Blogging Along the Brandywine: Changes in Chadds Ford

Some who have lived in Chadds Ford for more than 30 years will remember the name John Darwin Dorst with a knot in your stomach. If you don’t, read on.

His name and a wave of sadness came over me when I read this year’s Chadds Ford Days may have been the last one as we knew it; one more piece of Chadds Ford gone.

I thought of my 31 years in Chadds Ford, and walking among colonial craftsman while listening to the Blue Grass music on the rustic hay-wagon stage.

Then I began to think of other Chadds Ford institutions that have gone and left Chadds Ford a little less vibrant.

Tom Drane’s Chadds Ford Tavern: No one has been able to make a go of this location since Tom left. I really miss it. It was authentic, the food was incredible and the place was alive with spirit.

The Wawa: I remember the days when there was only a tiny wood-frame general store there, which was eventually moved across the street. But with Joe Grace’s vision, we now actually had a “town center.” It was great going to the “Wooden Wawa” in the morning or late afternoon. You always saw at least one person you knew. But since the Wawa left, no one has made it happen there either.

The Chadds Ford Gallery and the old Barn Shops: Since the beautiful bank barn, with some of my favorite shops, burnt down late one evening in the 1980s, the sparkle of Christmas in Miniature and that whole hillside died, and was never the same.

Andy Wyeth and Frolic Weymouth: I was never an insider, and knew Mr. Wyeth only marginally as we both sat on the board of the Sanderson Museum. I knew Frolic just a little better as I taught at the Upland School when his son Mac was a student. For Frolic no dream was out of reach. His passing is painfully evident in the highest echelons of our Chadds Ford institutions.

So who was John Darwin Dorst?

In 1983, Mr. Dorst did his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, on “Myths of Tradition and Modes of Exchange in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.” It was then published in 1989 as “The Written Suburb: An American Site, An Ethnographic Dilemma” (U. of PA Press). His work incurred the wrath of the whole village, especially the Historical Society.

It’s not a book you want to curl up with as Dorst tossed around words like ethnographic, post-industrial social order, elite suburbanization, meta-tradition, museumization, Braudillard sign exchange and semiotic manipulation of a code of authenticity.


In his dissertation abstract, Dorst tells how Chadds Ford had been a small-scale agricultural community until after World War II when suburbanization came to the village.

Dorst went on to define modern Chadds Ford as a “closed self-sufficient system,” marketing a myth created by fourth institutions: The Brandywine River Museum, The Chadds Ford Historical Society, the “vernacular” Sanderson Museum and Chadds Ford Days. This is where the term “semiotic manipulation of a code of authenticity” came in.

Even though I volunteered at all of Dorst’s “targets,” I now sometimes wonder if there wasn’t a small grain of truth in what he said.

I applaud the Chadds Ford Historical Society for “taking a hiatus” on Chadds Ford Days, as Executive Director Mike Connelly told Chadds Ford Live.

And maybe if Frolic Weymouth’s dream of a “Walkable Chadds Ford” becomes a reality we can once again have a people’s village where everyone has a place to gather.

** The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to

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About Sally Denk Hoey

Sally Denk Hoey, is a Gemini - one part music and one part history. She holds a masters degree cum laude from the School of Music at West Chester University. She taught 14 years in both public and private school. Her CD "Bard of the Brandywine" was critically received during her almost 30 years as a folk singer. She currently cantors masses at St Agnes Church in West Chester where she also performs with the select Motet Choir. A recognized historian, Sally serves as a judge-captain for the south-east Pennsylvania regionals of the National History Day Competition. She has served as president of the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates as well as the Sanderson Museum in Chadds Ford where she now curates the violin collection. Sally re-enacted with the 43rd Regiment of Foot and the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment for 19 years where she interpreted the role of a campfollower at encampments in Valley Forge, Williamsburg, Va., Monmouth, N.J. and Lexington and Concord, Mass. Sally is married to her college classmate, Thomas Hoey, otherwise known as "Mr. Sousa.”



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