do we want to preserve chester county… or not?

So this is Chester county. Do we want to preserve her or not? Because we’re running out of time if we do wish to preserve her. If we do wish to preserve her history, her great open spaces (what’s left of them), her farms (what’s left of them) , her architecture (what hasn’t been replaced by endless fields of McBoxes.)

This isn’t a Republican or Democrat thing, this is the people coming together and working to save Chester County kind of thing.

People drive me crazy when they say “Oh but if you only elect this Republican or this Democrat that change will happen.” No it won’t. When did all of you get so dumb about community activism?

All of these politicians bring YOU to them. That’s not the way you do it. The way you do it is every time you have an election, the politicians take on your issues as their issues. Because if you just continue out there to take their issues on as your issues, you will always end up the loser.

No, often it is not nice. It’s hard. It’s a slog. You have all sorts of people screaming and yelling at you and calling you names. You know, kind of like my average day being a blogger. But you have to work if you really want to save something. You can’t just say oh let’s put up a Facebook page and save something. You actually have to do the work behind it. Look at Crebilly. Those folks did not give up. And they did it.

There have been countless groups who have put up private groups and Facebook pages proclaiming their issue. But the thing is they never really get off the social media pages, do they? They don’t go to meetings. They don’t take meetings with elected officials of all levels. It’s like they expect the world to come to them. I have to bite my tongue and not say how’s that working out for all of you?

If they do have loosely held “groups“, often these days you find different members of sad aforementioned “groups” are going in different directions with slightly different objectives that are often counterproductive. It doesn’t work because you all need to come together.

It doesn’t matter what political party you belong to when you’re working for a common goal and a greater good, you leave that bickering at the door. You need to forget the whole thing about oh if we just do this one little thing for this politician then they’ll help us. No they won’t. The goal of them and their campaigns is to make all of you come around to see their perspective. As we learned years ago fighting eminent domain mean in Ardmore, you have to flip that perspective.

And if the politicians make hollow promises, then you vote them out and you start all over again. And you keep repeating the process till you have government that you can work with, that works for the people.

And I have to say after doing the whole thing in Ardmore, also gave me some of the most amazing friends as an adult. I remember the first event I attended that the Save Ardmore Coalition did years ago. I entered a room a stranger and left with new friends, Friends I still have almost 20 years later. I did not start at the very, very beginning. I heard what they had to say, and I knew I wanted to be part of it. Oh and one election cycle we flipped half of the Board of Commissioners in Lower Merion Township to politicians of BOTH political parties who made our issue theirs. And they kept their word and ended eminent domain for good a few months later. As opposed to that eminent domain circus in East Goshen recently , it didn’t take a year to unwind. That my friends was BS, just like the self-aggrandizing Libertarian “award” , “honor” or whatever was bestowed upon supervisors or one supervisor in general, like the day before their spouse became the head of the Chester County Libertarian Party. That was no better than a publicity stunt. And it made me very sad.

So now that the elections are over, it’s time for communities across Chester County to come together to save what’s left of their character. Yesterday because we were going to visit friends further out in the county from us, we had this gorgeous drive back and forth. It made me think. It made me appreciate all over again the beauty of where we call home.

This also means that we have to start getting busy with our state elected officials, the lame ducks and the ones poised to take office in January. They need to start helping us preserve where we call home. And that means changing certain laws so that is possible.

One big thing requiring change is the Municipalities Planning Code. It hasn’t been comprehensively updated seriously since like 1969. And the last time it was comprehensively updated, do you know what one of the developments was that happened as a result of changes? Chesterbrook. We need fewer developments and that means we have to lobby for these people to get off the rear ends and enact an act of the state constitution. We need to redefine suburb and exurb. We need more meaningful historic preservation and land preservation with built-in components to make it more attractive so that more people are interested in doing it.

This isn’t my job to do this. I am a curtain raiser, and I am once again drawing attention to this very important issue. We live in a beautiful place that is not that far off of being completely ruined forever. And those of us who come from the Main Line can tell you all about that because once upon a time the Main Line was truly beautiful and somewhat magical with amazing homes and properties. Now it’s just a suburb with too many people with misplaced senses of entitlement.

And that suburban sprawl continues to move west, or should I say march west because it’s not flowing, it’s attacking. Every time you turn around there’s another development planned. Or land getting gobbled up now by things like data centers and worse which we don’t know enough about here in this area, but in other areas of the country they’re fighting tooth and nail to get these things out of their communities.

We also don’t have to scream to be heard. When we scream we’re no better than those people that annoy the crap out of us at every school board meeting because they are undoubtedly uncomfortable with their own sexuality, so everything they perceive as different, is bad.

Anyway, it’s not just t-shirts and post cards and endless lawn signs that are going to bring us change. It’s involvement in our communities. And it’s consistent involvement, not involvement when the horses are out of the proverbial barn and nothing can be done.

Since the onset of Covid we have the ability in a lot of places for hybrid meetings. They are both virtual and in person. And most meetings are recorded now, and if you are in a municipality that does not record their meetings, start there. You have a right to have your meetings recorded, and/or you have the right to record the meetings in their entirety and broadcast them on YouTube or Facebook live or whatever.

I think the beauty and character and history of this county are worth preserving. That’s all I have to say. But people have to be willing to get involved and stay involved.

I am a realist. Not every old house can be saved, not every old farm can be saved. But I think as an extended group of communities, we can ask better of our elected officials all the way to Washington DC when it comes to this. But we all have to put the political BS aside and try.

Thanks for stopping by.

lmsd is front page over eminent domain…again

Lower Merion School District is front page news over Oakwell, next door to Stoneleigh in Villanova.

Why? Eminent domain….again

We shouldn’t be surprised because Lower Merion School District probably wields eminent domain or the threat of eminent domain more than any institution I’ve ever heard of. I could be wrong, I am sure there are some that do it more but in my worldview they are one of the worst offenders.

