A Plymouth Meeting farm that helped enslaved people escape bondage as a part of the Underground Railroad is a step closer to being preserved after Whitemarsh Township supervisors made official their plans to buy the property coveted by developers.
The officials approved an agreement of sale this month for the township and the Whitemarsh Art Center, a nonprofit that teaches art classes, to buy the property off Butler Pike. The site, which spans more than 10 acres, includes buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe spoke at the barn that became known as Abolition Hall, built in 1856 by abolitionist and farm owner George Corson.
The township and the Whitemarsh Art Center will buy the property for $3.95 million. Some of the money will come from earned income tax funds dedicated to open space in the township, and some will come from an anonymous private donor to the art center.
“This is such an important moment for our community and the entire Philadelphia region,” township Board of Supervisors Chair Laura Boyle-Nester said in a statement. “Abolition Hall, the Hovenden House and the Main House are a significant piece of our history, and we could not be more excited to protect them for future generations.”
In 2018, township officials approved developer K. Hovnanian Homes’ plan to build 67 townhouses on the property. Then, last August, the developer ended its agreement of sale and dropped plans for its townhouse community, which would have left the historic buildings standing. But other developers were interested in building on the property.
State rules limited how much the township could pay for the property. The private donor made the agreement of sale possible, township officials said.
Friends of Abolition Hall, a group that opposed the plan for townhouses, had hoped then that a new owner would maintain the historic integrity of the site.
The Whitemarsh Art Center, which had been looking for a new home, will relocate there. Township and art center officials said they will discuss other potential uses of the property with the community.