Measuring Up: How we Appreciate Chester County

Stories of our past help us to bridge the connection between what once was, and what now is.

As one of the founding counties in the nation, Chester County benefits from an abundance of historic structures and features – many of which have been preserved to help us understand and appreciate our region’s past.

“Places are storehouses of memory, collective and individual. The stories these places tell are enriched by layering, by not being frozen in time,” noted James B. Garrison, President of the Chester County Historic Preservation Network. “Appreciation is an inclusive process without artificial boundaries. Since conventional definitions of historic preservation isolate it from the larger meanings found in the cultural landscape, Landscapes3 [the county’s comprehensive plan] uses the word ‘appreciate’ to link stories with places, allowing for change, and for new stories to complement the old.”

As Garrison noted, Landscapes3 encourages us to appreciate our history by intertwining new stories with the old. This can be seen in a number of ways throughout Chester County, including the reuse of infrastructure (historic buildings and artifacts), heritage tourism (sites and programs), and various efforts through groups and organizations.

“The Chester County Historic Preservation Network recognizes the breadth of this opportunity and is pleased to be part of the Chester County Heritage Task Force, working with the County, the History Center and our member municipal organizations to broaden the appreciation of our cultural landscape,” said Garrison.

In 2019, Chester County celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Town Tours and Village Walks Program, which began in 1994 as a way to encourage the county’s extensive network of historical commissions and societies to showcase their local history. The tours have taken place on Thursday evenings in June – September every year since (the 2020 program was held virtually), and are free for the public to attend. Last year’s tours saw more than 2,000 attendees for the program’s anniversary.

Another 2019 county initiative representing how we appreciate is the National Register Historic Resources Map. This web-based interactive map lists all properties that are listed (or eligible to be listed) on the National Register for Historic Places, and features approximately 635 properties – ranking Chester County second in the state for the total number of individually-listed properties and districts.

Speaking of maps, the Municipal Historic Atlas Maps are a great way to start! These maps, which are compiled by municipalities, historical commission members, and interested volunteers, are a great resource to following the guidelines to be on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2019, there were nine atlases initiated by the Chester County municipalities. See the maps here:

On the “newer” side of history, Be Here Brewing opened up in the restored National Bank of Avondale in 2019. The building dates back to 1895, and helps to retain some of Chester County’s original historic character by fulfilling the Landscapes3 recommendation “promote adaptive reuse and compatible development.” The brewpub offers a central location for both local residents and visitors to eat, drink and socialize, and is the first of its type in Avondale.

Additionally in 2019, the Valley Veterinary Hospital, located in Schuylkill Township, relocated their practices to the once “Historic Bull Tavern, built in 1734. The new owners restored the building’s façade back to its original stonework which had been covered up by previous generations.

These historic features and their surroundings provide a unique sense of place and positively impact our economy and environment, helping to carry on the legacy of Chester County and connect us to those who came before us. While the imprint of these stories is across all of our landscapes, new stories are being added each and every day.

To learn more about how we appreciate Chester County, and the five other goals in Landscapes3, check out the 2019 Metrics Report.

Stay tuned for next month’s featured story: How we Live in Chester County!