Welkinweir (also known as the Grace and Everett Rodebaugh Estate; 1368 Prizer Road) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
Welkinweir is a 162 acre preserve in East Nantmeal Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, that encompasses three buildings, gardens, ponds, natural wildlife habitat, trails, wetlands and woods. It is located on both sides of a narrow, unnamed stream valley in a viewshed completely its own. Entrance to the property is from Prizer Road, which is the north boundary of the property, and from which the land rolls down a south facing slope to the stream and up to the top of the opposing north facing slope. From the mansion, no other farms, lights, or abodes are in sight. The 162 acres divides loosely into one-third man-made arboretum and two-thirds natural re-growth native specie trees and shrubs through which the public Horse-Shoe Trail and private trails pass. Its buildings are a stone two-and-one-half story Colonial Revival mansion built in 1940 attached to an 18th and 19th century farmhouse, an early stone springhouse, and a mid-1940 stone and concrete utility barn. Constructed in 1939-40, there are eight graduated man-made ponds on or near the stream. The largest pond is held by a reinforced concrete and stone dam breast. The buildings, ponds, and roughly 55 acres create the arboretum, it being surrounded on three sides by the remaining acres. The current condition of the property is excellent and holds complete integrity to its intended public use as planned by Grace and Everett Rodebaugh.
Setting on a steep bluff above the stream, the main entrance to the mansion faces north, but orientation is directed to the south. Incorporating a two-part farmhouse dated ca. 1750 and 1830, the 1940 major addition is attached to the east gable of the 1830 farmhouse, making a linear mansion in three basic sections with the small one room-over-one room ca. 1750 section jutting northward to form a minor ell. The 1940 section is built in native fieldstone on massive and weighty proportions. The entire mansion is roofed in slate with a 'widow's walk' atop the central section. The 1940 section includes a five bay section and an extended three bay section to the east. Three dormers pierce the roof of the five-bay section, with two more over the three-bay section. The conversion from farmhouse to mansion was done by Philadelphia architect, Fridtjof Tobiessen. There are eleven rooms on two floors, kitchen, pantry, five baths, and two lavatories, plus a three-room third floor apartment with kitchen and bath, and a one-room third floor apartment with bath and closeted storage room. In the basement there are two recreation rooms, a hidden passage, a laundry, furnace room and work room. A stone three-car garage with an efficiency apartment above is attached to the east end of the 1940 house by a breezeway to the pantry area of the main house.
The 1940 main front (north) entrance has two freestanding slender, wooden, square pillars and two pilasters two stories high in a three bay facade that is recessed from the east and west walls by four feet. The main central section (foyer and living room) projects southward from the flanking sections, allowing on the south side glassed French doors to open eastward onto a flagstone terrace, and a single door to open on the west to a second and smaller flagstone terrace. The central section south facade is dominated by a large plate glass picture window flanked on each side by a tall 9/9 double-hung sash window. The second floor of the central section has five double hung 6/6 sash windows.
The 1940 eastern section (dining room, kitchen & pantry) is three bays wide and three bays deep, and has an east facing outside door from the dining room, and another outside door in the east wall of the pantry that connects the mansion to the garage by a breezeway. The south side of the dining room holds a large many-paned picture window flanked on each side by a double-hung 9/9 sash window. The second floor south facade of the east section holds three double hung 6/6 sash windows, and the one-room third-floor apartment above holds two dormer 6/6 double hung sash windows in the north roof and two in the south roof.
The south facade of the 1830 farmhouse, (the west end of the mansion), is recessed 20 feet behind the 1940 central section. It retains its 1830 5-bay facade with a central door flanked by 6/6 double-hung sash windows on the first floor and five 6/6 double-hung sash windows on the second floor. Above the second floor level on the south facade are five horizontal six pane casement windows which were part of a ca.1865 renovation that added to the east a frame two-and-one-half story wing and raised the gable roof of the stone farmhouse. In poor repair, this ca.1865 frame addition was discarded in 1940. The shed-roofed, one-floor porch across the 1830 farmhouse south facade was removed at the same time and not replaced. The west gable wall of the farmhouse holds two 1830 window bays, and two bays (one an entrance door and one a window) of the ca.1750 original house. These bays are repeated on the second floor as four 6/6 windows.