Lower Merion School District in my humble opinion has always abused eminent domain powers. It’s like they think they are LMSD and everybody should just bow down. 

In their vision quest with blinders they’ve gone after Stoneleigh, Ashbridge Park, etc. I think if they had bought this property with the intention of using the house as the administration building for the school district or something like that I wouldn’t care. But to so wantonly wish to destroy so much green space, so many trees, so much beauty for turf fields for middle schoolers is really kind of tone deaf in today’s world and it’s just wrong, pick a reason.

The house itself is super cool and historic. Things on the grounds are historic. There’s a teahouse with a beautiful giant old terra-cotta warrior who is just spectacular. It’s an amazing property, and once again it’s something that will be destroyed because of this school district if they aren’t stopped.

It doesn’t matter who the superintendent of the school district is, they just think if it’s something they want they can take it. Again, this is my opinion and I’m allowed to have it. I spent 30+ years living in Lower Merion Township.

Something else I find interesting is literally across the road is Delaware County and Radnor Township. How do they feel about this? How do their residents feel?

The whole Oakwell issue has been a slow burn that seems to have ignited. I don’t have a crystal ball on how it will play out, but I don’t think middle schoolers need turf fields and artificial turf as much as they need nature. Kids need to be able to be kids. A lot of kids today don’t want to be on organized sports teams. There are also field alternatives where they can share fields. But the problem with the school district is they don’t do anything nicely, sharing among them.

So once again we’re staring in the face of Lower Merion School District’s misplaced sense of entitlement.

The Philadelphia Inquirer did an amazing job on this article and I think everyone should read it.

Lower Merion schools’ condemnation of storied Main Line estate for ball fields encounters growing resistance

by Frank Kummer and Oona Goodin-Smith

Updated Nov. 3, 2022

John Bennett kindled the hearth on a recent day in what was once his 20,000-square-foot brick Tudor Revival manor replete with heavy wooden doors, wainscoted library, and Mercer floor tile.

The 72-year-old physician-turned-medical-device-entrepreneur recalled how he lost the home and its 10 acres off County Line Road in Villanova through eminent domain in 2018 to make way for middle-school athletic fields. The property, known as Oakwell, contains nearly 700 trees, some of which are thought to date back centuries.

“Everything happened so quickly that there was no way to save it,” Bennett said as he recounted stories about the house, including having a ghost exorcised.

The Lower Merion School District — one of the wealthiest in Pennsylvania — paid Bennett $9.9 million for the house and grounds in the condemnation with plans to clear-cut hundreds of the trees for athletic fields for newly opened Black Rock Middle School. Updated plans show it would keep the Oakwell mansion and a pool house, but a teahouse watched over by a terra cotta warrior, stone fencing, and a brick-walled garden complex all dating back at least 120 years would be razed. The $90 million middle school opened this year. The district plans to start breaking ground for the fields in June…..

What is eminent domain?

The taking of Oakwell marks one of several district attempts to build athletic fields for the new school. The board faced an outcry in 2018 when it tried to condemn part of the Stoneleigh estate next door, which is preserved under a conservation easement. Efforts to use the nearby Ashbridge Memorial Park were halted by a long-standing deed restriction. An attempt to use another nearby property also fizzled, while other lots were deemed unsuitable…..

Eminent domain — or the ability of the government to pay landowners to seize their private property for public use — is a power “inherent to the government,” said Matthew Hovey, a municipal attorney with the High Swartz law firm that represents clients in the area.

Typically, Hovey said, the power is used as a last resort as it can prove “politically unpopular” and may lead to costly and lengthy legal challenges.

~ Philadelphia Inquirer

#saveOakwell #stopLMSD

things that matter: saying goodbye to pete’s produce

I have been coming here for 30 years” said the nice man yesterday who was taking photos of the farmhouse and remaining sunflowers like me. I think Pete Flynn AKA the Pete of Pete’s has been doing his thing for about 35 years. People tell me before he was a farmer with his namesake store, he was a truck farmer.

Yup. We all have been. Now granted for me, when I first discovered Pete’s I was a Main Liner, so I didn’t get out there often, but when I did, it was magical.

Going to Pete’s has always been magical. Decent prices, friendly people, plants, tradition….community.

But the magic is ending, and the auction signs have gone up and I am just sad.

Pete Flynn has been a beacon of hope in an area being swallowed up by development and pipelines. He deserves to retire, he has worked hard. What is sad is there is no one to take up the mantle after him. Now there will be no farm attached to Westtown School, just like there is no farm attached to Church Farm School. I hope the land is not eventually developed, but I don’t hold out much hope. No one wants to farm much any longer, and those who do have had land prices and taxes driven up by wanton development. That and government doesn’t adequately support farmers on any level.

I do not know how long his website will remain, so I am sharing it now. I hope he keeps it up. I really wish this wonderful place wasn’t leaving us. Farms and farmers deserve a better deal.

Thanks for the memories and great produce, Pete. Thanks for doing something that matters.

westtown: the vote on crebilly should be a simple decision.

With election season here, it means two more lawn signs in Westtown Township, Chester County. It means a vote “YES” to save Crebilly sign. Sadly it also means a vote “NO” to save Crebilly sign.

I have been keeping my mouth shut but I think now is the time to say something. There isn’t much time to make the right decision here.

The folks who want a “YES” vote have it right. This is a unique opportunity it’s not just a couple of acres, it’s a lot of acres. It’s a lot of open space. Its a lot of open space that nods to agricultural tradition and the equine culture that literally made Chester County. It’s also a lot of open space with serious historic importance.

Voting “YES” to save Crebilly won’t come around again. In the short term, does it mean you get to pay a little more as a resident in taxes? Yes it does. But tax increases for land purchases such as this have a sunset date, don’t they? They don’t last forever, do they?

Land is not free. Could the Robinson family just donate the whole kit and kaboodle like the Haas family did with Stoneleigh? Maybe they could, but I don’t think they ever would. I think this is the best deal that residents are going to get who want this land parcel saved in perpetuity.

