Chester County Day showered with smiles

In sharp contrast to the cloudy skies, the 76th Annual Chester County Day elicited sunny reactions from the throngs of participants who enjoyed stepping back in time on Saturday, Oct. 1.

Move over man caves: The Mangano family boasts a repurposed she-shed adjacent to their 1842 residence.

Move over man caves: The Mangano family boasts a repurposed she-shed adjacent to their 1842 residence.

For regional residents, the much-anticipated fall ritual of visiting grand homes steeped in history would not be deterred by an inhospitable weather forecast. Most brought rain gear but needed it only occasionally for some sporadic showers.

Held annually on the first Saturday of October, the popular fund-raiser for Chester County Hospital started in 1936. For most years since then – it wasn’t held during World War II – it has led visitors through elegant sitting rooms, gourmet kitchens, brick archways, ornate dining rooms, charming gardens, and breathtaking vistas.

Gale Banks of West Chester estimated that she’s probably attended about 20 Chester County Days. She said her mother got her hooked years ago and always saved the programs. Banks said she was going through them recently and found an old one that surprised her with the cost: $3.50.

Despite the price hike to $40, Banks insisted, “It’s well worth it.”

'Stone Wall,' a 1800s property owned by Larry and JoAnn Balcom, was built on the foundation of a log cabin that was part of a Penn Land Grant.

'Stone Wall,' a 1800s property owned by Larry and JoAnn Balcom, was built on the foundation of a log cabin that was part of a Penn Land Grant.

Vicki Eicher of Downingtown would agree, but, echoing the sentiments of many, she noted that the tour tends to produce one unpleasant side effect. “It does make you want to bulldoze your own house,” she said.

This year’s offerings included 33 private and public properties in the southwest quadrant of the county. It began at 9 a.m. at the kennels of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds on Doe Run Road. Following the pomp and pageantry of the Cheshire Hunt, the hounds set off in search of their prey, and ticketholders scattered to chart their courses for the plethora of stately homes.

The 2016 edition included Pete and Anne Watkins’ “Southdown” in East Bradford Township, a magnificent 1731 fieldstone home whose occupants have run the gamut from the late Gilbert Cope, a venerable historian and genealogist, to Eugene Gagliardi, the inventor of Steak-umms.

'Southdown' in East Bradford Township features a log house with a beehive oven that has been meticulously transformed into a pool and guest house.

'Southdown' in East Bradford Township features a log house with a beehive oven that has been meticulously transformed into a pool and guest house.

"Rosewood," an 1861 mansion outside Unionville, has benefitted from the horticultural prowess of both its original and current owner; the latter, the McNew family, treated visitors both inside and out, where an enchanting secret garden anchored the elegant 34-acre property.

And in Birmingham Township, attendees could literally trace the footsteps of actors Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston in a stone home dating back to 1835. “Downstream Farm” served as the former residence of author John Grogan during the filming of “Marley and Me,” a 2008 film based on his book of the same name.

Shifting to a different time period, Wayne and Colleen Simpson proved that new construction could replicate the charm and character of old in a 15-year-old residence exuding the influence of 17th-century Tuscany in East Marlborough Township. And the nearby 1842 home of Alex and Tara Mangano boasted a modern twist on the man-cave craze with a whimsical repurposing of an out-building into a “she-shed.”

In West Bradford Township, Jack Hines, a fixture of township government, having served as township manager as well as supervisor, enthralled visitors with a woodworking primer. After touring his 1900s home, beautifully accented with period-style trim and furniture handcrafted by Hines – including a table constructed of wood from old voting booths – many took advantage of the invitation to visit his basement woodshop.

West Bradford Supervisor Jack Hines gives visitors insight into the craft of woodworking.

West Bradford Supervisor Jack Hines gives visitors insight into the craft of woodworking.

There, Hines offered demonstrations and graciously answered questions. Tour-goers learned about the trial-and-error process that led to his use of transmission oil to stain a tile floor and the benefits of using a coping saw rather than miter saw for crown molding.

“His work is just amazing,” Mary Holleran of Downingtown said of Hines. Holleran was attending her second, but not her last, Chester County Day. She explained that she worked in retail for many years – which necessitated weekend hours. Now that she’s retired, she doesn’t have the scheduling conflict. “It’s really a great time; I’ll be back,” she said.

The Borough of Kennett Square featured the largest concentration of homes, giving visitors an opportunity to get some exercise as they strolled from homes and businesses on Union Street, ranging from  "Robinhurst," a stunning Victorian built in 1866 and owned by Matt Fetick and David Williams, to a pair of next-door neighbors on Garfield Street. The 1900s homes of Richard and Barbara Cairns and Stephen and Christine Denno each featured inviting interiors that  led to welcoming, contiguous backyard gardens.

In the villages of Marshalton and Marlborough, attendees also had a chance to park once and survey multiple properties.

The 1798 Trimbleville property of Mindy Rhodes and John Braxton houses a number of non-human residents.

The 1798 Trimbleville property of Mindy Rhodes and John Braxton houses a number of non-human residents.

Visitors also reveled in channeling the past at a 1798 farmhouse owned by Mindy Rhodes and John Braxton in Trimbleville. The once-thriving hamlet was recently memorialized with a historic marker, identifying it as the site of the thundering march of 8,000 British troops through the village on Sept. 11, 1777. In addition to admiring the West Bradford Township home’s many residents, who included donkeys, dogs, a cat, fish, and a rabbit, visitors oohed and aahed over the creative decorating of Rhodes, an artist and musician.

Rhodes, who expressed gratitude for being the steward of a historic home, said the couple enjoyed sharing their home with the public. "It was a pleasure and an honor," she said. "I pinch myself every day; I'm thrilled to be living here."

She said more than 1,400 people came through the home, all of whom were appreciative and gracious. "My doormat tells me there were a lot of people here, but it didn't feel that way," she said. "We really enjoyed ourselves."

Many of the Chester County Day homes offer charming outdoor dining spaces, such as this patio on Broad Run Road in West Bradford Township.

Many of the Chester County Day homes offer charming outdoor entertaining spaces, such as the patio of Mindy Rhodes and John Braxton.

Thomas Gavin, director of development for the Chester County Hospital Foundation, said he was pleased with the turnout. “We had well over 3,000 guests,  despite the dreary weather,” he said.

Gavin said people seemed to enjoy discovering the hidden gems of Chester County on this year’s tour, since “many of the homes and gardens were tucked away on back country roads.” He said the walking tours were also popular, with homes in Kennett and Marshalton logging high numbers of visitors.

Many of the hundreds of volunteers greeted the throngs with thanks for helping the Women’s Auxiliary to Chester County Hospital in their fundraising. Since Chester County Day’s inception, the tour has generated more than $4 million to support the hospital and its programs.

Gavin said this year’s effort would support the tiniest patients by helping to finance the expansion and renovation of the only Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Chester County.

 

 

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