Erdenheim Farm

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File:Sheep Barn, Erdenheim Farm Highsmith.jpg
Sheep barn (built c. 1917), Erdenheim Farm, Whitemarsh Township, Pennsylvania. Looking north from Flourtown Road.

Erdenheim Farm is a 450-acre (1.82 km2) working farm in Springfield and Whitemarsh Townships, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, United States. Located just outside the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, it is bordered by the Morris Arboretum to the east, Whitemarsh Valley Country Club to the south, Carson Valley School to the north, and Corson's Quarry to the west. The Wissahickon Creek flows through the farm, and Stenton Avenue crosses it. All but 23 acres of the land is now protected from development by preservation easements.

Early history

Detail of Thomas Holme's 1687 map of Pennsylvania. Erdenheim Farm is located where the "Whitpane Creek" (now Wissahickon Creek) passes through "Gulielma Maria Penns Man.r of Springfeild" (now Springfield Township).

In 1765, Johannes Georg Hocker (1733-1820), a German immigrant, paid £1,600 to buy 200 acres in Springfield Township west of the Wissahickon Creek.[1] He named his farm "Erdenheim," meaning "Earthly Home."[2]


Aristides Welch created Erdenheim Stock Farm in 1861, on about 150 acres east of the Wissahickon Creek.[3] He bred some of the finest thoroughbred racehorses in the United States.[4] In 1872, he purchased the British stud Leamington, who sired the champions Iroquois, Harold, and Saunterer at Erdenheim.[5] Welch expanded his land holdings to 280 acres, including the old Hocker farmhouse.[6] By 1881, his stables held more than a hundred horses.[7]

The road to Norristown (now Flourtown Road) forded the Wissahickon Creek at Erdenheim Farm. The circa-1866 construction of a bridge at Lancasterville Road (now Stenton Avenue) led to the closing of the ford, and the diversion of Flourtown Road northward through the Lukens Farm.[8]


File:Robert Nethermark Carson Reisidence 1901 King's Views p.85.jpg
Erdenheim Farm in 1901, looking southeast toward Chestnut Hill. Carson altered the Hocker farmhouse into a "rustic" summer house.

Welch sold the stock farm and its thoroughbreds to Norman Kittson (1814-1888) for $100,000 in 1882.[9] The property included a 1-mile racetrack, a 1/2-mile track, and a covered 1/8-mile track. To this, Kittson added the Lukens Farm, bringing his land holdings to about 400 acres.[10]

Following Kittson's death in 1888, his Estate auctioned off the thoroughbreds.[11]


Kittson's son Louis sold the stock farm and the Lukens Farm to Robert N. Carson (1844-1907) in 1896.[12] He had made his fortune in Philadelphia streetcar lines, first horse-drawn, then electrified.[13] He altered the old Hocker farmhouse into a "rustic" summer house.[14]

In his Will, Carson bequeathed 100 acres of the stock farm and a $5 million endowment to found Carson College for Orphan Girls (now Carson Valley School), modeled on Philadelphia's Girard College for Orphan Boys.[15]


George D. Widener Jr. (1889-1971), a grandson and heir of Peter A. B. Widener, lost his father and brother on the RMS Titanic in 1912. That same year, he purchased Erdenheim Farm (minus the 100 acres that had gone to the school) from the Estate of Carson's widow. Widener had architect Horace Trumbauer alter and expand Carson's "rustic" house into a 60-room Colonial Revival mansion, "Erdenheim" (1916-17), and design a number of matching barns and outbuildings.

He became a major figure in thoroughbred horseracing, and served as president of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. His champions included Jamestown, winner of the 1930 Belmont Futurity Stakes; Eight Thirty, winner of the 1940 Massachusetts Handicap; and Jaipur, winner of the 1962 Belmont Stakes.[16] He kept his thoroughbreds at Erdenheim Farm and Old Kenney Farm (now Green Gates Farm) in Lexington, Kentucky. A. Jack Joyner was Widener's trainer, 1917-1932, and lived on Erdenheim Farm until his death in 1943. Bert Mulholland began working for Widener in 1923, and was his trainer, 1933-1967.

Widener wed Jessie Sloane Dodge (1883-1968) in 1917.[17] They were married for more than fifty years, but had no children. Upon his death in 1971, he bequeathed Erdenheim Farm and his entire Estate to his nephew, Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr. (1923-2006).

Briar Hill

Widener's cousin, William McIntire Elkins (1882-1947), purchased an adjacent 95-acre tract and hired Trumbauer to design his mansion, "Briar Hill" (1929-30).[18] Elkins's widow sold the mansion on 47 acres to Dr. Stephen J. Deichelmann in 1948, who converted it into Eugenia Hospital, a psychiatric facility.[19] The land along Flourtown Road, she sold to Widener.