The north protruding ell of the otherwise rectangular building is the ca.1750 house which measures a scant 14 feet by 15 feet. The entire north wall is given over to the chimney stack of the early house with only one four pane casement attic window to break the stone mass. On the east side of this ell are four small 6/6 double-hung sash windows (two on each floor) which turn the north wing back to the rear, or north wall of the 1830 farmhouse where there are two more 6/6 double-hung sash windows per floor, and two six pane casement windows at the attic level. The north-facing 1940 section continues flush from the farmhouse north wall showing only two floors under the gable roof. There is one narrow six pane bay on each floor (vertical casements) after which the 1940 section drops back four feet to the first described north entrance facade.
There are six large chimneys, each flush with its gable end wall. One is in the north wall of the ca.1750 house, two are in the west and east gables of the 1830 house, and three are in the 1940 house. These chimneys service twelve fireplaces in the mansion. There is full basement under all of the mansion except the 1750 small north ell.
The Tobiessen addition made certain changes in the farmhouse design. First and foremost was the complete razing of the 1865 frame, two-and-one-half story appendage to the stone farmhouse. The removal of this frame wing gave space for the building of the 1940 addition which was more than double the size of the old frame wing. Porches were removed from all facades of the old farmhouse. Internally, the 1830 house, which had a central closed stairway behind its center entrance, was gutted to throw the entire length and depth (35'x20') of the 1830 house into one long room. Steel beaming was introduced to replace the partitions and stairway that had supported the upper floors, and the second floor was refrained into the present configuration. Fenestration in the stone walls was not changed and the fireplaces were retained in their original position. A boxwinder stairway that had wrapped around the north fireplace wall of the ca.1750 house was replaced with bookcases and the first and second floor chimney breasts were panelled in painted pine.
Internally, the house breaks into three large major rooms and one small room on the first floor plus foyer, kitchen and pantry, bathroom and lavatory. The second floor is divided into eight rooms — five as bedrooms with one dressing room, one a mahogany panelled library, and one a small organ console room. There are also on the second floor a balcony overlooking the entrance foyer, a side hall, four bathrooms, and in the 1830 house, a back hall. There is a three-room apartment with its own small kitchen, bathroom, and storage attic on the third floor of the 1750-1830 house. The attic over the east end of the 1940 house holds a one-room apartment with bathroom and storage space. The attic area over the central 1940 section holds 1700 organ pipes and the bellows machinery and wind tunnels for the Skinner pipe organ. The organ sound is projected downward through an ornamental wooden filigree insert in the ceiling above the entrance foyer.
The foyer is a squarish room open to the ceiling of the second floor. A balcony faces the main entrance door, from which a graceful curving staircase descends along the west wall toward the entrance door. There is an alcove leading east from the foyer into the dining room, and an alcove leading west into the Pine Room, the 1830 house. On the east wall of the foyer there is a door leading to the kitchen and above it, an arched opening at second floor height showing the organ console and small room.
The 44' x 24' living room lays directly in front of — or south — of the foyer and is entered by panelled double doors which, when open, give an immediate panoramic view through the large picture window of the valley and the largest pond and wooded hillside beyond. The living room is lower by three steps than the foyer. There is a fireplace on the west wall with full panelled breast and pediment of classical design. The room is wainscotted, plastered above, and surmounted by a well designed cove molding with dentil work and two support beams completely finished with full entablatures. There is an exit door at both the east and west ends of the room, each leading to a flagstone terrace on the respective sides. The 27' x 20' dining room is equally formal in style. There is a fireplace at the east end with panelled breast work. Its firebox is surrounded with antique delft tiles taken from a demolished early Philadelphia house. Ceiling heights in the 1940 section are 12 feet high on the first floor and 10 feet on the second floor.
The Pine Room, now the entire first floor of the remodelled 1830 house, was treated differently from the formal foyer, living room and dining room. Where the formal rooms are bright and open in feeling, the Pine Room is sequestered and quiet. White plastered walls above brown pine wainscotting pitted against brown pine board ceiling between heavy brown support beams with full panelled chimney breastwork at each end of the room and brown pine panelled window reveals makes for a dark, restful interior.