People have worked for years to get everything to this point. A critical point in the history of Westtown Township. And that’s where the naysayers come in. The naysayers claim to be fiscal conservatives, but I think they just want a free lunch. I think they’re being selfish. Yes it’s a hard time to ask people to dig deeper and pay a little bit more each year and taxes. But it’s not forever.

If the naysayers get their way and push through the “NO” vote and Crebilly is NOT saved, in my humble opinion they should be shunned, yes a good old-fashioned Amish shunning.

Why?

It’s pretty simple and no one should have to spell it out for you. If Westtown does not get a “YES” vote, the development Russian Roulette will start again and this time? The neighbors of Crebilly, the concerned residents of Westtown, and essentially anyone in the area will be screwed in perpetuity. The open space will be gone, the roads will be more clogged, the infrastructure will be stressed unbelievably, and let’s talk about the West Chester Area School District because what do you think it means to get a huge development on Crebilly to that district?

So that’s the choice that is before you residence of Westtown Township. Do you vote “YES” and have something in perpetuity that you, your neighbors, your friends, your children and your children’s children can love and enjoy and be proud of OR do you end up looking like an over developed section of Delaware County or Bensalem or King of Prussia that everyone hates?

Vote “YES” residents of Westtown. Tune out the selfish naysayers who don’t, can’t, or won’t understand. If they don’t like it, they can move, right? It’s a desirable municipality to live in, after all.

Vote “YES” to #SAVECREBILLY . It’s the ultimate act of community.

does the willows cottage in radnor have a future?

History of the Willows Cottage: Farm Life in Radnor from Radnor Historical Society on Vimeo.

Once a long, long time ago now, friends of mine banded together with others and became The Friend of the Willows Cottage. Things like charettes were held. Fundraising and friend raising was done. The media paid attention. For a while it was wonderful.

It was wonderful until it wasn’t. Kind of like Skunk Hollow Community garden. IT was great, until it wasn’t. Now both languish somewhat.

But I keep hearing present day rumblings about the Willows cottage. I forget how much was spent to fix it up? Like hundreds of thousands of dollars in total? And now it is supposedly in disarray and a mold pit again? Why wasn’t the Radnor Conservancy paying attention? But wait, have they ever paid attention to other than their very narrow social club? If they had just moved their offices to the Willows Cottage years ago like people wanted them to, perhaps we wouldn’t even be having this conversation today?

Anyway, what is the future of the cottage?

I received an email today:

Old Friends,

The issue of the final disposition of the Cottage that so many of us spent good energy in preserving and improving is once again in jeopardy.

Second handedly, people are saying that the cottage is closed to all persons, because of the black mold having returned that many worked to clean off, with white vinegar.

Whether this Township asset stays or goes should not happen without first having an in-depth discussion and exploration of several ideas for returning this asset to full use.

Working together we saved this building once; maybe creative minds working together can bring it into the future?

Feedback requested. And, please forward this email to anyone else you think would want to know.

I find this terribly sad and such a waste to even contemplate. But Radnor is regressing at such a rate, it wouldn’t surprise me. But I will throw up this post in the hopes that people will care. One of my friends who cared deeply about this and helped passed away a few years ago, and he would be so sad to hear this news…I really hope there are enough people out there to still care.

#SaveTheWillowsCottage

#ThisPlaceMatters

what about oakwell? once part of stoneleigh, now set to be demolished by greedy lower merion school district?

Tea House at Oakwell (October 2022 photo)

Oakwell. 1735 County Line Road, Villanova, PA. Originally part of Stoneleigh…..

I wrote briefly about Oakwell at the beginning of this year. I wasn’t going to care. I don’t live in Lower Merion any longer, so why should I care? Then a friend sent me photos. She had gone on an impromptu tour of the grounds, and met Dr. Bennett who is the man who first was selling to Villanova, then Lower Merion School District had it’s greedy paws out.

But then down the rabbit hole I went because a friend was there this weekend and sent me photos.

It started with the tea house. Such a folly. I had seen photos of them in Victorian estates. And then I saw the life size terra cotta warrior. A Chinese warrior. I find the Chinese terra cotta warriors fascinating. I have a small replica of one. (Check out the Smithsonian article HERE on them.) I have only seen life size ones in this area one other time: a few years ago for sale at Resellers Consignment Gallery in Frazer.

Then I read some fun history the Save Oakwell folks have dug up:

1921 Olmsted Brothers map of Stoneleigh property that become Oakwell in 1922: Greenhouse Complex, Superintendent’s Cottage, Squirrel Inn dormitory for women in the gardening and horticultural training program. White oak indicated in red box. Source NPS Olmsted Archives, Job #3577

In 1919, William Bodine was making preparations to build his new house on a portion of his father’s Stoneleigh estate, a property that came to be known as Oakwell in 1922. The famed Olmsted Brothers firm had been Stoneleigh’s landscape architects since 1908, and there are hundreds of pages of their records for both properties accessible in the Library of Congress and the National Park System’s Olmsted Archives showing the level of expertise and thought that went into the stewardship of this place through the 1950s.

What was Olmsted Brothers’ main concern when it came to placement of the new house and driveway along County Line Road? Almost 103 years ago to this day, this telegram to their client William Bodine, along with other correspondence, shows that their main concern was situating these structures in order to “save trees.”

~ Erin Vintinner Betley “Save Oakwell” Facebook Group

Friday May 23, 1919 was a busy day for Stoneleigh’s Eleanor Gray Warden Bodine.

Bryn Mawr College was hosting the 5th Annual Conference of the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association. As an association member, Mrs. Bodine listened to talks on topics ranging from War Gardens to Community Gardens to the Woman’s Land Army.

Two years later, an article in House & Garden titled “Consider the Gardener” again shone a public spotlight on this program for training of young women, “offered by Mrs. Samuel T. Bodine of Villa Nova, Pa whose extensive estate and eminent superintendent-gardener, Mr. Alexander MacLeod, have formed an exceptional combination.”

