Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: April 1999 Volume 37 Number 2, Pages 39–43

Waterloo Mills Update

Steve Dittmann

Page 39

In February of 1992,I spoke to the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club about the origins of The Episcopal Academy's Lower School at Devon and what had been accomplished there between 1972 and 1992. Of course, the main campus of Episcopal is on City Line Avenue in Merion, having moved there from Philadelphia in 1921. (For more background on the founding of the School, see Charles Latham Jr's bicentennial history, The Episcopal Academy. 1785-1984. published by William T. Cooke Publishing, Incorporated, Devon, PA, 1984, and the more recent newspaper article on the school's origins by William C. Kashatus, director of public programs at Chester County Historical Society, which appeared in the Main Line Times on January 28, 1999.)

The founding of a "satellite campus" by The Episcopal Academy and the use of the Bioren Mansion in Devon as a Lower School has now been underway the past twenty-five years. This expansion represents an interesting story of westward migration of the School's population paralleling suburban growth generally. It also represents an adaptive institutional use of a stone mansion house built in the 1920s and its preservation on a spectacular piece of land in Easttown Township, Chester County, developed as a school campus. This paper describes the recent developments at the Lower School at Devon and adjacent property on Waterloo road, a place known locally as "Waterloo Mills".

The three themes discussed in 1992 have continued to evolve over the past seven years in the following manner:

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I. The theme of school expansion has been maximized. The Episcopal Academy is now the largest day school in the Philadelphia area with 950 students, if the 225 students at the Lower School at Devon are included in the count. The Lower School at Devon has reached its practical capacity in terms of enrollment size.

According to Cannie Shafer, Head of School at the The Lower School at Devon, the student body for that facility has leveled in grades pre-K through 5. The school operates from September through June, with a Summer Camp program accommodating about 150 day campers in July and August. Thus the total number of students at Merion and Devon on a year round basis is over 1000, and that does not include Saturday recreational leagues for Junior teams in the community.

With the addition of the educational classrooms in 1993, known as "pods", and a handsome Chapel/Theatre, the physical plant at Devon has also reached capacity. In 1996, the Bioren Mansion was renamed "Haas House" to honor its donors, John C. and Chara Cooper Haas. A brass plaque by the main entrance of the Mansion recognizes John Haas, Class of 1936, for his generosity.

Haas House at the Lower School at Devon of The Episcopal Academy

Page 41

Looking east on Waterloo road at The Episcopal Academy entrance

The impact of the School's expansion is seen in the implementation of site improvements, such as playing fields, playground equipment, an above ground pool and improved parking areas, at Episcopal's Lower School at Devon. The office of Mr. Bioren, who originally built the house with proceeds from the stock market rise of the 1920s, is well preserved today as the office of the Head of School. Over the mantle is carved the Norwegian phrase, "Bjoren Holm," meaning the "House of Bioren."

II. The theme of suburbanization is still ongoing. There are now underway two developments of homes neighboring the School. Such development was not approved or even considered seven years ago:

a. "Castlehill," by Bentley Homes, consists of eight single-family homes adjacent to the western boundary of the School in Easttown township.

b. "The Harrison Estate," also by Bentley Homes, a conservation land development to the east of the School and downstream on the Darby creek watershed involving 54 homes, mostly in Newtown township, Delaware county.

The impact of these subdivisions on the Lower School at Devon has been varied: the nature trail has been discontinued, and will be rebuilt later this year; Waterloo road has become busier with local traffic and more school buses; and a new sign marks the "school bus entrance" to the west of

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the Devon driveway. From the School's playing fields, hilltop vistas now include new homes perched on the slopes.

III. The theme of conservation and watershed protection of Darby creek has been further solidified. Over the past two years a gift of Haas family land to the Brandywine Conservancy, and the outreach of the Environmental Management Center, has led to the establishment of a resident manager at Waterloo Mills.

Last year 53 acres acquired from Bentley Homes developers in a land swap and a gift of 114 acres from the Haas family were consolidated into a permanent land trust known as "Waterloo Mills Preserve." A site manager, Carter R. Leidy III, was hired in 1998. He now resides across the street from The Episcopal Academy driveway entrance, living and working from the "Mill House" at 860 Waterloo road. The blacksmith shop across the street from the mill (on the Episcopal side of the road) is now a garage for an adjacent tenant house. Other smaller structures, also referred to as "tenant houses" border Darby creek to the south. A nice walk can be had by strolling along the creek as far as the site of the former Paper Mill on St. Davids road in Newtown township one mile away.

The objectives of the Site Manager Program of the Brandywine Conservancy include: monitoring Conservancy easements, public relations for the Environmental Management Center, outreach to surrounding municipalities, and open space use for walking and enjoying. The impetus for this effort was the historic site designation for the village of Waterloo Mills obtained from the National Park Service in 1995. The application packet for National Register listing contains an inventory of properties, the business and agricultural history of the area from the Revolutionary War to date, and information on the cultural place of this community in Easttown township over the years. It is anecdotal, but logical, that this village which grew up about the time of the Napoleonic wars, should be named "Waterloo Mills" after the epic battle at Waterloo.

The impact on the Lower School at Devon of this preservation effort has not yet been felt, but it would appear to be harmonious. Interestingly, the common link between the two endeavors is the generosity of the Haas family. In fact, the evolution of the two gifts was not part of any "master plan" in 1973, the time frame of the original gift to the school. At that time, no conservation plan had been established for Darby creek or for the residential structures. The farm purchased by John Haas' father, the late Otto Haas, in the 1920s fortuitously kept the parcel intact.

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Former Headmaster of The Episcopal Academy, James Quinn, tells the story of visiting the Bioren estate while on a Sunday drive to scout out property, only later to learn that EA alumnus Haas had an ownership interest in the facility. His gift became the Lower School at Devon. (At that time, 1968-1973, it was leased to the Pathway School for learning disabled children which is now located on Egypt road in Jeffersonville.)

There is also a story about the emerging issue of coeducation at Episcopal and the foresighted Haas urging the gift as a way to bring it about. John Haas has said he doesn't recall it was a condition, but that he was supportive of Mr. Quinn's plans. Whether or not it was a condition of the gift, when the Lower School at Devon opened in 1974 there were girls represented among the student body.

A fourth theme which is brand new, reuse of the adjacent O'Dell property to the north stretching from Beaumont road to Waterloo road, has developed in the Waterloo Mills area over the past year. A large park called "Hilltop" after the name of the O'Dell estate, has been constructed there by Easttown township. Opening of the 20-acre open space and park will be accompanied by the relocation of the Easttown township municipal and police offices to a converted barn on the site. Having outgrown its location in downtown Berwyn, the township is scheduled to move into the renovated larger quarters at Hilltop on March 29.

Meanwhile, Dr. W. H. Sterg O'Dell and his wife Frances, donors of the Hilltop property to Easttown township, now reside in the cottage next door at 560 Beaumont road. The last official public viewing of Hilltop was as the Vassar College Designer Show House during May of 1997. A year later, a groundbreaking ceremony for the Easttown township construction project was held on May 14, 1998.

The new Easttown Township administration building


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