On April 20, the children of the late John and Chara Haas donated the family’s 42-acre Stoneleigh estate in Villanova, Montgomery County, to the Natural Lands Trust, the region’s oldest and largest land conservation organization.
Natural Lands Trust, which owns 43 nature preserves across eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, plans to open the Haas family estate as a public garden that showcases and educates visitors about the joys and benefits of gardens that emphasize the use of native plants.
“This remarkable act of generosity marks a turning point for both Stoneleigh and for our organization,” said Molly Morrison, Natural Lands Trust’s president. “We are deeply honored to be entrusted to carry on the Haas family’s legacy of stewardship for this magical place, and excited beyond measure to add Stoneleigh as a unique, shining star in our constellation of preserves.”
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. In 1900, Samuel Bodine, head of United Gas Improvement Company, acquired the property.
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 Stoneleigh in 1964 and lived there for the next five decades. The property includes stately trees, winding pathways, and lush gardens that the Haas family has carefully stewarded over the decades.
The gardens were designed by a number of notable landscape architects over the past century—including Olmsted Brothers, sons of the famed Frederick Law Olmsted.
“Our parents took great joy in caring for their lovely gardens and natural areas,” said John and Chara’s son David. “It was their wish that the property’s overall beauty, native habitats, and historic gardens be preserved. We believe that Natural Lands Trust shares our family’s vision and will work to honor the legacy of our parents by making the property a unique natural resource for the community and region.”
After a period of transition, Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden will be open free-of-charge to visitors.
Natural Lands Trust will also offer a variety of public programs with a primary focus on natural gardening and landscaping techniques. The organization also anticipates hosting family and child-oriented programs as well as volunteer opportunities.
It is expected to take approximately 18 months to make the improvements needed to transition the property from a family home to a public garden.
“Stoneleigh is unique among our preserves in so many ways,” said Morrison. “We envision a place where the public will be able to enjoy the quiet and beauty of the Stoneleigh grounds and be motivated to learn about the joys and benefits of gardens that emphasize the use of native plants.”
For more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events, visit the Natural Lands Trust website. Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Trust.
NewsClip:Haas Estate In Villanova To Be Preserved As Public Garden