Battlefield site preserved

Re-enactors fire a musket volley near a replica of gen. George Washington's tent to begin the ceremony marking the preservation of the Odell property in Birmingham Township.

After almost 20 years of effort, the Brandywine Conservancy has purchased and now preserved all of the 113 acres of the Odell property in Birmingham Township. The property, along the Meetinghouse and Wylie Road corridor known as Birmingham Hill, saw the brunt of the fighting  during 1777 Battle of Brandywine.

During a brief ceremony to celebrate the acquisition of the final 13 acres, on Sept 11, the 241st anniversary of the battle, Ellen Ferretti, the director of the Brandywine Conservancy, praised the efforts of those involved in the prolonged effort, citing Roberta Odell and her family, as well as David Shields, the conservancy’s associate director for land conservation. She said conserving the land was a way of paying homage to the legacy of those who fought.

“Today, we mark the acquisition of the final piece of a decades-long puzzle. It is with profound excitement for the future of this land that we will soon undertake a master planning process to really explore how we can best activate and interpret this site. We look forward to working with all levels of government, with the community, our neighbors and area experts to create a plan that will pay homage to the significant events that took place here and engage future generations in its preservation,” Ferretti said.

Ellen Ferretti, the director of the Brandywine Conservancy, tells the audience that it took almost two decades to preserve the Meetinghouse Road corridor.

She said the efforts to preserve battlefield lands began in 1989. In 1993, the conservancy and other groups formed the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force to provide education and interpretation of the battle and to preserve lands within the national historic landmark.

At that time, Ferretti said, land prices in the area were escalating from about $5,000 per acre to upwards of $50,000 per acre and many property owners were unwilling to donate their land for conservation. So, the conservancy focused its efforts on the Odell property and four others, the Brigham, Spackman, Worth and Wylie tracts representing 450 contiguous acres.

“Here we gather, almost 20 years and $20 million later to celebrate the acquisition of the final piece of a decades-long quest to preserve and honor the historic integrity of this hallowed ground,” she said.

Ferretti added that the conservancy would be launching a planning process to figure out the best way to best activate and interpret the site.

Also speaking during the ceremony was Scott Stevenson, vice president of the Museum of the American Revolution who gave a brief history of the battle.

He said British Gen. Wm. Howe divided his force at about 5 a.m. the morning of Sept 11. A small force engaged colonial forces under Gen. George Washington at Chadds Ford, but the main body under the command of Gen. Charles Cornwallis, marched 17 miles north to attack the Americans on their right flank. It took those men until 2 p.m. to reach Osborne Hill. At about 4 p.m. the attack began.

Those forces, Stephenson said, represented the elite of Howe’s army, battalion companies, grenadiers and light infantry. They would lead the attack against the Americans, led by Gen John Sullivan, on the hill along what is now Meetinghouse Road.

A colonial soldier from New Jersey saw the British coming and noted, according to Stephenson, “The enemy came on with fury.”

A total of 30,000 men engaged in battle. Stephenson said a local member of the Birmingham Meeting, Joseph Townsend observed the fighting from Osborne Hill said it was as if “the whole face of the country was covered in soldiers.

The roar of cannon fire was so great, Stephenson added, that it was heard in Philadelphia.

While the battle was a military defeat for the American forces, it turned into a strategic victory. As several historians have noted, the battle took enough out of the British that they stayed in the field for five days, giving the Continental Congress time to flee Philadelphia before the British took the city. Also significant was the fact that Howe was supposed to have been in Saratoga. His absence there led to the American victory in that New York town, which convinced the French to enter the war against Britain.

Also speaking briefly were state Sen. Tom Killion and state Rep. Carolyn Comitta.

“Birmingham Hill is an incredibly significant Revolutionary War site for our country,” said Killion. “The Brandywine Conservancy has worked for decades to save hundreds of acres of the Brandywine Battlefield. We are immensely grateful for their efforts in protecting our land and preserving America’s history.”

Comitta said she has long admired the work of the conservancy adding, “I believe this purchase will allow for the permanent preservation of a vital part of our collective history and an important national treasure.”

The Odell property is one of two parcels significant to the Battle of Brandywine in the Birmingham and Westtown township area recently preserved. Last week the Natural Lands Trust announced that it has preserved the 88-acre Osborne Hill, from where British forces launched a devastating attack on colonial forces.

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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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