Chester County Day is an annual charity house tour that benefits the Chester County Hospital in West Chester, Pennsylvania, USA. It has been going on for some time - this year will be the 73rd time the event has been held!
To publicize the event, a newspaper is issued each year about six to eight weeks in advance of the event. Most of the stories in the paper are about homes that will be open on the tour, or about notable persons who lived in the tour area.
This is a panel discussion featuring four writers who produced some of the articles in the Chester County Day newspaper. This series of interviews was conducted via email about three weeks before the 73rd annual Chester County Day, which will occur on Saturday October 5th, 2013. The writers are Susannah Brody, Wayne A. Conaway, Jane E. Dorchester, and Catherine Quillman.
1) Over the years, many different writers have contributed to the Chester County Day newspaper. Do you consider yourself primarily a non-fiction writer or a fiction writer? Which kind of writing do you prefer to do?
Susannah Brody: I am primarily a non-fiction writer, especially if you are considering the Chester County Day Newspaper. Often, my contributions have come directly from books that I have written on Chester County history. But I actually consider myself more of a storyteller who accidentally became a writer.
Way Wayne A. Conaway: I've co-authored nine business books, so people think of me as a non-fiction writer. But I've successfully written everything – except poetry, which doesn't particularly interest me. I also ghostwrite blogs, articles and speeches for executives.
Jan Jane E. Dorchester: I am a non-fiction writer.
Cat Catherine Quillman: I'm a former Philadelphia Inquirer Arts reporter and so I'm primarily a non-fiction writer - but I prefer to write fiction! I have a MFA in creative writing from Temple.
2) H 2) How did you come to write for the Chester County Day newspaper?
Quillman: Funny, but I don't remember. (Editor) Eric Chandlee Wilson may have asked me in the early 90s because he knew I covered arts and history for the Inquirer.
Dorchester: Eric Wilson asked me if I would be interested and I said “yes!”
Con Conaway: My recollection is that I asked Eric if I could write for the paper. That's also how I got into the field of local history: I went on a nighttime Christmas tour of Church Street in West Chester. I wanted the tour data, but there wasn't a set script – it was mostly in the heads of the tour guides, with just some names and dates written down. So, if I wanted to get the data, I had to volunteer and learn the tour information from an experienced guide. I contacted the person in charge and volunteered. (This was in the early 1990s, before people started publishing walking tours of West Chester.)
Bro Brody: Many, many years ago (I think when Beverly Sheppard was Director of Public Programs at the Chester County Historical Society) I was working on a resource book about (Coatesville ironworks pioneer) Rebecca Lukens. and was asked to write something on her for the Chester County Day newspaper.
Occa Occasionally, Eric has seen a story of mine somewhere else and has asked if he could reprint it in the Chester County Day paper.
3) 3) Has anyone ever objected to or disputed anything you wrote in your Chester County Day articles? For example, it's not unusual for people to dispute descriptions of architecture styles - there are still arguments whether the West Chester Public Library is Romanesque or Queen Anne with Romanesque features.
Quillman: No, but I am surprised they haven't since I once tried to trace several forges and furnaces in northern Chester County. I think I also described how they worked. I have files of old literature from places like Hopewell Furnance.
Dorchester: I hate to be boring, but as far as I know, no one has disputed anything I wrote for the Chester County Day paper.
Brody: If anyone has objected, no one has told me.
Conaway: I actually got hate mail about something I wrote in the Chester County Day paper!
Two years ago, I wrote about West Chester native Samuel Barber, a classical composer who is best remembered today for his “Adagio for Strings.” I wrote that, in just a few decades, the position of West Chester's most famous resident has gone from a composer of classical music to skateboarder/daredevil/media personality “Bam” Margera. (And I should say that, while I'm not a fan of Mr. Margera's antics, the only time I met him he was extremely polite.)
After that year's paper came out, I received an anonymous letter excoriating me for even mentioning “Bam” Margera's name in the same article as that of Samuel Barber! Truthfully, I was flattered that someone would go to the trouble of writing out an actual piece of snail mail, finding my address, and mailing it to me!
4) Fi 4) Finally, do you have any interesting stories about doing your articles for the Chester County Day newspaper?
Conaway: Most of the owners of the sites on Chester County Day are very pleasant. But some of them are bosses or executives who are used to giving orders. One year I interviewed a wealthy boss who tried to take over the interview. He'd ignore questions, then tell me what to write. He'd even snap, "Don't write that down!" I have a bad knee, but he led me all over his site, chiding me to keep up. Since this whole interview took place in 95 degree heat - without air conditioning - it wasn't a pleasant experience. But the article came out well.
Dorchester: The stories I have written for the Chester County Day paper either have been based on research that I conducted during my work or have been an extension of other writing assignments. For example, I used to write a series of articles about the history of villages in Chester County for the Daily Local News (DLN). I simply continued that assignment for the Chester County Day paper and for several years picked one or more villages in the given tour area to write about (I never duplicated any of the DLN articles). I don’t have any interesting stories about specific articles.
Quillman: I believe I have to really delve back in time to answer that question - not just my own writing chronology but historically. I often wrote my pieces based on research that I gathered for one of my Philadelphia Inquirer pieces. But one time, I had a chance to visit the 18th-century mansion, Reading Furnace Farm in northern Chester County, once owned by the Pew family and restored by the famous architect Brognard Okie (the subject of this year's Chester County Day newspaper).
Even after years of interviewing people in their homes, I rarely find that my preconceived notion of the owner is correct. For instance, I was told that the owner of Reading Furnace was a cosmopolitan "Ted Turner" type who owned several radio and t.v. stations. This was long before the era of the big screen tv. Still, I expected to see at least a "media" room or something else disconcerting such as a glowing red numbered digital clock sitting on a period dresser. It turned out that none of that was true. The owner was a historian who filled the house with early furniture and even kept the 1920 look of many of the "Okie" rooms.
The owner was first "historian" I met who could claim the title without being a writer. Instead, he hired late Estelle Cremers, to research and publish a book on the mansion. She also helped to place not only the mansion but a tract of land straddling the French Creek (on the boundary of East Nantmeal and Warwick Townships) on the National Register. It's now known as the Reading Furnace Historic District and includes, thanks to the owner I met, several restored and recreated 18th-century outbuildings.
One more thing about the owner : he was not one to boast that "George Washington Slept Here." That was partly because the Reading Furnace Farm may be the only house along the path of Washington's travels to have solid proof. Washington wrote letters to General Anthony Wayne and to the Continental Congress, adding both the place, Reading Furnace, the date and the even time of his correspondence after the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777.
And that concludes our panel discussion. Thank you all for participating!
Susannah Brody is a retired learning support teacher, as well as a storyteller and author. She earned a Masters of Arts in Oral Traditions from The Graduate Institute in Connecticut. She has researched, written and shared stories about local history in southeastern Pennsylvania and has developed living history portrayals of some important nineteenth century women.
Wayne A. “Tony” Conaway has written hundreds of articles for a variety of publications. He is the co-author of nine business books from such major publishers as McGraw-Hill, Macmillan, and Prentice Hall. He also ghostwrites blogs and speeches for executives. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane E. Dorchester is an Architectural Historian and Historic Preservation Consultant who has been working in the preservation field and has been writing about history and the preservation thereof for nearly 30 years.
Catherine Quillman is a former Arts journalist with the Philadephia Inquirer and has written extensively about Chester County's history and its artistic hertitage.
She is the author of several regional books including 100 Artists of The Brandwine Valley (Schiffer) and three walking tours of West Chester detailing the lives of 19th century black entrepreneurs and former slaves. More information about her books can be found at www.Quillman-publications.com.