“If you build it, they will come,” according to “Field of Dreams,” the much-loved 1989 movie that is Tom Schnabel’s favorite. That’s why he chose it last summer for Movie Night at Schnabels’ Woods in Quakertown.
It’s a philosophy his grandparents might well have had in mind when they bought the 137-acre property with 10 cottages from the Kelly family in the 1940s and went on to build 190 more throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. If you go there, don’t look for a lot of group activities. Or any.
“These woods appeal to people who prefer quiet and seclusion,” says Tom, about the private recreational colony of which he is the multi-generational manager.
Schnabels’ Woods began as a farm owned by William Penn. Penn was granted all the land in Pennsylvania by the king, but to his credit, refused to settle any part of it until he had bought the claims of the Native Americans who already lived there. The farm was then deeded to the Kelly family in the 1800s, who in turn sold it to the Schnabel family.
Today, as I walk through the electronic private access gate that keeps the world out, I feel transported. It’s unlike any vacation community I’ve ever visited. Here, nothing is manicured. Trees and grass and flowers grow willy-nilly, entirely self-directed, and no two abodes are alike. It’s the distinctiveness of each structure and the unusual ambiance that Tom says make this place unique. Personally, it puts me in mind of the kind of getaway people used to travel to in 1954 when the location itself was what was most enjoyed and outside entertainment and attractions considered superfluous.
A dendrophile, which I just this minute learned when I googled it, means “a lover of trees and forests” will think they’ve died and gone to heaven, as they meander down sun dappled paths, and gaze up at mature oak, poplar, hickory, red cedar, silver maple, and dogwood trees — not to mention the hundreds of varieties of wildflowers they’ll encounter.
If you’re looking for wildlife, this is your kind of place, with deer, wild turkey, fox, mink, ducks, and great blue herons intermingling with the residents and looking like they’re enjoying it just as much. Oh, and there are lots of nature’s flashlights, the fireflies (lightning bugs to me) on summer nights.
Tom tells me that while you’ll find golf courses, tennis courses, and swimming pools nearby, you won’t find them in Schnabels’ Woods. And that’s just the way Tom and the other residents like it. This place “has its own personality,” as Tom puts it. An understatement. I notice that while people will wave to you as you walk along the trails, that might be the extent of it. For all its feeling of welcome, the Woods strike me as better suited to introverts looking for a temporary reprieve from the monotonous demands of daily life. And the pleasures it offers are best enjoyed alone or in a small group. Here, you can swim in the stream, kayak, canoe, walk, hike, fish, ice skate, ski cross country, or sled.
Or maybe the most enjoyable activity of all might be just sitting by the Tohickon Creek staring off into the forest or at the water and just thinking about…stuff.
Being the main steward for a Shangri-La isn’t Tom’s only work.
“Managing Schnabels’ Woods is my vocation, but music is my avocation,” he says.
Guitarist Tom and vocalist Brenda K. Lee make up the rock/jazz band Waterfront Blue. They perform a diverse repertoire in many venues, such as festivals and local restaurants.
It’s natural to envy a guy who gets to do not one, but two fun jobs. Makes me wish I hadn’t abandoned piano lessons in fourth grade.
As he swipes the access card key to let me out, I drive away reluctantly and remember the motto Schnabels’ Woods has embraced as its own. “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, and kill nothing but time.”
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