LOWER MAKEFIELD >> With the legal issues surrounding the Satterthwaite property behind them, the board of supervisors is now considering its future.
After listening to a proposal by the Friends of Patterson Farm Preservation (PFP) to restore and maintain the township-owned Satterthwaite House on Mirror Lake Road, the supervisors directed its solicitor to draft a memorandum of understanding - a handshake so to speak - between the township and the Friends that spells out the working relationship between the township and the not-for-profit organization.
“I think it’s great what you guys are all trying to do,” Supervisor Kristin Tyler told the group. “Perhaps the way to proceed is to begin with the Memorandum of Understanding. See if we can come to some agreement there,” she said in making the motion, which passed unanimously in a 5-0 vote.
At the request of the Friends group, the supervisors also directed the administration to initiate an environmental assessment report identifying hazards and recommending remediation measures to the historic wooden clapboard Federal style house, the oldest portion dating back to 1732.
Supervisor Dan Grenier made the motion, which also passed unanimously.
The Friends group, which formed in 2015, is seeking a Memorandum of Understanding from the township to move forward with its proposal to restore the Satterthwaite House and bring it back to its original grandeur as part of the broader Patterson Farm property.
A vote on the MOU could happen as early as the board's next meeting on April 18.
“If the Patterson Farm is the gateway to our community then this house might be called the beacon of our community,” said Ed Gavin, who joined Patterson Farm Preservation (PFP) leaders Donna Doan, Florence Wharton, Jeff Hirko and historian Dr. Helen Heinz in outlining the group’s proposal before the board of supervisors.
The white clapboard house, which sits on the Patterson Farm on the west side of Mirror Lake Road across from Stapler Drive, had been the subject of a protracted legal battle between the township’s zoning board and a Bucks County couple who had an agreement of sale to purchase the property as a veterinary hospital for horses. The sale, however, hinged on securing zoning approval, which the couple was unable to obtain despite appealing the decision of the local board to the state’s Supreme Court, which ultimately decided not to hear the case.
While the appeals were taking place, the Friends group began laying the groundwork “for this day” and an opportunity to present its plan and vision for the property to the board, said Gavin.
To date, Gavin said the group has signed an agreement with the Woodside Chapel for meeting space, has held a few small fundraisers, compiled videos telling the story of the farm, designed a fully functional website offering a place for the community to sign up as volunteers or members and have manned information booths at community events to raise awareness
“They are a functioning organization and this is day one,” said Gavin.
Township historian Dr. Helen Heinz laid the groundwork for the group’s presentation documenting the history of the house, from a settler’s cabin built in 1732 to the federal-style house that exists today.
“Why is it historic? It single-handedly represents the transition of agriculture and family life in Lower Makefield - Pre-Revolution, through the American Revolution, Civil War and up to the present time,” said Heinz. “It’s been deemed eligible for the National Register. And because it was deemed eligible it is eligible for state and federal grant funding for the preservation.”
“Here’s a house that was started in 1730 and added onto before the Declaration of Independence was signed,” said Gavin. “It became what some people called ‘The Wedding House.’ So it was a very elegant house and I think it holds a whole lot of Lower Makefield’s history, certainly a lot of the agricultural history and really has become a beacon of the community. And we’d like that beacon to be shining,” he said.
To accomplish that, Gavin said the group has a two-fold vision for the property - restoring its history for generations to come and turning the property into a community asset.
“We would like to see a historical restoration, not necessarily to make this house a museum, but to get it stable, get the outside looking pristine and have the inside, developed over time, into various functions,” said Gavin. “We’re not going for Thomas Jefferson’s house. We’re not going to have a curator there. We’re not going to put a lot of furniture in there,” he said. “What we’re saying is let’s get it in condition, let’s get it standing. And let’s use it and hopefully we’ll be able to sustain it ourselves.”
The group’s vision includes turning the property into an asset for the community by offering programs and events designed to teach residents and future generations about the farm and its history and entering into partnerships with other organizations to highlight the farm’s many assets.
“The house really needs to have life put back into it and that is my passion,” said Doan, whose family once lived in the house. She said the space would lend itself nicely to small group gatherings “that will build a sense of community” and “will be a touchstone for the community to embrace the farm and feel the ownership of the farm.”
She continued, “Now that the land is preserved we can certainly do things to promote agriculture in the community. We can do programs for children. I’ve talked to the Penn State Extension Service” which runs the county’s thriving 4-H program and “they are interested in a Lower Bucks location. We have authors who have written about the history of the township that we can bring in.
“We also talked about doing holiday themed tours, craft exhibits, designer house and things of that nature,” Doan said. “And photography and quilting clubs would like to meet in this beautifully-restored home. Birding is another popular activity that could be done on the farm.” And Doan said she’d also like to see the farm as a stop on the highly-popular Bucks County Audubon Society Barn Tour.
Gavin said while the property is being restored - a process that could take several years to complete - the group would organize fundraisers and seek out grants to pay for the restoration and the ongoing maintenance of the property.
Some of the fundraising ideas being floated by the group include acoustic music and children’s movies in the barn, a farmers market, a concert on the lawn, a flea market, craft show, a barn dance, a second farm calendar (the first raised $1,800), and other non-intrusive events “that are respectful" to agriculture and farming and also to the neighbors.
The group also would enlist the help of volunteers where feasible, rely on the expertise of people like architect Steven Heinz and Jeff Hirko who brings an extensive background in historic restoration to the table, and seek out corporate and business sponsors.
“We hope to have it look like this again,” said Gavin, flashing a photograph of the house across the large TV monitors inside the meeting room. “This is the goal. This is the dream of this group. We believe this can be done with little financial impact on the township and can be sustained and welcomed by the board and the residents."