Internal entrance to the basement is from the west alcove under the main staircase. It is balustraded with heavy oak carved spindles which are a measured copy of a German colonial stairway that is displayed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The stairway descends to a central cellar foyer that opens into a recreation room. Both rooms are stone floored, and a heavy stone fireplace is on the west wall of the recreation room called the Stone Room. This room is the basement equivalent of the 44 x 24 foot living room above. There is a hidden passage secreted behind a swinging oak bookcase in the southwest corner of the room that leads to a circular concrete passageway winding to the remains of an old well (now dry). Under the dining room in the basement is a room termed 'the South Seas Room,' also with fireplace. It is completely furnished with south seas matting on the walls and high, round-backed rattan chairs, monkey-pod tables, etc, in the style of a Philippine, or South Seas hut. The rest of the basement is used for laundry, workroom, furnace and coal storage. The coal storage facility is a room under the breezeway and flagstone patio that could hold an entire winter's supply of coal for the house. The coal was fed by stoker to the furnace. The room was reused to hold oil tanks in October, 1999, when the coal furnace was converted to oil firing. The furnace room has an outside exit rising up concrete steps along the outside of the kitchen north wall. An iron railing at ground level sets off the stairwell.
A small gable-roofed one-room spring house stands at an edge of the largest pond and at the foot of the incline in front of the mansion. It is the only auxiliary building remaining of the early farmstead and can be dated at approximately 1830 or earlier. Its entrance is in the south gable end facing the pond. There is one west window, and its 10-in-12 roof pitch allows for a door in the north gable wall (the uphill side) into its loft. The building, set amid a heavy bed of ferns, holds two pumps that provide water to the main house. A 1940s one-and-one-half floor utility barn also stands. A simple rectangle, it is concrete and rubble stone poured into a boarded frame, the frame removed when the concrete had set. Gable roofed, the west side is frame under the eaves and holds the machinery doors, the loft or second floor being supported by post and beam. It housed mowing equipment and storage items until 1998 when its loft space was converted into an activity room for the summer camp enrollees, their projects and a rainy day space, and an office for the grounds' manager.
LANDSCAPE FEATURES and GARDENS of the ARBORETUM
The falling fences and whatever remained of farm-related buildings (except the springhouse) were removed between 1936 and 1945, and the nearest worked-out fields were turned into an arboretum of rare and unusual trees and plants. The tiny but steady stream was harnessed in 1939 into seven ponds with an eighth off the stream making use of a wetlands. The ponds grow larger as they move down stream, the largest being the pond below the mansion, covering an area of about five acres and ten feet or more deep at its dam breast. The stone spillway is wide and substantial over the core wall. It has withstood the pressures of sixty years of seasonal floods and heavy rains without damage. A substantial wooden pedestrian bridge was built in 1998 over the spillway by Green Valleys Association. Only because of its date, the bridge is a noncontributing structure. The largest pond is stocked with bass and blue gills. There is a patch of water lilies in front of the spring house. As the ponds grow smaller upstream, their banks become more grassy and herbaceous, habitat for mink, otter, muskrat, and various kinds of frogs, spring peepers and turtles.
The large Pennsylvania bank barn that had accompanied the farmhouse burned in 1936 and was not replaced. The footprint and stone stable walls were an eyesore of charred wood, debris and standing stone walls. Beginning by cleaning out the foundation and capping off the ragged walls to a uniform height, Grace and her brother, Benjamin Haspel, laid out perimeter beds against the rising stable walls where tall perennials would have protection from winds. The center area was seeded to a flat lawn. To the front, a low stone wall was introduced to set the garden apart from the larger lawn area. To the north and above where the stone walls are highest, Azalea Walk, a 100 foot lane 30 feet wide, was planted on both sides of a 10-foot grassed path with mixed azaleas, dogwoods and small shrubs. The difference in height gave the perennial beds the appearance of being sunken, hence the appellative The Sunken Garden.
The 1940 construction of the house left a sharp bank at the north entrance which was controlled by building a stone retaining wall just far enough back from the house to give a court for parking. Above this retaining wall, into which stone steps were implanted to mount the wall and bank, a multitude of mixed azaleas, rhododendron, mahonia, dogwood and complementary plantings were introduced. The steepness of the bank was enhanced by planting the tallest shrubs at the top of the bank and cascading the azaleas over the top of the wall.
