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, fields of corn and soybeans, 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 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 expand-ed over the years to include an asylum for the mentally ill and eventually became the Embreeville State Mental Hospital, in operation until 1980.