land conservationists/preservationists in chester county should watch this curious case…in willistown

This is a post I have been struggling with. I am a big supporter of Natural Lands. But I am not sure what to think here.

Summerhill Preserve is acreage in Willistown. It was put in preservation. But was the intent of the gift of this land and the preservation of it to make it a public access site, or just a preserved swath of land?

I used to see stuff fly by the past few years mostly about birds and Summerhill. Here are some screenshots and note that these screenshots don’t seem to go anywhere now when you click on the link:

Ok well stuff gets updated and moved around on websites and links get broken. No biggie. But when you go to Natural Lands website and put in Summerhill all you get now is a handful of very old articles mentioning but not centered on Summerhill. I never thought much of it, because I never thought Summerhill was like a place you could just visit, although I am sure I would love it like I love so many of Natural Lands properties. But Summerhill? Not on their list of places to visit. I just checked again today.

Again, no big deal. I have always thought, whether it is right or wrong, even if land is in conservation/preservation, it is not necessarily just open to the public. And Natural Lands kind of always said that about Summerhill. Note this screenshot from a few years ago I found for an event listing about Summerhill :

So then someone randomly asked me what was going on with Summerhill. I replied truthfully, wouldn’t know, had forgotten about it. Why had I forgotten? Because I never knew you could visit it and it had been ages since I even saw something mentioning it.

Well there is a wee problem and Natural Lands is in court with the Summerhill neighbors. And Willistown too I guess? But this is not the same as the strange case of Wildflower Farm and those neighbors. No comparison. Among other things so much of this land abuts private property. It’s not a working farm, it’s land — open space.

If you ever ask anybody who lives adjacent to a trail or conserved land or even a park they will tell you there is good and bad and living La Vida COVID in some cases has made it awkward at times. Sometimes stupid human tricks prevail – leaving trash, trespassing on private property and taking stuff, even urinating and worse from our much loved trails onto private property. It happens. Sadly, it happens. I have heard about it on the Chester Valley Trail and the Radnor Trail even in years past on the trail at Haverford College. People have told me similar stories like this near Willisbrook in Willistown. Stupid human tricks and a lack of respecting boundaries and private property, and of course it makes you wonder if they even respect the actual nature preserve or trail?

This is not the fault of the people responsible for the trails or nature preserves, in my humble opinion. It is probably impossible to babysit all of these properties all of the time and how many operate is somewhat on an honor system of dawn to dusk without real actual bodies on site to close and open properties?

So it begs the question of ironing things out so people know what will happen with what they donate land maybe? And ironing out what the public can and can’t do also perhaps? Is it not OK for preserved/conserved land to just be well passive, pristine, and preserved? As in maybe it’s left alone or maybe it’s an occasional very special space not open dusk ’til dawn to the public? And what if that is what a donor or grantor said in the first place? What if that is what conservation easements said? So maybe you can’t just pave paradise after all and put up a parking lot or you can but not necessarily everywhere?

I remember when the Summerhill place was for sale, conserved land was a selling point (and it was in the Willistown Conservation Trust Barns and BBQ as well):

So yes, neighbors moved in here knowing about the land preservation/conservation. But I think the question from reading an Orphan’s Court thing is original intent vs. I guess Natural Lands wanting to open this up and build a parking lot, etc? But I am having a hard time envisioning how they would even do this because of all of the properties that touch what Natural Lands has if that makes sense?

After reading this Orphan’s Court thing, it makes a person wonder if the neighbors here are wrong? Because if the original intent was just preserved land and that can be proven, are they wrong?

I love Natural Lands. I know some will think me horrible for raising this issue. But isn’t it important? After all you want people to donate land but land in conservation and save it from development, right? That is why I feel this case bears watching. It also looks like there is other stuff other than what is in Orphan’s Court brewing.

