Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge

7th Annual Historic House Tour Saturday, September 24 . . . Tickets Now Available!

Old houses tell wonderful stories, and the houses of Tredyffrin Township have many tales to tell!

On Saturday, September 24, 2011, 12 noon – 5PM, the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s 7th Annual Historic House Tour will open doors to our community’s past. This year’s tour will opening the doors to eight unique historic homes in Tredyffrin Township in Strafford, Berwyn, Valley Forge and Malvern. Featured houses span 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and offer visitors an opportunity to experience Chester County history through original, restored and historically significant homes.

We are delighted to announce that this year the Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge will serve as the pick-up point for House Tour tickets. The school is at Ivy Hollow Farm on Thomas Road inside the Valley Forge National Historic Park. The MCHVF classrooms are in Ivy Hollows’ barn and the administration and offices are in the original 1750 farmhouse; both buildings will be open for tours. Believing in historic preservation, the school opened last year at their new location after the school raised the necessary funds for the multi-million dollar renovation to the barn and farmhouse. In addition to participating on the House Tour, the school is also supporting the Trust’s historic preservation efforts through a House Tour sponsorship.

The 2010 Historic House Tour enjoyed an 83 percent increase in ticket sales from the prior year, so the ‘bar’ is set high for this year’s House Tour! All monies raised from the Trust’s annual fundraiser go toward the rebuilding efforts of the Jones Log Barn at Duportail in Chesterbrook. When rebuilt, the barn will serve as a living history museum for the entire community. Tickets for the House Tour are $35/person — The Trust is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization, so all contributions are tax-deductible as the law permits.

With the help of the community, I am looking forward to another successful House Tour. How can you help? Several ways . . .

Sponsorship: The 7th Annual Historic House Tour is a great way to gain targeted visibility for you and/or your business. I am pleased to say, that a number of citizens and local businesses have already agreed to help in this way. This is a great way to show your support of historic preservation in our community; and to show others of that support – sponsors will be listed on the Trust website, publicity press releases, tour brochures and on Community Matters. Invitations will also be extended for a private cocktail party hosted by the Trust’s Board of Directors on Friday, September 16 at a former House Tour participant’s home. For further details on sponsorships, click here.

Volunteering: We have a dedicated core group of people who help with the House Tour each year but as the tour increases in attendance, there is a greater need for volunteers. There are a number of opportunities to help with the House Tour prior to September 24, envelope stuffing, posters and signage, but most importantly ‘extra hands’ are needed on the day of the tour. Help is required from 10 AM – 12 Noon on the tour day to help with check-in, parking, etc. If you would enjoy serving as a volunteer docent in one of the historic houses, we are in need extra volunteers. If you have a willingness to help, we can find something for you to . . . just give me a call at 610.644.6759 or email me at

Advertise: Another important way for you to help is by spreading the word about the House Tour. Mention the tour to your friends, neighbors, family and co-workers. Forward this post, add a Facebook note (if you search on Facebook under ‘7th Annual Historic House Tour’) I created a page. Are you a social media wiz, consider tweeting about the event. Can you help us make this a wonderful community event?

Purchase Tickets: Lastly, please buy House Tour tickets — you won’t be disappointed. Over the years, over 50 homeowners in Tredyffrin have opened the doors to their beautiful historic homes and this year’s group is just as special. I’ll mention some of the specific details on the houses in the days leading up to the tour. To order tickets online using PayPal, visit the Trust website, To download a House Tour ticket form to pay by check, click here.

Thank you to those who will show their support of historic preservation by serving as a sponsor, a volunteer or by purchasing tickets. And a very special thank you to this year’s homeowners who have graciously agreed to open their homes for the public.

Pattye Benson
Chair, 7th Annual Historic House Tour
President, Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust

Updates from Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors Meeting Last Night

Summer Board of Supervisors Meetings are traditionally sparsely attended and last night’s meeting was no exception. In fact, Chairman Bob Lamina was absent and Vice Chairman Paul Olson presided.

From my standpoint, there were 3 noteworthy discussion topics from last night’s supervisors meeting. The first I mention for selfish reasons . . . I am a member of the township’s HARB (Historic Architectural Review Board) and each year we select a residential and non-residential property in the township to honor for historic preservation. The HARB award for residential historic preservation was awarded to Margie and John Sacharok, owners of Upper Stream Farm in Berwyn. This beautiful circa 1760 home was featured on last year’s 5th Annual Historic House Tour and has been wonderfully restored. The award for non-residential historic preservation was awarded to Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge. Montessori Children’s House created a partnership with Valley Forge National Historical Park and the school’s new home is in the southern corner of the park on Thomas Road. Restoring a historic house and barn for the nonprofit school was a unique pairing and one of the few partnerships in a national park in the country. I gave a brief historic overview of each property and showed a PowerPoint presentation featuring the before and after journey of the new home of the Montessori school in Valley Forge park.

The second item of interest from the supervisors meeting had to do with the 2011 township budget. During the liaison reports, Phil Donahue updated on the Finance Committee. Supervisors Donahue, Paul Olson and John DiBuonaventuro sit on the Finance Committee along with the township finance director and township manager. In his committee update, Donohue suggested public meetings in September and October to discuss the revenues and expenses in the 2011 township budget. This type discussion would be useful prior to the formal township budget process in November. I applaud Donahue’s suggestion, however there was very little further discussion from the other supervisors. So I’m guessing the discussion of the planned public finance meetings now moves to the August Board of Supervisors meeting. I have a feeling there may be more to the 2011 budget discussion than we saw last night!

