in the wee small hours

Conshohocken State Road just after Hollow Road in Penn Valley on the edge of Gladwyne. Now vines and an unkempt forest of sorts, there used to be old silos that once stood and a spring house.

Gloaming is evening twilight, the time just before dusk when the sky is pink and fading.  Morning twilight is that equally beautiful quiet time just before dawn.  Mind you I am not awake then on purpose, sometimes it is just when I wake.  The past few nights it has been the yipping and calling of the foxes plus that even more eerie sound raccoons make when they call to each other – it’s almost a warbling that has awakened me before dawn breaks. It is a time for quiet contemplation, these early moments before dawn, and sometimes I wake up thinking about things and pondering.

Such was the case this morning.

This morning, I was thinking of how to make people see how quickly development takes over farm land.  This morning as I lay there in the twilight while everyone in my home slept, I remembered a couple of examples.

When I was little before we moved from the city to the Main Line, and even when we first moved to the Main Line, the more rural bucolic roots of Penn Valley and even Gladwyne peeked through the modern suburb of it all.

When you turned off of Hollow Road (when you get off the Schuylkill Expressway if you go right, it is River Road, left is up Hollow Road to Conshohocken State Road) onto Conshohocken State Road, for years the remnants of a farm eerily stood in this valley off the side of the road.  Silos and a spring house.  I watched them deteriorate over time, until vines and trees and woods have now basically swallowed them up.

I am not sure whose farm it was.  Along Hagy’s Ford Road (where Welsh Valley Middle School is among other things) until the 1950s there was the Charles W. Latch family farm  and other farms.   According to the Penn Valley Civic Association, this farm once provided a lot of fresh produce for the area. It is so jam packed full of houses today, it’s frankly hard to believe.  But before all of the development, it was farm land, including Pennhurst Farm owned by Percival Roberts.   Pennhurst was over 500 acres.  Pennhurst had among other things a prized heard of Ayrshire cattle (another fact gleamed from the very interesting and well written Penn Valley Civic Association website. (So all of the prize Ayrshire cattle weren’t just on Ardrossan in Radnor, were they?)

The Penn Valley Civic Association continues (and they credit Lower Merion Historical Society with all of these marvelous historical facts):

Other farms included that of George Grow on Hagys Ford Road. Sold in 1921, it is still known as Crow’s Hill (the “G” having become a “C”). Another farm was the Grove of Red Partridges on Old Gulph Road near Bryn Mawr Avenue. The property later was part of the tract of 302 acres belonging to James and Michael Magee. John Frederick Bicking, who operated a paper mill along Mill Creek, owned ten acres where Summit Road ends at Fairview Road. The Bicking family cemetery, mentioned in Bicking’s will of 1809, still exists at this location. Ardeleage, the estate of Charles Chauncey at Righters Mill and Summit roads, was torn down in 1938, and fourteen homes were built on the property. 

 

(Read more of the history of Lower Merion here and farming in Lower Merion here.)

I also remember visiting a dairy farm in King of Prussia that was somewhat commercial when I was a kid where you could get literally farm-fresh ice cream. I don’t remember the name.

Yes, King of Prussia.  It is hard to remember that what today is just thought of by the every growing malls and a casino, was once prize farmland too. (Do you see where I am going now, Chester County?)

If you visit the Valley Forge website, you will find this great post with an even more interesting 1953 zoning map of Upper Merion: 

RETAIL REWIND

March 13, 2017 by Dan Weckerly – VFTCB Communications Manager

Because I grew up in the area, I have long-term memories of King of Prussia Mall….author-historian Michael Stefan Shaw…

since his 1992 transplant to the area, he has looked at the mall through a surprising lens, that of historian rather than shopper.

Shaw is in the midst of capturing the full story of King of Prussia Mall, tracing its development from when it was just a little prince.

And even further, before it was born….

“I wrote a book in 2013 on railroading in King of Prussia, and that got me looking into the backdrop of Upper Merion Township,” Shaw says. “That led me to the mall.”

His research showed interest in a large-scale retail presence long before the 1963 official opening of King of Prussia Mall.

“In writing the railroad book, I came across a 1955 zoning map of the township,” Shaw describes. “And because of the coming of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Schuylkill Expressway, there’s a spot on the map marked ‘shopping center.’ In 1955, it was listed there. That’s way before the 1962 soft opening or the 1963 grand opening.”…

The map shows a candy-cane coded plot of land amid fields that were mainly devoted to dairy farming.

So there were cows onsite long before a purple one selling ice cream.

