The past two weeks have been big ones for historic preservation in Kennett Square.
On Friday, June 16, the town fathers unveiled two signs directing visitors to "Historic East Linden Street" and "Historic Downtown." Then on Wednesday, June 21, retiring Chester County Historic Preservation Coordinator Jane L.S. Davidson received accolades for her many years of service at a picnic in the Genesis Walkway along State Street.
The events were quite nice, but they called into question what the town and county are really doing about their old resources. In that regard, we're glad that at least two speakers at Mrs. Davidson's retirement dinner - Chester County Historic Preservation Network Vice President Mary Sue Wiedmer and Kennett Square Borough Council President Jeff Darman -- pointed out that the modern preservationists have a larger charge than protecting old buildings from the demolition ball.
Consider this: The unveiling of two signs along East Linden Street, might represent the hopes of those who seek a charming and restored borough, but the message is empty.
A visit to East Linden Street is a trip to a down-in-the heel neighborhood that's pulling itself up by the bootstraps. There's nothing to see - not even a notation that there are sites of the Underground Railroad along the way. There may be history there, but a casual tourist won't find it.
Traveling in the other direction, a visitor seeking history on State Street (or "Historic Downtown") is not going to find it there either -- with the possible exception of Burton's Barbershop. What that traveler will find at best is old buildings -- some of them well-cared-for.
This lack of real historical showcasing and fun is the reason historical committees, commissions and interested volunteers must do more than paint their shutters with Colonial colors and use original materials in their home repairs.
Here's what Ms. Wiedmer told her audience (among other things) at Mrs. Davidson's picnic: Kennett Square had an old drug store on the corner. Bayard Taylor was born here. The Southeastern Chester County Historical Society was founded here. The town was the site of various inventions and interesting commerce.
Mr. Darman spoke of the History Station restoration, the Genesis Building, the planned preservation of the Kennett Cafe, and cooperation with developers to maintain the architecture of the town. "Preservation is the business of saving communities. It takes a balance of history and working with developers," he said.
These two speakers touched on what historians and perhaps the local Historical Commission must work on: Get some statues (perhaps Herb Pennock or Bayard Taylor). Get some models of those old farm machines. Install some plaques at important places. Open a town history center where people can buy souvenirs and get pamphlets. Partner up with the Underground Railroad people to showcase the properties on East Linden Street with tours. Create a repository for historical relics and put them on display.
Get some real honky-tonk, hands-on displays, and stop harassing people who want to install thermal glass in their old homes. If a community can offer no other historical experiences than some well-kept old houses, then it has failed as a keeper of the past.