Op/ed: Crebilly Farm merits preservation effort

I would like to address something very near and dear to my heart: the potential loss of 330 beautiful acres and historic land known as Crebilly Farm. My name is Mindy Worth Rhodes. I grew up at 809 General Howe Drive in West Chester. I was born at Chester County Hospital; I graduated from Stetson Middle School and Westtown School. I lived in the big serpentine dairy barn purchased by my late father back in the 1960s and renovated over his lifetime.

General Howe Drive was a dirt road then and the only other house around was the farmhouse to the barn. Our back yard was acres of open field, woods and a creek. As a kid, I’d spend hours alone exploring that space and catching butterflies in a net my father made for me. Our home housed many pets, including my horse, Sir Noble.

When I was about 11 years old, I had outgrown riding around our small farm and decided I needed to expand my roots and nurture my adventurous spirit. After much persuasion, I finally convinced my parents that maybe riding over to Crebilly Farm would be a safe compromise. What I didn’t count on was that my parents told me I had to call up Mrs. Robinson (senior) all by myself and ask for her permission to ride on her land. My parents even had me look her number up in the phone book. Fortunately, the need for new adventure overcame my pangs of nausea. I still vividly recall my conversation with Mrs. Robinson. It was the day she granted my dreams in a single phone call: “Yes Mindy, you may ride on our land. In fact, you are welcome to ride in the pastures with the cows as long as you remember to close the gates behind you.” Wow. I had just won a million dollars.

So ride I did, every chance I had, for the next 10 years. Sometimes, Sir Noble and I would be gone from morning until dark. Occasionally, I’d pack a PB&J and if we got thirsty, we’d drink from the creek. We would race the cars on South New Street and the thrill of shifting my horse into high gear, in order to maintain the illusion of beating the cars, was exhilarating! The cow pastures were vast and hilly with creeks running in between. The terrain made for some very exciting riding, indeed. I recall in particular, a crisp November day, riding bareback when Sir Noble decided to stop at the bottom of the hill instead of jumping the creek like we always did. The sudden, unexpected jolt quickly had me airborne! I flew right over his head and landed in the icy waters! I can still picture him looking at me with the reins hanging off his neck. Needless to say, it was a long, cold ride home in my wet clothes.

As I look back at that time, I realize I was living the truest essence of Chester County: the breathtaking views, the fresh air, the open space, and the freedom and independence it all brought. That grounded me- literally and figuratively. To this day, that independence still serves as my internal compass. Which makes me think about what people love so much about this part of Chester County. I have lived away from here and have moved back. I have come home, if you will. Why? People that live "out here" live "out here" because they value space, peace and quiet. They value privacy. They are here because they value the simple things in everyday living such as a rising moon or the black sky riddled with stars. They value waking up to mist over the fields in the early morning hours and the sounds of crickets and owls at night.

People that live "out here" value the rich history of the sacred land that surrounds us. It is our responsibility and duty to fiercely preserve the countless acres that make up the Brandywine Battlefield, the largest battle of The American Revolution. Imagine that almost 240 years ago, on this very land that we live and drive through every day - was the Battle of Brandywine. The date is Sept. 11, 1777. It’s a steamy Thursday that feels more like July. Women are up early lighting the fireplaces because it’s baking day and the men are out feeding farm animals when an odd, rumbling thunder is heard. As the sound intensifies, people realize in horror what is happening: eight-thousand British soldiers are on their way to surprise our colonist ancestors led by George Washington. Setting fires to homes along the way, they stole cattle, horses, wheat, guns – whatever they wanted. Our men fought and died all over this very land we are practically standing on. Land on Crebilly Farm is land where some of those men gave their lives defending the birth of our nation. The Battle of Brandywine is to the Revolutionary War what the Battle of Gettysburg is to the Civil War. How would it be if we built houses on the battlefield of Gettysburg?

Westtown Township is a very special community-with many historic buildings, natural creek valleys, tree-canopied roads, beautiful homes, vibrant schools and rolling farmland.   While Westtown Township has experienced great change over the last decades, the change has been accommodated in a manner that maintains this special character and a feeling of being close to nature. Westtown is worthy of continued special efforts to carefully guide and preserve the most important features of the community. These are not my words, although they could be: This is the mission of the Westtown Township Growth Management Plan.

The problem isn’t that there is a shortage of housing in Chester County. A recent look at Zillow.com shows over 400 housing units for sale in the Westtown-West Chester market. An additional 250+ units are available for rent. I marvel at the irony of the feverish development of Chester County’s open space which in turn, is the destruction of the very reason people are ‘wooed’ to this area in the first place. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. The Westtown Township Growth Management Plan, Chester County Planning Commission, Landscapes2 and the Brandywine Battlefield Protection Plan all state preservation of open space as a goal. If you want to live five minutes from the nearest, grocery store, gas station, drug store, Wawa, gym, liquor store, restaurants and shopping- then go live on the Main Line. "Out here" we don’t mind if no one delivers pizza to our door or that cell-phone reception is spotty.

The Robinson Family, owners of Crebilly Farm, has every right to sell their land.   And I would want that same right for myself. We have all benefitted from their beautiful rolling hills for generations. To imagine that exquisite land developed saddens my soul. The pending sale between the Robinson’s and Toll Brothers is contingent upon conditional use approval from Westtown Township Board of Supervisors, which is likely. But that doesn’t mean it’s a ‘done deal.’ We, the community, should be asking the supervisors, our lawmakers, our county commissioners, and area conservancies to do whatever they can to mitigate the damage that this development would bring. What is the cost to prevent this unconscionable outcome? Can government grants and conservancy money be pooled to counter the offer or buy down the development rights?

I rode my horse through the neighborhoods and handed out flyers to raise awareness about this pending sale because I could not do nothing. As I mentioned earlier, this pending sale is not a "done deal." Our soldiers may have lost the battle that day at the Brandywine, but as we all know, they won the war. My hope for you is that you get involved. You cannot do this behind a computer. My hope for you is that you make the commitment and dedicate yourselves to showing up and speaking up at your township meetings. If you do not do this – if you are not physically present and sound your voices in opposition – you may as well be serving Toll Brothers champagne. You may not be able to un-ring the bell between owner and buyer, but you can certainly put the pressure on town officials to find a more comparable balance between open space, development and historic preservation.

You have huge support from the surrounding community. We care deeply and we are here tonight. This pending sale affects all of us. But you, community of Westtown Township – you hold the cards. Voice your concerns about the additional stress this development will cause hospitals, police and schools. Voice your concerns about the increase of traffic that will absolutely affect our back roads and 202. Voice your concerns about the consistently, bad track record of Toll Brothers business, the poor quality of their product and the long-term effects. Call and write to county and state officials and area conservancies. Learn about the Brandywine Battlefield Protection Plan and sensitive habitat that is designated on Crebilly Farm. Put the pressure on your elected township supervisors. Ask to hear from the Board of Supervisors what you can do to prevent such catastrophic and permanent change. And those who turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to land and historic preservation: Vote them out!

If not you, then who?

Mindy Worth Rhodes

West Bradford Township




























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