After the program, the conference attendees toured 4 nearby farms & gardens, with Stoneleigh the last stop of the day. Eleanor Bodine would have welcomed attendees to view Stoneleigh’s magnificent gardens at the front of the property but given the interests of the membership, the back of the property likely would have been center stage. For this is where Mrs. Bodine and her superintendent Alexander MacLeod hosted an innovative gardening and horticultural training program for women, centered on a greenhouse complex and Superintendent’s Cottage designed by noted architect Frank Miles Day sometime before 1903 (both structures became part of her son William Bodine’s Oakwell after 1922). The women in the program lived in a dormitory they named “Squirrel Inn,” built specifically for them by the Bodine family, near the sprawling fruit and vegetable gardens where they spent their days (these were Victory gardens during WWI).

The article focused on the need to foster the interest of more young people in gardening and horticulture, with these lines that resonate 101 years later: “nature study classes and school gardens are awakening special powers of observation and emphasizing the practical value of patience and diligent perseverance…. public and private enterprise must combine to throw searchlights on the path to be chosen, revealing the mysteries of science related to horticulture [because] even soil… teems with history, science, poetry and religion.”

~ Erin Vintinner Betley “Save Oakwell” Facebook Group

So Oakwell. Was (again) literally once part of Stoneleigh. Stoneleigh as in the house was built in 1877 by Edmund Smith, a Pennsylvania Railroad executive. Pennsylvania Railroad money built a lot of the Main Line of a certain period, didn’t it? When the Bodines acquired the estate, in the early part of the 20th century, what is now Oakwell and Oakwell land was gifted to William Bodine. William Bodine’s house “Oakwell” was built in 1922. In 1932, it was subdivided off of Stoneleigh.

So Stoneleigh survived, was donated by the Haas family to Natural Lands, yet Oakwell, which is a place that should be part of a similar preservation and conservation conversation is at risk. It is fascinating that there has not been more noise about this. Maybe people are just tired of Lower Merion School District taking properties or causing reassessments and increases in taxes. The Lower Merion School District is a greedy behemoth and I don’t think those in the administration have ever cared about other that what can be gotten in the name of the school district.

Next up: trying to make preservation conversations fun. Another rabbit hole I went down were old newspaper clippings. Enjoy:

Now here are a couple of society clippings discussing Oakwell and more recent era parties which I remember hearing of:

Philadelphia Inquirer October 17, 1991
Philadelphia Inquirer September 9, 1993

Ok yes, a lot of this is memories of days gone by, but properties like Oakwell? Legendary. Why shouldn’t a place like Oakwell live on with an adaptive reuse? The gardens although a wreck, are all still there! The tree are amazing. There is literally a small oak forest. And all of this is supposed to be flattened for TURF fields? For MIDDLE SCHOOLERS, no less? Is this an actual need, or a want?

Hidden City Philadelphia wrote an amazing article a couple of days ago. The talk about Oakwell being a historical resource. I will remind people this is Lower Merion Township and I watched Addison Mizner’s La Ronda get demolished. Being a historic asset may buy some time, but we live in a private property rights state, so it can sadly only delay the inevitable. And Lower Merion needs to pay more mind to demolition by neglect, in my humble opinion.

Here is an excerpt:

….The Oakwell estate’s current resident, Dr. John Bennett, founder and CEO of Devon Medical Products, has lived there for 25 years. He intended to sell the sprawling estate to Villanova University to be used as a retreat. However, in December 2018 the school district elbowed out Villanova and voted in favor of condemning Bennett’s property.

This is not how the school district sees it. “After a long search, the school district paid more than $12.9 million for the contiguous properties, which had both been offered for sale by their owners, for use as playing fields for Black Rock Middle School,” said Amy Buckman, director of school and community relations for Lower Merion School District.

Bennett disagrees. “I had the property under agreement with Villanova and, just prior to closing, the school district took it by eminent domain,” he said. “I didn’t want to see it go to baseball fields, destroying the ecological setting we have here. I went to court to fight them and lost. It’s a travesty.” The school district paid Bennett $9.95 million for the property.

“I offered to remain on the property to care for the house, but they want me gone so they can claim that it is abandoned, allow it to deteriorate, and tear it down.” Bennett has kept the entirety of the estate well maintained and still lives there with his daughter and grandchild.

~ Hidden city philadelphia 10/22/2022

Ok I saw this also in the Tap Into online publication in 2019 it was, I guess:

Landowners’ Charge LMSD with Fraud, Collusion, Bad Faith and Arbitrary Action in New Court Filing By MIKE BANNAN Published February 12, 2019

The day that LMSD condemned 1835 County Line Road allowing it to be taken by Eminent Domain, the property was effectively titled to the LMSD.  The only option available to the owners to get their property back is to fight a legal battle in court.

Lower Merion Township, PA — Fraud, collusion, and bad faith are alleged in court documents filed on February 7, 2018, by attorney Michael F. Faherty on behalf of his clients, township residents John A. Bennett, M.D. and Nance Di Rocco who are in a legal battle over the taking of their property by the Lower Merion School District.

In the documents, Bennett and Di Rocco are referred to as the “condemnees.” 

Who allegedly did these wrongdoings?  According to the documents it was the Lower Merion School District.

Using a tool afforded only to governments, the LMSD unleashed the force of “eminent domain” on Bennett and Di Rocco.  That Force is the power to condemn and take a private citizen’s home, land or property by a government for the betterment of society.

Eminent domain are two words that can strike fear into anyone owning property that a school district or government wants to own or acquire.

Township residents John A. Bennett, M.D. and Nance Di Rocco of 1835 County Line Road, Villanova, PA have had their property condemned and taken by the Lower Merion School District.  That is a fact, but the rest is very murky.