I am sharing the Orphan’s Court thing. Not trying to slam Willistown Township or Natural Lands. But this makes for interesting reading and pondering. And these strike me as VERY different neighbors than the OTHER Wildflower Farm thing and a different situation altogether, correct? To me this will be a case that no matter what happens will possibly lay things out a little more clearly for others in the future and will you agree when all is said in done? I am all for the race to preserve open space to quote another organization, but it should be less foggy, and simple right? Or wrong?

Time and judges will tell.

this is wildflower farm

I broke the story yesterday about Wildflower Farm and I’m going to keep talking about it.

I was there today visiting (I was a guest in their home, nosy neighbors) and for 25 min a guy in a dark SUV drove back-and-forth in front of their farm to see who was sitting on their patio. I finally waved at him and called hello (loudly) and he went away. I guess a middle-aged white woman sitting on someone’s patio as a guest drinking a sparkling water is a threat?

Can I tell you how BEAUTIFUL and serene and peaceful Wildflower Farm is in spite of their neighbors? I walked through their magical woods and walked every outside row and every hoop house row of flowers. I am a gardener, I was in heaven. And their trees are awesome. Including things like native redbuds and Japanese maples that they have planted. I can also envision their fields alive with peonies and hydrangeas, too.

We talked gardening. I shared my gardening resources for bulbs and native plants. I also shared with them Chester County farms also that are small producing farms. Why? Because those farms and farmers are embraced by their neighbors, not absurdly reviled.


The majority of the neighbors on this street where they live have that extra special development mentality that I abhor. They sure are the types who should be living in a Stepford Wife Toll Brothers or similar development where everything is samey-samey cookie cutter and they can’t plant flowers, but the petty tyrants of homeowner associations reign supreme.

Wildflower Farm is zoned to be a farm. They aren’t throwing raucous parties 24 /7 they are a young family with two beautiful children who have a dream to have a farm and grow flowers.

They are an organic farm.

And what I saw today with the person in the SUV driving back-and-forth and back-and-forth and back-and-forth with my own eyes, they are experiencing harassment and must feel as if they are constantly under siege.

If someone chooses to live differently or simply, these pig-ignorant types of people find fault with it. It’s literally heart breaking that they cannot see the beauty here through the trees. But it’s like a blood sport to play whisper down the lane and to gossip inaccurately and cruelly about this young family? That’s Christian, God-fearing behavior?

The people who live in this neighborhood on Castlebar Lane where poor small farm is located are not all bad. But the majority of them seem so off the hook unpleasant in my opinion, it takes your breath away. I don’t understand how these people can do any of this with a clear conscience? They trespass on their property, they fly drones overhead to try to say they’re doing something wrong and they’re not, and for what? What do they gain?

A friend of mine (who lives on a farm) said to me that they don’t get these people who want everything big box and cookie cutter.

Take the neighbor on one side? Building this giant berm so they don’t have to look at them which is something that is so ludicrous to me because if I lived next-door I would want a clear view so I could see what flowers they were growing! They have totally cleaned up this property it’s beautiful, and it has the most gorgeous woods. You look at it and it makes you think like this is what Chester County is supposed to be.


What is happening to these people is literally insane. And the fact that one of the people giving them a hard time and filing zoning things and other stuff is on the planning commission in Willistown Township just blows my mind and then there’s the other people who have lots (as in empty lots of land) on the road but don’t actually live there who have been big for years with the Willistown Conservation Trust? And if you go through publications of the Willistown Conservation Trust you see other names also in this bizarre NIMBY situation? I don’t understand these people apparently farms are OK just not in their neighborhood but it’s zoned agricultural, it’s not just a residential area so I really don’t understand the pretzel logic? (And FYI the candidate for Willistown Supervisor who seems to be doing a lot of promising including helping their horrid neighbors? Remember THAT at the polls. Those who over-promise to everyone, never deliver but that is a separate conversation.)


Wildflower Farm deserves ALL of our support. They are up in front of zoning next week and Willistown and I have posted about it it is a public meeting and if you’re not a resident you don’t have standing so you won’t be speaking but you can go and support in solidarity. Especially if you are a FARMER.

