ghost houses of swedesford road: more photos

The other day I wrote another post about the ghost houses Swedesford Road and how they continue to deteriorate .

A reader sent me photos. Looks like late fall or winter before snow. And I thought I should be clear that these USED to be owned by Church Farms School but now? Some developer or commercial real estate entity. No clue who.

Is this demolition by neglect? Well what do you think? Sure isn’t preservation is it? Wouldn’t you think West Whiteland would want these structures secured?

It is a shame that they’ve been allowed to rot. Now what?

ghost houses of swedesford road continue to deteriorate

In 2019 I wrote about the little houses along Swedesford Road that just sit and rot.

We passed by them yesterday in the car, and one looks like the roof has completely caved in on. I wasn’t able to get many photos so I just clicked a couple with my phone.

These are sweet little houses. They used to be faculty housing for Church Farms School I believe years ago. And when you think of all the crap that is getting built in the category of new development even just up the road, it’s almost wasteful that these houses were never fixed up and had people in them again. I still think if any of them were salvageable and they were stored them they could sell them and families would move in there.

Thanks for stopping by.

why preserve when you can demolish?

Wandering back to Lower Merion Township today. Yes, I do that on occasion, although these days it’s mostly virtually. I know some people who read my blog and visit the blog’s Facebook page are occasionally outraged when I don’t write about either Chester County or whatever they think I should be writing about. But life journeys are individual, and kind of like my writing journey, yes?

Growing up in Lower Merion, one of the things I loved most were the homes and the gardens. Stately, modest, actual estates, twins, cottages, mansions, and everything in between. Back in those days, the history of the area mattered. And the gardens were glorious whether large or small.

But then, October 1, 2009, Addison Mizner’s La Ronda was demolished. I was there with many others outside the gates. I documented it in photos. She was such a gorgeous structure. So historic. Part of the history of the area, yet even as a historic resource, she was torn down and exists only in memories and photographs.

When La Ronda was demolished, I knew deep down in my heart that Lower Merion was no longer the place for me. It had completely at that moment become about people and how much money they had, and not much else. When La Ronda came down I realized no property was safe or valued there. It was a sad realization.

Over the years I have continued to document notable properties. People have the right to sell to whomever they choose. People have the right to demolish homes great, large, wonderful, small, whatever. But I still lament the people who can’t see the value of the architectural history of an area, and the impact it has. Well another home popped up on a mental endangered list (as in my mind and opinion, I don’t know if it is on an actual list anywhere) because of a Historic Commission agenda in Lower Merion for February 22nd:

Sigh. 651 Black Rock Road. They say it’s Gladwyne, but it’s actually Bryn Mawr. I knew who lived there although they were not friends. Of course people wish to downsize and move on. But for this house to be facing the fate of the wrecking ball is just so tragic. This house is spectacular, with mature gardens and an amazing property and pool.

And as described by the realtor:

Let’s see “as is”:

If you look at all the photos, ok the kitchen is a little dated, and perhaps the bathrooms to the taste of some, but this property and home are spectacular. Quite literally, they don’t build them like this anymore. And the gardener in me wonders about plants that may have been there since the house was built.

So according to Lower Merion’s website, this is in Commissioner Scott Zelov’s ward? He was a champion of saving Stoneleigh and once upon a time against eminent domain in Ardmore (it’s why he got elected originally and I know, I was there), will he have an opinion on this if it proceeds to demolition? But will it matter?

Nope. It won’t. People have the right to demolish. Sadly.

Historic preservation can’t just be a vague idea, it actually has to happen. It has to matter. And in Lower Merion, starting way before La Ronda got bulldozed, it ceased to matter. Lower Merion’s current manager was West Chester Borough’s Manager before ascending to the plum position of Lower Merion Township Manager. And although I have nothing against the man personally, he always appeared to me to be pro-development over other things. And the current Director of Building and Planning is someone I watched climb the ladder at Lower Merion. And I have always found him pro development over anything else. He won’t like me for mentioning this but I sat through YEARS of meeting watching him flip his hair like Farrah Fawcett and present developer’s plans like he worked for them, does anyone else remember?

Anyway, the house is still standing as of now, but this is on an agenda and according to Lower Merion there is a demolition permit. What will happen when all of the old and historic houses and their gardens are gone? In Lower Merion and elsewhere?

Historic preservation isn’t really going to matter until it matters to all of us consistently across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And I do not believe every old house can and should be saved, but when you see houses like this one you have to wonder because beautiful places like this is what drew people to the Main Line in the first place. Until then, why preserve when you can demolish?

