Delving into history at Pencader museum, festival
Revolutionary War battle comes to life with exhibits

By SUMMER HARLOW, The News Journal
Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thirteen-year-old Thomas Becker carefully pushed down on the top of the butane lighter, waiting to hear the "click" that would signal the invisible flame had been lit. Holding the lighter at arm's length, he touched the flame to to the green fuse.

It sparked and crackled.

Thomas jumped back, distancing himself from the 250-pound cannon that was about to blast.

"I just hope he doesn't blow up the museum," his 11-year-old sister Kathleen thought as she watched.

Every half hour, the 1700s replica cannon, like those used by pirates, was packed with nitrate and black powder -- no projectiles, of course -- and would explode with a deafening boom.

"Fire in the hole!" 9-year-old Joshua Haug of Bear shouted during one such demonstration at Saturday's grand opening of the Pencader Heritage Area Association's museum at Del. 72 and Old Baltimore Pike in the Cooch's Bridge area.

The museum opening coincided with the seventh annual Pencader Heritage Day.

Families such as the Haugs heard the cannon blast while at the Heritage Day festival of children's games, pony rides and entertainment, and then they made their way to the museum to find out what all the racket was.

"I can't believe the sound came from that," mother Nyla Haug said. "It looks like a toy."

Besides cannons, the new museum houses exhibits of everything from jawbone tools, tomahawks and turtle shell rattles of the Lenni Lenape tribe that inhabited the area, to traditional Welsh clothing, parts of an old battle tank and dozens of brass keys and locks of all shapes and sizes.

There's even a manual typewriter and a rotary dial telephone.

"There's something of interest for everyone," said Bob Barnes, museum curator.

Children seemed particularly intrigued by the typewriter and phone.

Cassidy Baron, 5, said she'd never seen anything like the typewriter before.

"It's cool," she said before moving on to examine a butter churn.

Ken Wiggins loaned the museum an old sword -- minus its point -- that he found in a nearby field in 1954. With its small handle and long blade, it looks as if it could be a cavalry saber or an old Hessian sword, he said.

"It doesn't belong in my living room anymore," said Wiggins, who grew up in Newark. "It belongs where everybody can see it."

Bill Conley, vice president of the Pencader Heritage Area Association, said it is important to realize the area's history, including the fact that the museum sits on the site of Delaware's only Revolutionary War battle.

"It's amazing what all happened here, and so much of it has been kept a secret," he said. For example, he said, George Washington carried the Betsy Ross flag there.

As her 6-year-old daughter Mackenzie banged on a leather drum, Lisa Wilberg of Newark admitted she didn't realize all that had occurred in the Pencader area.

"Delaware really has a lot of interesting history, so it gives you a proud feeling to know you live in an area with such a rich history," she said.

Thomas said the museum was a fun way to learn about the area he'd grown up in -- and not just because he got to fire the cannon.

And while his sister Kathleen said she's not a history buff, she still had a good time.

"I'd rather learn it like this than in school," she said.

Contact Summer Harlow at 324-2794 or

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