The Willistown Township Zoning Hearing Board will meet on Wednesday, October 13, 2021, at 7:00 p.m. Sugartown Elementary School – Gymnasium 611 Sugartown Road, Malvern, PA 19355

The Heenans are the people we want as neighbors in Chester County, and in a time where every square inch is developed they are farming and growing wildflowers and are into native plants.

Willistown also has a regular supervisors meeting on October 11 at 7 PM which is also a public meeting. Charles E. Coxe Memorial Campus. 688 Sugartown Road, Malvern, PA 19355


Please lend these nice people your support. Supporting farmers benefits all of us. Their dreams should not die because they have the biggest bunch of jerky Stepford village neighbors ever created. NIMBY anti-farm hell. Petty tyrants. And that opinion is allowed.


Also they have a petition. Sign the petition please, but also please consider attending the zoning meeting, especially.

#PayItForward

#SaveSmallFarms

#MeanPeopleSuck

#ShopSmall

#SupportSmallBusinesses

I would also say in the short term to think twice about donating to Willistown Conservation Trust. If these neighbors are the kind of people supporting them I don’t know about you but you really want to be around them? But I would encourage you to support Natural Lands, of course.

I love flowers. I love farms. I love nice people. So you know I am Team Wildflower Farm, are you?

#HateHasNoHomeHere #TeamWildflowerFarm

awesome idea

This. See that sign? “Preserved Farm”. Love that. We should do this in Chester County.

We do celebrate land preservation but not enough celebrating of farm preservation like they do in Bucks County, PA.

We were visiting friends in Bucks County yesterday and I saw these “Preserved Farm” signs everywhere.

Bucks County has been besieged by development and developers since the 1980s. In my opinion that was when the major incursions occurred. Like Troll Brothers.

Here in Chester County we are still suffering from development, and at an ever increasing rate. I would love to see a preserved farm initiative with wonderful signs like this. Now don’t misunderstand me, Chester County does believe in farmland preservation and does have a preservation program, but Bucks County just seems to be excelling at it.

When I got home I did a little Googling. Bucks County by all appearances has a thriving agricultural preservation program. And then there is the involvement of the Land Trust of Bucks County and their farmland inspection program which assists with the agricultural preservation program.

I will freely admit I don’t know enough about either the program in Bucks County or Chester County to know if they are equal or unequal, but in Bucks County it seems more visible as a program and I think that makes a huge difference.

And if you have any questions about land conservation or preservation, we do have amazing groups to consult with. One of my favorites is Natural Lands.

Anyway I thought these “Preserved Farm” signs were genius.

Happy Sunday.

being a good land steward

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I had a plant impulse buy at Yellow Springs Farm on Saturday.  A Chestnut Oak. I fell in love with the tree at Jenkins Arboretum, and also purchased some last year from Go Native Tree Farm in Lancaster, PA.

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.

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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.

IMG_4700But 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.

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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.

Thanks for stopping by.

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nice ker-feal article in county lines magazine

capture ker feal

Courtesy of County Lines Magazine

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!

You heard it here first, make sure you pick up the February, 2019 County Lines Magazine – follow this LINK for Flipbook link on issu

Click here for article which is now available online.

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.

County Lines Magazine: Thursday, January 24 2019 9:29

Fidèle’s House … Forever Green
Written by Kirsten Werner, Natural Lands

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)

Here are my other Ker-Feal posts:

is chester county’s ker-feal at risk?

AWESOME! conservation easement placed on dr. barnes’ ker-feal!

thanksgiving miracle: stoneleigh is finally safe

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.

If you wish to support Natural Lands or Lower Merion Conservancy please visit their respective websites. We are so lucky to have them in our communities.

AWESOME! conservation easement placed on dr. barnes’ ker-feal!

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.

