Horses and hot-air balloons, the optimal modes of transport in Chester County's West Vincent Township, offer idyllic vistas of covered bridges and rolling pastures - as well as a jarring contrast to a recent, acrimonious land dispute.
Like many area municipalities, West Vincent, which boasts pre-Revolutionary War lineage, is struggling to preserve its rural ambience, having more than doubled its population from 2,268 in 2000 to 4,567 in 2010.
But the pressure to keep development at bay fostered a skirmish between unlikely foes: the township supervisors - two of whom have a background in conservation - and the Ludwig's Corner Horse Show Association, a 68-year-old nonprofit dedicated to preserving its 33-acre site on Route 100, just north of Route 401.
The supervisors voted Nov. 28 to seize the horse show grounds by eminent domain for a public park, generating an outcry that rivaled the din of a steeplechase and resulted in a reversal less than a month later.
On Friday - two days after a sit-down with officials from the township and the Horse Show - the supervisors voted to rescind the condemnation, eliciting sighs of relief from the community.
Joan Gross, a longtime landowner in neighboring East Nantmeal Township, said she was not surprised by the anger the condemnation generated. She likened the impact to what Main Liners would do if the Devon Horse Show grounds was suddenly threatened.
A former Wynnewood resident, Gross said that the Devon show, like Ludwig's Corner, produced big crowds and traffic congestion once a year, but that the event was part of the community fabric.
"It means continuity . . . and it represents tradition," she said. "That's what farm country is all about."
That's why several hundred opponents protested Dec. 4 at the township building. They were joined by State Sen. Andrew E. Dinniman (D., Chester) and Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello.
"We need to make sure that when eminent domain is ever used, it's used for the best of purposes, and this is not one of them," Dinniman told the crowd.
About 300 protesters packed each of two township meetings, and the fracas cost one of the township's three supervisors her day job.
On Monday, the board of the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust ended its more-than-five-year relationship with its executive director, Clare Quinn, one of West Vincent's three supervisors.
In a prepared statement, the trust said Quinn's vote to condemn the horse show grounds represented "a fundamental conflict with the trust's long-standing mission of voluntary land conservation."
The Federation of Northern Chester County Communities, an intergovernmental advisory group; and East Nantmeal Township also sent letters criticizing the condemnation.
At the township meetings, residents of West Vincent and neighboring townships grudgingly acknowledged the legality of eminent domain but decried it and questioned the supervisors' motives.
William J. Cochrane, an East Nantmeal supervisor and real estate agent, said that he had attended events at Ludwig's Corner since he was a child and that the threat to its operation "really struck a chord" with residents.
"People out here really care about the land and open space," he said. "But they also believe in property rights."
In an interview last week, Quinn said misconceptions about the township's actions had abounded. She said that the land was not protected from development and that the supervisors understood that condemnation was a "last resort."
But John Jacobs, president of the Horse Show organization, said his group had never considered selling the property; in fact, the group's bylaws forbid it. He said the association would be "delighted" if the township purchased the development rights.
He said the compensation the group would receive for its reduced property value would help the Horse Show create a self-funded endowment, ensuring that the property would remain well-maintained.
The Ludwig's Corner Horse Show has operated since 1943, when five families pooled their properties to create a nonprofit equestrian venue. The Labor Day show attracts hundreds of riders and thousands of spectators each year, but the grounds are also used for other events, such as dog shows.
In 2005, the Ludwig's Corner Horse Show began donating its profits to land preservation. The first two groups to benefit were the East Nantmeal Township Conservation Committee and the West Vincent Land Trust Inc., cofounded by Supervisor Zoe Perkins.
Jacobs said that he was relieved that Perkins and her colleagues had reversed their votes.
"On a personal level, I wish the supervisors no ill will," he said. "But I would hope that in the future they would talk to residents first before taking such drastic action."