Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: July 1991 Volume 29 Number 3, Pages 117–122

The Great Valley Association

Bob Helms

Page 117

The roots of the Great Valley Association go back more than three-quarters of a century, well before the preservation of our environment and ecology were popularly recognized concerns.

The story starts in the early summer of 1913, when Richard Haughton, who owned and lived on the Great Valley Mill property, discovered some surveyors staking out lots on the hill coming down North Valley Road from Paoli. He immediately arranged with the owners of the land to obtain options to buy these woodlands along the road, from the top of the hill down to the property of Mrs. Moncure Robinson, just north of the Trenton cut-off. He then gathered several of his friends and neighbors together, and they took action to form a holding company to buy the acreage and stop the threat of construction and expansion into the Valley. It was the pioneer effort at conservation, and led years later to the present Great Valley Association.

In September the group formally organized and incorporated The Great Bear Tract, Inc. to hold title to the property. (The corporation's name was derived from the road to Paoli known as Bear Hill Road.) The president of the new corporation was Utley Wedge, with Mrs. Robinson vice president, C. Colket Wilson, secretary, Haughton the treasurer, and George Henderson Esq. the solicitor. Other members of the group were William Gretz and Robert H. Page.

Page 118

Four or five years later, during the First World War, the group was faced with its next crisis, when the American Telephone & Telegraph Company planned to put a heavy telephone cable along North Valley Road on short, thick poles. After a committee from the group protested to A. T. & T. that the proposal would lead to devastation and deforestation of the roadside, A.T. & T. agreed to put the lines underground if "the group would contribute to the cost. The group was able to put together a sum of $5750, and A.T. & T. paid the rest of the total $27,000 expense to put the telephone cable underground, from the top of the hill in Paoli to Diamond Rock Hill. The committee then went to Bell Telephone and to the Pure Oil Company and, with a contribution of about $2500, convinced them also to put their lines underground, thus eliminating all the pole lines along North Valley Road.

The next project of The Great Bear Tract, Inc. was the planting of 100 horse chestnut trees along North Valley Road between Swedesford Road and Yellow Springs Road. White - and red-flowering trees were alternated along both sides of the road, and apparently the red ones are quite rare.

The corporation remained active for a little more than thirty years, paying the taxes and interest on the mortgage on its holdings on North Valley Road. Finally, in January 1945, it sold a small section at the top of the hill and paid off its encumbrances. The land was then donated to the

Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters, and the company dissolved. While it was active it spent more than $50,000 to preserve and beautify the Valley -- at a time when that was a considerable sum of money.

At about the same time, it was felt that there was a need for a continuing presence of a broader-based organization concerned with the preservation of the natural beauty and rural character of the area. Thus, in November 1939, the Great Valley Civic Association was formed to carry on the work of The Great Bear Tract, Inc.

Numerous people were involved in the formation of the new Association; among them Richard Haughton, John Maris, Utley Wedge, E. Burke Wilford, C. Colket Wilson, and Verl L. Elliot, who became its first president. Subsequent presidents have been Edward H. Ten Broeck, C. Colket Wilson Jr., H. Lea Hudson, Robert D. Scott, Mrs. Franklin B. Wildman, Charles H. Cox Jr., W. Wilkinson Malloy, Harold A.Thompson, James Thorington 2d, Malcolm Sanders, and Robert Helms.

Its first successful action came a few years later. In 1947 Philadelphia Electric proposed a plan, supported by the township supervisors, to put street lights at every intersection, and also 400 feet apart down all the roads in the Valley. The Great Valley Association was successful in its effort to stop the plan; it just did not seem necessary in an area that it wanted to keep as a quiet, low-density residential community.

A matter that has always been of great concern to residents of the Valley is zoning, and in 1951 the Association was similarly successful in having the Great Valley zoned "R-1/2". This zoning requires a minimum lot area of 100,000 square feet (or about 2.3 acres) of land for each residence and limited use to single family detached dwellings or for farm or nursery purposes. It obviously contributed to the preservation of green space in the Valley.

