Daily Times Legacy of land in Landenberg
FRANKLIN — Sophie Rodney Pyle Homsey had lived in the rural reaches of Franklin Township, near the village of Landenberg, for more than 30 years. She and her husband kept a small farm with a 19th-century farmhouse, and while they gardened the 15-acre property, she was dedicated to keeping it largely as nature had intended it.
“She always had that in her, her love of the natural world,” her son, Andrew Homsey, said in a recent interview. “She always wanted a small place she could maintain as wild. Her love was nature.”
But as she grew older, Homsey saw that the world she had lived in along the White Clay Creek basin in southern Chester County was changing.
One who enjoyed taking a walk along the rural roads of Landenberg, Homsey was well aware of how the area was not the same she had chosen so many years before — the roads became much more trafficked, and development was closing in. She moved from the farm in 2018 with her husband, David, and died the next year in Venice, Fla.
On June 24, three years to the day since Homsey’s death at age 80, Natural Lands announced the permanent preservation of her 15-acre farm. In addition to preserving scenic views, forests, and meadows, the conservation easement ensures protection for more than 600 feet of a tributary to East Branch White Clay Creek.
Water from this unnamed tributary eventually makes its way into the State of Delaware and serves as a major source of drinking water for New Castle County, including Wilmington, where Andrew Homsey lives. The White Clay Creek joins the Christina River in Wilmington, Del., approximately one mile from its confluence with the Delaware River. The entire watershed of White Clay Creek is designated as a “Wild and Scenic River,” a federal classification for waterways with outstanding natural and cultural values.
The conservation plan was put in place by Andrew Homsey and his sister, and David Niles, her widower.
“She had a love of the land,” said Andrew in an interview Thursday. “For us, this I a real statement of her legacy and what drew her to the region in the first place. We feel this is an important part of the ideals she represented when she was still alive.”
Homsey’s connection to the region was not just her ownership of property. Her great-uncle was Howard Pyle, a founding member, along with N.C. Wyeth and others, of the now celebrated Brandywine School of art.
She was born in Wilmington, to Sophie Janvier Pyle and Walter Pyle Jr. who served in the Works Projects Administration as curator of murals in Delaware during that period, the youngest of three sisters.
A talented artist, illustrator, and diarist, Homsey was also a close observer of the natural world, and a member of the Delaware Ornithological Society. Her passion for nature and natural history led to a rewarding position as a librarian at the then newly-opened Delaware Museum of Natural History, where she met her future husband, who at the time was the museum’s chief ornithologist.
After moving to Franklin, she pursued a love of teaching through a long career as a high-school English and Latin teacher at both The Tatnall and Sanford Schools.
In addition to preventing subdivision and development, the Homsey conservation easement also places limits on the activities that could generate soil-laden run-off and sedimentation, especially on the property’s steep slopes, woodlands, and stream edges.
“As our region experiences more climate-related natural disasters like damaging storms and extreme flooding, the importance of preserved open space like the Homsey property becomes all the more clear,” said Natural Lands President Oliver Bass.
The acquisition of the conservation easement on the Homsey property was funded by Chester County’s Conservancy Grant Program, in conjunction with a donation of value from the landowners. Township officials in Franklin, the Virginia Cretella Mars Foundation, and the National Park Service through the White Clay Wild and Scenic Rivers Program also provided funding toward the costs of the project.
The township and the county provided stewardship funds to Natural Lands for the perpetual monitoring, administration, and enforcement of the conservation easement.
Chester County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle Kichline said: “Preservation of this 15-acre property is a tremendous legacy, honoring the memory of Sophie Homsey and protecting valuable watersheds.
“This is a perfect example of the environmental and economic value of conserving open space that Chester County residents have supported for more than 30 years, and it also demonstrates how our focus on land preservation positively impacts areas and people beyond our county border,” they said, according to a press release.
“Franklin Township is excited to see such a beautiful property retained as undeveloped land. It is a real asset in retaining the rural character of Landenberg,” said Paul Overton, the township’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Board member.
“The Homsey property is contiguous with existing Homeowner Association lands, creating a large greenway corridor for wildlife and for people to enjoy once the Township creates a trail. We really appreciate the Homsey family and applaud Natural Lands for making connections.”
“Preserving this property was one of my mother’s stated aims and her fondest hope,” said Andrew Homsey. “While the character of Landenberg changed around her considerably throughout her time there, her interest in keeping her small portion of it as natural as possible was always very important to her. Her family is very pleased that her vision can be realized and ensured in perpetuity to the benefit of the entire community.”