A Pinetum of miniature evergreens is located north of the mansion on the plain above the entrance court steep bank of color. It is a small open area with named varieties of dwarf conifers collected from around the world by Philip A. Livingston and given to Welkinweir in 1952. As a backdrop to the Pinetum flowering crab trees were spaced along both sides of the upper driveway. Set out advantageously on all sides of the mansion are fine, mature specimens of both common and unusual trees including copper, weeping, fernleaf, and tri-color beech, blue Atlas cedar, Parrotia, Stewartia, Franklinia, flowering cherries, weeping dogwood, double flowered Kousa dogwood, flowering crab apples, many kinds of Japanese maples and a row of sugar maples. Mixed with weeping hemlock, chamaecyparis, and a variety of unusual evergreens, there are interesting views in any direction. The arboretum leads to woodland trails and wild flower concentrations, as well as identified bird habitats and migrations.
WOODLANDS AND TRAILS
Two-thirds of the Welkinweir Preserve is re-growth of native specie woodland with steep areas of old forest. Surrounding the arboretum on three sides, the woodlands break roughly into three sections: (1) a woods extending west from the seventh pond dominated by a red maple canopy with tulip tree and beech as secondary dominants. Also found are shag bark hickory, white and pin oak, white and red ash, American sycamore, and black gum. Moving south and eastward, (2) a red and chestnut oak and mixed hardwood old forest is on the steepest hillside with a sparse understory of spicebush, black haw, and low sweet blueberry. With great diversity of wildflowers including Christmas and rattlesnake fern, white wood aster, Canada mayflower, wild geranium, round leaf hepatica and perfoliate bellflower, it is followed by (3) a young to maturing tulip tree and native beech woods along the south side of the largest pond. Edged with colonies of trout lilies, dwarf ginseng, and rosebay rhododendron along the floodplain, the woods bends northward into a mixed growth of ash, maple, sassafras, black walnut, locust, hickory, and red cedar on the east perimeter of the preserve. Together, these form a continuous woods and forest boundary around the west, south, and east sides of the property. Meadow patches blend the wild habitats to the landscaped arboretum.
The Horse-Shoe Trail enters from Route 100 and runs along the south ridge top, going off Welkinweir grounds in the vicinity of Murray School Road and Prizer Road. This trail was started in 1935. Since it travels from Valley Forge to Hershey, Pennsylvania, by gratis of many landowners, it has been rerouted in a few places, but constant over Welkinweir for roughly 60 years. Other Welkinweir hiking trails run across the mid and lower slopes of the perimeter forest. An old roadbed that parallels the eastern boundary beyond the largest pond, and which intersects with the Horse-Shoe Trail, is now also used as a Welkinweir hiking trail. It was the early road from William and Edwin Morris' home to the Tilt Works on Beaver Run.
Welkinweir Preserve has achieved its horticultural appearance since 1940 under the self-taught hands of Grace and Everett Rodebaugh. Sixty years of maturing arboretum care and the engineering of pond projects, plus the natural return of eroding farm fields to mature woodlands has created the very special environmental preserve and cultural habitat seen today. There have been no additions, deletions, or modifications to the architecture of the mansion since its building date of 1940. It is a mansion in classical traditions with timeless dignity and grace. Its arboretum has taken on the beauties of age and under Green Valleys Association and the Welkinweir Trust, it will continue to be a pleasure to all who visit.
Welkinweir is significant in the area of Conservation and Other: Ornamental Horticulture, as a locally significant example of a 20th century gentleman's estate in Chester County, and in the area of Architecture for the substantive 1940 remodeling of and addition to an earlier farmhouse in 20th century Colonial Revival style. The mansion and property have become a locally outstanding artistic accomplishment of architectural expression amid a controlled yet naturalistic background. The mansion and surrounding acres are noted for their use of native plants and water in the style of English landscapers, Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton. Designed at the latter end of a trend 'to the country,' Welkinweir reflects the idea of a gentleman's country seat with an environmentalist's concern for the land and a gardener's love of horticultural regeneration. The dates of significance were chosen to encompass the year when Grace and Everett Rodebaugh became owners of the property and began the creation of the estate seen and visited today, and ending at the cut off date of being 50 years old.
