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Earth-friendly history

Pennsbury Manor hosts William Penn’s World event, includes annual sheep shearing

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

An authentic experience: On May 2, hundreds of students from regional school districts will convene at Pennsbury Manor for the first-ever William Penn’s World event, allowing them to experience the sights and sounds of the 1600s. Source: David Garrett

The idea of “going green” isn’t some new fad invented by 21st century environmentalists. In fact, the practices of recycling, reusing and reducing date more than 300 years. During this colonial era, Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn often utilized his sheep’s wool for clothing and other household items rather than let it go to waste.

On Thursday, May 2, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 500 students from regional school districts will convene at Pennsbury Manor for the first-ever William Penn’s World event, during which they’ll learn about his early, Earth-friendly efforts.

This is an enhanced edition of the annual Sheep Shearing Day, which invites fourth- and fifth-graders to step back in time to experience historical demonstrations and witness resident sheep receive their yearly haircuts. The public is invited for an identical event on Sunday, May 5, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Source: David Garrett

Featured will be Pennsbury’s newest lambs, Lavender and Sophia, who came to the estate in August 2017.

“This will be their first public shearing, the first time they’ll be getting their haircuts, so we’re really excited for the kids to get to see that,” said Sarah Rudich, managing director at Pennsbury Manor.

According to Rudich, William Penn’s World will allow young attendees to experience the sights and sounds of the 1600s on a more personal level than before.

“We’ve had such a great request and interest from teachers over the years for our three large program days we run in the spring. They were Sheep Shearing Day, William Penn Day and Pennsylvania Day,” said Rudich. “We were limited with the number of kids we could take on those three days. When our Pennsylvania Day hit 1,900 students last year, we realized we needed to revamp the program.”

To better accommodate everyone, those three programs have been broken into six, each capped at 500 guests.

“That’s just better for the students and teachers,” Rudich said. “They really get a hands-on, one-on-one almost with our educators and volunteers. Whereas before, when it was 1,900 kids, it was just a lot, and we weren’t able to give them the experience that we really wanted to.”

Those who attend William Penn’s World will not only enjoy tours of the Manor House and blacksmithing, cooking and beer brewing demonstrations, they’ll be educated on the importance of sheep and the textiles they once produced. Each spring season, Penn’s sheep had their coats shorn off. That fleece was then washed, brushed, dyed and transformed into products such as pants, gowns and tablecloths.

“It was important in the spring to do that because, as the summer heat comes on, the sheep are not going to be able to survive the summer comfortably with that heavy wool,” Rudich said. “So they grow that wool in the fall and winter, and in the spring they get their haircut and the fleece becomes a product that gets pretty much recycled. It’s an early way of using nature and going green, so to speak. Nothing gets wasted.”

The students, who are expected to hail from Bucks County, Philadelphia and Chester County, will get a firsthand view of the shearing process as it was completed in colonial times. They’ll also walk away with the knowledge that people have been caring for the environment long before their great-grandparents were born.

“Everything got reused, everything got recycled. The sheep, their fleece provided clothing for the colonists, and the colonists would’ve been producing that by hand. When that clothing got so ratty, ripped and torn and couldn’t be used or patched anymore, those rags were sold to the rag man, who would come collect and sell them to paper mills. Then the paper mills would break down those ratted rags and turn them into paper,” Rudich said. “So it’s a complete process, a full cycle. The idea of going green and zero waste is something that was going on in William Penn’s day. It’s important to show the kids it’s not just a fad, it’s not just a hot topic now. It’s something that has been going on for at least 300 years.”

Rudich stressed that Lavender and Sophia will not be harmed during the shearing process.

“It’s always fun for the kids to see just how docile the sheep are and for them to understand that this does not hurt the sheep at all,” she said. “It’s just like a human getting their hair cut. They feel nothing, except nice and comfortable afterward.” ••

William Penn’s World is a rain or shine event. Student and chaperone admission is $9, teachers and school staff are complimentary. Pennsbury Manor is located at 400 Pennsbury Memorial Road, Morrisville. For more information, visit pennsburymanor.org

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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