Meadow Garden History
From the first encampments of Native American Lenni Lenape to the Meadow Garden before you, this land has changed along with the needs and uses of those who have called it home. Its earliest inhabitants fished and hunted upon forested land. Early settlers cleared the land for grazing and farming, and late 19th-century farmers transformed the area into a center for agriculture.
Longwood has preserved the Webb Farmhouse as part of the history of this land. Constructed from local fieldstone, the exterior of the house was restored in 2014 by John Milner Architects of Chadds Ford, PA, to reflect its appearance at the end of the eighteenth century. The first floor of the interior of the house was adapted to serve as gallery space for interpreting the Meadow. The eastern gallery has been selectively restored to feature the original, large cooking fireplace that was “the heart of the house.”
William Webb is the probable builder of this house and was known to have been here in the 1730s. Born in Gloucester, England, sometime between 1684-90, he arrived in Chester County with his parents around 1700. Eventually he purchased 301 acres of land that made up part of what is today’s Meadow. In 1741 he was gifted another 203 acres from his father-in-law, George Harlan. Early settlers, like Webb, used the land to grow crops and raise livestock.
Du Pont Legacy
Pierre S. du Pont, our founder, purchased Peirce’s Park and the surrounding farm in 1906 to preserve the magnificent trees, which were in danger of being cut for lumber. As he gradually reclaimed the land, du Pont established an ethic of stewardship and preservation that influenced his farming activities as well.
Du Pont expanded the property by making numerous purchases of adjacent land. Two of his significant purchases, the Merrick farm and the Webb farm, became central to his agricultural activities and to the Meadow today. Du Pont continued to use the land for agricultural purposes for many years and retained the existing woodlands as a buffer between the formal gardens and the farm fields.
Du Pont officially discontinued Longwood Farms in 1951, and many of the agricultural fields were gradually transformed into open landscapes. By the mid-1970s, the land became a wildflower garden and meadow under the guidance of mineralogist and botanist Dr. Edgar Wherry (1885-1982). Later design enhancements were added by landscape architect Sir Peter Shepheard (1913-2002).
Just as the land has changed over time to meet the needs of those who lived upon it, the expanded Meadow Garden is meeting a current need for open space, providing the kind of habitat that is essential for the survival of the plant and animal species who live here today. