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Guest Opinion

George Hart’s “Pastimes” farm informs and inspires. For now.


The recent article announcing the plans of the Bucks County Historical Society to develop a very historical farm on the edge of Doylestown Borough (“Bucks County Historical Society’s Doylestown Twp. land eyed for luxury homes,” April 4) has me greatly troubled.

I am thankful for Mary Hughes’ essay (“Historical Society’s proposed land sale at odds with its mission,” April 18) and fully agree with her.

This is not just an issue of asset management but, more importantly, how preservation invites the inspiration of the physical artifacts which surround us. I feel BCHS sets a very poor example of stewardship of Bucks County’s historical resources. Further, it illustrates a failure of trust that gifts to the BCHS are in good hands and will demonstrate best practices to sustain these resources for the future.

My memories of the property extend back nearly 65 years, before the bypass, when Doylestown was surrounded by elegant historical farms, broad productive fields and picturesque landscapes. My father and George Hart struck up a friendship of history and old trains (Mr. Hart’s specialty).

I was introduced and Mr. Hart’s historical interests spurred my own. His quiet, interesting and pleasant demeanor bespoke a heritage of assurance and quality, drawn from his very surroundings.

I recall when he made a most generous gift of his farm, with its historic stone house and barn, to the BCHS, enabling the society to provide a home for key staff. Mr. Hart’s gift was welcome indeed. The house and property provided a unique opportunity to study vernacular architecture, as well as simply an inspirational artifact of aspiration and handcraft of times past.

Yes, the farm, whittled down to 22 acres by 1982, was called Pastimes.

I was invited to “A Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of Pastimes” hosted by Mr. Hart and then BCHS Curator James Blackaby and given a most unique party favor: a hand, block-printed, booklet entitled “Untangling Old Houses” written and printed by Mr. Blackaby with hand coloring of the illustrations by Angela and Mary Conran.

Full credit for the printing guidance was given to Charles Ingerman and the architectural analysis to George Hart. The booklet celebrates more than just information, it clearly conveys the inspiration of the historical structures and settings, as well as the tactile tradition of historic letter press technique.

Through the experience of the stone walls, the proportioned scale, the paneled doors, etc. Blackaby leads the reader through a most effective process of understanding the physical story of an historic stone house, with Pastimes as the illustrative example.

In his foreword, Mr. Blackaby stresses the importance of these majestic stone structures and settings. “We gain perspective on our own actions by seeing them in terms of material change in ourselves or our environment….(to) look back with the same intensity and curiosity that we afford a house 250 years old adds gravity to our actions and indicates that incrementally we are moving along...”

Throughout Blackaby shares how this simple house conveys a physical record of actions 250 years ago then melds the architecture with historical documents, to recommend the house construction in the 1730s under Jeremiah Langhorne’s guidance, as one of his 14 farm estate properties surrounding Doylestown. The adjacent farm extending up to the town center, Langhorne gave to his two former slaves Cudjo & Jo. Seeds that formed the crossroads village and future county seat.

How many buildings do you know that can claim such an early construction date? A strong stone farmhouse that has stood witness to formative actions which shaped our history and the communities we experience daily? Set in a quiet green oasis amid modern changes, these buildings allow our imaginations, with awe and humility, to meet the physical verification of how man has shaped Bucks County…and our nation. Stone by stone.

But what contribution does this generation offer to respect this handmade artifact formed of the stones of the field, serving as a physical volume of our beautiful history? Are there other, better ways to solve the financial dilemma of the BCHS? Why is there a dilemma? Once sold, nothing more can be gained.

Can the property be enhanced in a more respectful way to build on its appealing architectural design and unembellished natural setting?

Could it serve better as a park, or leased to a CSA, with the historical buildings retained and maintained by the BCHS?

Could a small portion be a model of properly scaled houses designed to mirror or complement the existing farmhouse?

Could it represent a more natural community with a variety of residential units sized and priced to attract a dynamic neighborhood?

Could the property help interpret William Penn’s vision, and Bucks County’s history of nearly a dozen, independent cultures coming together to form a new county and country?

Are we “moving along” to no identity? Is the “social change” of today requiring a hardscaped erasure of the softness of times past? Images of proposed new construction presented banal, oversized, institutional looking, very expensive apartments, more akin to army base barracks, that would stifle the historical structures amid an alien setting.

Pastimes will be celebrating 300 years in 2032. Will it even be there? What proper safeguards will the BCHS set in place to assure that the future can be as inspired as I, George Hart, James Blackaby and others who have come to know just how special these ancient farmsteads really are?

Kathryn Ann Auerbach is a historic preservation consultant based in Tinicum.

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