Kennett Township opens Spar Hill Farm and Preserve05/16/2023 01:38PM ● By Richard Gaw
Kennett Township held a ceremony on May 13 to
officially open the Spar Hill Farm and Preserve. Joining township supervisor
Richard Leff in the ribbon-cutting ceremony were Rep. Christina Sappey, Chester
County Commissioner Josh Maxwell, current supervisors Scudder Stevens and
Geoffrey Gamble and former supervisor Whitney Hoffman. Photo by Richard L. Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
On the inclement morning of May 13 – as the red winged blackbirds and swallows sang and pirouetted in the vast and open acreage of the old Shutt Farm in the distance – Kennett Township not only officially opened the Spar Hill Farm and Preserve, they saved it for eternity for its residents and the general public.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony, held before elected officials and local leaders in historical and agricultural preservation, served as the final and victorious climax to a nearly decade-long effort by the township to save the farm from residential development in order to maintain it as a site where history, farming and agriculture converge.
“Before us here are over 100 acres of rolling meadows and woodlands stretching from Burnt Hill Road to the Delaware state line,” said township board Chairman Geoffrey Gamble in his opening remarks. “It is a good feeling to know that this land will never be commercially developed and will forever be a rich patrimony for the benefit of those who will follow us along the corridors of time.”
Gamble thanked the many agencies who helped the township secure, repair and sustain the 103-acre farm, including the Mount Cuba Center, the township’s Land Conservation Advisory Council, the township’s Historical Commission and the first responders from the Longwood Fire Company.
Stimulated by the recommendations of the township’s Historical Commission, the township purchased the property in the fall of 2018 for $3.2 million ($1 million was received by a grant from the Mount Cuba Center) and spent the next several years conceiving possible ideas that would convert the property as open space that would provide a trail network and redefine it as an educational center to demonstrate what agricultural life in southern Chester County looked like during the 1800s and early 1900s.
As introduced by Historical Commission member Linda Dillow during the ceremony, Spar Hill Farm was eventually named for the feldspar that was once mined there but began as the Way Farm, and was managed by Quakers during the 1800s as a livestock and dairy farm and by the end of the century, became one of the most successful farms in the township.
From 1925 to 1940, the property was known as Shutt Farm and served as a dairy farm, housing as many as 750 heifers at a time. Beginning in the 1940s, the property was renamed the Spar Hill Turkey Farm, where as many as 45,000 turkeys were raised there at its height in 1958.
By the 1960s, however, most of the turkey facilities were demolished.
Currently, the farm continues to have limited agricultural use – including the arrival of the Emergent Abundance Farming Collective (EAFC) one-acre vegetable garden in 2021 – but over the last several months, it has drawn fans of the HBO hit series “Mare of Easttown,” which filmed a scene at the farm's cow barn and stable workshop.
Progress on Spar Hill Farm and Preserve took a huge step forward on Aug. 17, 2022 when the supervisors signed off on a stabilization plan that eventually removed 13 dilapidated and unusable buildings, barns silos and sheds from the property. The demolition of these structures came as a result of a report by Matthew Roberson, president of West Chester-based Restoration Carpentry, Inc. that concluded that several structures were deemed “not worthy of preservation” at the site and should be demolished: a carriage house, a barn, four sheds, a concrete silo, a loafing barn, a turkey slaughter house, two tenant houses, a wood fence and a garage – at a total estimated cost of $335,584.
The board then voted to stabilize several other structure or leave “as is”: a smoke house, the main residence, a metal silo, a silo base, a stone wall, three small sheds, a pony barn, a metal fence, a spring house, a wood bridge and concrete livestock ramps – at a total estimated cost of $142,626.
“The Board of Supervisors is to commended for their caution in the face of an easy demolition solution and their collaboration with the Historical Commission so that we could save and stabilize some of these buildings,” Dillow said. “We look forward to the future preservation of this site.”
A property clean-up in late April drew nearly two dozen volunteer community members.
Supervisor Scudder Stevens said that the work of the township, partnering agencies and volunteers “led to where we are now, which is to have conservation, passive recreation and an historical area to make available to the community the agricultural history of Kennett Township,” he said. “Those three aspects have risen to the top as being the most important.”
State Rep. Christina Sappey praised Kennett Township, local agencies, volunteers and community members, Chester County and the Shutt family for their commitment to preserving the farm and several of its buildings.
“I have never met a property or an old structure that I didn’t fall in love with right away,” she said. “The fact that we have folks that value these old structures and do whatever they can to shore them up, families that are willing to work with municipalities to save their land for conservation, and the fact that we have municipal officials to work long and hard to conserve is something that we should all be very, very grateful for.
“[Chester County] truly values its open space. Life is very hectic, very busy and very mentally challenging as we’re coming out of the pandemic. I think we all long innately for a simpler time, so when we have an opportunity to come to a place like Spar Hill and walk and see the birds and the gentle rain on a spring day, it becomes such a balm for our hearts and for our souls.
“I am so grateful that we have a community of people that can collaborate and bring this wonderful resource for all of us to use.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].