Saturday, October 31, 2015

An Article for the Chester County Day newspaper

For the past dozen years, I have written articles for a local charity.  Chester County Day is, perhaps, the oldest house tour in the entire USA.  (This tour was not held every year in its early days, so some other tours organizers argue that they have the oldest, continuously-held tour.)  Profits from the tour benefit the Chester County Hospital, which is in southeast Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia.

To publicize the tour, the organizers distribute an annual newspaper.  This is where the following article appeared.  However, due to space considerations, this article was truncated.  Worse, several typos were added when it was edited down.

This year's Chester County Day was held on Saturday 3 October.  Hurricane Joaquin made it a damp day for a house tour, but it went on nonetheless.  And, for anyone who is interested, here is the full article I wrote for the event.

The People Behind Chester County Day

by Tony Conaway

We anticipate that between 3,000 and 4,000 people will purchase tickets for the 75th Annual Chester County Day. It takes hundreds more to put on this event, the oldest and longest-running house tour in the country.

The revenue from Chester County Day is donated to the Chester County Hospital. This year it is earmarked for the Hospital’s Cardiac program. Appropriately, The Day is run by the Women’s Auxiliary to the Hospital.

Each year, the first Women’s Auxiliary group to begin preparations for The Day is the House Committee. The House Committee is responsible for contacting the owners of the sites you visit. The members of this committee start searching for suitable houses in January of each year.

The criterion for selecting a house for the tour has never changed. A house on the tour should be:
·      An early structure furnished with antiques
·      An historic home (either by use or by association)
·      Or, a newer structure with significant architectural features or collections
Of course, a selected house must also be accessible and have sufficient parking nearby.

Once potential houses are identified, a formal tour request letter is sent to each homeowner, inviting them to participate. If the homeowner is willing, a visit is then set up. “That’s the fun part,” says House Committee Chair Debbie Hess. “Meeting the homeowners, marveling at the uniqueness and charm of their homes and then getting to know them as we work together towards the first Saturday in October. We add public landmarks, lunch stops, rest stops, and covered bridges nearby to complete the tour.”

Once the houses on the tour are selected, several other committees can begin their work. One such is the committee that produces the newspaper that you are reading. The Chester County Day newspaper has been edited by Eric Chandlee Wilson for the past 25 years. The proofreader and assistant editor, Michael Pillagalli, has worked on many Chester County Day committees, so he knows The Day well.  He is ably assisted by Robin Young. Not only are there may logistical challenges in putting together the newspaper, each article must be assigned to a volunteer writer.

It may surprise you that the money paid for Chester County Day tickets does not cover all the expenses. The Sponsorship Committee has an important job, convincing businesses and individuals to donate (either cash or with needed goods or services).

Many people make their donation by buying advertisements in the Chester County Day paper. In this way, they publically demonstrate their support for the Hospital. The donations and advertisements allow the full cost of the Chester County Day tickets to go to the hospital. All expenses for The Day come from these sponsors.

The current Sponsorship Committee chair, Marie Robinson, notes that “I have learned that there are many loyal sponsors who happily return each year, but others need to receive some personal contact. My job is to follow us with everyone who had been there for us in the past and to recruit new sponsors.” Among her new initiatives is the House Sponsors program, which includes “two builders who had worked on some of the homes on this year’s tour. The have special promotions letting people know that they have worked on a particular house featured on Chester County Day.”

Once the houses have been selected, someone has to figure out how to direct visitors to and from each house.  Lon Pritchard has handled this job for years, along with the heads of the Parking and Marking Committees. He also serves as our Cartographer, creating the all-important map that visitors use on The Day. Each year, he does his best to select a route that “shares the ambience of Chester County in as relaxing, natural mood as possible. Some less traveled (but safe) roads are used to achieve this task.” The continued growth of houses and business in Chester County makes this more difficult every year.

While the tour is a lot of fun, its ultimate purpose is to earn money for the Hospital. Naturally, the event has to be publicized. That is the job of Kathleen Malloy and Jeanne Reith.

One of the most effective forms of publicity is the slide lecture. Held at multiple locations throughout the county, this allows hundreds of people to preview the tour. To facilitate this, Photographer Jeff Dippel takes the slides.
Pat Mehok is the official Lecturer, who narrates the slide show.

Tickets are sold at a few sites, such as the lobby of the Chester County Hospital, where volunteers staff a table. Tickets are also sold by mail. Joan Atkins handles the mail-out tickets, and is also Business Manager for The Day. The Business Manager has a wide range of responsibilities, from seeing that the tickets are printed correctly, directing the bills to the Treasurer, answering all phone and email queries about The Day, and – after the event – writing up the final reports.

Right before The Day, signs are posted directing traffic. This is the job of the Marking Committee, chaired by Rob Miller. Of course, they must take those signs down after The Day, too!

Unless you are walking to visit the sites, everyone on The Day arrives by automobile. Naturally, all those cars need a place to park. Parking is handled by Steve Oakes and Herb Schwabe. This year, Herb is also doing the important job of notifying every municipality on the tour, some of which may assign a police officer to handle traffic. The Parking Committee is always looking for additional volunteers, who are willing to spend The Day working outside.

Finally, at each of the 30 to 40 houses on the tour, there is a greeter, plus a guide in each room that is open to the public. Arranging a greeter and multiple guides for each house is a massive undertaking. Linda Gibson has handled the job of assembling and placing the guides. Sarah Finnaren is in charge of the greeters.

As you can see, Chester County Day could not exist without the efforts of its many volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact the current Co-Chairs, Louise Milewski or Karen Weber. You can do so by phoning the Business Office at (610) 431-5301.

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