Thanks for stopping by and stay safe, roads are icy.

vintage beauty gets gussied up

My new old chair

A few years ago I picked this chair out of a barn. For $45. Which is astounding because vintage furniture of this quality is highly desirable even used. And if you’re looking at the gorgeous mahogany of this chair this is also why you don’t need to chalk paint or faux paint every piece of vintage furniture. Sometimes it just needs to be recovered.

“Brown wood” is cool, pass it on.

It’s a Southwood Sheraton side chair. It was made in Hickory, North Carolina. It’s just slightly past mid century, this chair dates to 1973 when Southwood was founded.

Southwood was started in 1973 with the vision to become America’s premier maker of authentic, museum-quality antique reproductions, as well as offering traditional upholstered seating. They went out of business around 2013, sadly.

Anyway, The chair when it originally came to me was in a powder blue silk velvet. But the velvet had been drying out and getting very brittle over time and I knew I needed to start looking for fabric to recover this chair in. Enter a friend of mine whose late mother had amazing taste. She gifted me a remnant of vintage Scalamandre upholstery fabric.

So I called up my upholsterer Ken and said I have the fabric for the chair. He had coincidentally just start looking for fabric for me for the chair because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

Chair before makeover.

This evening my chair came home. It looks amazing! And I did save some money by supplying my own fabric. But that was just a fluke that the fabric was gifted to me. It’s just like the planets aligned.

Once again I am sharing with you the information on my upholsterer, Ken’s Upholstery. They pick up, they deliver, and their attention to detail is unparalleled. It has been a long time since I saw an upholsterer who is this good at his craft.

And Ken does nice little things for his customers like send you photos of whatever he’s working on for you from start to finish. And something Ken did for me was to put the original Southwood tag back on the bottom of my chair. I had not asked him to do that, I had asked him to just hang onto the original manufacturer’s tag!

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am with the way the chair turned out. My husband knows he will never be able to drink red wine in it but that’s OK. I love it! And once again I am a regular customer of Ken’s Upholstery , I am not getting anything as far as compensation in any way shape or form to write this post. I am just a very, very happy customer!

Thanks for stopping by.

My chair reupholstered.

tales of bacton hill: elwood michael

Elwood’s greenhouse and tool shed. (1970s?)
Claude Bernardin photo

Today I received an e-mail from former East Whiteland/Bacton Hill resident, Mark Lanser. Today he has generously shared his recollections of Elwood Michael who was one of the local and beloved characters once upon a time.

These oral histories of everyday, ordinary folks are just as important to the fabric of the history of an area as our Revolutionary war heroes and the famous who passed through. The photos are from artist and former resident Claude Bernardin.

Enjoy!

🔏📍As I have a few moments I’ll share with you a bit about Elwood Michael. You have a picture that Claude supplied of his cabin on one of your past blogs.

Elwood told me he came to Bacton with his brother from Phoenixville along with his brother in a covered wagon in 1910.

All I know of Elwood was that he was basically a tenant farmer.

When I first met him as a little kid he was employed by Mary Cain to take care of the farm at the corner of Spring Valley & Bacton Hill Rd. I think he may have lived on the farm for a while. He also was farming a piece of ground at the top of Bacton Hill where Valley Hill Rd. intersects. That was on the left side as you went up the hill.

Elwood had a old Fordson tractor one of the gray & red ones. He had a sister who gave him a few cars over the years. A black 1941 Ford 2 door sedan (my dad bought it from him) a black Plymouth 4 door (1950 I think) and a light blue 1955 Ford 2 door sedan. Elwood would end up ruining them by driving them through the fields he plowed.

His cabin had two rooms. One had a large cook stove which was a wood burner. Besides cooking it was his only source of heat.

The other room was his bedroom/living room. It had one light bulb in the ceiling. No other lights in the place. He had 3 dressers stacked on top of each other. You needed a ladder to get to the top one.

He had a rooster named Pete who was an ornery cuss. You always had to be on the look out as he would come after you on your blind side.

He had two dogs. One was an Airedale named Jackie. Another smaller one was a black & white dog. I don’t remember it’s name. Elwood would tell us he kept a rattlesnake there but it got out of its cage so we better keep a look out.

Elwood had half his teeth missing, a few days of beard and smelled like smoke. At times he would show up at our house and others conveniently at dinner time. We knew he needed a meal and always asked him to stay. Often he would end up falling asleep. We would go to bed and he would be gone in the morning.