Dixon raised thoroughbred horses, Aberdeen Angus cattle, and Border Cheviot sheep. His horses also competed in show jumping and dressage.[20] He kept the farm largely intact for thirty years.

The farm is divided into five tracts:

  • Angus Tract - 98 acres, west side of Thomas Road and south side of Flourtown Road.
  • Sheep Tract - 109 acres, north side of Flourtown Road, west side of Flourtown Road, and south side of Stenton Avenue.
  • Wissahickon Tract - 113 acres, east side of Thomas Road, south side of Flourtown Road, west side of Stenton Avenue to Morris Arboretum.
  • Main House Tract - 23 acres, east side of Thomas Road to Wissahickon Creek corridor.
  • Equestrian Tract - 103 acres, south side of West Mill Road, east side of Stenton Avenue, and north side of Wissahickon Avenue (continuation of Northwestern Avenue).

The Hill at Whitemarsh, an in-the-planning-stages retirement community, bought Eugenia Hospital, intending to demolish it and build cluster-housing and luxury apartments.[21] In 2001, Dixon sold about 50 acres of the Angus Tract to the retirement community. In reaction to this sale, a non-profit organization, the Whitemarsh Foundation, was founded to preserve Erdenheim Farm.

Since Dixon's death in 2006, his heirs have sold the land in a series of transactions. All but 23 acres of it has been preserved.

Land transactions

  • 2001 -- about 50 acres of the Angus Tract, sold by Dixon to The Hill at Whitemarsh.
  • 2006 -- 117 acres, willed by Dixon to Natural Lands Trust. This corridor along both sides of the Wissahickon Creek extends from Stenton Avenue to Whitemarsh Valley Country Club.
  • 2008 -- 98-acre Angus Tract, sold by Dixon's heirs and The Hill at Whitemarsh to Whitemarsh Foundation for $13.5 million.
  • 2009 -- 91 acres of the Sheep Tract, sold by Dixon's heirs to Whitemarsh Foundation for $12.5 million.
  • 2009 -- 259 acres, sold to Peter and Bonnie McCausland.[22] This includes all of the Wissahickon and Main House Tracts, and sections of the Sheep and Equestrian Tracts.
  • 2009 -- 14 acres of the Equestrian Tract, retained by Dixon's heirs.


  • Eric W. Plaag, On the Waters of the Wissahickon: A History of Erdenheim Farm, (University of South Carolina Press, 2012).[2]


  1. William Osborne Wingeard, Hacker–Hocker: A German-American Genealogy, (Gateway Press, 1991), p. 670.
  2. Jim Foley, "Erdenheim Farm transitions into the 21st century," from Springfield Township Historical Society.
  3. Jim Foley, "The early days of Erdenheim Farm," from Springfield Township Historical Society.
  4. "Philly's connection to the Derby," The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 3, 2013.
  5. "An English countryside farm next to Chestnut Hill," The Chestnut Hill Local, March 31, 2011.
  6. "It is a large well-built stone house w/thick walls & spacious rooms seated in the midst of a wide lawn – one of the most beautiful in that part of the country." Wingeard, p. 670.
  7. "Aristides Welch. The Breeder of Iroquois and Parole," The Sacramento Daily Union, December 13, 1881.
  8. Historical Sketches: A Collection of Papers, Volume 1 (Historical Society of Montgomery County, 1895), p. 55.
  9. "The sale of Erdenheim - Aristide Welsh's stock farm sold at a sacrifice," The New York Times, January 9, 1882.
  10. Historical Sketches (1895), p. 60.
  11. "The Erdenheim Sale - Breaking up of a famous thorough-bred stock farm," The New York Times, November 9, 1888.
  12. David R. Contosta, Philadelphia's Progressive Orphanage:The Carson Valley School (Penn State Press, 2007), pp. 8-10.
  13. Contosta, p. 212.
  14. Moses King, Philadelphia and Notable Philadelphians, (New York: Blanchard Press, Isaac H. Blanchard Co., 1901), p. 85.
  15. "Where no three orphans may dress alike," The New York Times, June 11, 1916.
  16. George D. Widener from Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  17. "Mrs. W. Earl Dodge weds G. D. Widener," The New York Times, March 21, 1917.
  18. "Briar Hill," Rachel Hildebrandt, The Philadelphia-Area Architecture of Horace Trumbauer (Arcadia Publishing, 2009), p. 84.[1]
  19. Elkins Estate from Hagley Museum.
  20. Fitz Dixon: Saying goodbye to a horse-world giant.
  21. Pre-demolition Briar Hill photos, October 2004, from Deb Wilson via Facebook.
  22. "Erdenheim Farm gets new owners," The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 2, 2009.

External links