SummerFest: Kennett Square, ‘The Mushroom Capital of The World’

By Aubrey Clerkin

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. (CBS) — Kennett Square is known for what it grows. It is considered the “Mushroom Capital of The World,” because more than 65 percent of mushrooms consumed in the United States are grown in Chester County.

Locals say farming for mushrooms is an industry and skill that’s been passed down from family to family.

“The Quakers, the Phillips family, and there are some Italian families. They passed it on through generations,” said Ann O’Neill, a former mushroom farm employee.

Just minutes away from the mushroom farms, Longwood Gardens dazzles people all year around. The gardens are one of the main attractions in Chester County, boasting more than 1,077 acres of blooming flowers, towering trees, and gorgeous venues for everyone’s tastes.

In town, the Kennett Square Inn has been feeding people for generations. The restaurant and tavern was built in 1835. During Prohibition in 1927 the tavern became a tea room, before once again serving libations in 1933. Owner Steve Warner says the property is a special gem on East State Street, haunted by the spirit of a young girl.

“We had a woman in the dining room that felt that someone was looking at her this whole time… and then her husband left the room, she turned back to where he was sitting and there was this little girl sitting there. So that’s when we realized it was a little girl and we named her ‘Leticia’,” said Warner.

There’s more to Historic Kennett Square than just the main attractions.

“If you’ve never been to Kennett Square, you definitely come for Longwood Gardens, but you also need to hear about the Underground Railroad history,” said Lorraine Lucas, a descendant of local abolitionists.

The borough is also one of the remaining links to the past, connecting early Quakers with the Revolutionary and Civil Wars that happened in their backyard.

Among some of the Quaker accomplishments in the area is their role in helping escaped slaves from the South find freedom in the North. At least a dozen homes in Kennett Square were part of the secret, Underground Railroad operation.

“A lot of them went from here to Philadelphia and maybe further up North on to Canada,” said Lucas.

“They would communicate very secretively amongst themselves to indicate that, yes we will accept escaped slaves when we can,” said John O’Neil, President of the Kennett Underground Railroad Center.

Today, there are a few homes used as safe houses that are still standing. The Kennett Underground Railroad Center gives tours all year around. To book a tour with them head over to their website.

MUSHROOMS GALORE

If you didn’t already know, Kennett Square is the mushroom capital of the world.

But how did this town 37 miles from Philadelphia become the place for mushrooms to pop perfectly?

“There were a lot of rose and carnation growers and there was a lot of wasted space under the beds, so a man by the name of J.B. Swayne went over to France and brought back mushroom spores and the knowledge to grow mushrooms,” said Jill Phillips Gray, with Phillips Mushroom Farm.

Swayne’s mushrooms didn’t just grow they flourished. The mix of soil and location was perfect! Pop goes the mushroom industry.

Then in 1926 Jill’s grandfather William Phillips stamped their family name in mushroom history with their farm in Kennett Square.

“We have so many varieties that people don’t know of like the Pom Pom mushroom, the Maitake mushroom the Royal Trumpet. We only grew whites back then and now we grow seven different varieties,” said Phillips.

Tina Ellor is their house mycologist.

“A mycologist is someone who studies the kingdom of fungi,” she says.

And she’s giving CBS3 a rare look behind the buttons, trumpets, and other tasty tops.

“Mushrooms are heterotrophs, so they need to get their food externally and what they like to eat is compost,” said Ellor. “No mushrooms that we cultivate grow on manure.”

HITTING THE GREEN

At the Kennett Square Golf and Country Club kids between ages 7 and 17 in their junior golf program are learning the finer points of golf, including the rules.

“We have generally anywhere between 80 and 100 kids come through every year,” said Rich Kline, Jr. golf chairman. “The rules test is to make them understand the rules of the game. They understand what to do in certain situations.”

Between 20 and 30 parent volunteers are on hand as well to make sure the kids are progressing.

“Kids should just learn the basics just like anything when you’re starting. The simple etiquette of not walking in front of somebody, the safety parts of it,” said Meg Lawrence.

“I can help with the basics aiming, avoid the water. Help them out of the sand. Just keep encouraging them to try their best and don’t get down when they have stroke after stroke after stroke,” said Kathrine Geary.

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