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An update that preserves the spirit of historic Lilliput Farm in Schwenksville

The couple had long admired the historic Montgomery County farm. Then late one night, they discovered that it was on the market.

Jenny and Joe Greenwald, owners of Lilliput Farm, in front of the mural of the property that the previous owner, Pennsylvania's Mr. Republican, Drew Lewis, commissioned from artist Bill Bourne.
Jenny and Joe Greenwald, owners of Lilliput Farm, in front of the mural of the property that the previous owner, Pennsylvania's Mr. Republican, Drew Lewis, commissioned from artist Bill Bourne.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

Since acquiring historic Lilliput Farm in Schwenksville a year ago, Jenny and Joe Greenwald have walked a stylistic tightrope.

The late 1700s farmhouse, once owned by former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis and his wife, Marilyn, was structurally sound and too steeped in Montgomery County history for a major makeover.

But the Greenwalds still wanted to put their stamp on it.

"I tried to update but not change the spirit," Jenny says. "I've cleaned up and tweaked. I know how important it is to Montgomery County. To be able to live here is a privilege. I think of myself as a caretaker."

She terms the result "a juxtaposition of modern art with farmhouse art," heavily influenced by 1950s and 1960s Frank Lloyd Wright.

Dining room chairs have cushions fashioned from vintage feed sacks "so you can sit on a cow or a pig," and the chandelier has candles covered by Mason jars.

The wooden farm kitchen island is flanked by mid-20th century Bertoia chairs.

A gracefully aging watering can sits under a modern art piece Jenny made of colorful vertical wooden pieces in a rustic frame reminiscent of painter Jasper Johns.

The Lewises lived at the farm from 1954 to 2004. It was sold at auction in 2011. Drew Lewis, who was a Republican leader in Pennsylvania, chaired Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign in the state and then served in Reagan's cabinet.

When the Greenwalds bought the farm, it had been vacant for several years. Before Drew Lewis died in 2016, the original 200-acre spread was placed in a conservation trust so it could not be developed.

"It's our house, but it's not our house," Joe says. He recalls being nervous about what Marilyn Lewis, a frequent visitor, would say when she saw that a piece of fine art over the fireplace in what his wife calls his "man cave" had been replaced by a wide-screen TV.

He needn't have worried: Marilyn Lewis took one look and said, "I like your television."

Buying the farmhouse and the 43 acres that came with it was literally a dream come true for the Greenwalds, who had lived two miles away.

About 20 years ago, Jenny often went past the Lewis spread on drives trying to lull the couple's two sons to sleep.

"We'd say, 'We're never moving unless the farm goes up for sale,'" she recalls. "It was like saying, 'We're going to Mars some day.' "

Then, shortly after midnight one night in July 2017, Jenny was following her usual practice of lying in bed toggling on her Kindle between romance novels and real estate listings. The couple are real estate investors, although Jenny Greenwald also has a floral business.

"Jen, turn out the light and go to sleep," her husband remembers saying.

"I can't," she replied. "Lilliput Farm is up for sale."

"Then I couldn't sleep," her husband recalls.

They put in an offer the next day.

The Lewises had made major renovations to the farmhouse itself in the 1980s, so the Greenwalds concentrated on the inside. Light pine floors, covered only with polyurethane, replaced dark mahogany floors. Soapstone counters were installed in the kitchen.

Jenny set out to give every room in the house a specific function, a goal now only one room away: The old farmhouse kitchen with its enormous fireplace will be converted to a coffee room.

Jenny, who grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, wanted to keep the property as a farm, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The couple renovated the barn, which had fallen into serious disrepair — "a jungle," she says — and keep horses, goats, chickens, and sheep, many of them rescue animals. They also board horses. They repaired the crumbling tennis court and swimming pool.

And the Lewis stamp still remains firm, with photos of the house in past years dotting the walls. The basement includes a mural of the farm decades ago by Worcester artist Bill Bourne.

"I wake up every morning," Jenny says, "and I say, 'We're still here.' "

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