Overview

build-9“Schoenhaus” still crowns a hill above Rose Valley, once the nation’s premier experimental utopian community.  The grand house, its formal gardens, water tower, pergola, and office are all that remain of the more than the 400 acres of orchards and farm gardens that once was Rose Valley Farm.

Its history dates from 1681, when William Penn sold land in the valley to the three Vernonbrothers.  In 1861 Antrim Osborne purchased a portion of the Vernonland including mills powered by the waters of Ridley Creek and Vernon’s Run.  He converted one mill to manufacture wool and the other to bobbins—and built a house on the hill above the mills in 1862.  He called his home “Sunnyside” after Washington Irving’s country house on the Hudson Riverin New York.  Osborne based his design on “A Suburban Cottage in the Italian Style” from Andrew Jackson Downing’s famous book The Architecture of Country Houses, first published in 1850.

Today there is little evidence of Osborne’s Sunnyside because the valley was changed from a mill village to an Arts and Crafts community in 1901.  William Lightfoot Price was already a renowned architect when he decided to expand upon the values of his Quaker heritage and experiment with the ideas and ideals of the newly popular Arts and Crafts Movement that had been founded inEnglandby William Morris.  Price organized a group ofPhiladelphiabusinessmen who purchased 80 acres across the road from Osborne’s mills, which he calledRoseValley.  He set about building modest houses or converting existing buildings where artisans and their families could establish a suburban idyll in which creativity would thrive.  Price’s extended family formed the core of the active community, while his architectural partner Hawley McLanahan induced his wealthy in-laws to join him on the hills opposite the village, where they built more luxurious environments in order to live the Arts and Crafts “simple life.”

Charles and Lavinia Schoen were McLanahan’s parents-in-law.  Charles Schoen had amassed a substantial fortune with his invention of the pressed-steel system of railroad car construction.  He used part of that fortune to hire Price and McLanahan to convert Osborne’s Italianate cottage into a magnificent expression of the Arts and Crafts style.  Price used the same terracotta roofing tiles, stucco made from Ridley Creek sand, and Moravian tiles he was using for his smaller houses across the valley, but, because of the site and the design, Schoenhaus seems monumental.

The approach is by roads that wind up to the crest of the hill, where the house stands elevated even further by a massive stone plinth.  By the time Price finished his work in 1905, the complex included a picturesque water tower connected to the main house with a pergola, an old barn renovated to match the style of the house and, in 1909, an office for the Schoen-Jackson Company.  Schoen eventually purchased enough surrounding acreage to establish a working farm with thousands of fruit trees, which he called Rose Valley Farm.

When Charles Schoen died in 1917, Adele and Maurice Saul (founder ofPhiladelphia’s Saul Ewing law firm) purchased the property from his widow.  The Sauls changed the working farm into a country estate and established Rose Valley Nurseries on the grounds.  Maurice Saul helped incorporate the Borough of Rose Valley in 1923 and served as CouncilPresidentuntil 1947.  The Saul family also donated land for the Old Mill community center, the School inRoseValley, and the Adele Saul Wildlife Preserve.

Succeeding generations of the Saul family used the estate, which was eventually reduced to 26 acres, until 2005 when it was sold to a developer, who had a mandate from the Borough to find a way to preserve the most important Price-designed structures.  Geoff and Saundra Shepard were able to buy the three acres on which the main house, the water tower, the formal gardens, and the office stand in 2007 and began the process of bringing the buildings and grounds back to a glory that they had when built by Will Price a century ago.