April 28, 2002

A state-hired consultant has recommended that a community-based organization be formed to manage the historic Robinson House in conjunction with the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs and to make it available for both pubic and private functions.

The house and two outbuildings, at the intersection of Philadelphia Pike and Naamans Road at the northern end of Claymont, have been prominent landmarks since Colonial times. The original part of the house dates to 1723 and was the home of Thomas Robinson, a general on the staff of 'Mad Anthony' Wayne during the Revolutionary War. George Washington is definitely known to have visited there.

The state acquired the property in the 1970s after it had been abandoned for several years and has leased it for a token dollar a year to the Naamans Kill chapter of the Questers, an international women's organization with an interest in history and antiques. Because of the chapter's aging and declining membership, that arrangement "no longer appears to be an effective strategy for achieving the shared goals of preservation and public use," consultant Patricia Aden stated in a report now circulating among Claymont-area activists.

State Representative David Brady, who arranged for the division to be appropriated money to determine the property's future, could not be reached for comment as this story was being prepared.

Aden concludes in her report that there is considerable support for the idea of preserving the house and outbuildings and putting them to appropriate use. "While there is little evidence of a demand for the private (commercial) use of the building, there appears to be a growing need to use the Robinson House by the Claymont community. ... Individuals and organizations are attempting to rekindle community pride by celebrating the area's history and encouraging economic development," she wrote.

The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

When Philadelphia Pike was the main highway between Wilmington and Philadelphia,. the house was a popular commercial restaurant known as Naamans Tea House. Now somewhat isolated and located amid industrial properties, and lacking the facilities to match present dining establishment standards, such a use is no longer practical. The consultant's report notes, however, that the Questers were successful years ago in making it available for holiday parties, receptions and similar functions.

Other viable uses nowadays, it concludes, would be  tours, educational events, small meetings and possibly the site for the long-sought community museum.

The report refers to "apparent lack of maintenance," deterioration of the portico which was added in 1`915 and is the main building's signature feature, and a general public impression as the result of the property's outward appearance that it is closed; but also notes that the main building is in generally good condition. It does not, however, provide any estimate of what it might cost to give it a new lease on life.

The recommended new organization would be formed by representatives of interested organizations, including the Claymont Historical Society, who would come up with a budget, rental schedule and a "strategic plan outlining key goals and objectives" along with proposed fundraising, management and public relations approaches.

2002. All rights reserved.

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