Artifacts returned, changes brewing at Brandywine Battlefield Park

The past three years have been tough for the Brandywine Battlefield Park in Chadds Ford Township and those who care about it. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission stopped operational funding in the summer of 2009, and, adding insult to injury, PHMC also took away most of the artifacts that had been on display in the Museum Room at the park.

The good news is that PHMC returned those artifacts earlier this spring and things are looking up, according to Andrew Outten, soon to be named education director at the park.

Outten began working at the park as an intern right after PHMC removed the artifacts. He had visited the park on his own before his internship and was used to seeing items on display. The first time he walked in after the state removed the artifacts was, in his words, “a huge downfall.”

“It was almost detrimental to the site to see so many empty cases, because when people come in here, they expect to learn something. They expect to get something out of [the experience,] but when they come in and see empty cases, there’s really nothing there for them to go off of,” he said.

Since the artifacts were returned, however, and the park is resuming a five-day per week operation for the summer, Outten has noticed a change. Visitor traffic is picking up, as is visitor appreciation.

“The difference between now and when I was an intern is that we’ve really seen a lot of increase, especially since the artifacts have been back,” he said.

“Before, people would go in there and spend only five, 10 minutes because the only things we really had to offer were the few artifacts that stayed, the 20-minute video we have here [and the electronic map and the dioramas]. Now people are actually staying in the museum, perusing a little bit more than they used to and they come out and actually compliment us,” said Outten.

He said people report the museum to be much more informative and that they get a lot more out of their visit.

“The public is actually getting the significance of it all, just from the artifacts,” he said.

Looking ahead, Outten sees the park becoming more active. Summer History Camp has resumed for this year and a changing exhibition in conjunction with the Sanderson Museum is being planned. Also, said Outten, the Phyllis Recca Foundation has made some donations to help improve displays in the education room.

Included in that changing exhibit, Outten said, will be a display dedicated to Casimir Pulaski, a Polish nobleman who became a general in the Continental Army and who died of wounds suffered in the 1779 Battle of Savannah. Pulaski is considered by some to be the “father of American cavalry.” Two other museums, one in Poland and one in Philadelphia, are donating artifacts to make that display happen.

“Hopefully we’ll be getting that by the end of summer or early fall.”

-- By Rich Schwartzman

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