When I joined Jenkins Arboretum as a member, one of the things they gave me was this guide to their trees and shrubs and plantings. Chestnut Oaks thrive on their grounds and I love the leaves and bark and sheer majesty of them.
So I planted my latest Chestnut Oak this morning. When my arborists were here a few weeks ago they planted my Black Gum Tree (from Go Native) for me because of my severe allergies to poison ivy and the like, but today I had to suit up, spray in advance for ticks and what not and go into the woods.
I love my woods but once the poison ivy comes out, I have to watch where I go and what I touch.
When I was in the woods I noticed I have a patch of native Solomon Seal growing. The native plants like that delight me each and every time I see one. I also seem to have some volunteer dogwoods and holly trees starting to grow.
But being good land stewards doesn’t mean clearing every square inch of undergrowth like I see people do, but removing invasives and allowing what should live there thrive. Don’t just plow your woods under to clear out brush. You must be selective and careful.
We have had to take down trees because woods age and trees die. But instead of allowing all soft woods to take over (like wild cherry trees and tulip poplars for example), I have made the decision to re-forest with species that are native to the area. Like Chestnut Oaks. I have also planted a Black Gum, Amish Walnuts (a crazy crossbreed which occurs in Lancaster County), Hazlenut, Hickories, Bur Oak, and understory trees like Sweetbay Magnolia.
I hope everything survives, but it is the woods so you never know. I plant everything well and stake the trees to grow as straight as possible. I utilize old pieces of wire fencing around them and spray for deer too.
So far so good. If you are interested in native species and re-foresting your woods join an arboretum as well as a land conservancy where you live. They are a marvelous resource. I also recommend Yellow Springs Farm and Go Native Tree Farm.
I will note after playing in the woods, everything including myself, spear headed spade, gloves and boots gets a Tecnu bath. I also do a thorough tick check.
So….no secret….I am the lover of what some consider to be more obscure or less popular bits of Chester County history. Among those bits would be Ker-Feal, the country home of Dr. Albert Barnes.
“When I looked out the window at Ker-Feal this morning, God went over the head of all artists in my estimation: He had made a picture of wide fields and luscious hills covered with an immaculate white; and holding the fields and hills together in the composition was a beautiful network of white lines made up of lacy patterns of branches of trees and twigs of bushes.”
~ Letter from Albert C. Barnes to Mrs. Owen J. Roberts, March 30, 1942 (courtesy of County Lines Magazine February 2019 article)
Ok so yeah. THAT. Makes me itch to see Ker-Feal as I have never been and have never been invited to tour the property and take it all in.
Sigh. It sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
Which is why I am so glad that County Lines Magazine’s February, 2019 issue will feature a terrific article on Ker-Feal!
The article was written by my pal Kirsten at Natural Lands. Partway down the article you will see a photograph of the cover for a 1942 House & Garden Magazine. That is my personal contribution to this article as I have that magazine.
Most people who know of Albert Barnes think of the extraordinary art collection he left in trust for the public, first at his Lower Merion home and then later moved to a modern museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. The world-class collection includes over 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos and so much more.
But few know about another residence in Chester County, home to a different type of collection.
Here’s a short version of that story.
…Dr. Barnes and his wife, Laura Leggett Barnes, acquired an 18th-century farmhouse in Chester Springs, Chester County in 1940 and called it “Ker-Feal.” Named after Barnes’s favorite dog, Fidèle de Port Manech, Ker-Feal translates to “Fidèle’s House” in Breton. Dr. Barnes adopted the Brittany spaniel mix on a trip to France.
(Now go and read the article – it’s amazing, well-written, and interesting)
This afternoon we found out that Stoneleigh was safe. It’s like a Thanksgiving miracle of the very best kind. Finally, after months and months, the evil yes evil Lower Merion School District let go it’s death grip on the property they had no right to ever.
Here’s hoping that next time Dr. Melissa Gilbert is up for election people remember Stoneleigh when they go to the polls. Here’s hoping Dr. Robert Copeland will eventually be replaced.
Lower Merion School District has a crowding problem because of the infill development in Lower Merion Township. This is why more people wherever they live need to remember Stoneleigh and realize this is a cause and effect situation. The cause is development the effect is overcrowding. Maybe that’s just my opinion but I don’t think so.
(This is why we have to push our elected officials and our sorry excuse for a governor to do things like protect us from pipelines and while they’re at it update the municipalities planning code. The MPC as it goes by has not had a comprehensive update and decades! )
The MPC has to be updated for many things including how they view and guide municipalities regarding suburbs and exurbs. It needs to be updated with regard to open space and land conservation, historic preservation, and much more. The MPC is what guides municipalities, cities, boroughs in Pennsylvania and all of the planning and zoning and comprehensive plan processes.