Page 119

Three years later the Association urged the township to establish a Planning Commission. The Commission was created, and the Association has worked closely with it ever since.

In that same year the Association also took a position in opposition to the U. S. Defense Department's plan to build a "Nike" guided-missile base at Swedesford and LeBoutiller roads and on Diamond Rock Hill. It was not successful, however, in its effort to have the base located somewhere else, and the sites were built. Ten years later the system became out moded, and the base was abandoned.

One of the more interesting activities of the Great Valley Association, in 1959, was, again, one in which we failed. In that year the Association spear-headed a movement to have the Valley area "secede" from Tredyffrin Township and establish a separate municipality, to be known as the Great Valley Borough. Despite having succeeded in arranging for the zoning we wanted, the Association still was not happy with the management of the township and the fact that it came primarily from the more densely populated section along the southern ridge of the township. The proposed borough would have included primarily the northwestern quarter of Tredyffrin township. The Chester County Court of Quarter Sessions, however, denied the petition.

In going through the archives I also found that at one time the Great Valley Association printed up "NO GUNNING OR TRESPASSING" signs for the residents of the Valley to use in posting their properties. I do not know whether they were given away or sold to the residents. (They, fortunately, are something we don't have to worry about or need anymore; we don't have any gunning at all these days.)

Back in 1946 the Association and its members sent a number of letters to the governor and other state officials, protesting the route of the turnpike that was being planned through the Valley. By hindsight, the letters all missed the point, however: they all seemed to focus on the potential loss of several homes, at a time when there was already a housing shortage, rather than on the loss of open space and the effects the turnpike would have on fostering development in the area. We've seen this effect, not only with the Turnpike but also later with the construction of Interstate Route 202. The Turnpike and Route 202 through the Valley brought the development and increases in the value of land that have made the preservation of open space so difficult.

Page 120

It was in the late 1950s that the State Highway Department announced its plan to relocate Route 202 through the Valley north of Paoli. While the Association reluctantly accepted the fact that the highway would have to cross the length of the valley somewhere, we were somewhat successful in modifying its original route and getting it to go where we wanted it to, in the corridor between the Reading and Pennsylvania railroads. It was about the best that we could do.

In an effort to landscape the turnpike somewhat, in 1959 the Conservation Committee of the Association acquired a number of tree seedlings from the State and planted many of them along the turnpike, distributing others to members of the Association to plant.

In 1970 a change was made in the Township's zoning plan to provide for a Unified Development District in what is now known as Chesterbrook. The Association initially opposed the change, but soon afterwards it was able to work with the Fox Companies, the developers, to modify the original design in a way to make it as acceptable as possible to the area. With these changes, the Association no longer actively opposed the Chesterbrook plan. And, as we all know now, eventually Chesterbrook came into reality and, with hindsight, I guess it has more positives than negatives for the area.

Since the days of The Great Bear Tract, Inc., but more especially in recent years, the Great Valley Association has sought to bring about some sort of balance between rural living and the industrial and housing expansion that has been taking place within and around its borders.

In 1968, for example, the Burroughs Corporation [now Unisys] owned a large property, mostly in East Whiteland but with about 34 acres in Tredyffrin Township, which it wanted to use. It came to the Great Valley Association, and we negotiated a covenant by which Burroughs agreed to use only half the land, with the remaining half to retain R-1/2 zoning for twenty years, at which time that portion would assume the zoning of the lands contiguous to it. This resulted in an 800-foot buffer area on which Burroughs could not build. (The township authorities liked the philosophy of this agreement so well that they applied it to the ground directly across Swedesford Road, and made it a part of its Comprehensive Use Plan of 1970.) The agreement with Burroughs was revised in 1973 to permit Burroughs to put in an educational facility, and in 1990 the agreement was again revised, permanently dedicating some land as open space and permitting the construction of a bypass road to reduce the traffic on neighborhood roads.

Similarly, in 1981, International Chemical, Inc., an English company, made plans to construct an Industrial Park on an 80-acre tract in Tredyffrin Township at the corner of Church and Swedesford roads. We successfully fought it, and as a result the property was sold to Willard Rouse. In the following year the Great Valley Association started a dialogue with Rouse with reference to the property.

