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.

not our pipeline

Pipeline and sinkhole. Just The Fact Please photo. November, 2017

Before I moved to Chester County, I was somewhat ambivalent about Sunoco and their pipelines. Among other things, I grew up with a father who was for years, in-house PR for a then major oil company.  And part of that was during the Exxon Valdez era.  But oil companies had deep pockets and what did I know? Nothing was near where we lived and those oil company deep pockets were always giving box loads of stuff to schools, bought full page ads in school newspapers for the kids of employees, etcetera.

When you first hear about problems with pipelines, pipeline construction, or even fracking, it is like this fuzzy thing out of focus ahead of you in the haze. It can’t possibly affect you. Until it does. And in my opinion, it is.   I have friends who hail from Western Pennsylvania who literally have been warning people for years.  And they are just nastily labeled “fracktivists”. Guess that is the new label for “concerned citizen”? Because I have got to tell you, the people I knew who once lived in Western PA are…wait for it…MOMS.  You know how dangerous moms are, right?

Then it seems like in an instant but a couple miles in either direction from where you live as far as the crown flies in any direction, stuff starts to happen.

Well issues.

Sinkholes.

You feel like local municipal officials and politicians are just covering their ears saying “na,na,na,na,na,na,na,na,na” in order to NOT have to listen to residents.  Respected environmental activists are labeled as being alarmists.

Then all of a sudden the  PA DEP seems to wake up and temporarily halts work on Sunoco’s Mariner 2 Pipeline.  Only as per residents in some affected Chester County neighborhoods and State Impact by NPR  that might not quite be true as they report on January 9, 2018:

When Danielle Otten woke up Monday morning, she didn’t expect to see men working on the Mariner East 2 pipeline construction site that sits about 40 feet from her backyard, along Devon Drive in Uwchlan Township, Chester County.

For one thing, work in the area had stalled after drilling dried up and damaged nearby water wells this past summer. And just last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a court order halting construction along the 350-mile long pipeline after Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners continued to violate its permits, causing damage to private water wells, streams and wetlands…..When DEP issued a stop work order to Sunoco last week, it appeared that all work would halt aside from drilling and erosion controls that had to be continued in order to prevent additional environmental damage. But a spokesman for the DEP now tells StateImpact that when it comes to anything other than earth disturbance or water crossings, the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction.

 

In Chester County, as a resident, you can’t avoid the truth of the pipelines. And the risks and dangers. So many of us are on wells. And so many with wells are already having issues. And then there are those other pesky things…you know like sinkholes and so on?

The jarring visuals you see with your own eyes like the beautiful swaths of lands torn assunder are burned into your brain.  Once you see it, you can’t un-see it and you wish you could.

Swing sets and play houses of small children sit in macabre juxtaposition to giant earth moving machines and huge pieces of pipe.

Giant walls, pipes, and earth moving machines also sit across the driveway from senior citizen apartment complexes and grocery stores.

Pipeline so close and on top of churches and schools in addition to residential neighborhoods and please, tell me, how is that safe?

Next to firehouses too? So basically, Sunoco puts those supposed to protect us at risk as well?

You have friends and former neighbors who have Sunoco gobbling up their land for the pipeline.  You count your blessing like we did that we moved long ago from certain parts of Chester County because otherwise this view could be your very own backyard:

Uwchlan Safety Coalition photo

Only you can’t help but wonder if your slice of heaven will remain unmolested by pipelines? Like Medieval Feudal Lords, you are never quite sure what they will swoop in and take, are you?

You are, as residents of Chester County and elsewhere, supposed to bend over and accept these new vistas:

My photo, taken July, 2017

When you say “no I think this is bad” there are people who will  jump all over you. “It’s perfectly safe. You don’t know what you are talking about.”

Perfectly safe? Is that why CBS This Morning ran and over FIVE minute segment on the national news this morning from coast to coast?

Sunoco is raping our land. They are depleting it, irrevocably changing it and in my opinion putting us all at risk.  It is not OUR pipeline, it is THEIR pipeline being forced upon us all and we are not benefiting from it.  This isn’t OUR infrastructure, it’s Sunoco’s infrastructure. What they take is being shipped OVERSEAS.

As another friend Ginny said to others:

Sunoco cannot replace the large, mature trees they are chopping down for this. Nor can they restore the fragile and important wetland there if they wreck it, just as they couldn’t restore the private wells that they wrecked in Marchwood this summer with this pipeline. 