What happened at Stoneleigh is going to continue to happen other places if the pace of development is not checked. Some may find me to be an alarmist, but it is in my opinion, the simple truth.
If it wasn’t for the heroic efforts of every day people who joined along with Natural Lands and Lower Merion Conservancy, we might not have had such an outcome.
What a wonderful thing for us to learn at Thanksgiving.
Dr. Barnes’s country home, Ker-Feal, was featured on the December 1942 cover of House & Garden Magazine; Dr. Barnes and Barnes foundation instructor Violette de Mazia also wrote articles in the issue. This image right here specifically in my post is from the magazine copy which I purchased.
by Stephan Salisbury, Staff Writer @spsalisbury | email@example.com
Ker-Feal, the 137-acre Chester County property used by art collector Albert C. Barnes as a country retreat, and owned since his 1951 death by the Barnes Foundation, will have conservation easements placed on it, keeping the land open even if it is sold.
Although there are no plans to sell the property, which is in West Pikeland Township, the Barnes Foundation has worked with Natural Lands, a land conservancy based in Media, to work out an arrangement that allows for subdivision of the property into four permanently protected parcels.
Thomas Collins, head of the Barnes, said in a statement Wednesday that the purpose of the easement was to “preserve the open space and rural character of Ker-Feal in perpetuity.”
….In October, Natural Lands and the Barnes applied to West Pikeland for permission to subdivide Ker-Feal into the four parcels….In addition to the open-land restrictions, the agreement formalizes and protects the route of the Horse-Shoe Trail, a horseback riding and hiking trail that runs through Ker-Feal and on toward Harrisburg.
Also part of the U.S. Library of Congress’s Gottscho-Schleisner Collection (Library of Congress). August 1942.
What the article and conservation easement do NOT cover as per my understanding of the article, is what happens to the art collection housed there.
So anyway, I wanted to share this update because it is preservation progress. At least it appears the Barnes Foundation is NOT interested in selling at this point. But since they broke Dr. Barnes’ Trust, who knows what the future might hold, right?
The house should be a museum in it’s own right.
But safe for now is a win, and I am happy about the news.
Now is it just ME or are others in the know wondering why Lower Merion School District shoved people into small rooms with crappy air-conditioning instead of the auditorium? Was the auditorium actually booked for the same time frame? People I know who were there found that information confusing since all they saw was the auditorium was locked up and dark and that is not very hospitable if true, is it?
It is my opinion, if this is true, that the Lower Merion School Board and Lower Merion School District wanted to make supporters of Stoneleigh as uncomfortable as possible. After all people do all sorts of nasty tricks to psych out people on the other side of an issue, right?
As I said in my editorial, and have said many times before, eminent domain is an ugly business. It is defined as the right of a government to take private property for public use by virtue of the superior dominion of the sovereign power over all lands within its jurisdiction.
As a community activist, I was one of many who successfully stopped an attempted eminent domain for private gain taking in Ardmore years ago. This would not be eminent domain for private gain at Stoneleigh; it would be eminent domain for public purpose, except Stoneleigh already has a public purpose.
Stoneleigh’s public purpose is preserved open space.
Now I knew Ms. Beresford back in the day (and she and Dr. Gilbert were always tight as ticks, weren’t they?), and liked her immensely…enough even to give (not sell) her furniture (including an antique 3/4 bed) when one of her kids needed a bed and they had just moved into a new house in Ardmore. (But I digress)
Dare I say it that they sound like communistshere? Why does it also sound like they are shaming the memory of Mr. Haas because he was successful in business? Are they even aware of all of the philanthropic deeds he and his wife performed? That their children continue to perform? So their pretzel logic is such that because Mr. Haas did well and had a large property, it should just be available to Lower Merion School District for the taking? I swear that sounds like communist and “take for the state” doesn’t it???
The 29-acre Ashbridge Memorial Park, including the 1769 stone farmhouse, was left to Lower Merion Township by Emily Ashbridge on her death in 1940 to be dedicated for passive recreation. The grounds include a number of specimen trees that the Ashbridge family intended to serve as living memorials to World War I soldiers from the community. Later, the Rosemont-Villanova Civic Association installed the first walking trail as a tribute to those who served in World War II.
Is this to be a recurring theme? Someone dies in Lower Merion Township and the Lower Merion School District thinks they can just take land? The precedence this would set would be dangerous. People would cease all land and historic preservation efforts and land conservation efforts in my humble opinion because why donate, why preserve if some greedy school district or other entity wants to take it?