The court documents filed against LMSD allege a pattern of collusion and interference in a private business transaction where Bennett and Di Rocco say that LMSD officials and surrogates worked to scuttle an agreement with Villanova University to buy their property for almost $12 million.  

 The documents further charge the Lower Merion School District took the property illegally, and that school district officials or their delegates used fraud, collusion and bad faith tactics leading to an arbitrary action by the LMSD…..Villanova University’s President, Father Peter Donohue verbally offered to buy the property for $12 Million and agreed to have the paperwork drawn up.

The documents allege that Superintendent Robert L. Copeland, reached out to Father Donohue, after hearing about Villanova’s interest in the property.  The document states that Copeland Donahue that $12 Million was too much for the property. Copeland allegedly told Donohue that the LMSD was interested in buying the property and that LMSD valued the property at $8 Million.

Donahue relayed to Bennett and Di Rocco that the University would delay their offer letter and that they didn’t want to appear hostile or look like they were attempting to block LMSD, “especially with all of the flair up over Stoneleigh.”

At the same meeting, a discussion occurred about both the condemned property on County Line Road and the Spring Mill Road property.  The key question being: were both properties needed?

According to  Faherty’s filing Dessner stated that “LMSD could sell it to Villanova University.”
 

Bennett also informed Dessner and Copeland that the University would pull out of their agreement of sale if the condemnees’ were able to reach an agreement with the LMSD.  

Bennett provided a copy of the agreement of sale with the understanding that it would remain confidential.

Three days later on December 21, 2018.  The school board convened a special meeting and passed a resolution to condemn the property at 1835 County Line Rd, and a press release was issued.

~ TAP INTO LOWER MERION

Now back to the Hidden City Philadelphia piece (it’s wonderful):

How was Stoneleigh able to block the school district, while the historic landscaping, Acorn Cottage, and horticultural structures of the Oakwell estate, originally part of Stoneleigh, at risk? “When the historic resource inventory survey was conducted in the late 1990s, the greenhouse buildings were overlooked. However, this parcel is historically associated with the Stoneleigh estate and warrants similar protections,” said Kathleen Abplanalp. director of historic preservation at the Lower Merion Conservancy.

“From the very beginning, the entire 13-acre property has fit into our mission goals for historic preservation, open space preservation, the health of the local watershed, and sustainability,” Abplanalp said. “We are vehemently opposed to the current plan and hope the school district will compromise some of their programmatic needs.”

Erin Betley, a conservation biologist who lives in Lower Merion, views the pending destruction of the estate’s landscaping and historically significant structures like the greenhouse complex as lost opportunity. “Oakwell’s intact landscape provides a hands-on educational opportunity for our children, and our community, to learn about ecology, conservation, environmental science, gardening, sustainability, history, natural history, historical preservation, and more,” she said. “Historical records reveal that Stoneleigh’s greenhouse complex and fruit and vegetable gardens were educational spaces for young women during and after WWI, where they gained practical training in gardening while also feeding the community. I hope this can be viewed as a chance for this valuable place to come full circle and used in a way that takes inspiration from our collective past to inform our collective future”…A single mature oak tree can consume more than 40,000 gallons of water a year. Where will all that water go when the Oakwell estate’s trees are gone? 

Doug Tallamy, a conservationist, author, and professor of agriculture and entomology at the University of Delaware, agrees. “If you replace a forest with a lawn, you are generating run off,” he said. Tallamy was involved with preserving Stoneleigh. His message to the school district? “Find another place without cutting down hundreds of trees.”

~hidden city philadelphia 10/22/22

I am a huge fan of Doug Tallamy, own his books, have heard him lecture a few times now. I also live with a woods full of oak trees. I love them. I am attached to my woods and the creatures and plants in them, much like the folks who live around Oakwell.

This property would be better suited as a retreat, which is I think what I heard Villanova wanted to do with the property.

And not to skip around but is all of this crap being done by Lower Merion School District going to cost Lower Merion Township big time when it comes to public works, police, fire, EMTs? So when will they have to put in another firehouse and where exactly?

Here are some links which I saw on Save Oakwell which some of you might find of interest:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskn2EhZ5

https://www.flickr.com/photos/olmsted_archives/collections/72157657327384753/?fbclid=IwAR0hJvNu8F-i4pJ6ElAV3miRecfqnKmIMlqQitcfA8CaNMyIbtc4NGqIDwk

https://www.loc.gov/item/mss5257102658/?fbclid=IwAR0wGaGhzlHG5t7JHdZIk5aTviAy3q60lsWdnrNmHO3ckxIR5YaFT41wYOk

https://www.loc.gov/item/mss5257104294/?fbclid=IwAR1nRjtB9CqWct6cU0GR9Zy4016WG7ySHg2KmcVY4TiAgp8K5qETBGhhpgE

What do I think? I am not sure as on one hand, this is such a complex tale that I do not know if we will ever know the whole story. BUT on the other hand I am so tired of major properties being demolished and I am definitely of the school of thought that Lower Merion School District need to be stopped. After all, #thisplacematters and has anyone gone to the National Trust for Historic Preservation yet?

And let’s talk about the trees. 500 as in FIVE HUNDRED. Yes, that is the destruction number. That makes me want to throw up.

Isn’t it time to curb the rabid dog of destruction that is Lower Merion School District? From the historic preservation aspects to land and environmental preservation aspects, sadly Oakwell has it all going on. Yet people are being too damn quiet about this. Natural Lands needs to speak up. Hell, they know what it is to have to fight Lower Merion School District over eminent domain and also, the eco system that is their Stoneleigh will be threatened and altered and affected irrevocably if the mass destruction of Oakwell succeeds. Natural Lands speaking up now is very important, and I don’t quite get their silence, do you?

Oakwell need a reprieve. But more people need to care. Not enough people seem to care or are willing to stick their necks out. I really wish that someone would sit down at Oakwell with people who had lived there, or whose family has lived there and film an oral history. Well that should have happened before I think. And where are elected officials on this? Not just statements of Lower Merion Commissioner, but State Reps, State Senators, Congressional representatives, etc? County Commissioners? State environmentalists?

