Brandywine Battlefield: Delco’s historic gem

By Victoria Lavelle

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Uniforms of the American Revolutionary War on display at Brandywine Battlefield Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa. Photo by Victoria Lavelle
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The Gideon Gilpin House located on the grounds of Brandywine Battlefield Park in Chadds Ford, Pa. Photo by Victoria Lavelle
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Brandywine Battlefield Associate Director Janet Bowen welcomes visitors to the park in Chadds Ford, Pa. Photo by Victoria Lavelle
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General George Washington’s Headquarters at the Brandywine Battlefield Park in Chadds Ford, Pa. Photo by Victoria Lavelle

Delaware County’s rich history linked to the American Revolutionary War is long-standing: it’s home to one of Pennsylvania’s preserved historical shrines and open to the public year-round, yet the Brandywine Battlefield Park in Chadds Ford Township remains a commemorative memorial often overlooked by locals and passersby.

Most people think of Philadelphia in the War for Independence, as they are reminded of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, according to Jeffrey LaMonica, associate professor of history at Delaware County Community College.

“The Brandywine Battlefield is reflective of the much more complicated realities of Philadelphia in the war, a story of military setbacks and mixed allegiances,” LaMonica said. “The scope and scale of the Battle of Brandywine is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it was an important campaign of the War for Independence, involving tens of thousands of troops over 10 square miles. A curse in that it makes it difficult for tourists to explore the actual battlefield, as much of it is on private property stretching from Chester to Kennett Square.”

Visitors to its small, quaint museum, located just off U.S. Route 1, are welcome to view an introductory video presentation, take a stroll through the museum, and go on an escorted or self-guided tour of its stately grounds, which showcase the saga of a pivotal event in American history.

The 52-acre lot is a National Historic Landmark owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), according to PHMC administrator Janet Bowen.

“The Battle of Brandywine covered more than 10 square miles across the region, yet this site served primarily as the Continental encampment in the two days leading up to the battle,” Bowen said.

The park grounds are home to several prominent old-time landmarks still standing due to upkeep by the museum’s commission and efforts by the nonprofit Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates.

In addition to educational programs offered to thousands of students each year, the historical museum, Benjamin Ring’s house, Gideon Gilpin’s home, and orientation film usher in an average of 5,000 visitors annually.

Sitting atop the grounds’ entrance is the Benjamin Ring House, also referred to as Washington’s Headquarters according to Andrew M. Outten, Brandywine Battlefield’s director of Education and Museum Services.

“The American Revolution-era home was built in two stages beginning in 1731 and is a superb example of a traditional Quaker stone home,” Outten said. “The home and surrounding land was the residence of prominent Quaker Benjamin Ring, whose three sons were on the musters list. In 1731, General George Washington utilized the home for a council of war, but took shelter in a tent just outside the home.”

Modern-day technology now offers visitors an innovative smartphone-guided journey across the grounds from the privacy of their own car.

There are two ways to take part in the newly enhanced mobile phone tours. The first option is for visitors to call 484-396-1018 at each designated attraction and follow the prompts.

The alternative is for drivers to park at each individual property and use the following cellular queues: #215 at the Benjamin Ring House — #216 at the Gideon Gilpin House — and #217 at the Birmingham Friends Meetinghouse located outside the park.

Parking areas located at each site are provided for solo drives, while drivers with multiple visitors are welcome to operate the self-guided guided tours on speaker phone.

In 2009, the state closed the park and three other museums temporarily due to a lack of funding which resulted from a budget crisis. The historical landmark reopened two weeks later under an interim agreement between PHMC and Chadds Ford Township assisted by Brandywine Battlefield Associates and Friends of Brandywine Battlefield.

Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates is currently working with the Friends of Valley Forge to enhance visitors’ experience by offering more attractions to the cellular tour menu in the near future.

Last year marked the Battle of the Brandywine’s 240th anniversary, the largest single day battle of the American Revolutionary War, according to Brandywine Battlefield Park Associate President Linn Trimbell.

“Understanding the importance of Brandywine Battlefield’s role in forming this nation has often come from museum visitors,” Trimbell said. “People from around the world tour the museum and share stories of their ancestors who fought in the war.”

In 2019, Brandywine Battlefield Associates will continue the newly launched Revolutionary Dining Series at The Gables of Chadds Ford Restaurant with a lecture by local artist and historian Adrian Martinez at 6 p.m. on Jan. 22.

Brandywine Battlefield welcomes volunteers and college interns. For more information, please visit BrandwineBattlefield.org or contact Janet Bowen at JanBowen@pa.gov.

Contact Victoria Lavelle at communitarian@dccc.edu