from the humble to the fairy tale fantastical: chester county needs more preservation of land and architecture.

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Soledad Mansion, Exton, PA

I had all these photos from Chester County Day this past October that I had never edited. Life got busy, along came the holidays, and here we are, months later.

But I do not know that now is a bad time to be editing. Actually, I think it is the perfect time given my recent posts on preservation.  And Chester County Day is the perfect tour day to go around the county and see what makes where we live so magnificent, so special, so worth preserving and fighting for.

Our architecture ranges from the humble to the classic farmhouse to the fantastical. We need to preserve this.  We can’t continue to allow the hum drum homogenous plasticity of dense developments to continue to run rough-shod over our county.

If elected, appointed, and county planning officials aren’t going to help, we have to seek alternative means.  For example, when will we see these crazy developer driven zoning overlays that walk, talk, and smell of spot zoning go away?

It’s hard.  We stand up in our communities and we become targets. Literally targets.  For defending what we love.

This afternoon, the Philadelphia Inquirer landed a whale of an article for 5 PM release online (give or take, as far as time goes.) It speaks to what people are going through.  The article is about Lloyd Farm in Caln.  The article describes in great detail what people in Caln are going through.  And they are, of course, but one municipality dealing with these issues.

The Lloyd farmhouse is older than the nation. Caln Township residents are fighting for its survival.
by Vinny Vella, Updated: March 7, 2019- 4:29 PM

The Lloyd farmhouse in Caln Township has a star-studded genealogy, a background that reads like a who’s who of American history.

William Penn himself sold the land it sits on to a wealthy family, a grant that paved the way for the creation of the state. A century later, it became an unofficial stop on the Underground Railroad, according to local histories of the pipeline to freedom. All the while, its caretakers maintained crops that state historians have described as an early example of the agriculture that would come to dominate the region.

But after years of deterioration and multiple owners, the 1757 building’s history is coming to a close, unless a frantic scramble by residents and local historians can stop it. They’ve embarked on a last-ditch effort to grant the farmhouse historic status, working against the demolition permit its owner has received from officials in this central Chester County community.

“The saddest part of this, from my perspective, is that all these historians from up and down the Main Line have contributed to this, and it’s had no effect,” said Cheryl Spaulding, who lives across the street. “I’m not surprised this is going to be developed, but other projects have kept these houses, incorporated them into their design and ultimately saved them.”

It’s a very long article. That is but a small excerpt.  Read the whole thing. It’s beautifully written.

This article tells the tale that can be superimposed over many municipalities. East Goshen, West Chester, East Whiteland, West Whiteland, West Vincent, Upper Uwchlan, Westtown, Willistown, West Goshen, Caln…the list is as long as there are municipalities. Humble and affluent communities alike.

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Going through these photos a few months later was like having fresh eyes. Some of my photos were of houses on the tour, others were of things I saw along the way.  Things that break my heart like a development rising behind a corn field.  It’s like a trick of the eye. It’s eerie.

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Or what about the water in a fountain of a bucolic estate rising and falling in the fountain with an office park off in the background?

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Where we used to see fields, we see development. Where we used to see fabulous 18th and 19th century  Chester County farmhouses , we see development. Everywhere, we see development.

When I look at all the wonderful architecture that is representative of our county from the dawn of the American Revolution, to the industrial revolution, Victorian and Edwardian splendor, humble to fantastical and everything in between it is almost like you can’t breathe because it is SO spectacular.  Then you can’t breath because every time you turn around something is being bulldozed and fields of cookie cutter samey same Tyvec wrapped homogenous architecture that won’t stand the test of time is rising up in its place.  Have you ever visited one of these developments as they are being built? You can sometimes literally smell the plastic Lego Land of it all.

Our history and architectural heritage and open space can’t always belong to the bulldozer and the wrecking ball. Chester County deserves better.

Enjoy the photos. I sure did going through them again.

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ghosts of houses abandoned on swedesford

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This is the irony of Chester County today: these were marvelous little houses that faculty and staff of Church Farms School lived in once upon a time.

Then came developers and now they rot. Day by day, month by moth, year by year. No one does anything except sometimes mow the grass.  These houses just sit there and fall apart.