Living with hazardous liquefied natural gas lines is not a part of living in suburbia. In fact it is reckless to put these lines through densely populated areas, right alongside houses, schools, apartment buildings, shopping centers, seniors homes, etc. 

And now, Sunoco also wants Chester County Library’s freaking lawn? (See Dragon Pipe Diary)

When does it stop?  When did Corporate America’s rights become more meaningful than ours in Chester and Delaware Counties and elsewhere in Pennsylvania?  Why are we as residents being forced to live with something that destroys and takes and give nothing back in return? Why don’t residents matter? Why do we spend so much time feeling like our elected officials have forsaken us on this issue?

And why is it when you mention anything about not liking or distrusting pipelines some fool will always hop up and cry foul partisan politics? I mean do they really think we are such imbeciles that an issue which is non-partisan and affects EVERYONE is an example of partisan politics?  Take off the dunce caps, because opposition to Mariner East is clearly bi-partisan.

Pipeline, East Goshen. My photo. Summer/Fall 2017

Today in addition to the CBS News report, Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety is a nonpartisan, fact-based, grassroots coalition of locally-based safety groups, made up of concerned Pennsylvanians from across our Commonwealth issued a press release:

Well guess what? I believe these folks, and this pipeline and it’s march across Chester County and elsewhere terrifies me.  These people protesting are our neighbors and friends. And there are quite the growing numbers of experts, environmentalists and others who believe these residents.

There is also a very important petition circling. It is directed at our rather elusive Governor Tom Wolf on Change.org asking him to protect our communities under the PA Health and Safety Statute.

Please sign and share this petition today.

Here are some articles:

Dragonpipe Diary: Sunoco’s destructive plans for the Chester County Library lawn

State Impact PA Despite DEP order to halt Mariner East 2 construction, some work is still allowedJANUARY 9, 2018 | 5:34 PM Susan Phillips

State Impact: Water problems persist along Mariner East pipeline route despite court interventionOCTOBER 12, 2017 | 5:03 PM BY JON HURDLE

State Impact: DEP issues violation to Sunoco for another spill of drilling fluidAUGUST 30, 2017 | 6:40 PM BY JON HURDLE

grist: BRIEFLY Stuff that matters PIPE DOWN

Daily Local: Pennsylvania DEP shuts down construction on Sunoco gas pipeline By Bill Rettew, brettew@dailylocal,com POSTED: 01/03/18, 5:25 PM EST

Daily Local: DEP accuses Sunoco of unauthorized drilling By Bill Rettew, brettew@dailylocal.com POSTED: 01/02/18, 3:49 PM EST

Daily Times, Phil Heron: Editorial: Economic benefits alone won’t resolve pipeline concerns

Look at the end of the day, did we come to Chester County for this view below? I don’t think so. We need to protect what is ours.  And what is ours, is not necessarily theirs.

#Resist

Uwchlan Safety Coalition Photo

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?

will 2018 mark the year of history at risk at the ruins of ebenezer on bacton hill road, frazer in east whiteland?

Veterans at Ebenezer on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer PA in November, 2016

It has already been a year since my friend Al Terrell left this earthly plane. And almost two years sine Ann (A.V.) Christie has died. I am glad both of them are not around to find out what I discovered this morning.

I have been home with the flu, so I have been playing catch-up with municipalities. I started with East Whiteland.  They have a Supervisors’ Meeting this Wednesday, January 10.  

One of the things there of note, is a couple of more resignations from within the township building.  One resignation is the guy who has only been there a short amount of time but came to East Whiteland from the Montgomery County Mall Township known as Upper Merion.  Scott Greenly is leaving.  He was/is East Whiteland’s Planning & Development Director. But I digress.

BACK to the reason for this post, only it actually what worries me was from RIGHT before Christmas (always have to pay attention before major holidays or in the dead of summer or stuff sneaks on it, right?) as in the  Planning Commission December 20, 2017:

Sketch Plans
1. HP Flanagan, Inc.: Sketch plan proposing a 6 lot subdivision and associated improvements. The property is located at 100 N. Bacton Hill Road, is zoned R-1 Single Family Residential and is approximately 6.6 acres in size.