Where. Is. The. Really. LOUD. Public. Outcry?? And more media or do they only cover bad politicians and crime in Philadelphia?

I don’t have answers here only dismay and anger at Lower Merion School District. There is a Save Oakwell page on Facebook, a Save Oakwell group also on Facebook, Save Oakwell on Instagram, SaveOakwell.org, and Preserve Oakwell.

People. We need to save the region’s history. That includes gardens too. Trees. Houses. Tea Houses. I don’t have the answers. God I wish I did. But if we allow this to happen, in the end we will all be sorry. And I have to ask, is Radnor Township asleep here? Their township is quite literally across County Line Road. Radnor residents will be affected too. One would think the Radnor CONservancy might feign an interest, but that would mean getting out of their bubble, right?

Oakwell needs some big hitter angels, do any exist for this property? Why is it in other areas of the country, properties like this are revered and preserved?

Enjoy the photos my friend took.

#SaveOakwell

rambling around

Yesterday was glorious. Rambled around a bit and got lots of gardening done.

One of the roads I was on yesterday was S. Whitford in West Whiteland. It seems to be the new road of rotting historic houses. Soon, the Joseph Price house will be unrestorable. Yes it is that bad. Then up a bit on the opposite side of the road is the old McIlvaine farmhouse that originally was a tenant farmhouse on the Oaklands estate I think it was called. (See https://westwhiteland.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_07082019-695 and https://www.westwhiteland.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_01102022-1000 )

West Whiteland has a lot of history to it. Also traveled into Uwchlan and Upper Uwchlan. Again, so much history that development has practically obliterated, but at least some beauty survives.

Stop and see the beauty of Chester County . But if it’s someone else’s farm you are admiring, please remember it’s not your farm and farms are not petting zoos open to the public and for mini photo sessions with a digital photographer just whenever.

Ramble on. Preserve Chester County.

radnor bought ardrossan land that is farmed by a tenant farmer but perhaps it’s time to be more hands on with regard to chemicals used to plan for a better future?

I still don’t know what to think about the Radnor farmer. First there is the whole low rent thing in a time when Radnor Township’s finances are ummm shall we say not fabulous? And that is no dig at farmers, I support farmers. But this is a farmer farming on public land and well, that changes the landscape, right?

I did a Right to Know on the whole farmer in the dell recently, and I have to say, I still am left wondering about so much.

Now in 2013, Radnor inked a deal to buy 71 acres of Ardrossan for $11+ million. Wheeler Field, Quarry Field, Rye Field. “Everyone loves the cows” was a catchy phrase back then attributed to a commissioner then who is on Delaware County Council now, and some say has higher aspirations still. The farmer is also on two other fields nearby supposedly, correct? Not owned by Radnor Township but old Ardrossan Land?

So there is a farmer farming on the Radnor Township land. That started I guess around 2015 as per an old Patch article? In same family that worked for Hope Scott when it was Ardrossan proper, correct? Main Line Media News reported back then that residents were concerned about chemicals being used on the land. At that time, Main Line Media News quoted Commissioner Elaine Paul Schaefer (now of Delaware County Council):

“I believe a license agreement with the current farmer will be on the agenda for one of our next meetings, so we will have the opportunity to hear resident comment and discuss all the issues involved,” said Schaefer. “The current farmer has been farming the Ardrossan land for over 25 years, and his father farmed it for the generation before him. I believe that most residents would like to see this farmer continue to farm the land, as his very unique operation provides the beloved cows that beautify the landscape. As I understand it, the proposed license will require that the farmer utilize best management practices and adhere to the NCRS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) approved soil conservation plan.”ELAINE PAUL SCHAEFER TO MAIN LINE MEDIA NEWS 3/3/2015

So, I think it’s TRULY wonderful part of Ardrossan is still farmed, don’t misunderstand me, but well, what chemicals are being used on the fields should be an open and evolving discussion, right? Way back when Radnor inked this deal with the farmer, people urged the farmer to be as organic as possible, correct?

People started asking questions again this year. And Radnor Township is nothing sort of SUPER TOUCHY when it comes to ANYTHING Ardrossan.

So my Right to Know. I filed it, included a note saying hi to the solicitor. Solicitor got my email, Radnor open records officer apparently did NOT. I did not know any of this, and discovered it when I realized I hadn’t received an acknowledgment of any kind, rejection, response. So I filed an appeal to Open Records in Harrisburg and let Radnor know. The open records officer at Radnor was super apologetic and got what I requested together. She was very nice, no issues with her. I subsequently withdrew my appeal at the state level because that was the right thing to do.

I have been going through what I requested. Some of the records are rather hazy. I believe that is because that is how documents were given to Radnor and quite frankly, the farmer should provide clear copies for that sweetheart deal he gets to continue to farm. He might not like that opinion, but he farms on public land, and he is answerable to said public.

Now interestingly enough someone Radnor-centric said to me when I was starting this why didn’t I just go to the fields and take water/soil samples since it is public land. Ummm. Yeah. No can do. It is public land with a tenant who has a leasehold, so that would be wrong, be trespassing. I do however, think the state and county, if not the township should do routine testing.

So if you take the Quarry field, from what I was able to see on some documents which were fuzzy at best, the following products look like they were used used on Quarry Field in 2022 (Soybeans):


TORCH: manufactured by Farmalinx Pty LTD; a preemergent herbicide for annual weeds


FRONT RUNNER: manufactured by Atticus; preemergent for weeds, where crop is specifically for soybeans. Possibly acute hazard for aquatic environment?


CREDIT41 – manufactured by Keystone Pest Solutions. “Credit 41 Extra is a post-emergent, systemic herbicide with no soil residual activity. It is generally non-selective and gives broad-spectrum control of many annual weeds, perennial weeds, woody brush and trees.”