King of Prussia Zoning Map

 

That was then.  This is now. I guess my point is Chester County, that the farmland continues to disappear under the pace of development. I have to ask, will people in 50 or 60 years be looking at where we all once lived and will they be trying to imagine farmland too?

Do we really want farm land and open space to become just memories?

Check out two videos on YouTube about Nor-View Farm now owned by Upper Merion Township:


(You can also visit the King of Prussia Historical Society for more information.)

We don’t live in a bubble.  Chester County isn’t the only part of Southeastern PA threatened by development.  But if we learn from the mistakes of other PA municipalities, maybe we can hope for a little bit of balance?

Farming is brutally hard work.  Ask any farmer.  This state and this country really do not support farmers enough in my opinion.  But without our farms and farmers, where are we? Growing micro-lettuces on a green roof?  Green roofs are not open space.

Open space once, it is gone, is gone forever.  Along with our history, the architecture, and the farms themselves. And the wildlife.  Check out the Wikipedia page on Penn Valley for example:

Before Welsh development, Penn Valley’s forest was home to bears, cougars, wolves, rattlesnakes, otters, beavers, weasels, turkeys, grouses, woodland bison, trout, and bald eagles. However, after forest destruction by the Welsh and eventual home building after World War 2 many of the rare animals left.[12]

Today, the area is filled with red foxes, white-footed mice, horned owls, red-tailed hawks, skunks, raccoons, rabbits, chipmunks, pheasants, crayfish, songbirds, butterflies, and white-tailed deer. The white-tailed deer pose an occasional problem in Penn Valley because they can halt traffic, destroy the forest underbrush, devour expensive ornamental flowers, and spread Lyme disease. When last counted, Penn Valley contained 44 deer per square mile, 34 more deer per square mile than the recommended average. 

Just food for thought.

Thanks for stopping by.

chester county 2018: ask not for whom the bell “tolls”

Yo so maybe the Chester County Commissioners and the Chester County Planning Commission should put all of us out of our misery now and just rename the county Toll Brothers County?

tigue farm in west chester to bite the dust

At 945 Tigue Road, West Chester, PA just below the Stadium at West Chester University -between the stadium and Route 52 – actually the other side of the stadium- is this gorgeous farm you see in courtesy photos from my friend Robin Ashby.

And it’s yet another farm which will soon be plowed under for yet another development of plastic houses. I am told the actual farm is on the northeast portion of the parcel. The open land is Tigue Road and Route 52 looking north.

According to information found on the Internet at RealtyTrac.com:

945 Tigue Rd is a farm, crops located in West Chester, PA 19382. Built in 1750, this property features 7 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 58 acres lot, and 3,999 sq ft of living space.

This is East Bradford Township. And oh yeah, it’s Toll Brothers….again:

TOLL BROTHERS SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT

During their Regular Meeting on December 12, 2017, the Board of Supervisors approved a settlement agreement with Toll PA VI, L.P. for the development of the Tigue Farm (Tigue Road and Lenape Road) to be known as “Darlington Ridge at West Chester.”  Minutes from this meeting are available on the Board and Commissions page.  The next phase of the development will involve submission of land development plans and Township review during 2018. This application may be prominent on the Township Planning Commission agenda during 2018.

Does everyone realize that acre by acre, what made Chester County Chester County will literally cease to exist at some point in the not too distant future?

How is this crazed thirst for development sustainable? How many times can we expand our schools and/or redistrict until we’re out of room?

It’s time for the residents of Chester County to have their eyes on the prize that is our home county and not just the developers.

Our agricultural and equine heritage are about to be lost forever along with the architectural heritage of Chester County farm houses, outbuildings, and barns. Once the farms are gone, they are gone forever.

Also don’t forget, that a lot of these farms were also proven or potential battle sites during the Revolutionary War. So in a lot of cases our nation’s very history is getting plowed under. And well Tigue Farm dates to the 18th century, doesn’t it?

Are we all to have “green roofs” and grow our food and put animals out to pasture that way? I find that doubtful since all these developments come with homeowners association’s and lots of rules don’t you?

Farming is often a brutally hard life. When did we stop caring about our farmers in this country? We must’ve stopped caring because they’re all selling to developers, right?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers other than restating the obvious which I keep saying, and that is the pace of development must slow down.

restoring architectural history in exton, pa

These are the things that make me so happy to see!

And yes, these farmhouses are indeed part of the architectural history of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Homeowner photo – see more at https://www.facebook.com/WestWhitelandInn/