Beautiful 18th Century House is Demolished in Tredyffrin Township — Why?

When I was looking for houses for the  9th Annual Historic House Tour last year, there was a beautiful 18th century home at 523 Pugh Road in Wayne that was for sale.  The stately home, known as the Ann Pugh Farm, has its early roots in the 1700’s.  The stone farm house, garage, barn and springhouse were all wonderfully restored and and 2.2 acres of beautifully landscaped lawn.

Described in the real estate brochure as a a “historic estate property with stately farmhouse”, the stone house was fully restored with five fireplaces, a ‘guest’ barn,  swimming pool with spa, 5 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, library, 4500 square feet and all the modern amenities for the 21st century family.

The property was absolutely stunning and a perfect house for the annual historic house tour!  I contacted the real estate agent in June to see if the owners would consider having the house on the tour in September.  Occasionally there are houses for sale on the house tour and sometimes the ‘perfect buyer’ for the old house is on the tour. And with a location next to the elementary school, this  home would be a real attraction as a family home and the house tour a perfect opportunity for more potential buyers to see it.

Although flattered to be asked, I was told by the real estate agent that the older couple who owned house  declined the house tour offer, stating that they were very private people and were not interested.  I was disappointed — neighboring Avonwood Farm (c.1750) also on Pugh Road was already scheduled to be on the 2013 house tour and the addition of the Ann Pugh  Farm would have connected the histories of those two early farms.

The 9th Annual Historic House Tour occurred in September — with Avonwood Farm and without the Ann Pugh Farm, which was still for sale at that point.   It sometimes can take longer for historic homes to sell so I assumed that the house was still on the market — that was until I learned otherwise yesterday!  I was shocked when Tredyffrin Township resident Christine Johnson posted a demolition photo of  this beautiful historic home on her Facebook page yesterday.  It seems impossible to believe that this could happen here in Tredyffrin Township and no one cared enough to try and save it a piece of our local history!

According to Zillow, the Ann Pugh Farm was sold for $1.4 million on December 12th.  Although less than the original asking price of $1.7 million, certainly a significant price tag. In less than a month after the purchase, the house is being demolished.

  • Doesn’t a demolition permit take longer than 30 days?  
  • Where was the township’s Historic Commission and the Board of Supervisors?  
  • Was there even a pause by anyone on the township staff before the permit was granted?  

It would be one thing if this 18th century house had been neglected and in disrepair but that was not the case. The former owners purchased the house  in 1982 for $230K. They lived in the house for thirty years, raised their family and lovingly restoring their historic treasure, down to every detail! With their children grown and out of the house, they decided to downsize and sell the family home.

I cannot imagine how the former owners must now feel knowing their beautiful historic home has been demolished. I wonder if they had any idea what the ‘new’ owners intended to do when they signed that sales agreement in December?  Beyond the purchase price, the ‘new’ owners have the demolition and rebuilding costs of their new McMansion.  It’s hard for me to understand why anyone would spend $1.4 million on a completely restored historic home, only to turn around and knock it down.

From the Tredyffrin Township website — “Few townships in Pennsylvania are as rich in history as Tredyffrin Township, which is located at the easternmost edge of Chester County, Pennsylvania … The Township had its beginning in 1682 when a group of Welsh Quakers went to William Penn in England and purchased, at a price of ten cents an acre, forty thousand acres of land in southeastern Pennsylvania. Penn promised the Quakers that here they could enjoy their customs and language in a little “barony” of their own…”

As president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust and chair of the annual historic house tour, the destruction of the Ann Pugh Road Farm is more than just a sad day for me; it’s a loss to the community.  Historic buildings serve as reminders of the past. This is one of the reasons preserving historical buildings is important. Understanding the past and having reminders of the past allows people to understand there they are and where they are headed.  When people understand what the community has gone through and have visual reminders of their past then they can feel more connected to the place. Preserving our past gives us more understanding and hope for the future.

The loss of the Pugh Road farmhouse is a loss of our local history … and represents a very sad commentary on the value of  historic preservation in Tredyffrin Township.

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  1. Most municipalities along the mainline and have historic resource protection ordinances. Tredyffrin has also has an ordinance, but it offers very little protection. There are many ways municipalities can help protect their historic resources…Tredyffrin should rethink about strengthening its ordinance language. Thank you Pattye for bringing this to our attention.

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  2. Just awful. We all know what’s going in it’s place, new construction. What a shame! I can see the marketing materials now “Influenced by classic Main Line styling etc. etc. etc. how ironic.

