Possible end to Chadds Ford Days

A youngster gets to sit atop Nelson, a horse named after the one Gen. George Washington rode into battle.

Clear skies, sunshine and pleasant temperatures kissed what might have been the swan song for the annual Chadds Ford Days at the Chadds Ford Historical Society.

CFHS Executive Director Mike Connolly confirmed a rumor Saturday morning that this year's event could be the last one, at least as people have known it for more than 50 years.

"We're taking a hiatus next year. It's our 50th anniversary, and we want to rethink Chadds Ford Days and see if we should return it to its roots, as a historical festival. I wouldn't say it's the last one, but we're going to do something special for 2018," Connolly said. "It will be a different type of event while we review Chadds Ford Days."

A young volunteer demonstrates the art of candle making by dipping into hot wax.

Chadds Ford Days began even before the Historical Society existed. Chadds Ford legend Chris Sanderson was instrumental in beginning the event in the 1960s to commemorate the 1777 Battle of Brandywine. Friends of Sanderson, including Andrew Wyeth, founded the society in 1968.

After the CFHS took over, the event included colonial history featuring crafters and military demonstrations. Over the years, Chadds Ford Days become one of the major fundraisers for the society, and more contemporary crafters came in. This year there was only one colonial crafter.

Colonial dancers give their own demonstration of 18th century entertainment.

Society Board President Kendal Reynolds has seen Chadds Ford Days for most of her life, having grown up in Pennsbury and attending Chadds Ford Elementary School. She noted the changes that have taken place, but knows people are looking for a "full-family experience." She also realizes the event is up against some heavy competition, such as the Kennett Mushroom Festival, which takes place during the same weekend. The Mushroom Festival easily outdraws CF Days by 10 or 15 to 1, if not more.

"There are so many things happening, in Kennett, Delaware and here. We all have to find our niche," she said.

Dragoons do battle.

She said visitors are still interested in the antique cars and colonial demonstrations, by still but they're also interested in shopping at the contemporary vendors.

"We have a niche following, but it's not necessarily a general draw on the public. What we tried to do is mix both, and I think we're finding that we still need to have our historical education events — which was Chadds Ford Days' primary focused — and then a community event. But we have two separate poles, the education, and re-enactors…and also just the community festival," she said.

Some kids still know how to engage in their own, unstructured play without adults or computer screens.

Reynolds and Connolly both said the re-evaluation of Chadds Ford Days could lead to two separate events, one in the spring and another in late summer. However, that is yet to be determined.

She added, however, "I think that giving a focus on the history and education component in one event, will bring more people out for that, and then also having perhaps an event in the springtime that would be more about the community and community engagement."

For this year's event, though, there were a few new features. One was the fact that people could buy their food with cash instead of needing to stand in line to buy tickets, then stand in line again at the specific vendor to exchange the tickets for food.

Also new was a dragoon regiment taking part in a colonial battle demonstration. Mounted soldiers engaged in a mock sword battle and a few young visitors were given the chance to mount a horse.

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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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