 

(Deep breath)

This is proposed for right on top of and across the road from….wait for it….the ruins of historic Ebenezer AME Church and Cemetery.  When I last wrote about Ebenezer, it was late November, 2017 and it was about an oral history.  Before that, you know all of the posts about the history and the various articles from 2016 (click HERE and click HERE for two of them.)

Well shame on me for not paying closer attention in December 2017.  Here is what it looks like (100 Bacton Hill Road Sketch Plan):

Here is a close-up so you can see (right or wrong) why I am alarmed:

These houses are right on top of Ebenezer on one side.  A  concern I have is a lot of us have always wondered if there were more graves on each side of the fences (See blue arrows). A new development right on top of this site of ANY size puts this historic site at risk, in my humble opinion. Which is why a lot of the conversations concerning this development have to also include protecting this historic site, right?

This is a historic site that East Whiteland has never seemingly wanted to deal with (except for the historic commission as they have wanted it better preserved only how do we get there?), and the AME Church always seemingly wants to pretend it never exists. (I mean remember that promise Bishop Ingram made the Inquirer reporter Kristen Holmes to check this all out? And what do you bet he never, ever did? (Sorry I don’t see slick city bishop walking through the mud at Ebenezer, do you?)

Do we need to worry that if the AME Church finds out about development they will try to sell these old souls to the highest bidder to make a buck or two? (It’s a valid concern, I think.)

Here is a close up of general notes on the plans so the players and potential need for a variance are made plain:

Doug Buettner still owns the land now.  I have met him.  A nice guy. He actually helped with Al’s clean-up of Ebenezer in 2016. I have also been told that owns Malvern Court the mobile home park on the other side of Ebenezer.  The developer is listed above at HP Flanagan in Malvern.  They are an unknown to me.

I have been told that Mr. Buettner has wanted to develop some of this land for years.  I seem to remember he mentioned it to me in conversation the day I met him cleaning up at Ebenezer.

My largest concern is how close this all is to the ruins of Ebenezer. This is not a big plan being proposed, mind you, and it would have escaped my radar except for the fact it is next door to our beloved Ebenezer. And well a development could detrimentally impact this historic site as I feel the site is fragile to begin with. I have fears that once construction vehicles move in to start construction if this plan is approved that it will cause the remains of the church to crumble from vibrations.  When Al Terrell was alive we had wanted to try to get the AME Church to give permission for funds to be raised to stabilize the ruins.

A development of a 6 lot subdivision like this adjacent to a historic resource and a mobile home park is one of the ways Chester County Zoning is so strange to me.  None of the things go together.

I still feel the pace of development is staggering in East Whiteland .

When does it stop? I have to ask if Mr. Buettner owns clear to the corner as I was told, would it be possible to shift those houses down? Or eliminate one from the plans to create a buffer zone next to the old souls of Ebenezer?  After all, it is not generally considered good karma to disturb a burial ground is it?  Freed slaves, member of a once vibrant early black community and black Civil War Soldiers matter, don’t they? Shouldn’t they?

And you see on the plans they also want setback variances? Bacton Hill Road is a speedy road.  So no new development anything should be perched right on the edge of the road in my humble opinion.

Look, I wish this proposed plan, this sketch plan, wasn’t on top of Ebenezer, but it is.  And Hiram Woodyard, Joshua Johnson, the Reasons and the other dear old souls here deserve respect. (See Daily Local article November 2016)

Bacton Hill is the location of some of the richest black history in Chester County.  It was an early settlement of freed blacks among other things.  This history here just keeps getting erased. I don’t think that is right.

Here is my wish list:

  1. NO development (which I doubt will happen as it is East Whiteland, after all.)
  2. More realistically, REDUCED development to protect the cemetery with a good buffer.
  3. As a condition of approval the developer gets permission to stabilize the church ruin and put up a better and more proper fence with a gate and a couple of pebbled (drainage is a problem over there already, right?) parking spaces in the buffer zone so people can visit Ebenezer.
  4. And developer also helps with maintaining the grass and weeds going forward

Here is hoping if something comes of this, the dead are respected, right? Ebenezer has been around since what? 1831 into 1832?

Ok signing off now.  My thoughts are simple: Ebenezer should be and needs to be preserved.  It is history that matters.  And more people need to care. (For more on East Whiteland history click HERE.) People, this is a sketch plan, but it is under active review.  If you have an opinion, please voice it to East Whiteland (politely.)

Ebenezer AME and her ruins are just something which should be saved, right?

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.