And let’s talk about the private school property, shall we? As in Friends Central on 228 Old Gulph Road in Wynnewood? They do not wish to sell to Lower Merion School District and well one educational institution cannot take another educational institution via eminent domain, can they?
Seriously, this whole thing gives me a headache. The meeting went until nearly midnight and supposedly Lower Merion School District has not announced eminent domain as in starting a formal taking yet. But can it be said many of us still believe it is in the offing?
On May 8th and May 10th I wrote posts on Stoneleigh in Villanova. A little far afield from Chester County but so important. I am a supporter and believer in Natural Lands, and then there is a more personal bent. You see, one of my high school classmates grew up on Stoneleigh. His parents, John and Chara Haas, put the property into a conservation easement in 1996.
The 1996 conservation easement was with Natural Lands. The express wish of Mr. and Mrs. Haas was that the property be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Open space, gardens, and so on. Now today is Mother’s Day and yesterday at the members preview on Stoneleigh, people were speaking of when Mr. and Mrs. Haas would open up the property on Mother’s Day for people to enjoy.
Here is a photo array to see before continuing with the post here – it takes a while to load – a lot of photos:
After Mr. and Mrs. Haas passed away, their children decided to donate the property to Natural Lands, and that happened in 2016. The conservation easement remains very much in place today, but is now under the stewardship of the Lower Merion Conservancy. Lower Merion Conservancy now is responsible for the annual monitoring.
I think Lower Merion School District is already starting damage control with their eminent domain B.S. given this overly verbose don’t hate us because we are big jerks press release currently on their website. I am more than a little disappointed by former 6ABC reporter Amy Buckman already. Her predecessor’s press releases were much easier to follow and didn’t word wander, but I digress.
With regard to what is on their website, it is the full on poor pitiful Pearl routine where among other things they say that “LMSD is now the fastest-growing District in Pennsylvania by total number of students over the past eight years and enrollment could surpass 9,500 students in the next ten years.”
But do they tell you WHY the district is growing so fast? Do they mention all of the development they have never, ever questioned? And yet, they are making a play for Stoneleigh based on future assumptions, or a possibility? Call me crazy but they seem to want land for a future not a present need? And why are their needs the problem of Natural Lands and Stoneleigh? Just because it is there?
Stoneleigh’s history dates back to 1877 when Edmund Smith, a rising executive with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, purchased 65 acres of land in Villanova and constructed a residence there. To shape the grounds, Smith hired landscape gardener Charles H. Miller, who trained at Kew Gardens in England and later served as chief gardener for Fairmount Park.
At the turn of the 20th century, Samuel Bodine, head of United Gas Improvement Company, acquired the property. In addition to building the Tudor Revival style building that exists today, Bodine hired New York landscape architecture firm Pentecost and Vitale to radically redesign the gardens in a more formal, or “Beaux Arts,” style.
Evidently, Bodine was not pleased with the results. In 1908, he retained the Olmsted Brothers of Massachusetts—sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, and the most prestigious landscape architecture firm in the country—to “guide him in the gradual transformation of the place.” Over the next 50 years, the Olmsted Brothers firm returned periodically to Stoneleigh to plan vistas and pathways, establish gardens and terraces, reroute points of entry, select plant species, and transplant trees.
Following Samuel Bodine’s death in 1932, Stoneleigh was subdivided and sold. Otto Haas, entrepreneur and co-founder of Rohm and Haas Company, purchased the southwestern portion of the estate, launching a more than 80-year tenure of careful stewardship by the Haas family. Otto and Phoebe’s son, John, and his wife, Chara, acquired the property in 1964 and lived there for the next five decades.
Yesterday, Stoneleigh was packed. Natural Lands members turned out from everywhere to tour the house and the grounds. It was lovely and bucolic, and I would like to think what the Haas family had hoped for. Family members were on site yesterday. I am sure it was also a little bit hard for all of them. This was their home, after all. Now it’s an achingly beautiful public garden space and although this is the path set forth by their lovely parents, it just has to be bittersweet. And then to learn that Lower Merion School District is seemingly proceeding on a path of land stealing? Well, I can only imagine.
Due to a need for additional field space, Superintendent Copeland has stated that the District would like to pursue the 6.9 developable acres of Stoneleigh no matter whether or where a new middle school site is acquired. The District is hopeful an amicable accommodation can be reached. As part of their continuing due diligence, and especially now in light of the possibility of the Class 1 designations on two of the potential sites, District representatives in April requested a walk-through of the entire Stoneleigh property for May 18, 2018.