In 1935, Grace and Everett Rodebaugh purchased an aging farm with a stone and frame farmhouse, stone and frame forebay barn and an assortment of smaller farm buildings. When the Rodebaugh's purchase, there were few specimen trees or plantings away from the buildings, and those nearby were old and sparse. The hillsides were barren, having been many years abandoned after the last true farmer left the property. Fences were falling down and the barn, without the heat of animals and hay, was showing signs of decay. Before they took possession, the barn burned. Having no intention of farming, they did not rebuild it. Mr. Rodebaugh had a court reporting business in Philadelphia. In the pattern of Philadelphia businessmen, the farm was to be a retreat for weekends and summer visits. After a few years of part-time use, they decided to make it their year-round home. Fridtjof Tobiessen was hired to draw up plans for a manor house that would blend with the natural site and provide a pleasant background for relaxed country living and entertaining. The result is the manor house standing today as it was built in 1940 onto the much older farmhouse.
The farmhouse had begun in mid-18th century as a log house with an attached 2-floor stone kitchen. In 1791, Samuel Rea, a blacksmith, purchased in East Nantmeal Township a very early iron tilt forge with 137 acres on Beaver Run, a tributary to French Creek. In 1827, William Morris, a blacksmith from Reading, Pennsylvania, came to work at the forge and stayed to marry the forge owner's daughter. Over a lifetime, Morris acquired not only the forge and farm but also adjoining farm lands. About 1830, he built the stone 5-bay two story house to replace the log house, keeping the stone kitchen. In 1855, his son, Edwin, took over the farm and mill, and about 1865 Edwin raised the roof of the 1830 house and built a frame 3-bay, 2 1/2 story addition to the east end. The Morris family lived there until Edwin died in 1898, after which the property changed hands several times. Eventually in 1930, it was owned by Edgar Carlisle of St. Davids, a suburb of Philadelphia, as a summer vacation home. When the Rodebaughs purchased, there was not electricity or central heat in the house, and water was supplied through an iron hand pump on the front porch. Nevertheless, Grace Rodebaugh could see "possibilities."
Both Grace and Everett had grown up in the city and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in the 1920s. Everett, son of a city tailor, was getting established in the business world as a stenographer where his ability to take rapid, accurate shorthand led him into the field of court reporting. Fortuitous timing put him in the courts at a time when the stenographer's shorthand machine was incubating. Seeing the need for reliable, fast setting down of testimony and rapid reconstruction of the same, he formed a shorthand reporting company with backup typists used in shifts, who together could provide a full day typed-out testimony only an hour or two after the court session ended. Married in 1925, the Rodebaughs lived in Ithan, a mainline suburb of Philadelphia. At a time when fresh air and 'getting back to the country' were popular refrains and much of the post-World War I appeal of the city had collapsed, it was the utter peace and tranquility of the Nantmeal valley that lured the Rodebaughs. As the automobile and railroads had reached into the townships surrounding Philadelphia, it was possible to live in the country and work in the city. An hour's ride by train or car twice a day was considered a fair trade against the smoke, noise, and hurry of the city. Living in the country, one could have the best of both worlds.
This philosophy brought many businessmen to purchase first in the suburbs and then in the rural townships, expanding from generous lots to small farms to full-blown country estates. Such was the progress of Rodebaugh's ailing-farm purchase. Both having a generally city/suburb background, they had no taste for true dirt farming and no desire to husband animals (except Grace's six dachshunds), but enjoying the excitement of beautifying the premises, they turned all their resources into house and horticultural enhancements. They brought their backgrounds of corporate entertainment with them, and asked friend "Toby" Tobiessen to draw up plans for a house that would lend itself to that living style. The result was the house built in 1940 and called "Welkinweir," an Old English term meaning "Where sky meets water."
The style chosen was rather plain on the outside, but on a much grander scale than the average farmhouse. Inside, there were Philadelphia features, carpentry details generally found in fine Philadelphia mansions of a century or two earlier. Emphasis was placed on viewing the outdoors from every room except the Pine Room, and planting the outdoors so that there was "a view" from any window. The foyer was especially dramatic with its 2-floor high ceiling, balcony, and descending stairway. The pipe organ and the window through which the organist and console could be seen was an added architectural feature not common to rural mansions.
