The Shaffer House: Conserving Pennsylvania’s Land and History, One Log at a Time

Driving down the windy and hilly backroads of Pennsylvania that curve around fenced farms and wander through dense woods, it is easy to understand why this area is renowned for its stunning scenery.  But of course, this painted landscape wouldn’t be complete without the scattered historic houses, barns, and springhouses that dot the countryside.

Unfortunately, for as many well-loved barns and productive homesteads that exist, there are just as many abandoned stone and log houses, left to slowly sink into the earth over time.  The sad reality is that over the years, many of these historical properties have met their demise due to new development encroaching upon the land, or simply because not many people have the resources nor the ability to take on the renovations and upkeep required of historical homes.

It therefore takes a special kind of person who is willing to preserve such history and land, one who is dedicated and passionate about conserving and protecting Pennsylvania’s foundation forever.  One such individual is Dr. Mead Shaffer—retired veterinarian, founder and advisor of the Bethel Township Preservation Society, and true Renaissance man—of Delaware County, who in 1999 enlisted the help of the North American Land Trust (NALT) of Chadds Ford to conserve his property under a conservation easement.

When Dr. Shaffer learned that a Penn Plan style House built in 1683 was going to be demolished in Bethel Township where he lived, he decided to take matters into his own hands and tackled a project that took 25 years to complete.  After making a deal on the spot with the fire company that was preparing to burn down the structure, he began the laborious process of moving the house to his own nearby property.

Dr. Shaffer prepared for the move by digging the foundation with help from his veterinarian students, before his father, a stone mason, built the foundation wall.  He then had each log taken apart, numbered, and reassembled next to his two hundred year old stone barn and matching stone house, meticulously saving the home site piece by piece.  Once the reconstructed house was complete, he paid homage to its history by filling the interior with his extraordinary antique collection, decorating each room with authentic furniture and detail.

Dedicating his life to the preservation of this house, both inside and out, Dr. Shaffer wanted to ensure that his hard work wouldn’t be for naught once he was no longer around to maintain the house.  With this in mind, he contacted his gym buddy and founder of NALT, Andrew Johnson, and together they drafted a conservation easement that guaranteed the conservation and preservation of the land and the historical home forever.  As Mr. Johnson put it, “Anytime you keep history—historical structures, landscape, or watershed—you are benefiting the community.”

And benefiting the community is exactly what Dr. Shaffer always intended to do with this historical home.  Every year, he opens up his doors and welcomes people into his log home where costumed guides give tours and teach visitors various interactive colonial crafts, such as churning butter, quilting, or making baskets.  As Dr. Shaffer explained, “I like to let [the community] know there’s history in the area.”  This year’s Open House will be held on Sunday, May 15 from 1:00 to 4:00 at 1645 Bethel Road, and in addition to fun activities for all ages, the public is also invited to go on a bird walk around the property, led by experienced birders.

In an area that has witnessed intense development over the past few decades, it is a refreshing juxtaposition to find this beautifully preserved, 300 year old home and property reminding us of the history that makes southeastern Pennsylvania so unique.  Thanks to this feat of conservation and historic preservation by Dr. Shaffer in partnership with NALT, the public will always be able to appreciate this piece of history.  Not only does the upcoming Open House represent an opportunity for Dr. Shaffer to share his passion for Pennsylvania history with the community, but more importantly, according to him, “This is a chance for kids to get outside and learn.”  We hope to see you there!

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