On March 26, 2018 I wrote a post about Ker-Feal. The country home of Dr. Albert Barnes on 1081 Bodine Road off Yellow Springs Road in West Pikeland Township, Chester County. (And before people start to holler, I found the exact address on the Internet. It’s not a secret.)  It also houses a Barnes art collection. His American Art collection.

Today I learned that my favorite land conservation white hats, Natural Lands, has a conservation easement now on the property.

Now I will be honest, as per the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Stephen Salisbury, this agreement is creating four preserved parcels.

Ker-Feal August 1942. Library of Congress photo 

This broke in the Philadelphia Inquirer May 10th, and sadly I missed the news of this until I received an email from Natural Lands.

Open space restrictions will keep Barnes Foundation Chester County estate free from development
Updated: MAY 10, 2018 — 3:25 PM EDT

by Stephan Salisbury, Staff Writer @spsalisbury | ssalisbury@phillynews.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.

 

Image result for ker feal

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.

I found photos of Ker-Feal on the Library of Congress website.

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.

#savestoneleigh : the school board meeting and more questions

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As I mentioned last evening, hundreds showed up for Stoneleigh last evening at Lower Merion School District.

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?

We all know where I stand on Stoneleigh and yes that was my column in the Sunday Inquirer and running  in the Delco Times.

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.

My next question may seem strange but  is the Democratic party of Lower Merion and Democratic Party of Montgomery County FOR eminent domain here? I have not fallen and hit my head, the question is prompted by an on camera interview given to 6ABC and reporter Annie McCormick last night:

marie beresford“While I appreciate how precious Stoneleigh is, I believe really strongly in a public education and that we provide the kids with the facilities they need,” said Lower Merion Parent Marie Beresford.

So, the reason I am confused is was Ms. Beresford speaking solely for herself, or in her positions (plural) within the Democratic party? Yes, she holds a position on the Lower Merion Democratic Party as Regional Vice Chair – Central Region (Wards 3, 4, 5, 8 and Narberth) and as First Vice Chair of said aforementioned party in Montgomery County?

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)

But sadly, I guess I do  NOT really know either her or Dr. Melissa Gilbert any longer, and check this out from the Inquirer in the letters to the editor:

dialogue 2

dialogue 1

Now Dr. Gilbert has risen in her world. (Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities at Temple University no less?) She was just starting out when I met her years ago, and again, I liked her very much.  Sadly, I liked her enough to try to help get her elected to the Lower Merion School Board in the first place. Her letter co-scribbled with Dr. Robert Copeland the Autocrat in Chief of Lower Merion School District just doesn’t sit right, does it?

Dare I say it that they sound like communists here?  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???

And they refer to being “rebuffed” at their attempt in the fall of 2017 to steal Ashbridge Park? It is a park. A park with deed restrictions and oh yeah some other generous person’s final wishes that went along with it too, right? Ashbridge Park wasn’t Lower Merion School District’s to take, was it???? Allow me to quote an article written by a friend of mine, Cheryl Allison in 2014 for Main Line Media News:

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?

The Lower Merion School District is out of control.  And must be stopped legally.  I think lawyer Arthur Wolk is right. Lower Merion School Board should be removed. And Dr. Robert Copeland.

Sign me disgusted with these people.

showing up for stoneleigh

HUNDREDS have turned out to make a point with the eminent domain loving Lower Merion School District. The meeting is in progress

Photos are courtesy of the Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden Facebook page.

Dr. Robert Copeland, Dr. Melissa Gilbert and the rest of Lower Merion School District can you hear us all now?

#SaveStoneleigh

#savestoneleigh (and photos from the opening)

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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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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?

I have permission from Natural Lands to share some of the history of Stoneleigh so here’s an excerpt:

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.

Apparently Lower Merion School District is having a tour on May 18th? Allow me to quote them again:

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:

WHYY: Conservancy mobilizes as Lower Merion looks to Stoneleigh garden for school use
By Laura Benshoff   May 12, 2018

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?

#SaveSoneleigh (pass it on.)

Happy Mother’s Day to all.