ARCHITECT FRIDTJOF TOBIESSEN
The significance of this house is seen in the ingenuity of the architect to provide all the conveniences desired by the owners without losing the atmosphere of the older house. Welkinweir is a happy example of the art of making a mansion livable. Although drawn on massive lines, the house is not overpowering. It settles into its hillside with an organic security rather than dominance. Fridtjof Tobiessen, born in 1905 in Norwood, Ohio, did graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Architecture. He spent all his working years in the Philadelphia area. From 1938 to 1941, he was an Associate in the architectural offices of Thomas Early and after 1945 practiced at 262 S. 17th Street, Philadelphia, later moving to offices in Paoli. Not predominantly a residential architect, Welkinweir is the only private residence mentioned in his biography in the American Architects Directory of 1956 and 1970. In addition to Welkinweir, his "principal works" include numerous public schools, memorials, churches, and a considerable amount of consulting to county authorities, health groups and the Devereaux Schools. He died at his home at 2141 Grubb's Mill Road, Berwyn, Pennsylvania, in October, 1975. Compared to the great bulk of Tobiessen's work, which was mostly institutional, Welkinweir is far more classical than might be expected. Because of a close friendly relationship between the Rodebaughs and the Tobiessens (Mrs. Tobiessen and Mrs. Rodebaugh had been sorority sisters while undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania), the house design was cast far more to Mrs. Rodebaugh's preference than to the usual style of Tobiessen, although the ability to blend a building with its site seems to be a quality of Tobiessen's work.
HISTORY OF THE ARBORETUM
Much of the appeal of Welkinweir is due to the plantings introduced by the Rodebaughs. As the hill continues to rise above the house, a luxurious planting of azaleas, rhododendrons and other ornamentals hang over a stone retaining wall at the north entrance court. Azalea Lane draws the visitor away from the house and toward the sunken garden. As paths continue to pull the wanderer toward the ponds, wild flower fields, and woodlands, the house becomes the anchor of the landscape.
When the Rodebaughs bought in 1939 a full ornamental nursery that was going out of business in Delaware, they hired the nursery crew for the better part of a year to dig and transplant the whole nursery to Welkinweir. Using the open, brushy fields of the one-time farm, they formulated their own plans for the south facing hillside between Prizer Road and the stream and a narrow flat land that lay on the other side of the stream. This was the beginning of the arboretum. It is this roughly 55 acres on which the Rodebaughs primarily worked, planted, and created groupings of ornamental and unusual specimens against a backdrop of the ponds. In later years, Mrs. Rodebaugh noted that they so over planted the area that almost as much was cut out in time as was left. It was this ongoing culling and moving of plants that created the vistas and special effects that provide so much interest to the horticulturist and harkens back to the vistas of 18th century English landscapes. After the ground had settled from the house building, a circular hard-topped driveway was installed to Prizer Road, the 'upper driveway' planted with pink flowering crab apple trees on 35 foot centers for specimen effect. Native Mountain Laurel was introduced along the western driveway. Mature azaleas of all colors mix with daffodils, scillas, and spring bulbs along both sides and nestle against banks at unexpected turns. No formal plans were drawn and no professional was employed. The arboretum came about as a simple matter of recognizing the natural conditions and using them creatively. The Pinetum was a surprise gift to Welkinweir by Philip A. Livingston, a noted horticulturist, when he was reducing his collection in 1951, it having grown too large for his home in Haverford. Having gathered specimens from all over the world, acclimating them, and selecting the best, he offered the collection to Welkinweir and to Longwood Gardens, either of which were happy to accept. He chose to give his collection to Welkinweir where he felt they would be well cared for and not lost among larger collections.
All of the arboretum is situated around the mansion between Prizer Road and the ponds in the north central area of the 162 acres. As one goes beyond this area, the surrounding fields become paths through meadow lands into woods rising on the perimeters of the preserve. The south hills are the view seen from the living room window of the mansion climbing high over the ponds and protecting the property from any incursion of an outside world. Although busy Route 100 is just on the other side of this high hill, its activity is totally obscured. Welkinweir is accessible to the Horse-Shoe Trail hiker or horseback rider. It runs 135 miles from Valley Forge to the Appalachian Trail on the crest of Sharp Mountain (twelve miles north of Hershey). Welkinweir is also accessible for the one or two hour hiker on its own trails around the property. Green Valley Association maintains the shorter trails with markers and clean-up after storm damage.
