Haas Family Plans to Donate Villanova Estate to Natural Lands Trust
The children of the late John and Chara Haas have announced their intention to donate the family’s 39-acre Stoneleigh estate in Villanova to Natural Lands Trust.
“Our parents took great joy in caring for their lovely gardens and natural areas. It would be their wish that the property’s overall beauty, native habitats and historic gardens be preserved,” said David Haas, son of John and Chara. “We believe that Natural Lands Trust shares our family’s vision and will work to honor the legacy of our late parents by making the property a rich and unique horticultural resource for the community and region.”
John and Chara Haas placed a portion of the property, located along Spring Mill Road between County Line Road and Montgomery Avenue, under a conservation easement with Natural Lands Trust in 1996. Transferring ownership of the iconic estate to Natural Lands Trust would allow them to operate it as a nature preserve, as they do the 42 properties they currently own and manage in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“We are delighted that the Haas family is considering Natural Lands Trust as the future owners and stewards of the Stoneleigh estate. We have enjoyed a long relationship with the property and the Haas family,” noted Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust. “Should Natural Lands Trust become the owners of Stoneleigh, we will honor the legacy and values of John and Chara and their family while providing a wonderful resource for the community. We envision a place where the public will be able to enjoy the quiet and beauty of the Stoneleigh grounds and be motivated to learn about the joys and benefits of gardens that emphasize the use of native plants.”
The Stoneleigh estate contains both formal gardens – designed in part by noted landscape architecture firm, Olmstead Brothers – and large areas of lawn and meadow. Natural Lands Trust envisions the property as a showcase for blending the aesthetic beauty of the designed gardens with the natural richness of native habitats that are essential to the health of the planet.
“We plan to maintain the integrity of the historic gardens while augmenting the native plantings that are already an important part of the design to create an inspiring demonstration of natural garden and landscape management,” Morrison said.
In addition to offering opportunities for the public to walk through the grounds during daylight hours, Natural Lands Trust anticipates offering occasional educational programs focused on native gardening and a small number of other modest events throughout the year.
“It was my parents’ wish that the public be able to enjoy the estate and programs like those which Natural Lands Trust envisions,” Haas noted. “For years, my parents opened the grounds to the community during the annual Stoneleigh Stroll-About and were generous about making our home available for local nonprofit events. Natural Lands Trust hopes to carry on that tradition while protecting the peace and serenity that is an essential part of the Stoneleigh experience.”
While it is likely that Natural Lands Trust would own the entire property, the Haas family has expressed its desire to have the Organ Historical Society, a non-profit currently based in Richmond, VA, make use of the house for offices and archival space. The Organ Historical Society is dedicated to documenting and preserving historic pipe organs and to raising public awareness and appreciation of America’s organ heritage.
The Haas family has long had an affinity for the history and music of pipe organs. “Our grandfather, Fred. J. Cooper, was a longtime organist at the Swedenborgian church at 22nd and Chestnut streets, and my brother Frederick is a noted organist,” David Haas said.
“It would be a wonderful bit of serendipity if two of the Haas family’s passions – nature and music – could come together at Stoneleigh,” Morrison added.