One of the great things about living in Lower Merion is that the township has so many amenities and services that are free to us as residents. Aside from the terrific library system, one of my favorites is the township park system includes a lot more than parks. There are playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, baseball fields, boat launch ramps, bridle trails, historic estates, bird sanctuaries, swimming pools and more! For a complete list of the locations and facilities/amenities available at each, click here. By the way, if you are looking for an off-leash dog park, West Mill Creek and Rolling Hill are the two that allow dogs to run free (you still have to clean up after them!).
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.
The Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia, begun in 1984 to combat graffiti, has since taken on a life of its own. Currently, there are over 3600 murals, some celebrating the history of Philadelphia, some focusing on local legends and heroes and others offering social commentary. While you’ve definitely seen various murals here and there around the city, in different styles with different themes, they are not created “willy-nilly”. To the contrary, the Mural Arts Program, the largest public art program in the US is a very deliberate organization with new (some temporary, some permanent) installations being considered and created on a continual basis. In addition, the program offers lots of opportunity for community involvement and specific events as well as “always available” ways for residents and visitors to experience these murals.
If you’d like to take a walking, trolley or train tour, see the schedule of the guided ones offered here. Would you like to participate in the creation of a mural ( a great way to make sure a visit to Philadelphia is well-remembered by your guest!)? See all the upcoming events you can attend or be involved with here. Programs and initiatives offered include Restored Spaces, which focuses on effecting positive neighborhood change through community-involved art and The Guild which offers a chance for incarcerated people to learn job skills while connecting with their communities and Arts and Artists Outdoors which supports awareness of the environment and how it is affected by and can be incorporated in outdoor art. Their website is very user-friendly and has a lot of useful information and food for thought. Visit it!