Our past is your present

At Colonial Pennsylvania Farmstead, the 18th century is brought to life for visitors as they experience how colonial farm families lived and worked during a critical period in American history through the preservation, education, interpretation, and active participation in critically endangered historic skills that made 18th century life possible.

The Early Years
In the mid-1960s, the state of Pennsylvania purchased 2,490 acres of farmland in Edgmont Township to create a state park, called Ridley Creek State Park, within easy reach of the more urban areas of Delaware County and the city of Philadelphia. At the same time, a group of people interested in historic sites and the Revolutionary era joined together to preserve and protect the old houses within the proposed park, many of which are now included in the National Register of Historic Places. They called themselves the Bishop's Mills Historical Society taking the name of a nearby 18th century mill village known in the 20th century as Sycamore Mills. In 1971, members visited a neglected colonial farmhouse dating to the 1690s within the park. The abandoned Lower Rawle farm was an ideal site for a farm museum with an 18th century farmhouse, stone cabin, springhouse, and two barns, all intact although modified over the years and in deteriorating condition. Significantly, the property had been a working farm for well over 250 years and was within a community of other colonial era farms, as well as near the mill village.

Nearly eight years later, in January of 1973, the Society gave birth to the Bishop’s Mills Historical Institute (BMHI) which had a more ambitious goal. It would establish a colonial farm or “plantation” as a museum of Pennsylvania folklife. Through the farm museum, BMHI could demonstrate how “ordinary” folks lived and worked on a colonial era farm and in the nearby small mill community. By November, a long term lease with the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks for 112 acres including the Lower Rawle property, provided BHMI with its plantation.

“Museum in the Making”
With support coming from both the public and private sectors, stabilization of the buildings and actual restoration began. Thirty acres of land was cleared, livestock was procured, and extensive and painstaking archaeological and historical research was conducted to guide the restoration process.

As work progressed, visitors were invited to witness this “museum in the making.” The renamed “Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation” opened to the public for the Bicentennial in 1976. The concept of creating a site dedicated to the “ordinary people” of the Revolutionary era and at the same time allowing visitors to observe and even participate in the many activities of daily life on the transitioning historic farm was unique and garnered both local and national attention. Visitors streamed to the site to be part of this experiment.

Each act of restoration was supported by historical records, meticulous research, and documentation.

  • By the spring of 1974, the farmhouse kitchen had been made operational (now a highlight of the visit for both students and the public)
  • Restoration of the springhouse was underway and its dedication took place in April, 1975
  • Wagon barn restoration was completed in 1976
  • From 1977-1978, the farmhouse interior was the focus of restoration with the help of the 18th century Chester County estate inventories.
  • In 1978 the existing 19th century animal barn was demolished along with its 20th century improvements and a reconstructed 18th century version was erected.
  • A new roof was installed on the farmhouse in 1980.

Post-Bicentennial Wave
The completion of the major restoration projects which had been funded largely by federal and state grants marked the end of the “museum in the making” concept and the transformation of the Farm into a full-fledged member of a then small, but respected group of living history farm museums across the nation. Entering into the 1980’s with the Bicentennial a memory, the Plantation began reconfiguring itself for survival. The small full-time paid staff and founders consisting of respected historians and archaeologists gave way to a mostly volunteer part-time one. Hours of operation were condensed reflecting the challenge of manning the site with fewer people. It also became clear that the creation of a museum which included not only the farm but the mill community along Ridley Creek would not be possible given the reduced resources available both monetary and personnel.

The formal structured education program which had been steadily growing since its inception in 1974 took on a more significant role. The popularity of the hands-on program in particular became the well spring of future growth. Whereas the uniqueness of the “museum in the making” concept had attracted visitors in the beginning, it was the strength of the educational programming in an immersive environment that continued to attract them.

The Farm Today
Today, staff continue the vision of those early founders by maintaining a place where agrarian life of the 18th century and its associated skills remains alive. While the house and farm were owned by the Pratt family during the late 1700s, CPP interprets the life of average 18th century farmers, who composed nearly 90% of Pennsylvania’s early population. Through research and experimentation, staff and volunteers create an immersive experience where visitors are encouraged to directly participate in the daily seasonal tasks of the past. For example, visitors in May experience shearing and processing the wool of the site’s heritage breed Hog Island and Leicester Longwool sheep. In July, visitors are encouraged to help harvest the site’s heritage Red May wheat and Bere barley crops. Besides gaining an understanding of early tools and techniques, interacting with the past offers an appreciation for things often taken for granted today. How does one view a modern closet full of clothes after watching how long it took to make a single garment in the past? How does one look at the many loaves of bread in the grocery store after helping harvest, thresh, and grind enough grain for just one small penny loaf using 18th century tools? CPP can offer a unique stage to make connections between the everyday past and present while impressing upon visitors a tactile and deeper relation to humanity that cannot be conveyed through textbooks or even primary source documents.

In 2024, the Board of Trustees voted to officially change the site name to Colonial Pennsylvania Farmstead as part of a larger interpretive plan to more fully recognize and share the diverse cultural narrative and skills of all people in the 18th century. Colonial Pennsylvania Farmstead is undergoing a strategic plan process and entering into a new era of research, interpretation, and program development. Learn more about the change here.

Learn more about the history of the Pratt family and Peggy, Cuffy, Susanna, and York

The Colonial Pennsylvania Farmstead is a non-profit educational corporation qualified under Section 501C3 of the Internal Revenue Code. The site is a 112 acre living history farm museum located within Ridley Creek State Park, Delaware County, Pennsylvania operating under a lease agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Colonial Pennsylvania Farmstead

PO Box 158
Gradyville, PA, 19039, US

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