The America250PA Chester County Commission made its intentions clear in its inaugural meeting on Thursday night, June 2 – that 2026 would mark more than a celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It will also commemorate the historic advances Chester County and America have made from 1776 until now.
The 29-member commission, appointed by the County Commissioners from 55 applications received, includes members either associated with the historic preservation community or who have a deep interest in history, including Chester County History Center President Conor Hepp.
Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline, herself a history enthusiast, is leading the County’s efforts. She told members that their charge is to not only look back, but also to look forward, touching on what has been with a focus on what unites us for our future.
“We’re trying to show that history can be something as recent as 10 years ago, something that impacted the county in a significant way. We hope to help people understand and get excited about the initiatives we will be planning,” Kichline said.
“A lot of people were not able to celebrate 1776. The Constitution still included slavery. Non-property owners couldn’t vote. Women couldn’t vote. We want to celebrate the expansion of the nation’s initial founding ideals over time as well as other elements of Chester County’s history such as our industrial growth, our agricultural heritage, and immigration.”
Commissioner Kichline and Chester County Planning Commission Executive Director Brian O’Leary said the campaign will center around six themes:
1. War comes to Chester County
2. Iron and steel forged our freedom
3. William Penn’s founding values built our social conscience.
4. Chester County’s natural resources shaped its history and development.
5. Chester County embraces a unique artistic heritage
6. History remains visible throughout Chester County.
O’Leary said that he is confident that Chester County’s 73 municipalities will be as engaged in historical preservation collectively as any other group of municipalities in the Commonwealth, if not more so.
“We have so many things to celebrate, including the evolution of rights,” he said. “The Underground Railroad was very prominent in Chester County because we’re right over the border from the Mason-Dixon Line. Chester County, and in particular the Quaker community and our Quaker heritage, was quite prominent in forming our attitudes in some of those areas, including the fight for equal rights.”
Hepp, from the History Center, mentioned that Chester County is one of the particularly important locations for a suffragette organizational meeting that occurred in the 1850s. That was a key meeting in getting women’s voting rights moving, he said. He also noted there may be some different interpretations of history and different lessons learned, but that celebrating the nation is an opportunity where everyone can unite.
On the issue of the county’s industrial heritage and growth, the iron and steel industry started primarily in Chester and Berks Counties. Lukens Steel was run by a woman, Rebecca Lukens, who turned the business into a giant steelmaking facility. Chester County has long been a leader in pharmaceuticals with most of the early doses of penicillin in the country made in the county, and that heritage remains in the county’s biotech community today. Chester County is also strong in the financial and high-tech sectors and part of the history of suburbanization.
Chester County’s proud agricultural tradition extends back to when it was the breadbasket of the nation under the British empire for a time. Western Chester County, like Lancaster County, has among the best non-irrigated soils in word. Agriculture represents both the county’s history and its future.
The group discussed digging for untold stories, those that are unknown and unexpected, and packaging stories to make them compelling. Members talked about the importance of recruiting volunteers, especially young people.
Events will take place during the roll-up to 2026. Already, PA250, the umbrella group for all the county organizations, has created a program called Bells Across PA. PA250 is accepting design submissions from artists who will create their work on fiberglass bell sculptures. The goal is to have at least one bell in each Pennsylvania county, a campaign like one in 1976.
Commissioner Kichline noted that this celebration will cost money. “One of the committees will have the job of raising funds for these efforts from the business community and from individual households,” she said. “The more we can raise, the more significantly we can celebrate. We have some big companies in Chester County. They can expect a phone call. We want this to be special and difference making,” she said.