The next evening we would find a gallon of apple cider on the porch as a thank you. Sometimes when he needed a ride he would get on our school bus and he would get dropped off along out bus route. Can you imagine doing that now?

To help our neighbors he once drug old logs out of the woods from alongside the field he plowed at Valley Hill road. He drug them down Bacton Hill with his tractor and lined the one side of Kirby’s driveway as it had a steep bank on the one side.

Another time he took an old wood stove from the now abandoned green house on the Mary Cain farm and took it over to the Mannigsmith’s who lived just below Bacton Hill Rd. On Rt.401. He installed it in their spring house complete with a stove pipe chimney which of course he cut a hole in the roof to install it. Mr Manningsmith while appreciative of his thoughtfulness would have rather been asked first.

My brothers and I had gotten rides with Elwood over to a Baptist church in Charlestown Twp. He would stop along Rt. 29 at Mrs. Markley’s (KD Markley Elementary School) to get his water from her spring along side the road.

Sunday morning Elwood would put on his top hat and blow his bugle to get everyone up on the hill to go to church. He continued to farm and died on his old Fordson tractor while plowing the field along Valley Hill Road. He had a heart attack. I think he was 76 years old. I don’t know the exact date. My brother at some point is going to check into that. It was around 1966.

He was quite a character and helped make our childhood growing up on Bacton Hill unique and memorable. Hope you enjoy some of my memories.

~Mark Lanser🔏📍

Elwood’s two room shack. Claude Bernardin submitted photo. All of these old photos in this post are from his personal collection.

more tales of bacton hill

The farmhouse demolished a couple of years ago on Bacton Hill Road for development of houses yet to be built.

One of my favorite bits of Chester County, which is in my opinion completely under recorded and insufficiently remembered for what it represents is the area in Frazer, East Whiteland, Chester County known as Bacton Hill. That is where my favorite ruin, Ebenezer AME is located on Bacton Hill Road. Ebenezer was a very early AME church, and Bishop Richard Allen was still alive when the Quaker, James Malin, deeded the land to the AME Church so Ebenezer could be built. The origins of the AME Church go back to the Free African Society which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established in Philadelphia in 1787. Richard Allen was born a slave in 1760. He was owned and then freed by Benjamin Chew.

Ebenezer on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer (East Whiteland) is a sacred and historic place. It’s no secret I have written about this place for years.

As referenced above, the AME Church grew out of the Free African Society in the late 1700s, but the church became it’s own entity founded in Philadelphia around 1816. So you can see given the age of Ebenezer AME in East Whiteland, Chester County, PA that it is truly part of the early days of a church and religion founded in Philadelphia. Bishop Richard Allen died in 1831, just months before Ebenezer came to be after Joseph Malin deeded the land.

Hiram Woodyard was a Township resident and former slave who served in the Union Army as a teamster. He was a leader in the African American community and is buried at the Ebenezer AME Church. His home still stands on Congestoga Road. Other homes he built still stand. He was an inhabitant of Bacton Hill.

Without active preservation there will come a time that all which will be left of the area will be my blog posts including this one from 2017 which is an oral history complete with some really cool photos courtesy of Claude Bernadin, or this one from 2015, this one from 2016, this one from 2017, the ceremony November 2016, a post from October 2016, another one from October 2016, when for brief moment people stopped to visit the old souls now covered by weeds and brush once more, 2015 post which had links to earlier posts. Also what will survive will be the occasional newspaper article from every newspaper reporter who tried to raise awareness to this area and to Ebenezer.

Once upon a time people tried to get a Bacton Hill Historic District or something like that. It’s a shame it never happened. Because at least then there would have been a more organized history of the place. (See Juneteenth post for more.)

Bacton Hill was an early freed black settlement and not just important in Frazer, East Whiteland, but Chester County. It has always been of historic import, yet it never made it to a historic district.

Today I am sharing some memories of Bacton Hill from former resident, Mark Lanser. He grew up with artist Claude Bernadin, whose memories and photos I shared before.

Here is Mark in his own words:

📌Just wanted to share a bit of my memories growing up on Bacton Hill. I am not sure of what be of interest. I have memories which some may be bit fuzzy but I believe they are mostly intact.

We : my parents Richard & Norma and my 4 brothers Rick, Chris, Scott & Elliott. I was number two son between Rick & Chris. The area before Rt. 202 was built was relatively quiet. I traveled around the area with Claude Bernardin collecting bottles.

