Erdenheim Farm is located in southeastern Pennsylvania in Montgomery County’s Whitemarsh and Springfield Townships. Thanks to the limestone bed that underlies much of this portion of Whitemarsh, the land on which the Farm is situated offers some of the best soil for growing grain in southeastern Pennsylvania, a fact that no doubt attracted German immigrant farmer Johann Georg Hocker, the first recorded owner of Erdenheim Farm. It was Hocker who gave the Farm its name Erdenheim, which means “earthly home” in German.
Subsequent owners turned their attention from farming to livestock. In the early 1860s, a new owner, Aristedes Welsh, established a horse-breeding enterprise on the Farm, raising racehorses that competed at Ascot, the Kentucky Derby and other prominent racecourses of the time. Since then and up through today, Erdenheim Farm has continued its historic association with horse breeding.
In 1912, the Farm was purchased by George D. Widener Jr., scion of a wealthy Philadelphia family that made its money in the streetcar and railroad industries. Widener was a well-known Philadelphia philanthropist and director of the Land Title Bank and Trust, Philadelphia Traction Company, and the Electric Storage Battery Company. His primary passion, however, was horse breeding. One of his horses, Jaipur, won the Belmont Stakes in 1962. Mr. Widener’s ownership of Erdenheim Farm was distinguished by his exceptional stewardship of the property, which included maintaining its special vistas and agricultural operations as well as breeding and training thoroughbred race horses.
Upon Mr. Widener’s death in 1971, a 117-acre portion bordering Stenton Avenue and lying on either side of the Wissahickon Creek, was bequeathed to the Natural Lands Trust, a leading area conservation organization. The remaining portion was left to his nephew, Fitz Eugene Dixon, Jr., who then acquired other parcels to keep the property in tact, as it had been maintained for generations. Mr. Dixon maintained the property as a “gentleman’s farm,” where he raised prize-winning Black Angus cattle, Cheviot sheep and thoroughbred horses, until his death in 2006.
Following Mr. Dixon’s death, the Whitemarsh Foundation led an effort to raise the funds necessary to purchase the Farm from the Dixon estate. Many parties contributed to this effort, including Whitemarsh Township, Colonial School District, Montgomery County, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Natural Lands Trust. The Foundation also received funds from a local pharmaceutical company as part of an environmental remediation settlement unrelated to the Farm.
In December 2009, the Foundation purchased the 98-acre Angus Tract, located next to the Hill at Whitemarsh along Flourtown and Thomas Roads. The Foundation was in the process of raising additional funds to purchase the neighboring Sheep Tract when Peter and Bonnie McCausland, conservation-minded area residents, expressed an interest in purchasing the rest of the Farm. June 1, 2009, The Foundation purchased 91 acres of the Sheep Tract and the McCauslands purchased 240 acres of the Farm. At the same time, the McCauslands and the Foundation entered into an agreement under which the McCauslands will continue agricultural operations on the entire Farm.
As one of the few remaining large farm tracts in southeastern Pennsylvania and the only one that still remains adjacent to the city of Philadelphia, Erdenheim Farm represents a unique and extraordinary example of our area’s disappearing agricultural past.
As a significant green space, it also plays a critical environmental role, embracing a portion of the Wissahickon Creek and forming part of the greenway system that begins at the creek’s source in Montgomery Township and extends south through 11 municipalities to the Schuylkill River. The Wissahickon and its tributaries are an important source of clean water for Philadelphia, and for this reason have been a focus for environmental protection for many years.
For the municipalities immediately surrounding the Farm, there is no question about its significance and importance. Considered the “jewel in the crown” of Whitemarsh Township, these 450 acres, with their inspiring vistas and glimpses into the life of a working farm, offer residents and passers-through alike a moment of respite and connection to simpler times.
In June 2009, the decade-long effort to preserve Erdenheim Farm was completed.
The parties to the complex transactions included the Dixon Family and Estate, the Natural Lands Trust, the Whitemarsh Foundation, Whitemarsh Township, the Colonial School District, the Department of Natural Resources and the McCausland family.
Erdenheim Farm comprises five parcels:
- The 98-acre Angus Tract: located along the south side of Flourtown Road between Thomas Road and Fountain Green Road and adjacent to the continuing care retirement community, the Hill at Whitemarsh.
- The 109-acre Sheep Tract: located along the north side of Flourtown Road between Stenton Avenue and the KYW radio tower property.
- The 113-acre Wissahickon Tract: located along Stenton Avenue and Flourtown Road bordering the Wissahickon Creek.
- The 23-acre Main House Tract: comprising the main house, tennis pavillion and out buildings.
- The 103-acre Trackside Equestrian Tract: located along the east side of Stenton Avenue and bounded by Northwestern Avenue and West Mill Road.
The 113-acre Wissahickon Tract, the Main House Tract, 88 acres of the Equestrian Trackside Tract, and an 18-acre portion of the Sheep Tract, including the Farm headquarters, has been purchased solely by the McCauslands. The couple plan to live in the estate residence and continue agricultural operations.
The remaining 91 acres of the Sheep Tract have been purchased by the Foundation and leased to the McCauslands provided that the McCauslands continue farming operations. Fifteen acres of the Equestrian Tract Trackside will remain in the Dixon family.
Legally binding easements and covenants protect the Farm from all but the most limited development, in perpetuity.
In addition, the Foundation and the McCauslands have granted easements for the construction of public trails on the perimeter of several tracts enabling completion of the Montgomery County Green Ribbon Trail linking Ft. Washington State Park and Fairmount Park as well as providing connections with the Township trail system.
With the acquisition of the Farm successfully concluded, the next step is to ensure that this unique property is maintained in a manner that preserves the land’s beautiful vistas and historic agricultural character. The McCauslands intend to continue crop-growing and livestock activities on their portion of the Farm property. In addition, they have agreed to maintain the Angus Tract on behalf of the Foundation and to lease from the Foundation the 91-acres of the Sheep Tract for their agricultural use.