Touring Brandywine:

A Tale of Frustration and Preservation Failure


     I had wanted to visit Brandywine since the fifth grade.  It took me nineteen years to actually do it, and it was almost too late.  I finally managed to talk a friend into going with me, Dr. K., which as it turned out would be a good thing.  Being an engineering Phd, he was fascinated with the Ferguson rifle in the museum, and was interested enough in the Revolution to buy a couple of books.  By the end of the day, we were educated in other matters also.

     Most people who visit Brandywine visit the state park and museum, and most of them leave thinking they've seen the battlefield.  Anyone with the knowledge and ambition to visit where most of the battle actually occurred will be frustrated - for a variety of reasons.  The Brandywine Valley is famous for being beautiful, and being only 30 miles from Philadelphia, it is rapidly becoming a wealthy bedroom community.  This means that the location of the largest battle of one of the vitally important struggles in human history is now most prized as a potential location for McMansions.  McMansions are large but not especially beautiful status symbol houses very similar to large status symbol houses nearby.  They are not inherently evil, but when built on or near land consecrated by the blood of American patriots, they are.  If you visit Brandywine now, you will see plenty of them.  If you visit Brandywine later, you will see more.

     When we drove up Street Road from the creek valley, traffic was quite heavy for a two lane road.  Finding a place to stop would be difficult.  There were a number of small paved spots next to the road.  There placement was ideal for stopping and surveying the important locations of the field, almost as if they were designed for it.  But at each there was a "no parking and no standing" sign, a sign as if to say, "There is nothing to see here.  Nothing happened here.  You are not welcome here.  Go home to your middle class or poor neighborhood and leave us alone."  The people at the state park museum were fine.  The people at the Chris Sanderson Museum by the river were fine.  But the people who just moved in and desecrated the battlefield must not take kindly to visitors.

     At the next obvious important location, I avoided the well posted parking spot and instead turned up a new subdivision road - insultingly named after Lafayette.  I didn't notice that I parked blocking a fire hydrant, but a young township policeman politely asked me to move a bit and then left.  We would soon get to to know him better a little later.  I backed the car up and felt the right front wheel fall.  The car was immobilized in a hole and wouldn't budge.  My much anticipated tour had met a major setback.

     Dr. K and I went to the nearest McMansion for help.  The owner wasn't rude, but he wasn't actually helpful either.  He referred us to the police station on Street Road, which we found empty.  As I walked beside Street Road surveying the desecration, the young police officer and I found each other and we returned to my car.  Waiting for a tow truck ate up much of the afternoon, but Dr. K and I had an unusually stimulating conversation with the policeman.  It turns out, we were the first people he had seen touring the battlefield.  He wasn't a big history buff, but we managed to convince him to visit the museum.  He said some of the locals commute to New York City to work! 

     And he gave us the lowdown on local crime.  Microsoft executives and strippers think they can weasel out of paying for traffic violations, but they can't.  There are occasional break-ins.  He once nabbed a guy walking through the neighborhood who had tied up a family of three and left with their valuables.  But most interestingly, he said teen drug use and domestic violence were high for a rich suburban neighborhood.  It was now clear to me - the newly arrived battlefield desecrators are unhappy overachievers who barely even live in their status symbol houses.  Most of them are probably too busy or too self-centered to understand or give a damn about what they are doing to our nation's history.

     It was all becoming clear!  The tow truck guy now arrived.  Soon we would be able to continue our tour!  With the car pulled out of the hole, I paid him and got into the car to go our merry way.  But the brakes were gone!  By the time we all got to PepBoys in Delaware, it was about closing time, so we went back to Pennsylvania to a gas station/garage.  He was either honest, or he knew -  that Dr. K knew - that the tow job pulled out the brake line, and he paid for the repair.

     He was as almost as interesting as the policeman, and we had plenty of time to talk.  He was nearing retirement and had lived there his whole life.  He knew about the battle and what happened where.  He told us about how years ago the area was predominantly black and that white people had for the most part thrown them out, or scared them off.  He told us about a black man's successful sit-in at a bar in the 60s for the right to be served.  Yes, this was Pennsylvania, not North Carolina.  Now, long time residents are fighting to preserve the Brandywine battlefield.  Sandy Hollow has been saved, but there is plenty of important land still threatened.  Property values are rising, and with the influx of newcomers, probably only the federal government can do much to help.  Although a defeat, the Battle of Brandywine helped make independence possible.  Now it is time for the federal government to act - and preserve the memory of the men who made this country great.                                           

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