County of Delaware: Little Flower blossoms as Open Space in Delco
County Council acquires 37-acre property in Darby Borough, preserving major open parcel in eastern urbanized end of the county
Delaware County, Pa. – June 30, 2016 – Delaware County residents will soon be able to picnic or hike on the same tree-lined grounds where Abraham Lincoln’s Assistant Secretary of War lived in a stately mansion.
Delaware County Council has acquired the Little Flower Manor property, a 37.5-acre site of open space on Springfield Road in Darby Borough, one of the largest parcels of open land in the highly developed eastern section of Delaware County.
“County Council is excited to be able to add this beautiful property to our park system,” said County Councilman John McBlain, Council’s liaison to the Planning Department.
McBlain said the purchase of the Little Flower Manor property is the result of efforts and funding on the part of many individuals and organizations. He said the park will serve as a major hub and trail head for the Darby Creek Greenway, which is part of the county’s Open Space, Recreation and Greenway Plan, adopted in 2015.
Prompted by a proposal to develop the property into a shopping center in 2009, retired state Rep. Nick Micozzie worked with residents, local officials and the Natural Lands Trust to help the county identify funding to purchase and preserve the Little Flower Manor property.
The property was subdivided from a parcel occupied by the Little Flower Nursing Home, with Little Flower retaining 12.57 acres. The county took ownership on May 27.
The Little Flower property has a storied history, provides green space at the four corners of Darby Borough, Upper Darby, Collingdale and Aldan, protects the Darby Creek watershed that runs along the border and it will serve as a hub for the planned Darby Creek Trail.
On Thursday, June 30, McBlain joined County Council and officials from those communities to announce that Little Flower will become a county park. The future name has not been determined. McBlain announced a $52,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) that will be used to develop a Master Plan for the property.
At present, the property includes several vacant buildings that have fallen into disrepair, including the former Woodburne Mansion, a stately 55-room neoclassical mansion built in 1906.
The property was purchased for $1.7 million utilizing a $1.2 million grant from DCNR, a $224,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), with the remaining funds coming through the ACT 13 (Impact Fees).
County Council partnered with the Natural Lands Trust to secure the grants.
“This is a success story for the community and for nature,” said Molly Morrison, president of the Natural Lands Trust in Media. “Preservation of the remaining open space in Delaware County is extremely important to the residents and I applaud County council, Representative Micozzie, and all the other champions of this project.”
Future Plans: McBlain explained that the county is developing the Darby Creek Trail in Upper Darby from Kent Park to the historic Swedish cabin. The Little Flower property will add to this trail.
The long range plan for the trail will reflect the interest of the residents and ensure the environmental quality of the site.
McBlain said the public will have the opportunity to provide input for the Master Plan and he looks forward to the day when the county offers recreational activities at Little Flower, just like they do at other parks. He envisions that Little Flower will be the “Rose Tree Park of the East.”
Watershed Buffer: Environmentally, this site maintains a natural buffer area along Darby Creek that helps protect water quality, reduce flooding and protect habitat for wildlife. Little Flower is upstream from two of the county’s four “exceptionally significant” sites, Darby Creek Mount Mudflats and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, so protecting it helps to protect sensitive areas downstream.
“There’s no question that we are a small county that’s been highly developed over the years with housing, businesses and commercial corridors. But County Council is committed to balancing smart growth and economic development with protection of our open space and natural resources,” McBlain said. “And in this case, we also preserved tax dollars by seeking various grants to complete this purchase.”
Rich History: Residents will also be able to enjoy the rich history of this property, McBlain said.
The property has been known at times as Heights of Darby, Woodburne, the Scott Estate, Little Flower and Villa St. Theresa.
It is said there were encampments during the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777.
The property is not far from Darby Free Library, the oldest public library in the nation.
At one time, the Little Flower property was owned by Thomas Scott who served in President Lincoln’s cabinet as Assistant Secretary of War and later as the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. His son, Edgar Scott, commissioned architect Horace Trumbauer to build the present mansion in 1906.
Thomas Scott died at Woodburne in 1881.
The property was purchased by the Sisters of the Divine Redeemer in the 1930s and was used as an orphanage, later a nursing home, and closed in 2005.
Delaware County now has 1,116 acres of county-owned parks and conservation areas and 17,000 acres of protected open space, which includes Ridley Creek State Park and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.