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    not so fast Reply:

    Wow. At one time the Ann Pugh Farm was “new” construction… What else would be going in it’s place, old construction?? Marketing materials? Do you know for a fact that this is a developer?

    You are losing sight of the issue, is it preservation, or is it simply opposition to new construction?

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Not opposed to new construction — just support the preservation of our community’s historic resources.

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    Rochelle Rabin Reply:

    @not so fast: For that matter, the entire US of A was “new construction” in the 18th century, as was Independence Hall. (I assume you’re ok with the latter remaining protected.) I, too, am sad to see the destruction of something of great architectural beauty and historic value in this neighborhood. Its very presence is living history as it shows the rural character of the township from the 18th century as well as reminding us of the way people lived and occupied themselves. It’s sad to me that this well-preserved and gorgeous house could be knocked down. Obviously, it’s legal, but just because you *can* do something doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do. This really hits me in the gut.

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    not so fast Reply:

    Rochelle – I am okay with any and all of that being protected, my issue is with all of the disparaging comments and assumptions re the “new” construction on the property – which, incidentally, is total conjecture at this point. The misguided attacks diminish your valid concerns.

  3. This is a disaster. I always wonder why people who feel compelled to destroy historic structures. Surely there must be other properties available. If our township ordinances don’t offer adequate protections then they do need to be strengthened. I agree in thanking you from publicizing the issue.

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  4. I don’t think that disparaging terms like “McMansion” add anything to your position. Is the issue here the loss of local history, or what is planned to be built thereafter? Perhaps the new owners plan to build a home that doesn’t fit your definition of “McMansion”??

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    The point is not about what is to be built on the property — the point is that the 18th century house was demolished. I have an interest in what is planned for the site, my interest was in the local history that was lost when the demolition permit was granted.

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    Bob sellers Reply:

    Thank you Patty. Apparently this person just doesn’t get it. It’s so not about what will be done with this property.

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  5. This is a crime !!!! Some developer probably bought it and intends to put up six or seven McMansions on the 2.2 acres. how do they manage to get permits to do this ? Thanks, Patty for sharing this and making us more aware of what goes on in T/E.

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    not so fast Reply:

    Slow down and stick to the facts. No one got permits to put in a development, or even to subdivide the lot!

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    C. Gray Reply:

    I know the family who has done this, and they plane to build one large family home to replace the home that they currently live in about 1/4 farther down Pugh road. They are selfish and greedy people who don’t. care about a 350 yer old piece of amazing history. I suppose there is no reason to call it Pugh road anymore… :-(

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  6. The recent article about Frank Furness and his Main Line buildings highlighted the Baldwin School as historically notable. Anyone associated with Baldwin knows the extraordinary cost associated with maintaining this old building…
    A few articles on the topic of “mansions disappearing”….

    http://www.udel.edu/PR/Messenger/98/4/missing.html

    http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2010/todays-news/threatened-main-line-estate.html

    http://articles.philly.com/2000-06-28/news/25603397_1_durham-house-historic-buildings-property-owners

    http://articles.philly.com/2002-03-27/news/25340612_1_mansion-demolition-plans-preservationist

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  7. This property is listed in the township’s Historic Resource Atlas as having “Local Historic Significance”, but as Mr. Wise suggests, that does not provide any level of protection.

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  8. Shame on T/E for not protecting its historic treasures. What can we do to change this? Thank you Pattye for reporting on this. I travel Pugh Rd. almost every day and was shocked to see the house coming down—one I secretly coveted for the past 30 years! (well, maybe not so secretly)

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  9. It’s not “T/E”….it is Tredyffrin Township….and Pattye’s question about how a demolition permit could be obtained in less than 30 days is a good one. My neighbors added space on their garage and it took months of negotiations with the township ….

    WHO bought it? That is public record.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Yes, ‘who’ bought it is public record. I have the owner’s name but I don’t want to add it. But I will say that the new owner actually lives on Pugh Road, the same street as the demolished house — actually just a short walk down the street! So it’s not like someone from out-of-state that may not know anything about historic homes — the new owner passed Ann Pugh Farm each time they left their driveway. Bizarre and like I keep saying, a ‘wow’ moment. And you’re right I’ve been going around and around how this demolition permit went through in less than 30 days. The house sale did not occur until December 12th and then there was Christmas and New Years holidays. I had a friend call me from MD, outside Washington, DC and she said it took her more than 6 weeks just to get permission to replace a section of fence that came down.