The third topic from last night and the one that generated the most discussion was in regards to the township building’s failing HVAC system. Public Works Director Steve Norcini asked the Board of Supervisors for an additional $111K (not contained in 2010 budget) to perform needed HVAC retrofitting. If I understand the discussion correctly, the 2010 budget contained $85K for the necessary work but an early estimate has determined that the total cost of retrofitting the HVAC is significantly higher than in the budget — approximately $193K (thus requiring the extra $111K).

There were many questions from Supervisors DiBuonaventuro, Kichline and Donahue concerning the HVAC issue including (1) why would the prospective HVAC contractors know the estimated cost of the project in advance of their bid, (2) why was the project estimate so substantially lower in the 2010 budget than the actual estimated cost; (3) why did the project require a complete retrofit rather than repair; (4) why were the 2 rooftop units installed 2 years ago if the controls and ducts were known to be failing, etc., etc.

Initially Olson made a motion and Kampf seconded to move the HVAC project move forward to bid, however after further discussion from the board and citizens, a new motion was made to table the discussion until the August Board of Supervisors meeting, allowing for further investigation. This topic must have been discussed for at least 30 minutes and afterward there remained many more questions than answers. It seems so curious to me that the HVAC retrofitting estimate in the 2010 budget would be less than half the estimated ‘real’ cost to do the project.

Montessori Children's House of Valley Forge Opens on Valley Forge Park Grounds

The Valley Forge Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge moved in to its new ‘old’ home in Valley Forge National Historic Park this week. The article below was in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. Montessori Children’s House is very special to me . . . our only child spent the first 3 years of her school career at this school when it was located at St. Matthews Methodist Church on Walker Road in Wayne. This was 25 years ago, and our little girl is now grown and will graduate from medical school and marry a young attorney this May.

Congratulations to my friend Gill Gutteridge, the parents and teachers for following your dream . . . your vision created the magic for the children!

School Opens on Valley Forge Park Grounds

By Kristin E. Holmes Inquirer Staff Writer

Not every preschooler gets to learn the alphabet in a park that commemorates an epic struggle for independence, but when 80 students at the Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge look out their window, history stares back. The students and their teachers yesterday moved into the school’s new headquarters – a renovated barn and early-19th-century house on a southern corner of Valley Forge National Historical Park.

“We are so excited,” said Gillian Gutteridge, school administrator. “When we used to take a field trip, we went to the Great Valley Nature Center or the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy. Now, we can just take them outside.” The school is one of only a handful within the country’s 392 national parks, said Phil Sheridan, spokesman for the National Park Service, Northeast Region.

But the move yesterday is an example of the kind of relationship that the park system is seeking as a way to renovate and maintain some park buildings that have fallen into disrepair or remain unoccupied. The agency enlists organizations to lease and renovate buildings on federal land that the National Park Service can no longer afford to maintain.

The Montessori Children’s House, which for four years held classes in Phoenixville, spent $3.8 million to renovate a 3.5-acre property known as the David Walker Farm, or Ivy Hollow Farm. The parcel on Thomas Road included a main house, a barn, root cellar, and several small houses. The farm had been vacant since 2002. By the time Gutteridge took her first walk through the property, a ceiling had started to fall in, and ivy was growing in the buildings. But Gutteridge saw the possibilities. She envisioned an ideal marriage between the natural resources of the park and a school that would offer hands-on lessons in science, the environment, and history.

To Gutteridge, the park was perfect. But not everyone thought so. When neighbors heard talk of the school’s relocation, some expressed concern about the increase in traffic and congestion along Thomas Road and nearby Richards Road, heavily traveled, two-lane streets with no sidewalks. “Nobody minds the sounds of laughing children,” neighbor Barton Lynch said. “It’s just the traffic it might cause.” Neighbors Richard and Jacqueline Kunin say a double standard is in play. Neighbors argued against the school for reasons similar to ones enumerated by park officials when they fought the American Revolution Center, once proposed to be built in the northern section of the park, Richard Kunin said. The site was eventually abandoned, and the project moved to Philadelphia. “They thought their argument was good enough to oppose the ARC, but ours wasn’t good enough to oppose the school,” Richard Kunin said.

While park officials acknowledged that traffic would increase, they maintained that the $375 million ARC, a complex of new construction on open land, was different from the school’s renovation of four existing buildings. “Our dual mission is education and preservation,” said Deirdre Gibson, the park’s chief of planning and resource management. “We think it’s a wonderful thing to have a private nonprofit who shares a mission with us to share a part of the park with us.” The school and the park have signed a 40-year lease.

Construction began last April. The result is a main house with beige exterior accented by black shutters, with a stone fireplace once used by colonial families to cook meals. The building will be used as a library and parent meeting room. The school building – the old barn – has large windows trimmed in red, six classrooms, and barn motifs throughout the decor. Suzanne Snyder Schrogie called the school’s relocation a welcome change. Schrogie lived with her family on Ivy Hollow Farm for 30 years before moving to Chester Springs. They had moved to the farm in 1972 but lost it in 1978 when the property was acquired by eminent domain. She was allowed to live on the park land for up to 25 more years, but left in 2002. Over the years, Schrogie raised horses in the barn, hosted children’s Halloween parties in the root cellar, and watched Michael Jackson play basketball on her home court in 1975 when the singer and his brothers were recording an album in Philadelphia. “I’m thrilled with what they have done,” Schrogie said of the renovation.

Yesterday, teachers led the children on tours. Wow was perhaps the most popular word of the day. Four-year-old Ben Kenneck pronounced his new school “great,” and an improvement over the old, “much more boring-er” school building in Phoenixville. For Gutteridge, it’s like coming home: “I can’t think of anything better for the Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge than to be in Valley Forge.”

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