Page 121

We finally ended up with a covenant whereby any building on the property would be extremely low in density,using only about 320,000 square feet on an acreage that could have had some 800,000 square feet of office space built on it. The result was that we again had a nice buffer that is deed-restricted and occupied by low-rise buildings that you can't see and that don't impact the visual aspects of living in the area. We know that they are there, but you can't see them or hear them or smell them. It's a good fit for the neighborhood.

In 1983 the Great Valley Association also became involved with the Route 29 Task Force. It was a group, mostly from East Whiteland, organized to improve the roads in the area, particularly Route 29 and Route 202, so that the traffic problems we have from all the development in the area can be better dealt with. We became involved because the area of the Great Valley Association was being impacted by the traffic from neighboring East Whiteland Township. What we were seeking was actually a method by which businesses in Tredyffrin Township could be taxed and have the tax revenues spent to improve the roads in East Whiteland! The idea, of course, was that if we helped East Whiteland to improve its roads, it would keep the traffic in East Whiteland Township and out of our neighborhood. (Considering the fact that Tredyffrin and East Whiteland are two separate townships and had never really worked cooperatively with each other, to bring this about was a major success for the Great Valley Association and for the neighborhood.) At present the work on these improvements and projects is still going on.

In 1984 we next got involved with the Kilgore Company, which had bought Clarence Staats' property on Cedar Hollow Road north of Paoli. That, combined with other lands the Kilgore Company already owned, brought the size of its parcel to about 200 acres, and the company had plans to develop it industrially. (This land, south of Route 202, is actually not in the Great Valley Association's territory, and over the years parts of it had been zoned for industrial development. But it again was a situation in which the Great Valley would be impacted by considerable traffic: 200 acres with the capability for some 1.8 million square feet of office space would mean literally thousands of cars going through the area.) Thus, in1984 we started dealing with Mr. Kilgore, and in '86 he suggested building a road to go around or bypass the neighborhood and connect directly with Route 29 and Route 202. Between 1986 and 1990 we attempted to determine how much the land for the bypass would cost, and last year we finally came to an agreement that led to its construction.

In the 1983-1984 era we also got involved in the Warner quarry expansion issue. It is still going on today. In 1983 the Warner Company was owned by Waste Management, Inc. It is a very large company whose track record on environmental issues has been, to say the least, not the best. The Warner Company wanted to expand its operations, but to do so had to get permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, the agency concerned with environmental issues in all mining and development in the state.

Page 122

In view of its past record, before seeking the required permits for expansion from the DER, the Waste Management company sold the Warner quarry to a gentleman named Lafferty, who became the "owner" of the quarry from that day forward -- or at least until the permits were obtained! Once the permits were issued, however, Waste Management bought the quarry back and owned the quarry again. It now had permits running to the year 2060, I believe, to expand the quarry to the extent that it could envelop St. Peters Church.

The Great Valley Association is one of nine member groups in a coalition that is fighting this expansion of the quarry. We have fought it on environmental issues, and through the DER have made great strides. More recently we have been fighting it on another tack, working with Tredyffrin Township to alter the zoning, but there are problems here due to the fact that the quarry has been in operation for more than 100 years, and has filed appeals claiming that its operations have "grandfather" status.

Basically, what is at stake is whether St. Peters Church will be totally surrounded by the quarry or only about 75% surrounded. We are hopeful that we can at least keep the quarry from using the land on the south side of the road to the church and to the east of the church property, and thus limit the expansion somewhat, by requiring increased set backs since the church is a very valuable historic site.

And that is essentially where the Great Valley Association stands today.

We recognize that we must keep the perspective that modern times demand. At the same time, the Association hopes to continue to maintain, and even improve upon, the precepts of those few residents who seventy-five years ago, with wisdom and vision, first pioneered in the preservation and the beautification of the Great Valley.



Parts of this presentation were taken from a booklet on the Great Valley Association first published in 1955 and brought up to date in 1971 and again in 1981. Other information was obtained from the archives of the Association.


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