Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation
ABOUT THE COLONIAL PENNSYLVANIA PLANTATION:
MISSION: The Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation is an authentic living history site with the purpose of enhancing understanding of 1760-90 farm life in Southeastern Pennsylvania by providing high quality, research based experiences to the public.
ABOUT US: Astride Ridley Creek in Edgemont, PA., the 112 acres of the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation provide the context of early American history, the setting where the impact of King George’s taxes was felt, the American melting pot began to simmer, and American ingenuity took root.
While the decisions of military and political leaders may set the course of history, it is left to the average people, the foot soldiers of history, to carry themselves and their nation to the future.
As much as the conflict and debate of the Revolution, it was the daily conquest of the land that shaped the character and growth of America. Using their resourcefulness to survive and prosper, the colonists helped establish the foundation of the American way. Much of the familiarity with colonial times is based on history’s memorialized few. Accounts of the clothing, homes and style of living of the likes of Washington, Franklin and Jefferson have implied an elite standard beyond the reality of the typical southeastern Pennsylvanian, a rural farmer. The Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation’s modest role – as a working farm operating with the methods and implements of colonial America – belies its significance as a living example of that period.
The Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation represents an average Pennsylvania farm, rather than interpreting any specific individuals. This gives us the ability to discuss 18th century farm life from a variety of perspectives–the family dynamic, the women, the indigenous population, the indentured servants and the enslaved men and women that lived and worked in colonial Pennsylvania. To do this, we rely on religious and tax records, wills, letters, diaries, and archeological material to frame a way of life that existed in the mid-to-late 1700s.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ORGANIZATION:
In the mid-1960s, the state of Pennsylvania purchased 2,490 acres of farmland in Edgemont Township, Delaware County, to create Ridley Creek State Park. At the same time, a group of people interested in historic sites and the American Revolutionary period joined together to preserve, protect and register the old houses within the new park. They called themselves the Bishop’s Mill Historical Society, after a nearby mill village known in the 20th century as Sycamore Mills.
Nearly eight years later, in January of 1973, the Society gave birth to the Bishop’s Mill Historical Institute (BMHI) with a more ambitious goal. It would establish a colonial farm or “plantation” as a museum of Pennsylvania folklife and as a tribute to the hard-working colonial families who built America. Through the museum/farm, BMHI could demonstrate how local colonial farm and mill people lived, what they learned and how that had been applied 200 years later.
The abandoned Lower Rawle farm in Ridley Creek State Park was an ideal site for the museum, with an 18th century farmhouse, stone cabin, springhouse and two barns. Significantly, the property had been a working farm for well over 250 years and was within a community of other 18th century farms, as well as near the mill village.
By November 1973, a long-term lease with the Bureau of State Parks for 112 acres, including the Lower Rawle farm, provided BMHI with its plantation. The large stone farmhouse and outbuildings were intact although modified over the years and in deteriorating condition.
Financial support for the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation project came from the Bicentennial Commissions of Pennsylvania and Delaware County in addition to funding from the private sector.
With this support, stabilization of the buildings and actual restoration began. 30 acres of farm land was cleared, livestock was purchased, and extensive archaeological, research and educational programs went into operation.
Each act of restoration and reconstruction was supported by accurate historical records, research and documentation.
By the spring of 1974, the farmhouse kitchen had been made operational.
The restored springhouse was dedicated in April 1975.
The restored wagon barn was opened to the public in April 1976.
From 1976-78, work was concentrated on restoring the farmhouse interior.
In 1978, the existing 19th century animal barn with 20th century improvements was demolished. In its place arose a reconstructed 18th century version.
The privy was constructed in 1991.
During the early years, visitors were invited to witness this “museum in the making”. The concept of creating a facility dedicated to the “ordinary people” of the Revolutionary era – and at the same time allowing visitors to observe and even participate in the process of creation – was unique.
Guidelines for furnishing the farmhouse were established with the help of 18th century Chester County estate inventories. The collection consists of antiques, reproductions and replicas of Chester County pieces primarily from the collection at the Chester County Historical Society.
Most recently the Plantation’s buildings have undergone yet another restoration effort. The farmhouse and stone cabin were restored with the help of funding from a Community Development Block Grant from Delaware County Council.
The wagon barn reopened at the end of the 2010 season after extensive restoration funded by a second Community Development Block Grant from Delaware County Council.
Work on the stable barn and springhouse was completed early in 2012 through funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a Community Development Block Grant from Delaware County Council.