ChesLen Preserve is the largest privately owned nature preserve open to the public in Chester County. Miles of marked hiking trails lead visitors through shady woodlands, flower-filled meadows, farm fields, and stream valleys.
Visitors can also explore Ollie Owl’s NaturePlayGround, where young explorers can climb logs, build stick tee-pees, hunt for bugs, explore small streams, and get a little dirty, tired, and inspired. Free play is encouraged and is a great way for kids to gain an appreciation for nature.
In 1763, surveyors and astronomers Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon came to the New World to end a bloody, 80-year boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Their survey established the official line between the two colonies and stands among the greatest scientific achievements of the time. A reference point, now known as Star Gazers’ Stone, was placed to mark the astronomical meridian line north of their observatory on the nearby Harlan Farm. The Star Gazers’ Stone and a small plot of surrounding land are now part of ChesLen Preserve and are accessible from a parking area at the northern end of the property.
ChesLen Preserve was once part of a 17,000-acre tract owned by the legendary Texas-based King Ranch, which expanded to this area so their cattle could graze on the lush fields and fatten up before sale. They gained nearly two pounds a day during their six-to-ten-month stay. ChesLen’s agricultural past also includes sod farming and mushroom production.
Visitors can pass by a small cemetery that is a remnant of the Chester County Poorhouse, once located nearby. Built in 1798, the poorhouse was a place of refuge for orphans and indigent adults. Its construction represented a vast improvement in the treatment of paupers who, less than a century earlier, were forced to wear a scarlet “P” on their sleeves and risked being beaten or driven out of the county. The poorhouse expanded over the years to include an asylum for the mentally ill and eventually became the Embreeville State Mental Hospital, in operation until 1980.