But they were tough, well made houses in their day so I am guessing they haven’t rotted fast enough?

But with all the butt ugly development, these houses would have been welcomed once upon a time by families looking to live in Chester County. But oh no, along came the developers.

And they rot. And no municipality seems to care.  Someday they will be an office park or a townhouse development.

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what a difference a year or two makes in west whiteland

Ashbridge house in Exton. 2017.

I took the above photo of Ashbridge House located in West Whiteland at Exton Main Street in Exton in 2017.

It’s been mothballed for years in plastic since the mall was built. It’s another Chester County property with quite the history.

They even have a sign up in Exton Main Street about it:

Supposedly this house is being restored. I don’t know exactly which decade that’s going to occur in however, do you? I found this 2017 West Whiteland Planning Commission document (CLICK HERE) which indicates it would be preserved in the middle of hundreds of new apartments. (Also check out the Daily Local Article from May, 2017 and a blurb on the WCHE website from the same time.)

Hundreds. Because you know there aren’t enough apartments and townhouses and carriage houses being built in West Whiteland Township now are there?

That’s crazy. Obviously it was approved. Click HERE to see a list of developments in various stages in West Whiteland. Suffice it to say, I thought the list of developments in East Whiteland were bad enough. And I can’t say for sure that these lists are current as to what development is planned where.

But I digress.

Here we are in March, 2019 right? So a couple of weeks ago I guess it is now, I was over at Exton Main Street with my husband. I can tell you I was stunned by the way Ashbridge House and the outbuildings looked.

Ashbridge House in Exton. 2019.

When exactly is the preservation going to finally begin? Is it just me or do others of you out there think it’s never going to happen and someday will just hear how the house mysteriously fell down?

Ashbridge House in Exton. 2019.

I just don’t understand. I don’t understand why people no longer seem to care about historic preservation in a county that used to be known for it.

If you are interested in Ashbridge house, I have found a couple videos:

Janice Early’s terrific history video

Abandoned Steve Adventures 2013 video

Ashbridge House in Exton. 2017 or 2018.

tragic photos of the desecration of lloyd farmhouse

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Submitted by Anthony, a photographer

A blog reader named Anthony has sent in this marvelous set of photos of Lloyd Farm’s farmhouse I posting here.  It is all so tragic. Before I load up the photos, please enjoy this summary history courtesy of Chester Couny Author Historian and Artist, Catherine Quillman:

Lloyd Farm, also known as Valley Brook Farm, has been a community landmark that has spanned generations of change in the Downingtown/Caln Township region. The farm itself sits one of the last remaining parcels from a William Penn land grant dating to 1651 . 

According to a Chester County architectural inventory listing historic resources, this former “estate farm” is comprised of stone farmstead with a 18th-century core and 19th-century alternations and additions of exceptional architectural style. It is one of the few area properties that has retained much of its original plantings and specimen trees as well as its open space and historic landscape, complete with a tree-lined long entrance way and a circular drive with a mounting block at the front of the house.

The nearby historic one-lane Lloyd Bridge spanning the Beaver Creek and Lloyd Park, a 30-acre “dog” park given by the Lloyd family to Caln Township in 1969, have added to property’s community status as a beloved landmark.

As a virtual theater of Chester County’s history, Lloyd Farm has adapted through the years. Its early ownership reflects the region’s influx of Irish Quaker immigrants from the 1720s to 1750s; the 19th century local industries that included farming, dairying, and quarrying; and the era of the “gentleman” farm when it was owned by William McClure Lloyd, a Harvard graduate and Philadelphia stockbroker.

Lloyd’s great grandfather, John K Eshleman, a physician and botanist, made the Lloyd Farm famous as one of the few documented sites on the “Underground Railroad.” Eshleman, who began helping escaped slaves in 1840 while living in Lancaster County, became a key “stationmaster” after he moved to Caln in 1848 and joined other Quaker neighbors to form what has been called the “northern” route through Chester County.

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Also of note are  videos out there on Lloyd Farm:

Lloyd Farm and what is happening in Caln should be a wake-up call to preservationists and residents throughout Pennsylvania, not just Chester County.

