Right across the street from the busy Villanova University campus is the 42-acre Haas estate, named Stoneleigh. Upon the death of its most recent owners, the heirs have decided that the grounds, which were lovingly planted and maintained (and frequently toured by selected invited visitors) will now become one of Lower Merion’s preserved estates and will be free to visitors. The Olmstead brothers (the sons of Frederick Law Olmstead, responsible for laying out New York’s Central Park) designed the gardens when the house was built by gas magnate Samuel Bodine in 1900. Otto Haas (of the chemical company Rohm and Haas) purchased it in 1964 and passed it on to his son, John, who, along with his wife, Chara continued their stewardship of the property, including placing a portion of the estate under a conservation easement. Their interest in philanthropy and environmental conservation led their children to suggest the plan to turn it over to the township. Before it opens to the public at the end of 2017, the swimming pool will be filled in and new plantings, in keeping with the Beaux-Arts style of the original garden, will be installed. The stately stone mansion will become the headquarters for a non-profit organization committed to preserving historic pipe organs, which were an interest of the family’s.
When you go, be sure to look for the tree with the family of bunnies carved into it–Haas means “hare” in Dutch and German, which is the family’s ancestry. It is visible from the County Line/Spring Mill intersection and was often the focal point of holidays (Easter, Halloween, etc.) as well as special events like ‘Nova graduation, when they would be costumed in caps and gowns. While I imagine many visitors will enjoy visiting Stoneleigh, I think that the location, adjacent to the university, is wonderful–I can easily envision stressed-out, financially-challenged students needing and then celebrating the opportunity to “get away from it all” (for free!) in a quiet, natural sanctuary designed for reflection and serenity.