Amicable is school district speak for give us what we want NOW.
Here is an excerpt of what WHYY wrote in an article May 12th:
To combat overcrowding, Lower Merion School District has proposed buying — or seizing through eminent domain — 6.9 acres of the Stoneleigh estate and historic garden in Villanova.
In response, Natural Lands, the conservation trust overseeing the property, has launched a public advocacy campaign called “Save Stoneleigh,” urging the district to drop its bid…
At Stoneleigh, gardeners and conservators have been doing their own planning, preparing the picturesque 42-acre estate that once belonged to the Haas family to open to the public, starting Sunday….
Lower Merion School Board will ultimately weigh every option before deciding whether to invoke eminent domain.
“It’s not the district’s first choice to do that,” said Roos. “But it just can’t be taken off the table as an option.”
Thugs. That is a good descriptive adjective don’t you think? I am all for what lawyer Arthur Wolk wants at this point: removal of the entire school board. To that I add the removal of autocratic school Superintendent Robert Copeland. To THAT I add Lower Merion Commissioners and township staff who have been ever so gung ho over development for YEARS and years. Just clean house.
Legal battles aside, that is exactly what needs to happen to prevent this B.S. in the future.
Savvy Main Line has a lovely write up about Stoneleigh on their website. Check it out.
And now that Stoneleigh has opened, visit. It will take your breath away. And once you are there and experience the magic of the place, you will understand why oh so many of us are so passionate about it. It is magical. Simply magical.
I hope you have enjoyed the photos I shared.
Please see Save Stoneleigh for more information. Please consider signing the petition . Please write a letter, speak at upcoming meetings, and keep spreading the word. Open Space should not be threatened like this. And at the end of the day, if the Lower Merion School District is unwilling and unable to respect the legacy of the Haas family, it is our duty to see that they are taught respect, don’t you think?
The other day I wrote a post about Stoneleigh. I said then I thought that Lower Merion School District would not settle for 6 acres, that they would want all 42. My reasoning is simple: it’s expensive to wage an eminent domain battle so it would not make financial sense to go through everything for just 6 acres. (Not that doing things that make financial sense have ever been a hallmark of this school district, right?)
I grew up in the area, and the Haas family are amazing and wonderfully inclusive generous people who thought enough to want their land preserved for all to enjoy.
Lower Merion School District is NOT entitled to this land, just like they were NOT entitled to Ashbridge Park. I lived through one eminent domain battle in Ardmore years ago, so I know how ugly this is.
Also culpable here? Lower Merion Township Commissioners for all of the years of infill development. We went to so many meetings on unwanted development and asked for YEARS about future impact on the school district. Anyone who asked this was poo-pooed as being obstructionist of the future. (Yes Commissioner Liz Rogan I am thinking of you and others. firstname.lastname@example.org ) And the school district never,ever did a thing, never opened their mouths. The school board never did a thing. Who do all these folks serve at the pleasure of? Each other? Developers?
This is egregious and unacceptable. It makes me worry for places like Saunders Woods too. Any park or piece of land, truthfully as this school district and Superintendent Copeland seem to be suffering from a GIANT misplaced sense of entitlement.
Dr. Robin Vann Lynch
Comments for the former 6 ABC reporter turned LMSD talking head? Amy Buckman
Director of Community Relations Lower Merion School District
301 E. Montgomery Ave. Ardmore, PA 19003 Main Office: (610) 645-1800
Direct Line: (610) 645-1978 Email: email@example.com
Denise LaPera Executive Assistant to the Superintendent
Phone: 610-645-1930 Fax: 610-645-0703
301 E. Montgomery Ave., Ardmore, PA 19003
Going to Stoneleigh’s opening weekend this weekend? Either as a member for the special preview Saturday or opening day Sunday? I am sure that some of the Lower Merion Township Commissioners past and present will be there. No group of commissioners loves photo ops more than they do, so use the opportunity to give them an earful….but try to be polite as some of them are delicate flowers.
Is it polite to call Lower Merion’s School Superintendent Robert Copeland a scum sucking pig? Probably not. But I am.
This is PROOF that the Lower Merion School District does indeed intend to try to seize Stoneleigh via eminent domain, isn’t it? Do we think they will try to only take only 6 or 7 acres? In my opinion, which I am entitled to, that would not be cost effective for the school district, so instead I ask will Lower Merion School District instead try to seize the entire 42 acres?