I also had a paper route for the daily local news when I was 12 (1967). One of my customers was Mary Cain. Their original home was their farm at the intersection of Bacton Hill & Spring Valley roads. I remember when Mrs. Cain turned 100. She eventually lived to be 108. I think her son was named John (?) Don’t remember her daughter in law’s name. Her son died in his 80’s before his mom. They told me that she was the last proprietor of the Bacton General Store. That was the residence of Barry & Judy Love at the time. It is located on Bacton Hill (401) almost directly across from Bacton Hill Rd. It is literally just several feet off the road. They told me of a time in the late 1920’s when 5 people froze to death in a blizzard out side the farm in a snow drift. At the time they were telling me this they were living on Spring Valley Road a few hundred yards west of Bacton Hill Rd.

I think that the town itself lasted until the Second World War and then lost the post office. My recollection was the general store was built in 1810. Our house midway up the hill was supposedly built in 1732 but the date stone had been removed from the second floor so I never confirmed that.

I was told by Miss Hopper who lived in the log cabin next to us to our west that it was built in 1704. Then was the tavern the next house up just above Spring Valley Road. My recollection was the date stone there was 1765. In regards to the tavern Mr. Cain said the “colored folk” (Mr. Cain’s description back then no offense meant) had some gatherings that went late into the night and were quite lively.

Please let me know if this is of any interest. I am obviously not a writer but I could share some more details about Elwood that Claude wrote about , Miss Hopper, & the cave among others as I can recall them.📌

The oral histories of an area are as important as the historical facts and recorded historical activities. For example, I heard at one time it was rumored adjacent to the trail where there are office suites at Swedesford Road and Bacton Hill Road there were possibly remains of Revolutionary War Soldiers at one time. But there is nothing documented that I can find so it might not be true. But given the age of the area and the documented historical sites all around, could it be possible? Sure. And that’s another thing where I wonder if people have memories of finding arrowheads, or other little relics?

Bacton Hill today is nothing like people remember even only back to the 1960s and 1970s. Because it’s not a preservation area, structures come down. Like what I knew as the old green farmhouse which will be the last photo here on this post today, as well as the first photo. A lot of the road feels industrial today, which were not the origins, it’s just how it evolved .

There are a smattering of homes on and off Bacton Hill Road up near the intersection with Conestoga Road or Route 401 which still exist. Most of the truly old homes that have stood since the 18th and 19th century are on Conestoga Road. And they are lovely. I love that they endure in spite of all that is torn down around them.

As a blogger, if there is something I can give to this area, it’s bits of the history of individuals who lived there. I am also interested in the history of the black settlement which once existed because that’s so historically important vis a vis Ebenezer AME. If you have anything to add, or tales to tell, historical photos, old area photos, either on Bacton Hill, what was once the village (general store, post office, etc), or close by on 401/Conestoga Road, I am happy to listen and view the photos.

Thanks for rambling with me today.

the old hershey’s mill continues to come back to life!

In June of 2020 much to my delight, I discovered the old Hershey’s Mill at Hershey’s Mill Road and Green Hill Road was getting a new lease on life.

We passed by today and the restoration continues! This is so refreshing and lovely to see!

Restoration is possible with unique old buildings. We can’t wait to see it completely restored!

christmas magic…at life’s patina

We walked into the beautiful big old barn and it was truly magical at Life’s Patina today. Beautiful and Christmas festive in every nook and cranny. There are only a certain amount of people allowed in the barn at any one time and everyone must be wearing masks, and there is hand sanitizer everywhere you turn around. It’s a magical and safe experience in a COVID-19 world.

Meg and her merry band of elves outdid themselves! From little balsam wood houses that light up, to Christmas mice in velvet dresses and tree skirts for feather trees it was amazing! Sparkling ornaments everywhere and among my favorites? Very lovely mercury glass pinecones and marvelous modern reproductions of old German Kugel ornaments.

Mixed in with Christmas magic were all sorts of vintage and antique items. One of the things I liked best was downstairs in the barn on the big long farmhouse table was a vintage Grenadine bottle.

We loved every minute we were there, and preview guests were also given amazing gift bags to take home.

I love Christmas, everyone who knows me knows how much I love Christmas and I loved today’s experience. You really should go if you can. Simply magical!

By appointment only. Life’s Patina at Willowbrook Farm, 1750 North Valley Road, Malvern, PA.