Recently there has been news about the Underground Railroad mural on the barbershop building on South Willow Street coming down with the demolition for the new library construction. Much community care has been put into discussions about the mural to obtain an understanding of the meaning behind the mural.
To date, the library promises to have another Underground Railroad mural honoring Harriett Tubman and others in the new library.
This thoughtful process, along with the Juneteenth celebrations in Kennett Square, gives us the opportunity to reflect on our town’s evolution. Many of us know something about East Linden Street’s heritage, however in the context of the current events, some may not identify the true significance of what happened on this street in recent years.
Beyond history, living one’s heritage is one of seeing the values and qualities that existed at a certain point in time and regenerating them in the present.
East Linden Street runs parallel to State Street and many of its historic houses date back to the 19th century when slaves, who were freed, and Quakers who helped them in the process, took residence.The story of today echoes the same values of the early days and this force was captured in the statement of being a peaceful, progressive and inclusive community.
Study Buddies embodied the town’s heritage when in 1998 a group of volunteers felt the spirit of these ancestors and opened doors for youth to receive tutoring help after school. High school student volunteers from Kennett and Unionville helped change lives as their lives were changed.
As a continuation, in 2004, Theresa Bass and residents organized and presented a positive vision to the Borough Council about their desire to improve the street’s infrastructure and neighborhood relations. East Linden Street’s history is significant to Historic Kennett Square and the residents were willing to do the hard work to reclaim their street for themselves and for the town.
With the support of Alliance for Better Housing and Theresa Bass in the lead, East Linden Street residents, and community volunteers developed many programs to transform a street that was running down and being affected by drug dealers.
Historic East Linden Street Project was granted, over one million dollars for revitalization. They received funds from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for improvements to secondary downtown streets, and funds from the Wachovia Regional Foundation to develop tutoring, computer and financial planning programs for residents.
Through this project, East Linden Street has returned to being an attractive, safe street with a mix of cultures and races. When taking a walk down the street, note the plaques that are posted with pride on the historic homes,which housed freed slave residents and other local citizens. The plaques serve as inspiration to continue the work of the early residents.
One of the outstanding events that took place during the 2000s’ revitalization was the historic tours, let by the street’s Study Buddies youth, to showcase the contributions of first-time residents. These tours brought back the story of Joseph Carter, a former slave who later owned a mushroom house. They told the story of Edwin Brosius,whose pottery business thrived for many years. And, they celebrated the first black physician in Chester County, Dr. Orville Russel Walls, who lived on the street and served rich and poor, black and white.
Theresa Bass and others also introduced National Night Out with the local Police Department, transforming the image of the Kennett Police---from law keepers to community friends, who would protect and care about the residents. This certainly exemplifies the spirit of acceptance that early residents experienced.
Today, Historic East Linden has a Neighborhood Association named Carter CDC, which honors one of the early residents of the street. They continue to respect their history and stay actively involved to assure the residents have an environment where they can thrive.
Through the resident’s work to bring back to life the significance of their neighborhood heritage, they have helped to transport a low-income minority across the divide that previously existed in town.
They have given the old and new residents opportunities to develop their potential. They are demonstrating how to give support to each other as neighbors, building a peaceful, progressive and inclusive community. Most importantly, they are restoring the hope that was given to the East Linden Street residents as part of the Underground Railroad.
It is easy to say that East Linden Street serves as an inspiration for the whole town of Kennett Square!