then & now

Historic photos of the garden and house at Stoneleigh

Courtesy of Samuel Bodine Family

The land that is Stoneleigh is situated in the homelands of the Lenape.

In 1877, Edmund Smith, a rising executive with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and his wife, Arabella Barnes Smith, purchased 65 acres of land in Villanova for a “gentleman’s farm.” They called their estate Stoneleigh.

To shape the grounds, the Smiths hired landscape gardener Charles H. Miller, who trained at Kew Gardens in England and later served as chief gardener for Fairmount Park.

At the turn of the 20th century, Samuel Bodine, head of United Gas Improvement Company, acquired the property. In addition to building the Tudor Revival style building that exists today, Bodine hired New York landscape architecture firm Pentecost and Vitale to radically redesign the gardens in a more formal, or “Beaux Arts,” style.

Evidently, Bodine was not pleased with the results. In 1908, he retained the Olmsted Brothers of Massachusetts—sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, and the most prestigious landscape architecture firm in the country—to “guide him in the gradual transformation of the place.” Over the next 50 years, the Olmsted Brothers firm returned periodically to Stoneleigh to plan vistas and pathways, establish gardens and terraces, reroute points of entry, select plant species, and transplant trees.

Portrait of John and Chara Haas

John and Chara Haas

Following Samuel Bodine’s death in 1932, Stoneleigh was subdivided and sold. Otto Haas, entrepreneur and co-founder of Rohm and Haas Company, and his wife, Phoebe Waterman Haas, purchased the southwestern portion of the estate, launching a more than 80-year tenure by the Haas family. Otto and Phoebe’s son, John, and his wife, Chara, acquired the property in 1964 and lived there for the next five decades.

In 1996, John and Chara Haas placed the property under conservation easement with Natural Lands, ensuring this special place—the home where they’d raised their five children—would be preserved.

John passed away in 2011 and Chara the following year. As one would expect from such a generous family, it was their wish that the house be given to a worthy non-profit. After careful consideration, the Haas’s children decided to entrust Stoneleigh to Natural Lands. Transfer of ownership took place in April, 2016.

The conservation easement remains in place but was transferred to Lower Merion Conservancy for annual monitoring.

A tree trunk carved into a family of hares is decorated for the Fourth of July holiday.

a good hare day.

This playful carved oak stump along County Line Road depicts the Haas family (former owners of the property): two large rabbits—mom and dad—and five baby bunnies representing the five Haas children. (Haas means “hare” in Dutch.)

Exposure to the elements eventually took a toll on the original sculpture, so we hired the original artist to carve a replica. We continue the family’s tradition of dressing the hares for special occasions.

learn more about the hares