The Chester County Planning Commission’s Heritage Preservation Coordinator, Karen Marshall, has retired from her position as of Friday, April 23. After 9 years with the Planning Commission and 14 years with the county (having started with Parks and Recreation back in 2007), Karen has played a key role in so many of the county’s historical efforts and achievements.
“Karen has been a passionate and effective leader in the historic community here in Chester County,” commented the Planning Commission’s Executive Director, Brian O’Leary. “She has done a great job of being an advocate of our region’s history, and has helped others to accomplish their goals on the historic preservation front as well. We wish Karen all the best in her retirement.”
As the county’s Heritage Preservation Coordinator, Karen helped to identify, document, interpret, and preserve Chester County’s historic resources and landscapes wherever and however possible. This included everything from researching important historical events, to the enforcement of local, state, and federal guidelines, and more.
Some of Karen’s favorite projects over the years included helping to restore and preserve the historic Fricks Local Village; continuing the Town Tours and Village Walks Program, including working with the Chester County Historic Preservation Network (CCHPN) to provide virtual tours in response to the pandemic; initiating the American Battlefield Protection Program grant with the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force; mapping designated historic resources in 42 of the county’s 73 municipalities through the Historic Atlas Project; and co-founding the Iron and Steel Heritage Partnership which features four themed driving tours and a website showcasing historic destinations in Chester County’s northern area.
Additionally, Karen enjoyed serving on CCHPN’s Board, guiding the development of various Historical Commissions and Heritage Centers, and extending the Harriet Tubman Scenic Byway into Chester County through the creation of the Freedom Trail.
“The accomplishments I am most proud of during my almost 14 years with Chester County have all resulted from my technical assistance to our amazing citizens, historical commissions, and organizations,” Karen noted. “Their successes have been my successes, and their losses have been my losses. During these years I have worked with our county parks and our 73 municipalities to identify, document, interpret and preserve our county’s remarkable built heritage.”
Some of Karen’s favorite memories with her coworkers include hanging out with her fellow history nerds, checking out the weather on “Summer Thursdays,” and working on the Town Tours and Village Walks.
When addressing important issues of future preservation, Karen noted that the same important preservation issues have been with us since antiquity. “I go back to the world wide response to the great Notre Dame fire; because all of us in daily life lose sight of the truly important touchstones of our lives, the places that matter, that become so ingrained and commonplace in our everyday lives that we don’t see them…until they are gone and then we realize how important they were to us. We have to work to treasure them,” she stated.
And, as the true Heritage Preservation Coordinator that she is, Karen always goes forward with the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 in mind, which states that: the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage; and the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.
Upon retiring, Karen is looking forward to having more time to devote to her friends and family – as well as special preservation projects, reading, and her garden. She enjoys sailing on the Chesapeake Bay with her husband, Hunt, and attending the Works and Process programs at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (which her daughter Kathryn helps to produce). She is also looking forward to discovering new interests and hobbies, including writing the history of her father’s landing at Utah Beach on D-Day.
When asked what advice Karen would like to share upon her departure, she said, “I have learned in my 71 years that commitment to family and friends, service to others, pursuing your own definition of a greater good, and having courage and a sense of humor are about all you need for a productive and satisfying life.”