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Endangered: Historic Heidelberg – Kerlin Farm

December 6, 2010


Heidelberg/Kerlin Farm; Photo by Ron Tarver, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Photographer

This call for help comes from the Northeast Philadelphia History Network:


WHAT:   Now under threat of demolition, one of the oldest residences in Pennsylvania at 1050 Ashbourne Road, Cheltenham, PA.  The 300+ year old estate hearkens to the very beginning of European settlement in this region.  It would be difficult to stand in a place that more completely describes the settlement and growth of a particular place over the course of three centuries.  Now it is facing the wrecking ball.

Circa 1682 William Penn sold a land grant for 1,000 acres, part of which would eventually become Cheltenham Township, to Everard Bolton and others shortly after their arrival in the New World.   Bolton’s share of the land was three hundred acres and he is believed to have constructed a home, known in the nineteenth century as Heidelberg, now as Kerlin Farm, here in the late seventeenth century.  According to eighteenth century tax records, the original portion of the house was a two-story stone structure and there were several additions, including a third story, during the nineteenth century.  The property remained in the hands of Bolton family heirs until the mid-twentieth century.  This house is likely the oldest residence in Cheltenham Township and may be one of the oldest in Pennsylvania. It appeared on the  2004 Preservation Pennsylvania Endangered List

WHEN:  Thursday, December 9, 2010, 7:00 p.m., Cheltenham Township Historical Commission will consider an application for demolition of the Heidelberg-Kerlin Farm. Click here to view demolition application.  

Let your voice be heard:  contact Cheltenham Township Historical Commission to share your thoughts about this property.


  1. Is total demolition of the buildings and landscape the only option?
  2. Is the new owner in an unrealistic rush to demolish based on assumptions that future zoning variances and permits will be approved?  Will the empty lot lie vacant for years until the economy rebounds only to have hindsight kick in and leave us saying, “If we had only waited, we could have rehabbed the place and passed it on to future generations.”
  3. What about a partial restoration and preservation of the landscape with its venerable Pennsylvania State Champion tree and many other trees and shrubs of uncommon age and species?
  4. Is the community sufficiently informed to understand the change in character which the neighborhood will undergo?  Will the ongoing dilemma of the former Ashbourne Country Club (across the street) develop into a domino effect which would adversely effect the nearby watershed?
  5. Whether the structures remain standing or not, an archaeological study of the site is in order. This ground of this property has not been scraped to the bone as much of the region has been.  Thirty decades of European American history lie atop many other centuries of Native American history.  Imagine the stories and information which might be gleaned from a careful, professional study.

Additional information resources:

“Love affair with a crumbling Cheltenham mansion,” by Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Columnist, August 12, 2010

Website by farm advocate Ellen Gartner about the Heidelberg – Kerlin Farm with photos, floorplans, family histories and more

Slideshow tour by Fred Moore

November 2007 article in the Quad City Times explains the morass that led to the current situation

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 2:52 am

    Wow, what a beautiful place. I really enjoyed the slideshow. Some places just tug at your heart and preservation conscience. Thank you for pointing out the key issues, and especially the archaeological studies that are needed, something we above-ground folks sometimes overlook. Need help spreading the word? Let me know.

  2. Sabra Smith permalink*
    December 8, 2010 2:38 pm

    Kaitlin: I’m sure your help spreading the word would be much appreciated. This is one of those interesting philosophical issues — what is “too far gone” and is there even such a thing, or is it a matter of belief in ever finding someone willing to restore something that is this decayed. In these situations, I always think of the “plot line” that led down this path — and how, if different people had been involved earlier, if this, if that… the house could have had such a different outcome. (There is a parallel situation with the 1849 twin-spired Church of the Assumption in Philadelphia — demolition will be appealed next month — owned by a badly managed nonprofit organization that has made a series of poor choices resulting in the church’s decay and ruination.)

    Without having all the information about Heidelberg/Kerlin Farm, I wonder if it could have a future as parkland (since it’s adjacent to a school) with portions of the building preserved as a stabilized ruin/folly? I have a post brewing about the need to have a focal point for outdoor adventuring — and if America’s Great Outdoors & No Child Left Inside really want to get our kids outside, they need places to explore and wander and imagine. What better place than a “haunted” ruin? (Too much “open space” these days gets credit for being green, when it’s simply well-groomed ball fields, often with power lines running through it.)

  3. Bruce permalink
    December 12, 2010 9:10 pm

    Sabra, Thank you for giving this topic space on your site!


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