Other post-emergent chemicals used: Fome kill, Status, Turbo, Durango – all weed killers, but with minimal toxicity.

Now remember, I wrote about the chemical issues before and a resident went to the township and provided thoughtful commentary about chemicals used by the farmer in March of 2022:

Although not directly noted (as I do not know how to add the direction arrow to the Quarry Field), between the bottom of the Quarry Field and the boundaries of the Skunk Hollow Community Garden, lies the Little Darby Creek. This creek is a part of the Darby Creek system, is stocked, on an annual basis, with trout for fishing by both adults and especially children, is played in and most importantly, the endangered American Eel has been directly observed moving up through this creek and into the Willows Pond. 

Thus, there are several herbicides delineated to be toxic to fish, to water invertebrates and generally to be avoided.  DEVOUR, by Federal law, is NOT to be used in parks, golf courses and playgrounds – thus, as this field is Township owned, PLU, this herbicide should not be used!

Thank you…. for passing on to me the official records for herbicides applied to the Township-owned property called ‘the Quarry field’, in which the farmer….applies to the field in order to grow a good crop of Corn, that will be fed to his cattle. The records that I have received are from 2016, 2017, 2018, with the note that nothing was grown in the Quarry Field in 2020. What seems to be absent are any records for 2019 and 2021. 

For purposes of review, the principal herbicides applied have been consistent across the time span, including Acuron, Princep, Warrior II, Max Supreme, Abundit Extra, Devour, LamCap II, Gramoxone.

ACURON is a Syngenta product, an herbicide for long-season re-emergent weed control and specifically for Corn. It is a restricted  pesticide/herbicide, and hazardous to the applicator through skin irritation and allergic reaction. This product may damage fertility.  It is a mix of chemicals, including Atrazine. “Research has liked Atrazine to birth defects and cancer in people, and even miniscule doses can chemically castrate frogs. It has been banned or is being phased out in more than 35 countries but is the second-most commonly used herbicide in the United States. “It is known as an Endocrine-disrupting pesticide. “

PRINCEP, aka Simazine, is manufactured by Syngenta, focusing on corn, to address 40 broad-leafed weeds and annual grasses. The chemical is not persistent in soil. It is a restricted -applied chemical, with applicator issues of eye irritation, and a suspected but not proven carcinogen. The MSDS sheets indicated that it is toxic to fish and other water invertebrates. 

WARRIOR II – manufactured by Syngenta US. The primary use is to ‘defeat’ beetles, weevils and borers. This chemical is HIGHLY toxic to bees if directly exposed or if ‘’visiting’ flowers in bloom. P.S. Now being used to address Spotted Lanternfly. 

MAXSUPREME – is a liquid activator adjuvant specifically formulated to maximize herbicide performance for the designated crop. 

ABUNDIT EXTRA/EDGE – a Syngenta product, this is a pre-emergent herbicide, containing Glysophate which is formulated for ‘tolerant corn’. It has acute toxicity as an inhalant. It is noted on the USMS sheets to avoid spillage near water, as it is toxic to water organisms. 

DEVOUR, manufactured by Innvictus Cone, LLC. A highly-toxic, PARAQUAT-based, not selective, broad spectrum herbicide. There are lawsuits moving through the courts to remove this chemical from use, as mis-use of this herbicide  has been proven to cause at 250% increase in the disease Parkinson. 

There is established FEDERAL law that the use of DEVOUR is prohibited in parks, on golf courses and playgrounds!

LAMCAP II – manufactured by Syngenta, a restricted insecticide. This chemical is extremely toxic to fish, aquatic organisms, and toxic to wildlife. Note the MSDS sheets advise to be careful to avoid wet ground, to avoid runoff into water. 

GRAMOXONE SL2.0 – manufactured by Syngenta- A ‘knockdown herbicide. The active ingredient is PARAQUAT [see comments in Devour that relate to Paraquat (and Parkinsonism). Gramoxone is toxic to fish and other water invertebrates. 

To accomplish this research I examined the website for each of these chemicals, focusing on the purpose, usage and any possible toxicity. Since the purchase of sections of Ardrossan by Radnor Township, resulting in an increase of acres of parkland [Public Land Use], means that the resident/owners of this land needs to be protected, as well as the wildlife that inhabits the land and waters. ~RADNOR RESIDENT 3/23/22

So this resident had come to a blogger because she felt she was not really being heard. She is a senior citizen. However when watching an EAC meeting recording in August, I noticed something somewhat terrifying to me: the citizen’s EAC was told not to discuss this topic and it made me stop and go HUH and isn’t it just bizarre? I mean it’s NO big secret that Radnor Township Commissioner Lisa Borowski (former BOC Prez and Vice Prez) has aspirations and is running for State Rep in the PA 168th, right?

So here we are. And I know some of the documents are BEYOND fuzzy, but as it was explained to me, Radnor complied with my request. A municipality produces what it has in its possession and does its best to be responsive to a request. It doesn’t enhance or detract from the quality of the record. And that is if a municipality is responsive to a request. Not all are, like West Whiteland Township, for example. But that is another conversation.

I still have concerns, but it is up to Radnor Township residents to wake up on this and many other issues. Radnor is sliding back to days people don’t want, and most sadly don’t remember, including their current commissioners who don’t know their rear ends from holes in the wall a lot of the time, let alone township history. That is my opinion, of course.

One thing that did bug me a smidge in what I got from the Right to Know was what I consider a major face palm moment via a PA DEP pesticide guy named Donald Gilbert:

Sooo I am wondering what this PA DEP chemical specialist doesn’t understand about some Radnor residents being concerned about what farmer leasing Quarry/Rye field/Wheeler Tract sprays do you? Public land that leads to Little Darby Creek,a water source, right?