Historic Preservation can’t just be a cute pair of buzzwords, they have  to mean something. And in order for it to mean something changes have to occur in a top-down approach starting in Harrisburg with the laws that govern us.

We need a complete overhaul of the Municipalities Planning Code, that archaic outdated state-level bible that guides the planning and zoning within our individual communities throughout the state whether we want it to or not.

This state level bible, the Municipalities Planning Code, has not been comprehensively updated in too damn long. (There were some 2007 updates you can look at here.) They need to re-define historic preservation, land preservation, open space preservation, suburbs, and exurbs just to name a few things which come to mind.

Furthermore, our elected official even on the most local of levels through to Harrisburg and Washington DC should serve their constituencies, not special interest groups, and not their own political ambitions. If they cannot accomplish that, as we are seeing in Caln Township now and elsewhere, they need to be replaced.

We are losing on a daily basis what makes Chester County so special. We are losing land, we are losing our amazing architecture, we are losing history, our equine and agricultural traditions as we are losing the very farms that put food on our tables!

Lloyd Farm’s farmhouse could still be saved, but I don’t think it will be. We need to learn from this and act. And that starts with changing the faces of those who govern us. Wherever we live, we deserve government representation that fights for the residents, supports the residents.

I also think our county planning commission should have a Chester County resident as it’s executive director and at present, it does not. Someone who doesn’t live here, doesn’t get it.

Finally of note, the historic Witmer’s map of Caln:

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history down in the hollow….cedar hollow

Someone messaged me this photo of this house. Apparently it is at the end of Cedar Hollow on the left before you go under the tunnel? Does anyone know anything about this house or it’s history? I’m not even sure which Township it’s in.

Apparently the house is in very dangerous condition.

The person who messaged me was looking for any history available.

I am NOT advocating anyone explore it. It looks creepy and super derelict.

Whoever owns the land really should secure the house. But who knows if anyone actually owns it or it was a property abandoned long, long ago?

barbarians at the gate…of lloyd farm

 

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Social media has totally amped up since earlier this afternoon and Caln residents and historic preservationists and history buffs all over Chester County are SO upset.  I am upset right along with them. The raping and pillaging of a historic house before demolition has begun.

1757.  The Lloyd Farm farmhouse was built in 1757.  We weren’t even a country yet.  I could just cry it’s so awful.

Yes….sadly, the barbarians have arrived at the proverbial gates of Lloyd farm.

Today, hours ago, people started getting messages that salvagers were in the house ripping away. Hardware, mantlepieces, doors, paneling, trim, you name it. Going going until it’s gone, right?

52926870_773931022988143_1379312911565979648_nReaders, I didn’t want to be right about what is happening here, but sadly my gut instinct when I first heard about this is coming true. This is just like Addison Mizner’s La Ronda in Bryn Mawr all over again. I don’t understand people that take houses down not because they have to but because they can, do you?

Much as was the case with La Ronda (and I was there then), residents came over today to Lloyd Farm on a sacred pilgrimage to say good-bye.  As you can see, residents have sent me LOTS of photos.

(I will note again however that in the case of La Ronda (which was in Lower Merion Township also a first class township like Caln ), the commissioners in Lower Merion and their township staff were 100% supportive of their residents wishing to save La Ronda – the township wanted it saved too.  Mind you, you can’t say that about Caln, can you?)

53039138_301373790444613_7807780605986340864_nSomething I find profoundly disturbing looking at the photos is whomever the people were inside the house salvaging today have seemingly broken every window in the house and WHY????? Why be common vandals? Every salvager and antique and scrap dealer will tell you there is big money in intact 18th century windows complete with glass, so why wanton destruction? Sadly my opinion is they do it because they can. Today’s salvaging was described to me as like ripping limbs off a body. And they weren’t very bright because of the hardware and shutter dogs and things they left behind based on the photos I saw.

 

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These resident submitted photos are probably the last ones you will ever see of this farmhouse standing.  Next I will get the demolition photos and I will post those too.  People also went to visit the Lloyd graves today.  They aren’t on site.  They told me they went to the graveyard to pay their respects and to apologize for the destruction of their beautiful home.

