The American Revolution. Why do I feel it in my bones?
Did I live a past life in the 18th Century? Am I stamped with the cosmic imprint of a history that runs deep through so much of life in the Philadelphia area?
Do I just like the idea of calling the bathroom the jakes?
Whatever the roots of my proclivity, it’s a pleasant enough itch and I can always find ways to scratch it. At present, I do so by volunteering at Historic Waynesborough in Paoli, a colonial-era estate and house museum that is, as luck would have it, a stone’s throw from my door.
In case you don’t know, Waynesborough was the lifelong home of Anthony Wayne, legendary general and feisty soldier in the cause of American independence. It was in fact home to seven generations of Waynes over more than two hundred years. The original estate of almost 400 acres has since been whittled down to about sixteen, but Waynesborough remains a remarkably serene byway in the otherwise bustling life of modern-day Paoli, and a striking look into our nation’s past.
Its crown jewel is the 1765 Georgian mansion that keeps watch with quiet dominion over Waynesborough Road. What a beauty it is. Built from earthy brown fieldstone hewn from nearby quarries, its many generous windows wink and glint in a sunny southern exposure while the cream-colored cornice rimming the roof line adds an elegant panache.
A walk past the fenced kitchen garden (fragrant herbs, climbing pea vines) and a step through the entry doors with the lion’s head knocker (nice touch, Isaac Wayne the Elder!) will take you to an astutely restored interior that still delights this writer even after dozens of walkthroughs as a tour guide: pocked parlor floorboards once trod by the original residents, lovely old case clocks (still working!), fine wood moldings, a poster bed, locks of centuries-old hair (weirdly fascinating), an assortment of colonial kitchen tools, the navy blue army coat with brass buttons once worn by General Wayne himself (can’t I try it on just once, pretty please?). The place is a candy shop full of yummy gumdrops for the history-hungry visitor and a vivid testament to life way back when.
Well, life among what we today would call the upper-middle class, for the Waynes lived comfortably through the years, beginning with Captain Anthony Wayne, who amassed favors from William of Orange for helping vanquish James II in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Captain Wayne acquired this parcel of Chester County in the early 1700s and set the stage for subsequent Waynes to thrive on the income from a variety of enterprises that included a tannery (inherited by General Anthony Wayne from father Isaac), the practice of law, and farming, of the gentleman sort.
But a house of any social stratum, like all of us mere mortals, grows creaky with age and sometimes need new parts. Thanks to the efforts of countless people over the years, Historic Waynesborough and all its fine accoutrements have received the care and upkeep needed to live on. These days that care comes from a trio of important sources: Easttown Township, the owner; the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, the administrator; and a host of dedicated guides and volunteers.
How grateful I am that all these folks have made the effort. They’ve allowed me to scratch my colonial itch and have helped preserve the charms of this special venue for new generations. Because of them Historic Waynesborough continues to inform our collective sense of who we are, at home and in the world.
Because silver and mahogany and portraiture tell only part of the story, stay tuned next time for a look at the complicated and very human side of life at Historic Waynesborough.