Instead of attending a traditional barbeque, a number of residents opted to celebrate America’s Independence on Wedesday by learning a little Germantown history.
During an annual festival hosted by Historic Germantown – an umbrella organization for the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood’s historic sites -visitors could explore five locations for free, including The Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground, Clivden of the National Trust, Stenton, Hood Cemetery and the Johnson House.
Guided tours, a historical re-enactment and an annual bell-ringing ceremon were among the day’s attractions.
” It’s just fantastic that they’re here and people are now being able to preserve them and open them up,” Kathleen Sheridan, who has attended the “Fourth of July in Historic Germantown” festival for four years now, said of the historic sites. ” People get a sense of the history that’s here.”
Leading the tours was John Pollack, president of Historic Germantown.
During his presentation, Pollack explained that rich, poor, black, white, Indian and varied religious denominations were all buried at the Upper Burying Ground behind the Concord School.
Additionally, the cemetery is the resting place of 31 Revolutionary War soldiers. In its by-laws, the school house bell must ring on the Fourth of July, said Pollack.
On Wednesday,the bell at the Concord School was rung 236 times, each stroke representing every year since the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
The one-room schoolhouse was built in 1775. A second story was added in 1818 and served as a polling station and meeting place for Abolitionists. Later in the 19th century, the upper level of the school was used as a private club for socially elite men.
Across the street at the Johnson House, once a stop on the Underground Railroad, Alexandra Mays Ford assumed the role of Oney “Ona” Maria Judge during a re-enactment. Judge was a slave owned by Martha Washington – George’s wife – until she escaped to freedom in Philadelphia.
“I must admit when I was listening to the bell it was almost like a cleansing,” Ford said in character. “How you hear a bell at a church signifying everyone to come here, worship and be a part of this family. You want to be a part of that world and a part of that family.
” Sometimes you realize you can’t. So that bell means a lot of different things to me. I could feel it ringing through my whole body. Every part of me was singing with it. It was beautiful.”
The event also included live music, ice cream-making and patriotic-themed crafting sessions.