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    sad neighbor Reply:

    It is a very sad occurrence and difficult to witness. Hope we can protect future properties that come up for sale.
    Thank you for speaking out on this issue. Keep fighting for us. There is more to the story.

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  10. And I have to get permission to paint my shutters. This is unbelievable and really very sad. It’s bad enough when they’re neglected and fall to decay but to take a completely viable dwelling with such history and demolish? It defies logic. Was it infested with termites? Or something we couldn’t see?

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    It does defy logic, doesn’t it! No, as far as I know it was a beautifully restored 18th century house that is no more. In Tredyffrin Township, home to the largest number of historic properties in Chester County, we have no historic ordinance, no list of protected properties, nothing. The 350+ historic properties are at risk for demolition just like the Ann Pugh house. Many of the Revolutionary General’s headquarters located in Tredyffrin Twp are on the National Historic Register but they are not protected. Today I was told my the township staff that the demolition permit for the Ann Pugh house was approved in 48 hours, unbelievable. There was no reason not to give the owners a permit — demolition permits (whether the property is historic or not) does not require review or approval from the Board of Supervisors. That’s the way it works in Tredyffrin Township.

    Thanks for sharing your website, The Urban Rowhouse — http://urbanrowhouse.wordpress.com/ Good to read about places that honor their history and protect their historic buildings!

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  11. I agree with Pattye & Paul and the others who feel it’s criminal to tear down a beautiful historic property, especially one in this condition but even one with good bones in need of restoration. If people want a new home, then buy or build a new home but don’t tear down an historic beauty, leave those intact for people who want & appreciate their beauty and will treasure and preserve them. These historic homes are disappearing fast, and can’t be replicated. They don’t build them like this anymore, the craftsmen who built these houses and created the stained glass and elaborate woodwork & fireplaces don’t exist anymore and if they do, the cost is exhorbitant if you were to try to replicate these grand old houses.

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  12. Pattye, Thanks for a wonderful (yet sad) article on a gorgeous and significant treasure’s loss. I loved that house – one of my favorite places in the world and I spent wonderful times in it over the last 30 years. All who knew it, used to live in it and loved it are sickened and sad. How the Township failed to protect it is an important issue, moving forward, for an area where historic homes are common but spread out so not often treasured as they should or as we’d wish. You’d be hard pressed to see Boston, Charleston or New Orleans letting this happen. If the Township does’t have a financial benefit as the other towns do from tourism for their historic gems, it probably won’t care enough to stave off future demolition. As for 523 Pugh Rd… it’s simply devastating and sad. It was charming, cozy, elegant, beautiful and filled with rich history and oodles of love and karma. They just don’t build them like they used to and with each treasure that’s knocked down, it’s one more part of our history vanquished forever.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thank you for your comment Ashley. As an old house owner myself, there’s something special about these houses. But based on the interest level in the Annual Historic House Tour, you don’t have to be an ‘old house owner’ to appreciate their value and the contribution historic preservation makes to this community. I feel particularly connected to the Ann Pugh house having wanted it on last year’s house tour with Avonwood Farm, down the road. You are right that each time one of these historic treasures is knocked down, there’s a loss to the community and its local history. However, as hard as it is for me (and you) and others to understand, the new owners had the ‘right’ to demolish this house.

    Sadly, there is no protection for any of the historic properties in Tredyffrin Township. Not even the historic buildings that are designated ‘National Historic Register’ properties by the Federal government are protected. Buildings like the Great Valley Mill on N. Valley Road, Duportail House, the Van Leer log cabin next to Conestoga High School, General Howe’s headquarters in Berwyn, etc. etc. — all historic properties on the National Historic Register but unprotected in Tredyffrin Township. The National Historic Register leaves the protection of the properties up to the local jurisdictions — and places like Tredyffrin Township, that do not have a list of protected historic properties, there’s nothing keeping the properties from the bulldozer.

    We have lost the Pugh Road house but do enough people care in the community to make a difference going forward? Or does this hinge on the rights of the property owners — own a historic property and demolish it if you want.

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  13. Pattye,
    All well stated. And as an owner of an old house, you know that they can be more costly or require more effort to maintain. So they must be loved and appreciated to survive. Then again, the ‘really old’ houses are far sturdier and more beautifully built than anything today so I think they are worth it.