And for argument’s sake, is the PA DEP on top of the golf courses he refers to as far as chemicals they use and proximity to natural water sources too? Aronomink and Overbrook? That would mean they would have to watch Thomas Run and Miles Run, right? They flow to Darby Creek according to maps? And then if you want to include another club, Radnor Valley Country Club they have the Ithan Creek running through somewhere, right? And doesn’t that new Ardrossan Wigwam community have creeks or similar too?

What is going onto the fields is important. If engineered seed is indeed used, also important. It’s important to the cows one would think, as well, right?

Now I asked other state people some questions to try to better understand things. Not a complaint, but essentially seeking clarity on how things work from a state perspective. I asked how they check up on chemicals farmers or using near streams:

All agricultural operations that land apply manure or agricultural process waste water are required to have a manure management plan or nutrient management plan. Any starter or supplemental fertilizer must be accounted for in the Manure Management Plan or Nutrient Management Plan.

If the operation is a CAO (over 2000 lb of livestock or poultry per acre available for manure application) or a large CAFO (determined by EPA’s headcount numbers in 40 CFR 122.23(b)(4)) the operation is inspected annually by the county conservation district or State Conservation Commission. If the operation is a CAFO it is inspected at least once every five years in addition to the annual inspection by the county conservation district or state conservation commission.

If the operation is in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and not a CAO or CAFO, routine inspections are conducted by the County Conservation District or DEP to determine compliance with manure management regulations.

Other inspections are carried out by DEP or county conservation districts in response to manure-related complaints.

However, I must restate that the above is the compliance strategy associated with the land application of manure, not pesticide use. Paraquat and RoundUp are pesticides. I will reiterate what is stated below:

Concerns of pesticide applications including those on public (township) lands would be addressed-by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) or by the Township. The certification of pesticide applicators and the pesticide application program is under PDA, not the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). 

I also support touching base with the township which may have additional considerations for township land.

~ PA DEP Bureau of Watershed Restoration and Nonpoint Source Management
Agriculture Compliance Section 10/20/22

Now also interesting is I asked about Little Darby Creek. Little Darby Creek and its tributaries have a designated use of Cold-Water Fishery, Migratory Fishes. There are no Special stream protection designations such as High Quality or Exceptional Value in this area. I had previously though there was a high quality or exceptional value designation. I did read it somewhere, so I will have to consult my notes. I was grateful for the clarity.

In this recent journey for information, I coincidentally did discover there is a site the DEP used to monitor (some heating oil thing) with Facility ID 778907 Ardrossan Farm Parcel A7 – close to this same area where the fields are. It was some sort of remediation from years ago having to do with I think a heating oil spill. I found it once on this thing called emap (https://www.depgis.state.pa.us/emappa/). It’s a public tool which should be easy to use, but I find it somewhat temperamental to use.

So Radnor residents, what I learned from the state is concerns regarding pesticide applications including those on public (township) lands would be addressed-by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) or by said township. Now Radnor does have “policy” here as it is in the lease agreement the farmer operates under. The farmer is NOT required to be organic, and I will note getting an organic status is a lot of work and money. But Radnor has this verbiage in their agreement about the farmer utilizing best management practices, but it is not up to me to decide if best practices are up to snuff, etc.

I do not think Radnor Township is paying close enough attention. In my opinion in part this is because it’s Ardrossan.

Ardrossan stopped being the thing we remember after Bobby Scott died. That was 2005. Also see NY Post: The curse that plagued the family who inspired ‘The Philadelphia Story’. And Main Line Media News Ardrossan estate’s final chapter.

But Ardrossan is like Radnor’s proverbial sacred cow. But it’s 2022 and the estate is dotted with McMansions and McMansion attitudes. Who knows what will happen to the great house some day. But those fields and that land which Radnor bought in 2013 was purchased with public funds, yes? Then Radnor Township still has a duty to the public here, yes? I think they do.

You can’t undo what has already been done with regard to herbicides and pesticides, but I think Radnor and Radnor’s farmer could go forward with perhaps a better plan? It’s publicly owned land, after all. I support farms and farmers, but I believe in farming responsibly. I see it out here in Chester County, so it’s possible. This isn’t the only farm in Delaware County, so even from that perspective Radnor Township officials could check out best practices for farmers and maybe the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau could help them? I am sure they could also consult with Natural Lands?

Whatever, am sharing what I learned for the greater good. What Radnor residents do (and Radnor Township itself) is up to them.

nasty subdivision potential in east goshen? file under another chesco farm about to bite the dust?

I remember years ago when East Goshen was having their yard sale day going to a yard sale here. Or I am pretty sure this was the house. I bought a brass oil lamp that I had electrified. I remember thinking what a spectacular property this was. This has to be the place. I have a pretty good memory for places like this.

Anyway, imagine my horror when I noticed this on the October 5th Planning Commission Agenda for East Goshen.

So this will be another farm bites the dust, won’t it? Another cul-de-sac subdivision on a road that already can’t handle the traffic it has? More houses in an area that has significant stormwater damage almost every time it rains, doesn’t it? 15 more houses in Chester County. These houses will affect the West Chester Area School District, BUT this isn’t so far from the border with East Whiteland Township, is it ?

This is a spectacular property. I found some more photos on the Internet. And I’m also sharing some of the stuff off of the planning commission agenda. I don’t think residents in East Goshen around here will like this plan. I don’t think their neighbors next-door in East Whiteland will like this plan either. I mean why would anybody like this plan?

Pipeline activists, is this in the midst of any of that?

How many more freaking subdivisions do we need in Chester County?

Well residents of East Goshen and neighbors in next door East Whiteland it’s up to you guys now, I told you about it, here it is. Another potentially bad plan for Chester County. A cluster F of a cluster development is being proposed. Proposed is the operative word if you care about this road which is truthfully rather special.

It would be really nice if municipalities would stop blowing smoke up all of our collective asses in Chester County about open space. It would be really nice if local supervisors made state representatives and state senators earn their keep and update the Municipalities Planning Code before Chester County is overdeveloped out of existence.

Fresh development hell for October has arrived.