Photo Courtesy Natural Lands. “In 1996, John and Chara Haas placed their beloved #Stoneleigh under conservation easement with Natural Lands, ensuring this special place—the home where they’d raised their five children—would be preserved forever. We hope you’ll join us for opening weekend May 12 & 13 to see this special place the Haas family so generously donated to Natural Lands in 2016.”
I have it on good authority that Natural Lands will OPPOSE any attempt by Lower Merion School District of an eminent domain taking. I and many of my friends from Lower Merion and elsewhere will stand with Natural Lands to #SaveStoneleigh .
This is a cautionary tale for every township approving development after development with little thought (or caring) about how this all affects school districts and school enrollments.
This serenely amazing and naturally beautiful 42 acres was donated by the Haas family so it would be protected. This is the terrifying reality of over development and communities. This is the terrifying reality that no municipality, no elected officials, no developers want you to know about.
Natural Lands Facebook photo. Carving by Marty Long of Phoenixville, PA
These developers do not give a crap about where we call home. We are just an area to make a quick development buck off of. They aren’t invested in our communities it’s all about what they can make and what the municipalities can get for the short term high of what they call “ratables.”
I lived in Lower Merion Township for over 30 years. I never once as an adult attending Lower Merion Township meetings (and given the eminent domain for private gain attempt in Ardmore circa 2005 I can tell you I attended a LOT of meetings), do I ever remember ANYONE from the school board or the school district coming to a township commissioners meeting and expressing concerns about the effect of all the development and proposed development on the school district.
The only thing I have seen Lower Merion School District do over the years is raise taxes and have their hands out. And well, Lower Merion School District seems to always have something not necessarily good going on. Here is some of the not so distant past:
Natural Lands Facebook Photo. “Stoneleigh: a natural garden, is home to several PA state champion trees, including this Ironwood tree, which is number one in the state! Located near the Montgomery Ave side of Stoneleigh, it’s a tree with grown-over scars and hollow places and yet the branches are still growing strong. It’s an old tree, likely over a century, and it’s rare to get old without taking on a few scars. This tree is a survivor, one that’s been cared for by the families who took care of this beautiful place for generations. Maybe not every piece of it is pretty, but it’s still our champion. “
There are so many articles about Lower Merion School District issues that it’s hard to choose a select list.
Ironically, the people mentioned in the article Philadelphia Magazine from the Penn Wynne area about stopping mega schools seem sadly o.k. with eminent domain at Stoneleigh. I find that disturbing. They weren’t overly fond of me when I suggested they offer their houses to the school district if they were o.k. with eminent domain. Sorry not sorry, but I do not get people like that.
Lower Merion School District also is eye-balling another site in Villanova….also owned by someone else other than them – 1860 Montgomery Avenue. The former Clothier Estate and now the Foundation of Islamic Education. That estate used to have some sort of service driveway if I remember right that was somewhere through those interior neighborhoods off County Line Road in Villanova, wasn’t it? So this whole debacle will undoubtedly concern Radnor Township in Delaware County because THEIR residents are right across County Line Road, aren’t they?
It is the sheer audacity of this school district which boggles my mind. This is not the first bad faith attempt at a land grab. There was the whole uproar in the fall with Ashbridge Park.
That Lower Merion is considering the popular park – even raising the possibility of using eminent domain – shows the seriousness of the classroom crunch in a district that, by raw numbers, is the fastest growing in Pennsylvania. While enrollment in the Main Line district had plunged to about 5,000 amid the “baby bust” years of the 1980s, parents lured by Lower Merion’s top academic rankings and a recent development boom have brought the student population back to nearly 8,600, and it’s expected to hit 9,300 in the next decade.
With the affluent Montgomery County district racing to make a decision on building a new school or adding to several existing ones by the end of the year, officials are sending mixed signals about the seriousness of the proposal to buy the 21-acre Foundation for Islamic Education for a new school and use Ashbridge Park for a track and athletic fields.
So like fleas on a hot brick they move right from Ashbridge Park to Stoneleigh? I am not sure what the end game is with Lower Merion School District, but I encourage people to take a stand for Stoneleigh and open space. It’s not the school district’s to take.
I am SO glad I no longer live in the hot mess known as Lower Merion Township. But as a member and supporter of Natural Lands, I am appalled that the school district would think they are so omnipotent that they can just steal dedicated and conserved open space.
Want to tell Lower Merion School District how you feel? This is what I was able to rustle up:
Comments for the former 6 ABC reporter turned LMSD talking head? Amy Buckman
Director of Community Relations Lower Merion School District
301 E. Montgomery Ave. Ardmore, PA 19003 Main Office: (610) 645-1800
Direct Line: (610) 645-1978 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org