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:
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.
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.
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.