Keystone College Partners with DFCLT to Host Second Annual Dennis Farm Symposium
Photo Caption: Guests gather for dedication of monument at Perkins-Dennis Cemetery at 2nd Annual Dennis Farm Symposium.
More than eighty guests gathered at Keystone College on a spectacularly beautiful autumn day for the Second Annual Dennis Farm Symposium, October 8, 2014. Through the generosity of President David Coppola, PhD, Keystone College hosted the symposium in partnership with DFCLT. The program and luncheon were held in the college’s Brooks Theater, an ideal venue. Keystone staff did a superlative job in preparing for and hosting the event, and their hospitality put everyone at ease. Following the program and luncheon, the symposium guests boarded buses for a short, but scenic ride to the Dennis Farm and the dedication ceremony of a new granite monument at the Perkins-Dennis Cemetery. After the ceremony, guests were free to take a guided tour of the farm.
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The program began with remarks from George Stark of Cabot Oil & Gas, which sponsored the luncheon. Stark introduced President Coppola who gave a warm welcoming address to symposium attendees, which set the tone for the day.
DFCLT Board member Wade Catts of John Milner Associates followed President Coppola on the program, presenting a fascinating talk that focused on the Dennis Farm’s unique historical and archaeological significance. Catts also outlined the goals DFCLT achieved in the last year including the construction of the pole barn over the farmhouse, the publication of the 2014 Dennis Farm calendar, and the farm’s listing on National Register of Historic places, among others.
The next speaker was Amanda Clerkin, a recent graduate of Penn State, University Park who attended last year’s symposium as part of her PSU landscape architecture seminar. After taking the Fall 2013 seminar that involved working with a team to create a master plan for the Dennis Farm as a heritage site, Amanda was inspired to create a landscape architecture master plan for the Dennis Farm entrance and interpretive center as her Spring 2014 Independent Study. Her plan, featured on the DFCLT website this summer, was so impressive that DFCLT invited her to make a formal presentation at the October symposium. Her thoughtfully planned design provides a real-life, full-color picture and roadmap of DFCLT’s goals for the site.
During the luncheon, DFCLT President Denise Dennis presented the symposium’s keynote address, “Read This With Care” Artifacts from the Dennis Farm. The title is taken from an inscription written by Henry W. Dennis, in 1840, inside one the artifacts, a book featured in his great-great granddaughter’s presentation. Dennis’ talk included photographs and commentary about the collection of nineteenth century artifacts that belonged to her ancestors and were passed on to subsequent generations. In addition to books, the collection includes flatware, chairs, reading glasses, handwritten notes and receipts and other items. Each artifact carries one back in time to daily life on the farm.
The splendor of the Endless Mountains, the hospitality of Keystone College and the beauty and history of the farm made a vivid impression on the symposium attendees, as revealed in the following comments:
Guest Brenda Wells who organized a group of guests to come to the symposium from the Arts & Heritage Ministry of Salem Baptist Church in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania writes, “The Dennis Farm Symposium, dedication of the memorial stone and tour…was an enlightening and enjoyable event. The experience of being surrounded by the history of your family’s unique circumstances added to my understanding of African American as well as American History.”
Her pastor, the Rev. Marshall Mitchell of Salem Baptist Church writes, “It was a wondrous experience for me…I won’t be a stranger to those grounds. I was inspired.”
Juliet R. Bailey, an educator from New York City, writes, “The symposium and visit to the farm were unforgettable experiences…the Dennis Farm [Charitable Land Trust] in a few short years has established a firm foundation. There is no doubt your vision will be achieved.”
From Delaware, Kim Burdick of the Historic Hale Byrnes House, writes, “Kudos… for a wonderful program. What an impressive project. Thank you for…telling a very, very important story.”
Five students from Cheyney University attended the symposium with their professor, Patrice Jeppson, PhD and university Chief of Staff, Sheilah Vance. Their comments demonstrate how the farm and its story can have a powerfully positive impact, especially on young people. Student Mirkyle Mitchell writes, “I was so glad that I was able to personally experience this. It’s nice to show the black man in a different light. The history of the Dennis Farm and the Dennis family shows that black people…were as good as anyone else, back from Revolutionary War days…and we didn’t have to show it off. We just lived it.”
Fellow student Tyler Traham writes, “Coming to the Dennis Farm is such a unique and exceptional experience. It’s extremely educational in all aspects of the meaning of the word education.”
Classmate Jesse Lucas writes, “I’m fascinated at the idea of so much history…and artifacts in this land…owned by a black family at a time when this was unheard of. To actually come and experience this is truly unique.”
Rhea Combs, museum curator for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), scheduled to open next year, reflected on the symposium, as well. She writes, “The power of your story and family history was amazing to experience. Walking onto the farm was a sincere highlight, and I returned with a renewed sense of strength, resolve, and enthusiasm for sharing your story with others.”