    I no longer live in the area but grew up in an as of now, still standing house built in 1769, on the other side of Valley Forge. Its origins and dates have been confused and incorrectly logged and I ponder if that has something to do with its survival…

    For the record, the Pugh previous owners had no idea the house would be demolished and they are devastated. Truly saddened. Although we all agree the buyers have the right to do whatever they want, within zoning laws and tear it down. An unfortunate outcome, unexpected from the buyer and a significant loss. As this continues, the area will lose much of its charm, uniqueness and historical impact. I still remember life long before Chesterbrook and playing in the ruins of old colonial houses in the miles of open land. To some extent, it’s been happening all along; for decades. 523 Pugh Road was just more maintained and beautifully restored/preserved so it seems like it should have been an ‘easy save.’

    It’s difficult to expect the Township to have a magic bullet or easy answer how to balance historic preservation and pride with modern convenience and progression, let alone basic property rights. It’s not a tiny area to protect or maintain, houses are spread out over miles and Philadelphia has some pretty impressive ‘other’ preserved pieces of our nation’s history so where does the responsibility begin or end?

    Thanks to community activists like you, there’s reason to hope people will take note, care and make best efforts for whatever can be done that may help in the future. You are certainly doing your part to raise awareness. For that, many of us are grateful. And for those appreciative enough to buy, maintain and love those old homes, clearly they have THE BEST TASTE!

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Ashley, such a thoughtful comment and thank you for confirming something that I suspected — that the prior owners had no idea what was to become of their home. Like my husband and I, the prior owners had the pleasure to live in (and own) their historic treasure for 30 years. Although my husband may not be quite as emotional as I am (don’t think that many are!) on the topic of historic preservation, he agrees that (like us) there’s no way that the former owners would have knowingly sold the house to someone to demolish. It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t an old house owner and writing it sounds foolish, but when you live in one of these very old houses, your soul becomes connected with those that lived here before you. I’ve always viewed our ownership more as that of ‘caretakers’ — to preserve and protect it for future generations. I had a long conversation with someone today (not a old house owner) — and although he admired my determination and passion on this subject, there was a disconnect and I knew that he didn’t fully understand. I get it, that there will be many in the community who support individual property rights and protection of historic houses be damn, but that won’t diminish my commitment. When you speak with the former owners of the Pugh Road house, please tell them I’m so, so sorry that this happened to their beautiful home.

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  14. Pattye
    I hurt for you all…especially since I have become so very aware that unless a community values something, it won’t matter. Touring a “historic” home in Savannah that gets 35,000+ tourists a year, that dates to 1820…and has commissioned an archaeological study of the site to understand it more fully….they have things in that home they are so proud of, and I have older items in my home…so to have it happen at the same time as this demolition is just so ironic.
    But here is the comment: the people of Savannah BUY properties they want to preserve. They started the Historic Foundation in direct response to the proposed demolition of the Davenport House in the 50s. They don’t have millions — but they do fundraising and have tours and rent out the buildings. They aren’t about just preservation — they are about adaptive reuse. They didn’t want Savannah to be Jacksonville…just another city. Well, if nothing is protecting these properties, I don’t think you can expect the government to change that. The cost of litigating property rights (how long did the township fight for Wilson Park?) is not a battle likely to be won in the “not your business” main line. Maybe that’s okay.
    But maybe you could work on demolition requiring more notice? Or maybe you could target specific properties and think about researching/promoting the tax benefits of preservation if you can get them historically declared.
    Here, after HSF buys a property and secures it, they rehab it to a minimal level if required, and then they put restrictions on future ownership, as well as getting a right of first refusal on the property if the new owner would ever want to sell.

    That’s thinking out of the box. I feel badly for the neighbors on Pugh Road….but a community is really at the mercy of what a buyer wants to do….without restrictions and covenants on an historic district…

    The phrase I mentioned before — “It’s not good because it’s old. It’s old because it’s good” is a mindset that needs to be taught. That home was here for as long as it was because it was a beautiful place, and a wonderful estate. What goes in its place will no doubt be beautiful too — and it might look just like all the mega-houses built to look like Chester County Farmhouses all over the east coast…
    It was 2005 when 60 Minutes did the show on “Living Large”…and coined the phrase Vulgaria. Charm gives way to size….http://www.cbsnews.com/news/living-large-22-11-2005/

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Andrea, thank you for your comment and I’m so glad that you are involved in historic preservation in Savannah! Your words, “unless a community values something, it won’t matter” really does say it all. Having sat in more meetings than I care to recall on the topic of historic preservation ordinance — battling with the Planning Commissioners over private property rights and ‘what’ constitutes ‘historic’, I know that the position is unlikely to change. In my review of surrounding municipalities, I have learned that the demolition permit process has additional steps some places (whether the property is historic or not) such as required notification to adjourning property owners. You are right — maybe just working on the demolition process itself may help.

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