from the shop on E. State Street. Finding so much of interest in the town, tourists decided, instead of moving on, to stay for the night at the nearby Fairfield Inn or the Garden Hilton. Excitement was high among visitors at the discovery of yet another gem in the Brandywine Valley’s diadem.
Can such a dream become a reality? I think so, if we can find the nobility of a Pierre S. du Pont, the sensitivity to community history of a Genesis Healthcare or an Exelon, the dedication of Kennett Borough and Kennett Township officials, and the enthusiasm of area service groups, companies, and individuals. Envision many entities coming together to save this historic house, once host to such distinguished guests as James Russell Lowell and outstanding Abolitionists. All that is needed is a committee of strong visionary leaders to make it happen. The Pines/Fussell House can live once again to serve the community. No more nightmares! Let’s say “Yes” to the dream!
Margaret Woodward Ostrom
Glen Mills, PA