A man’s life, a nation’s history

Happy Birthday to our Presidents!

By Linda Banks, Special to The Times

Chris and his mother in front of the fireplace at Washington's Headquarters. Page 212, Chris by Thomas R. Thompson, Copyright 1973."

Christian Sanderson and his mother Hannah in front of the fireplace at Washington’s Headquarters in an undated image. As published in the book Chris by Thomas R. Thompson, Copyright 1973.

If anyone could claim to be entitled to deliver a happy birthday greeting to our presidents, it would be Christian C. Sanderson.  This Chadds Ford personality attended the Washington, DC inauguration of every United States President from Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 to Lyndon Johnson in 1965… though Chris never owned a car!  As a matter of fact, the stretch of U.S-1 near which he lived was not even paved until 1915.

Within Chris’ extensive personal collection of documents, artifacts, and mementos are fragments which are directly connected to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and many other presidents who served between and beyond their terms.

Chris Sanderson breathed a love for American history into every person, gathering, friendship, and job of his life.  A cornerstone of his enthusiasm for the Battle of Brandywine was laid as early as 1898, when he first visited the site of the conflict that was to become a lifelong passion.

From 1906 to 1922, Chris and his mother Hanna lived in George Washington’s Headquarters at the Brandywine Battlefield site.  Though they had little income and often had difficulty paying their rent, they generously opened the doors of Washington’s Headquarters to the public and never charged a penny for entry to their informal museum.  They simply accepted donations in an old British bean pot which is still preserved among Chris’ collection.

For sixteen years they shared Washington’s hearth, Hanna’s homemade pies, and Chris’ extensive knowledge with thousands of visitors.  Over 21,000 people visited in a single three-year period.

In this very cold, snowy 2014 winter, it is easy to imagine Chris Sanderson, his mother, and a random guest or two gathered at Washington’s Headquarters and seated around the large central fireplace for warmth and conversation.  Perhaps a kettle or pie is bubbling before them.

Words from “The Snow-Storm” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who died the year Chris was born, seem particularly appropriate to describe the scene:

The sled and traveler stopped, the courier’s feet

Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit

Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed

In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

On April 23, 1977, a permanent plaque was installed at Washington’s Headquarters to recognized Chris’ significance and contributions to the site.

Chris Sanderson loved to memorialize anniversaries and birthdays.  Each one could be a spirited occasion.  The Sandersons hosted ambitious annual parties to celebrate Washington’s Birthday.  Echoes of their music, dances, sleigh rides, fox hunts, and fiddle strains still ripple through our area especially in February.  They are most perceptible at the Christian C. Sanderson Museum.

The Sanderson Museum is open March through November, Thursday through Sunday, 12pm to 4pm or by appointment. It is located at 1755 Creek Road, Chadds Ford, just north of Route 1. Admission to the museum is $5 and free for members and children under 12 when accompanied by an adult. For more information, call 610-388-6545 or visit the website at www.sandersonmuseum.org.

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