Bucolic Beauty, Classic Charm

Chester County Town & Country Living

Beth S. Buxbaum

01 June 2005

From the first time they saw Mercer Hill Farm, Richard and Cindy Buchanan knew they had found the setting they were looking for. 

Mercer Hill Farm is the quintessential Chester County homestead. Standing as a testament to its enduring stature, the farmhouse and the land on which it sits, has been a part of the fabric of this area since the early 1700s. Passed from landowner to landowner, Mercer Hill Farm, named in 1898 by the Mercer family, has an extensive lineage of ownership. Though bought, sold and divided, this hearty farmland and farmhouse has outlasted the many changes. Today it is home to Richard and Cindy Buchanan, their two daughters, Audrey and Maggie, Richard's parents, and their horses and dogs.

In tracing the notable list of landowners, George D. Huber, of Past Perspectives, found that the original chain of title began with Ezekiel Harlan in 1729. The farm's ownership proceeds with a series of deeds and transformations. From the Harlan family, it was deeded to the Pennock family in 1798. According to Huber's records, there was a 100-year records gap between 1798 and the next chain of title in 1898 when J. Norman Penrose conveyed 162 acres to Townsend Mercer. According to accounts, between 1898 and 1930 Havard Mercer, son of Townsend, obtained ownership of the 162-acre parcel, as a bequeathal from his father. Lammont DuPont bought large tracts of the land in 1932 to protect the watershed. Dupont sold many of these tracts of land in 1946 to Buck and Doc Run Valley Farms Company, part of the King Ranch era. Then, in 1984, Buck and Doe Run Valley Farms Company sold land to David Kirby of Buck and Doc Associates. Kirby sold 101 acres to Robert S. Pirie and his wife Deirdre. Mercer Hill Farm's history continues with the purchase in 1999.

Believed to have been constructed between 1750 and 1770, the original two-story structure is on the western side of the house. In its earliest form, the farmhouse consisted of two rooms on the first floor, a living room with a heating fireplace and kitchen with a cooking fireplace and two bedrooms on the second floor. It is evident that the farmhouse has three distinct sections. The second house section, comprising about half of the eastern section, is believed to have been constructed somewhere between 1795 and 1800, as suggested by several structural and architectural elements Huber cites as relevant to that time frame. A third section was added in 1830, at the same time that the two rooms on the first floor were converted into one large room. Evidence suggests that were extensive renovations between 1946 and 1984.

A classic Chester County farmhouse, it was built with 8 by 10 windowpanes, with deep interior windowsills and 20-foot thick walls, with no insulation. Most of the original pine flooring still exists, as well as the original front door with its hardware intact. Initially the farmhouse had two bedrooms. During the period between 1795 and 1800, the addition of another bedroom was added and then in the 1830 addition a fourth bedroom was constructed. Sometime during the King Ranch era, 1946 to 1984, a garage was also attached to the farmhouse. With the purchase of the property, the farmhouse has gone through some remodeling, without any major renovation to the original structure. Mercer Hill Farm's evolution moves into yet another stage in its more than three centuries. Richard and Cindy Buchanan, both lifelong residents of Chester County, are now the tenders of this precious homestead. Just as this farm has an interesting history, so do Richard and Cindy. Actually, their history is more like a storybook. As Richard tells the story, in 1963 his father sold a house to Cindy's father, Tim Mason. Tim and Peggy Mason became clients of Richard's father, Dr. Buchanan, a veterinarian. Cindy and her mother owned horses, competed at the Devon Horse show and also enjoyed fox hunting. "Cindy grew up going to my father's veterinary clinic for the care of her animals," relays Richard, "and I always saw her from a distance or watched her play polo at Brandywine." According to Richard, for years they had just a passing acquaintance. But in May of 1998, they started to date and a year later they were married.

Cindy, a veterinarian, equestrian and horse trainer, and Richard, an architect with Archer & Buchanan, Architecture, Ltd., a firm that specializes in historic restorations, have made this centuries old homestead theirs. After they were married they began looking for the property. "We wanted a place in the country and started looking for a farm," says Richard. They wanted something just enough out of the Cheshire Hunt Country and the developments, but close enough to his business in West Chester. "Mercer Hill Farm was on the market for a year," Richard continues, "and the price had just dropped." Cindy and Richard went to look at the property. Even though, in respect, their first impression was that the farmhouse looked desolate and grim, the Buchanans put in a bid. "We could see the potential and the land was one hundred acres of lush pasture, with a stream, woods, flat areas and slopes and was insulated from Route 82," he adds. Another factor that drew Cindy and Richard to the property was the fact that Richard's parents were looking to downsize. "We decided that if we bought a large enough parcel we could build a place for my parents on the property," he continues. After entering into a partnership with his parents, they bought Mercer Hill Farm. Richard knew his work was cut out for him.

For many of its years, the farmhouse was not owner occupied, functioning as a tenant house. "The farmhouse was in rough shape when we purchased it," says Richard. Much of the plumbing, electricity, hardware and millwork had been neglected. "It was never really cared for as an owner would," he says. He recalls that during its most recent past, jockeys were living in the house and it was in extensive disrepair. Also untended was the land. For years it was prized land, open country for cattle, farming and later fox hunting. But that, too, changed during the years of neglect.

Now this wide opened expanse had new owners. Plans were underway for the renovations. An 1,800 sf, two-bedroom cottage was built for Richard's parents in keeping with the materials and style of the other structures on the property. Additionally, Richard devised a plan to add on to the existing bank barn, which had burnt down and was rebuilt about 30 years ago. He created a barn for his mother's six horses, while renovating the cattle loafing shed as a separate, but connected structure to function as Cindy's barn, where she works with her 18 horses. "I was able to construct these two areas so that both could share space and facilities, but still be separate," says Richard, "which was one or my greatest architectural achievements." 

With that phase of renovation completed, Richard began refurbishing the farmhouse. Originally the kitchen was the front hall. Richard reconfigured the space. He refurbished the front entrance hall that houses the original walk-in fireplace and accented it with a mahogany paneled wall and archway into a new mudroom and laundry room. Lastly, he designed a new kitchen, with cherry cabinetry and built-in wall cupboards, as well as a center island fashioned from a Gothic-styled, cherry church altar." We live in the kitchen now, which was my goal, to make the kitchen the center of the house," says Richard.

A cozy, informal setting has been accomplished throughout the living space. With antiques and reproductions, some turn-of-the-century pieces eclectically mixed with family heirlooms, Richard and Cindy have furnished their historic farmhouse with a focus on comfort and ease. Mercer Hill Farm was just the right fit for the Buchanans. There is something for everyone, with space to grow and explore, facilities and open land for their horses and fox hunting, a cozy cottage for his parents and a comfortable, lived-in farmhouse for the family.

Throughout its past, the beauty and stature of the landscape has been preserved, offering the bucolic setting that many Chester County residents relish. And the Buchanans fit nicely into this landscape, having established themselves as its gatekeepers, maintaining its legacy and preserving the land's grace and countenance.

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