Musings: Grow the Village

The Brandywine Conservancy's Chadds Ford Village Master Plan shows the village going from Creek Road to Ring Road.

Yes, it’s time to grow the village area of Chadds Ford. The little sliver of the township referred to as the village really doesn’t qualify. There are a handful of single-family homes along Creek Road. There are four restaurants, a gas station, a museum and a post office in the area, but not a whole lot more. Even the Barn Shops are not much more of a skeleton of what it used to be. And those bones are brittle.

As applied to Chadds Ford Township, the word village is nothing more than a relic of a time that once was but isn’t anymore. The Barn Shops, in particular, were a place where people wanted to shop, even locals. Not anymore. In terms of vibrancy, that area has gone from a grape to a raisin.

A village is a place where people live and work. A village is a community where people shop, gather and socialize with their neighbors. There’s a bustling of activity, vibrant energy. And friendship, too.

But Chadds Ford is a bedroom community. I learned the reason for that shortly after I started covering the township 17-and-a -half years ago. A former employee of two nonprofits in the township told me: “What you need to understand, Rich, is that people don’t live in Chadds Ford Township, they sleep here. They live where they work.”

As if to bear that out, there was a Planning Commission workshop sometime after that conversation. There were no applicants with sketch plans to discuss so commission members were talking about where they and their families like to go for dinner. They covered the compass.

The current village, as shown on the map in burgundy, is too small to bring vibrancy to the township.

Some liked going to West Chester and another preferred Media. Of the other guys, one had a preference for Wilmington, another for Kennett and points west. The fifth member liked two places. But no one said they liked going to the Tavern or the old Chadds Ford Inn.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Chadds Ford residents could live where they reside, be socially active in their home town, hang out with their neighbors? That doesn’t happen here.

About 15 years ago, The Brandywine Baptist Church opened its annual pig roast to all residents of Chadds Ford. Many people showed up and several commented that it was during that event when they actually spoke to their neighbors for the first time, even though they had been neighbors for years.

There were a few times when the Chadds Ford Historical Society opened its grounds for residents to get together, but that never caught on.

Last week, during a hearing on the adoption of an official map delimiting the current village area, two questions arose. The first came from Supervisors’ Vice Chairman Samantha Reiner. She asked, “Do we have enough of a village?” The second question came from Chairman Frank Murphy: “Can the current village area be made more viable?”

The answer to both is “no,” and for the same reasoning. The current village is too limited, too small. There’s no place to build anything dynamic, let alone new. For any vibrancy to develop, the village must expand and that needs to be east along the north side of Route 1. Take it to one of two streets, either Webb Road or Ring Road.

Taking the village all the way to Ring has several advantages. It would include the Battlefield Park — which is rarely used by locals but should be — and Painters Folly, the township’s newest property acquisition, which is adjacent to the eastern edge of the park. There’s even talk of building a driveway between Painters Folly and the park. Taking the village to Ring also incorporates a design model in the Brandywine Conservancy’s 2015 Chadds Ford Village Master Plan for Walkable Chadds Ford.

If the supervisors of Chadds Ford Township are serious about Walkable Chadds Ford, the village needs to grow. Right now, there’s no place to walk to. Granted, there’s the Harvey Run Trail and the creek trail from the Brandywine River Museum to the Historical Society, but they do not a destination make.

One ideal scenario for a full-on Chadds Ford Village as part of Walkable Chadds Ford could be one where visitors get a room at the Brandywine River Hotel, have breakfast at Hank’s Place, safely walk to the Brandywine River Museum, then walk (again safely) to Agave or Antica for lunch. And it’s Brandywine Prime for dinner.

As they say in the commercials: “But wait, there’s more.”

Along the way to that potential reality, supervisors have grown the village to include a multiuse development between the Barn Shops and Webb.

Using the sketch plan that was discussed at a Planning Commission meeting in October as an example, that development could include single-family homes, several retail pads, a visitors’ center and even an open-air theatre. And if not those specifics, some others yet to be imagined and proposed.

So, our visitors can visit the shops and maybe meet some residents who also shop there. Maybe get some coffee from Chadds Café and check out what’s new at Barbara Moore Fine Art or Arden and James. Maybe buy some flowers at Green Meadows.

Now, that makes it sound like it’s all for the businesses. But residents benefit as well. Do people want a community as described earlier? Do they want a gathering place where they can see neighbors, a place where they can just hang out together for a while? Or, would they prefer a ghost town? Remember how the post office parking lot looked on Sundays after Wawa closed in January 2008? It looked like a modern-day ghost town; all it needed was tumbleweed.

Yet, there are people who don’t really care whether there’s a healthy business community and they don’t want new homes built, either. Not unless they ’re on a minimum of two acres, which is fine for seclusion but not neighborliness.

It’s human nature to resist change. We all like our comfort zones. But change is inevitable. That’s a fact of life. As uncomfortable as it is, the best way to handle change is to accept it, guide it, adapt to it and benefit from it.

Growing the village will benefit the township as a whole. Unless there is growth, there is stagnation.

 

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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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2 Responses to “Musings: Grow the Village”

  1. Andrew Samuelson says:

    I grew up in Chadds Ford from the late 70s until I went to PSU in 1990. The Brandywine River was my “swimming pool”. My Eagle Project was the Nature Center at the Chadds Ford Elementary. Woods and fields and streams. The hill across from Kuerner’s farm, depicted in Andrew Wyeth’s paintings was our sledding hill. Two acres of woods per home, a perfect open kingdom for kids to roam through freely. These were my domain, and an amazing place to grow up. Every neighbor knew the other, and it was a vibrant community. My dad still lives in the house I grew up in there.

    The amount of sprawl that has come up around Rt202/Rt1, Rt202/Ridge Road, or just 202 or on Rt1 out towards Unionville, is just sickening. The village of Chadds Ford is the one remaining place I can still go to when I visit, remember the way it was, and enjoy myself. Developing that area would certainly be a change, it would be a nightmare and the death of Chadds Ford as a wonderful, historic place to visit or live in. Do NOT develop Chadds Ford! Horrible idea.

  2. Molson says:

    I also grew up in Chadds Ford. I came for my first merit badge that would have been horsemanship. I became a horseman instead. That was in 1956 at a place called Willowbrook Ranch, most people recall the area as Chadds Peak. There wasn’t much out here then except farms. I wish it was still the same now as then. Residents here now, would appreciate what they love about Chadds Ford so much more.
    To build a cluster of homes in the rolling hills next to the shops to make the village more inviting just doesn’t make sense to me. How about stop worrying whether it fits the definition of village and leave it what it is.
    Last night my wife and I went to the tavern for dinner and drinks we could hardly find a place to sit. There weren’t any tourists that I could see just local folks, about a hundred of em.
    Dan Doubet

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