Stenton garden party opens a new season for Germantown’s historic sites

They wore hats fit for the Kentucky Derby and colorful, spring-themed clothing as they chatted away in the colonial revival garden. It was the Stenton garden festival, a spring time fundraiser for the gateway site of Germantown historic tours, and a time to honor past friends, celebrate recent accomplishments and look toward the future.

More than 100 supporters of Stenton gathered at the the Colonial-era museum. One thing they celebrated was a recent nod to the place by the New York Times article, “Off the Beaten Path, History in Philadelphia” earlier in the month.

The museum has received a lot of positive feedback from the article, which says Stenton “really has it together for visitors.” Author Seth Kugel was able to visit Stenton without making prior arrangements and was given a tour by Dennis S. Pickeral, the museum director.

“Since I travel anonymously and have no discernible charm, I can only assume that all walk-ins are treated so well,” Kugel wrote in his article.

But the article, which highlights the Germantown historic attractions en-mass, also gives a little tough love; it points out the limited visiting hours at several of the sites could be a detriment to day travelers. Since increasing tourism is one thing Stenton and other historic houses in Germantown want to work on, they plan to open on certain Saturdays this season, according to Pickeral.

There will also be changes to how the historic sites are linked with a new $180,000 grant from the Barra Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic organization. Barbara Hogue will be the first paid executive director of Historic Germantown, the organization of numerous historic sites in the neighborhood, she starts the job this month.

When Alice Lea Tasman addressed the audience, she spoke of the late Leonore Smart Wetherill, who was dedicated to the museum. Her seven children decided to reestablish a fund in her memory, and they were honored at the garden party.

Trina Overlock, who was joined by her two sisters, said she was looking forward to working with Stenton, where her mother was active for at least 10 years. The grant is for educational endeavors, and it could go toward a collaborative effort with the other houses. Each year the siblings will gather with Stenton to decide how the money will be used.

“We knew how much she loved it,” Overlock said. “It’s an organization worth supporting.”

In the coming year, there will also be a focus on the History Hunters Youth Reporter Program.

The educational program started in the 2003-2004 school year and works with fourth- and fifth-graders from public and charter schools, who visit the Stenton, Cliveden, Wyck and Johnson houses throughout the school year, said hunters guide Loree Schuster.

Currently, the hunters work with 45 to 50 schools a year, but they hope to expand because of the demand for it. During sign-ups, the program was booked in just 18 hours, she said.

Chatter in the garden each spring also has a way of marking the changes to the house and grounds. At last year’s garden party, there was scaffolding on the side of the building facing the garden. This year, the new roof was a topic of discussion along with other plans to work on the landscape.

Stenton fan Beatrice Child sat on a bench while she enjoyed the food, particularly the ham. She thought the music by harpist Alison Simpson and pianist Jeff Story added a lot to the party. Meanwhile, Scott Kelley was approached by people because of his bright pants adorned with fish and shells.

Kelley, whose daughter works with Stenton, has attended the event many times and is a fan of it, as a simple way to enjoy the season.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s spring. Usually, you can avoid the rain.”


Click on these links to learn more about Stenton, Historic Germantown and the Germantown Historical Society.





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