The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum
Karen Marshall — 2021

15th Rebecca lukens award recipient

Resilience, leadership, courage and strategic outlook are the traits of America’s First Female Industrialist, ironmaster Rebecca Lukens. These same traits are present in the impactful work of Karen Marshall, Heritage Preservation Coordinator for Chester County. This year, the National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum will honor Karen with the Annual Rebecca Lukens Award; for her influential career in historic preservation, education and outreach in the County. The virtual event will be held on May 12th at 7:00 p.m. The May 12th event will also honor Minnie McNeil, the 2020 Rebecca Lukens Award recipient.

In the 14 years that Karen has worked for the County, she has served both in the Parks and Recreation Department and for the Planning Commission. During her journey, Karen strengthened relationships between residents, historical commissions and organizations; resulting in the completion of many preservation projects in the 73 municipalities of Chester County. Her leadership has invoked the protection of historical integrity in buildings, landscapes and the cultural identities of the communities she has served.  This dedication helped lay the foundation for the Appreciation Chapter in Landscapes3, Chester County’s comprehensive plan.  “Historic preservation in Chester County is accomplished by a literal army of dedicated volunteers and professionals.  It has been my honor to encourage and work with them these 14 years, says Karen. 

Most recognizable may be Karen’s leadership as the ‘Town Tours and Village Walks Lady’. Each summer she worked with municipal historical commissions and the Chester County Historic Preservation Network to organize free educational walking tours through historic districts and villages in the county. But her work also sees her take on the roles of a historian, researcher, educator, interpreter, mediator and advocator of our built history. She says, “I believe in grassroots work, I bring a healthy curiosity and respect for people and the stories and places that define their lives.” Karen leveraged this curiosity when she managed the Chester County Historic Resource Atlas Project, mapping designated local and historic resources in 42 of the municipalities in the County. She also assisted in the development of county regional Heritage Centers at Marshallton Village, Strode’s Mill and Kennett Borough with more planned.

One project that Karen is very proud of, is her facilitation of the Frick’s Lock Stakeholders; a private and public partnership that restored and preserved the historic Frick’s Lock Village in East Coventry Township. From this partnership sprouted the development of a trailhead for the Schuylkill River Trail. Karen also worked on the team for the Chester Valley Trail signage, ultimately providing an interpretation of the culturally significant sites for trail users.

Working closely with the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force, Karen initiated the American Battlefield Protection Program grant program that resulted in the ongoing study of this highly significant battlefield and the development of the Brandywine Battlefield Preservation Plan. The plan laid the strategic framework for preservation projects and includes an interactive atlas detailing the battle and the over 200 historic resources of the Brandywine Battlefield. 

Karen’s work perfectly aligned with ironmaster Rebecca Lukens when she became a founding member of the Iron and Steel Heritage Partnership team. As a team member, Karen helped craft the preservation plan and driving tour maps to protect and recognize the iron and steelmaking heritage of the region. In doing so, the partnership preserved the same valuable heritage resources that influenced the success of Rebecca Lukens’ steel mill operations over 200 years ago. Karen explains, “Rebecca Lukens clearly never said never and was an amazing example of the personal motto that one of my early mentors inspired me with, ‘It is better to travel hopefully then to arrive.’  Just get out there, roll up your sleeves, try to have a sense of humor and get to work!”

The preservation projects that Karen has completed are expansive. The timeless impact she has left, stands in the form of the preserved historic sites that dot the landscape of our county and will be enjoyed by many generations to come. Please join the National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum in honoring Karen Marshall on a virtual Rebecca Lukens Award Ceremony on May 12th at 7:00 p.m.  You can register for this event online.

The National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum would like to thank our sponsors of this event: PECO, Citadel, Unruh, Turner, Burke & Frees, Brandywine Health Foundation, Patterhn Ives, Rainer & Company, Peter and Ruth Nunn, Edge Wallboard, Prosper Bank, Gawthrop Greenwood P.C. and Jacobs / Wyper Architects.