Crebilly hearing takes battlefield positions

Different opinions on the Battle of Brandywine between one historian and one mapmaker sparked the latest hearing on Toll Bros. conditional use hearing to develop Crebilly Farm.

Toll wants to develop the 325-acre property at Routes 202 and 926 to include 317 new homes. Such a development is in accord with Westtown's code with conditional use approval. There is another plan that shows more houses, but Toll has not formally presented that plan.

Historian Michael C. Harris testified there were troop movements on the far western portion of the property that is now Crebilly and that they drew colonial artillery fire from the Sandy Hollow area in Birmingham Township. However, cartographer Sean Moir, who spoke with other historians, contends there was actual musket fire between the two armies on the farm property itself.

Harris is a social studies teacher in the Norristown School District and a former education coordinator at the Brandywine Battlefield Park in Chadds Ford Township. He is also the author of "Brandywine: A Military History of the Battle That Lost Philadelphia but Saved America, September 11, 1777."

Moir designed an interactive map — with a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program — showing troop movements during the battle based on a map drawn by a British officer a few days after the battle, and a first person account from the commanding officer of the German Jägers (pronounced Yeagers) who made their approach south toward Sandy Hollow from the farm. The bulk of the heaviest fighting was at Sandy Hollow.

The Westtown Township Planning Commission called both men to testify Tuesday, Aug. 29 during the seventh hearing session. The different interpretations came to the surface during Moir's cross-examination from attorney Marc Kaplin who was substituting for Toll's regular attorney Gregg Adelman.

Harris and Moir each used the same Archibald Robertson map and the same comments from the Jäger commander Lt. Col Ludwig von Wurmb who, both men agree, said his troops exchanged fire with — and then drove — colonial forces from a bare hill "on the eastern extreme of the rise leading to the Birmingham Meeting."

Moir contends the bare hill referenced is on Crebilly Farm, but Kaplin noted on Moir's map that the meeting is south of Crebilly. Harris was not questioned on this because he had already testified without reference to von Wurmb's statement. However, Kaplin read from Harris' book during his cross-examination of Moir.

Harris said after the hearing that he and Moir disagree on their interpretations of von Wurmb's account. He added, however, that only an independent and objective archeological study could determine which interpretation is correct.

Determining if or where any military action happened could influence the supervisors’ decision on the number and location of homes permitted should the project be approved.

Before the historical testimony, Westtown's traffic consultant Al Federico was cross-examined regarding some of his testimony from the July hearing, and sewer consultant William Malin made recommendations on the proposed sewage plan.

Attorney Kristin Camp, representing the township Planning Commission, asked Federico a series of questions regarding roads, specifically about a connector road through the development between W. Pleasant Grove Road and Route 926, but that Toll is not currently proposing.

In response, Federico said such a road is consistent with the township's Growth Management Plan and that it makes sense.

Township Manager Robert Pingar also asked Federico a series of questions, but those were about roads not involved with the plan.

Camp then questioned Malin about the township's Act 537 Plan, which deals with wastewater and sewage treatment. That plan requires residential development proposals in the Crebilly area to show the land can handle on-site septic systems.

However, the ensuing discussion dealt with Malin's recommendation that Toll should use the public sewer system.

Eventually, Supervisors' Chairman Michael Di Domenico asked a rhetorical question why there was questioning over the connector road and the benefit of a public sewer system when neither are on the plan under consideration.

The eighth session is 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19 at Rustin High School on Shilo Road. Township solicitor Patrick McKenna also announced that another session is set for Oct. 24 at Stetson Middle School. A time for that hearing will be determined later.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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