With Gratitude for the Word of Mouth

Our upcoming Summer Barn Sale is less than two weeks away and since our last spring Sale and this point in time, we have collected some fab finds, revamped some oldies but goodies and ordered new merchandise that will help you celebrate the Summer season coming up. The following sentence , “our hearts are full of gratitude to all of you who support us at each of our seasonally inspired sales” seem to not carry the weight and depth of how we truly feel. For without your attendance, your comments and your validation that what we are doing makes a difference, it would be a much harder road than it has been, to get to where we are now. Looking back on that road that I ventured onto more than six years ago now seems like a much longer one than it actually has been. A road, that like any road, is not always smooth, there are roadblocks and detours and then miles of smooth surfaces open up in front of you, always to be broken up by a wrong turn or yet again, those detours. One thing that has been constant in our journey has been you! You all show up for a sale when you can and you tell your friends about us and they tell their friends and that is basically how we have grown. Word of mouth.

I love that phrase which is defined as “the passing of information from person to person by oral communication, which could be as simple as telling someone the time of day. Storytelling is a common form of word-of-mouth communication where one person tells others a story about a real event or something made up.”

History is passed on through the written word and by word of mouth and conveyed to us not only by the stories of the people who have lived before us but by their structures as well. The two are interwoven and I am passionate about their maintenance and their longevity. Thus the creation of my business. There is something fascinating about listening to someone who tells a story and that story is further elaborated and detailed if they can connect that story to a place. The story is grounded in the place that it happened. The storyteller gives details of where he/she was standing, what room they were in, the sensory experiences that the place invokes. The destruction of these places break down these stories and the link to the past is physically erased.

We had a visitor just a couple of weeks ago who had lived in our home in the 1940’s. I missed his visit for I was searching for treasures in Virginia but I will be inviting him back. He walked through rooms of the house with my husband and oldest son, and as he did, stories spewed forth of experiences he remembered as he traveled through the rooms. In the Library, or Keeping Room as we call it, he remembered his mother entertaining an artist that she had supported, Horace Pippin, in that room. Horace Pippin was an African-American painter and her support of him was quite controversial at the time. Pippin evidently spent much time at the house and even painted the room of which he spoke of and entitled it “The Den” and gifted it our visitor’s mother in 1945. Our visitor spoke of his recollections of Herbert Hoover being in the house on the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed and being that there was no quick dispersion of news back then, he did not learn of that horrific event until he had left our home and arrived in New York City totally unaware of the events that had happened. He spoke of vividly remembering and partaking in the arrest of their butler at the time, who in that same room was handcuffed by the FBI suspected of being a German spy. Given that the owner of the house at the time was John Hamilton, then Chairman of the Republican Party, that was a significant charge and a maid was implicated as well. President Roosevelt has inhabited the house as well.

We have had other visitors who have depicted their generation of living in our home, from stories of the daughter of the tenant farmer who ran the dairy farm for Mr. Hamilton in the 1940’s to descendants of the Orr Family who lived there next and spoke of snowed in winters, washing the eggs from the 100 plus chickens in the spring house, friendly spirits of granny (whose spirit we have witnessed) and separate dining areas for the staff and the members of the household. The servants’ bells in the kitchen and in many rooms of the house signified that in our houses past, that indeed was a way of life foreign to its inhabitants now and much to the chagrin of my boys who asked when we moved in, if I would show up in their room with a soda when they rang the bell. I then told them where that soda would end up if they tried that stunt. 

There are the ruins of the silo that once stood towering over the barn, which if you have been to the barn, you can only imagine the girth of such a structure since the stone barn itself is huge. There are stories of Mick Jagger visiting his buddy Keith Richards who was being treated by a Doctor at our home in the 1970’s, which was then owned by Shorty Yeaworth who put Phoenixville on the map with his cult classic The Blob.  We have heard that it was not uncommon to stand in line behind either Mick or Keith at the Paoli Hardware store as they bought materials to build an arbor on the property behind the old tennis courts. We had an Amish gentleman who showed up one Saturday afternoon with a Greyhound sized busload of family members, shoo fly pie in hand. The pie was an offering to allow the bus to drive down the driveway as he pointed out structures on our property that had been built by his descendants, the Rickabaughs who lived on the farm in the late 1700’s to mid 1800’s, one of the longest families to inhabit the farm – the date stone of the house reflecting their name. We have spoken to a neighbor whose farm used to be a part of ours when it was first given as part of the William Penn Land Grant. She has a letter from George Washington, yes…THE George Washington, thanking a past owner of her farm for his hospitality in having George for lunch during the encampment at Valley Forge. We have met another neighbor of a large farm who has lived there for over 60 years, who has found Indian arrows and artifacts left and right on their farm, many of which have been catalogued for the Museum of Natural History. 

I find these stories fascinating, a testament to the imprint that the past owners of our now small farm, have left on this world as they passed through. The physical testament to their passing through is the buildings and the structures they inhabited.  There are countless other structures of the past in our area and in our country that need to be protected or repurposed. Why? Why keep that crumbling huge stone bank barn standing, or that monstrosity of a manor house, or that log cabin, or that wood shed or past general store or any of the buildings in Valley Forge Park? We need more testaments, more connections to the generations who have come before us, which show us by using all of our senses, how they lived, how they survived, an understanding of why they did the things they did to help us with understanding why we do what we do now.  The past is always connected to the future and we need an appreciation of the past… our past. A pride in the work ethic that past generations had, an understanding of values that were once intrinsic to a society, a pride of construction and of things that lasted. We do not come from a throwaway society but are becoming more of one.

 

As we continue our stewardship of Willowbrook Farm for future generations, we would like to show our support for local historic preservation by choosing The Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust to be the beneficiary of our upcoming Summer Barn Sale. President Pattye Benson and her tireless crew of volunteers passionately support historic preservation in our county. The Trust’s mission is to preserve and protect historic and cultural resources in Tredyffrin Township for the benefit of present and future generations and to educate the public about the preservation and protection of historic and cultural settings.

To learn more about the trust and its work, click here.

Join us to take in the beauty of a barn that was once as useful to the livelihood of the people who lived here before as their food was. The structure of the barn was as essential as the air they breathed in housing the animals, tools and their life giving business of living. Witness how we have tried to assist in maintaining the beauty of such a structure by giving it a new purpose. Don’t we all need a purpose… including old buildings?

Summer Soiree: A Preview Party in the Barn 

Wednesday, May 30th: 6:30pm – 9pm

$25 Admission includes early bird shopping in the barn, food, drinks from 13th St. Cocktails, and a donation to The Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust. Click here to purchase tickets!

 

Summer Barn Sale

Friday, June 1st: 10am – 5pm

Saturday, June 2nd: 9am – 5pm

Sunday, June 3rd: 10am – 4pm

Free Admission! Click here for more info.

 

A portion of each and every purchase at the preview party and barn sale will be donated to the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust.

In appreciation for the gift that our forebears have given to us in the gift of their craftsmanship of Willowbrook Farm and the blessing in that we can carry it forward…

~Meg

  1. Cindy Gill says:

    I just saw Horace Pippin’s work at the Brandywine River Museum on Mother’s Day. They have his work on exhibit. When I visit the barn, I’ll have to show you my pic of Mick Jagger and I, taken in Phila in l972, probably around the same time he visited your home. Willowbrook Farm has quite a story to tell!

    • Meg Veno says:

      Hi Cindy! I would love to see the photo that you have and yes!!! that would have been the time he was here. Cannot wait to hear your story about meeting him. Don’t you just love the stories that old homes… and people tell?