And speaking of graves, are there graves actually on Lloyd Farm given the fact people have lived on that land since when? 1682 if you count the Penn land grant? And isn’t their a limestone quarry on the site too? But if their are graves discovered during construction, then what? Will the remains be respectfully removed elsewhere or just plowed under to haunt the development?

This developer is apparently a local guy. He has other businesses and is it true he lives in West Whiteland Township? He has a development in Delaware that looks like a plastic Lego land. Which of course is great if you’re in elementary school, but after that it just looks…fake and plastic.

img_3118-1Caln Township has zero respect for their historic commission or their residents or the history being lost, can’t you agree?  The commissioners in Caln will wring their hands and say they couldn’t do anything. Well if course not, because when exactly is it they do anything productive and for the benefit of their residents at all?

(Here is where I am pausing to remind those commissioners and their solicitor that no one in Washington DC has repealed the First Amendment yet, so if I want to have the public opinion that they are a bunch of turds, it’s legal.)

262 years of history are about to become dust. And there are even more years if you count the fact that the land itself that the farmhouse sits on is part of a Penn land grant. And what about the Underground Railroad history? That links this site to Glen Isle, correct?

 

53211079_268640844029190_829416385959428096_nI wish I could say something really intelligent here but I just think this totally sucks. I don’t understand people that have to destroy history when they don’t have to.

The residents of Caln Township have to stay vigilant. And they need to replace every single commissioner until they are all gone. Every last one of them. And once all of the commissioners are replaced they need a new township structure from the inside out don’t they?

I will further note that people need to look at any new candidates coming forward for public office carefully. For example, I would not be too jazzed about “endorsed” Republicans. As a former Republican when the real ones return to the party then maybe I won’t say that. However, don’t discount truly independent candidates from either the Republican or Democrat party.  A candidate who is not endorsed is often preferred in many places. Caln, you want independent thinkers and they don’t need to have zippy little bow ties, either.

These are the current Caln Commissioners and when their term expires (and YES I can name them they are publicly elected officials):

Jennifer Breton – term expires 2019

George Chambers – term expires 2019

Joshua Young – term expires 2021

John Contento – term expires 2021

Lorraine Tindaro- term expires 2021

Follow this link to learn about the appointed officials and other township personnel. And explain to me again why they saved Ingleside Golf Club and can they afford it? And what about the Zoning Hearing Board and Planning Commission? 

Lloyd Farm doesn’t have to die. It truly doesn’t. But it is. Today is proof.

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Also upsetting? Once again  Chester County’s history and architectural heritage hasn’t been sexy enough for media to really cover. And I understand the realities of media today whether it’s television or print journalism (what’s left of it) but media gives people a voice and things that are important aren’t just about what’s going on in the cities, whatever is going on in Washington D.C. , drugs and murder.

Sadly and pathetically, this situation is playing out all over Chester County and Southeastern Pennsylvania. This kind of crappy ass development, infill or not is why I moved off of the Main Line. But now I am sadly realizing more and more every day that it doesn’t matter where you move to this plague known as over-development is just following all of us. Everywhere.

Our history, our heritage, our open space, our agricultural traditions and past, they all matter. And they keep disappearing more every day.

And the loss of Lloyd Farm should be a rallying point. Enough is enough.

Many thanks to the residents who sent in the photos, and signed me completely and utterly disgusted.

Our history shouldn’t always belong to the bulldozer and wrecking ball. It just  shouldn’t.

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getting an epic fail on preservation in exton (west whiteland)

Sometimes photos just have to stand alone without much commentary. I have taken these photos because I am shocked at the continued deterioration of the historic farmhouse and outbuildings at Exton Main Street in West Whiteland Township.

I had always heard part of the deal for this mall was preservation of these structures and not demolition by neglect? Is it just me or is this actually demolition by neglect? WTF West Whiteland Township? Are you all so salivating over there in the township building at the prospect of more apartments or some other form of Tyvec-wrapped boxes that you can’t see what should smack you in the face since the township building is right there???

Epic preservation fail.