Heading into its 26th year, the Chester County Town Tours and Village Walks program – like most of the nation – was faced with the many new challenges of COVID-19. While it was no easy task to replace the experience of walking through a town or village and seeing firsthand the unique character, the “Virtual Summer Series” went from a mere vision to an exciting reality thanks to the hard work and dedication of this year’s sponsors and volunteers.
Chester County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle Kichline said, “Every summer, Chester County’s extensive network of historical commissions and societies showcases local history. On Thursday evenings, free walking tours of Chester County’s many historic sites and districts have been presented by these organizations. Based on this strong tradition, we were pleased that the Planning Commission, with Chester County Historic Preservation Network’s help, was able to present the 26th annual program virtually. The virtual format kept this great tradition going, and it was appreciated by many.”
Having been involved with the Town Tours program over the years, the Chester County Historic Preservation Network was excited to support the adaptation to a new virtual program.
“The mission of the Chester County Historic Preservation Network is to protect, preserve, and promote the historic resources and cultural landscapes of Chester County through communication and education. Our organization was absolutely thrilled to share in the initiation and broadcast of webinars to continue to the tradition of Town Tours, while engaging the public in a new way,” Network Education and Programming Chair, Kathleen Hood, commented.
As the Commissioners noted, in previous years, the program’s free walking tours were presented on Thursdays throughout the summer, through rain and shine, by the county’s extensive network of historical organizations.
“Just as our early founders refused to face defeat, this summer the Chester County Planning Commission, Chester County Historic Preservation Network, and six remarkable historic sites overcame the pandemic restrictions to develop programs to educate and entertain. The summer webinars proved once again, as I have learned during my time as Heritage Preservation Coordinator, there isn’t much the citizens of our county can’t figure out if given a little help,” noted Karen Marshall from the Chester County Planning Commission.
The virtual series consisted of six “Live at Five” events, each highlighting a different town or historic site within Chester County. Pre-recorded presentations were revealed on the night of each event, with a live introduction and then Q&A and group discussion following. The series featured Art & Architecture in Phoenixville, Historic Sugartown, Hibernia Mansion, Historic West Chester, the Village of Yellow Springs, and a special preview of Kennett Square’s “Occupation Day.”
Historic Yellow Springs has been involved with the program since its very beginning. “We are so proud of the fact that Historic Yellow Springs has participated in the Town Tours program every year since its beginning. We have tried to present new and innovative ways to showcase our village to our regional visitors over the years, but nothing has been as exciting as working with a drone for our virtual tour this summer 2020. It has been great to bring Historic Yellow Springs into the 21st century while maintaining our nearly 300 years of history,” stated their Executive Director, Karen Walter, and Moore Archivist, Sandra Momyer.
Heather Reiffer, Executive Director of Historic Sugartown, was delighted to be a part of the virtual program as well. “This summer’s virtual program gave Chester County residents access to the 19th-century village of Sugartown, when we otherwise could not have,” she said. “While so many people are remaining close to home this year, Chester County’s historic settings offer a sense of beauty and local authenticity that residents are now able to appreciate.”
Another one of this year’s program participants was historic Kennett Square – who featured a somewhat different “virtual tour” by presenting a reenactment of their 1777 Occupation Day. “We enthusiastically accepted the challenge of participating in the Town Tours this year,” stated Lynn Sinclair of The Kennett Heritage Center. “Kathleen Hood from the Chester County Historic Preservation Network explained the format, offered tips, and guided us through the steps. Our video fell short (time wise) of the program format, and she and Karen Marshall were able to add two more videos to round our program. It was fun and interesting to work in another “dimension.’”
The virtual program was widely attended, with over 1,000 logins collectively. Often times multiple people were watching from one login as they shared the experience with their family. Recordings of the individual events, now available on the Planning Commission’s YouTube page, have been viewed more than 1,000 times, providing a resource that will continue to be available to the public.
A new event this fall is the Chester County Historic Preservation Network’s “Virtual Heritage Series,” which is happening on the third Thursday of the month at 5:00pm now through December.
The 2020 Chester County Town Tours and Village Walks program was sponsored by the Chester County Board of Commissioners, the Chester County Planning Commission, the Chester County Historic Preservation Network, the Chester County Historical Society, and the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau.
To see the 2020 webinar recordings and learn more about the virtual series, visit the Planning Commission’s website at https://chescoplanning.org/HisResources/TownTours.cfm.