In 1940, at the end of a Depression economy, those who had survived the vicissitudes of the 1930s could buy ailing farms and turn them into country estates. Three examples of this in the area are the Reading Furnace, the Warwick Furnace, and Kimberton Hills, each purchased by a member of the Pew families. In East Nantmeal and Warwick Townships, the furnace properties were 1930 remodelings of ironmasters' houses under the guidance of R. Brognard Okie. Kimberton Hills, in West Vincent Township, was built completely new in 1939/40 on a prominence above French Creek from the design of architect, Walter E. Durham. Durham also had mansionized an early farmhouse in West Pikeland Township at the same time for banker John F. Kramer. All of the above are on mansion proportions and all are stone construction in modified colonial styles setting amid large acreages. The furnace houses are historically important and under Okie retained considerable authenticity, albeit additions. The Durham houses were unabashed Main Line houses. They each represent a top layer of country living. Built with Philadelphia tastes, ample funds for master carpenters, masons and workmen, they display a finesse far beyond the average home in the area. Welkinweir is the only one of the five, however, that reached into the field of horticultural excellence, although Warwick Furnace has a garden of lovely perennials beside its kitchen. Kimberton Hills has become the property of Camphill Schools for adults with special needs and does emphasize both conservation and the growing of natural foods. However, its landscape is that of agriculture rather than horticulture. The furnace mansions remain private homes as does the Kramer residence, and while setting amid rolling fields, they do not have landscaping beyond the close perimeters of their mansions. None of the cited comparisons, nor any other locally known estates, have attempted to create a horticulturally interesting landscape as have the Rodebaughs.
Approaching the age of retirement in 1965, and sensing the environmental hazards that were threatening Chester County, Mr. Rodebaugh's concern grew toward preservation of the rural character of the area and ecology. In 1967, he gathered local businessmen with like concerns to join as a group to educate and provide leadership that might slow the tide of too rapid development engulfing the county. He organized them under the name of Green Valleys Association as a watershed protection organization. The Association has continued to grow and today is a strong advocate for, and protector of natural resources, particularly that of water resources, with a side bar of educating both young and old in the necessity of preserving environmental balance.
Having no children, the Rodebaughs decided in 1978 to divest themselves of ownership of the property but maintain lifetime rights. It was first given to West Chester State College with a large endowment for maintenance. The college used it admirably for environmental courses, musicales, and conferences, but when it became a political football, the state breached its contract. Everett Rodebaugh died in 1983, and in 1985, the property was transferred under the same conditions to Natural Lands Trust, a local conservation organization, who held it until 1997 with Green Valleys Association holding a conservation easement on the lands. Wishing only to hold title to open space and unwilling to maintain the mansion and arboretum, Natural Lands Trust and Green Valleys Association traded positions of owner and easement holder. Grace Rodebaugh died in June, 1999, at which date full ownership was vested in Green Valleys Association.
Present use of Welkinweir as headquarters for Green Valley Association enhances every intention cherished by the Rodebaughs — care of the arboretum and mansion, availability for use by controlled public visitation, seminars and conference programs, and outdoor enjoyment of the very natural perimeter. Currently used as the focal point for environmentally sound practices and watershed protection, Welkinweir has a future of service ahead and reason to be recognized as the architectural and horticultural gem that it is. With sixty years of homespun planning and growth behind it, Welkinweir mansion, arboretum, and preserve stand exactly as the Rodebaughs and Tobiessen envisioned it. As a locally outstanding accomplishment in architecture, landscape architecture, and conservation by reclamation of ailing hillsides and stream, Welkinweir reflects today the importance of beginning. Had the Rodebaughs not begun in small steps, project-by-project, as opportunity and economics dictated, there would be no Welkinweir natural or man-made arboretum that is publicly visited today.
Chester County Court House, High & Market Streets, West Chester, PA. Recorder of Deeds office.
Chester County Archives, 601 Westtown Road, West Chester, PA. Chain of Title Search.
Chester County Historical Society, North High Street, West Chester, PA. Name files, Township files, & Industry files.
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 219 S. 6th Street, Philadelphia, PA. Biography of Fridtjof Tobiessen and listing of his works.
Personal information gleaned from Rodebaugh estate records held by the estate and in hands of Estelle Cremers.
Interviews during lifetimes with Grace and Everett Rodebaugh re how they went about creating Welkinweir.
Physical observation of buildings and grounds.
Interviews with Victoria Laubaugh, Grounds Manager & arborist at Welkinweir.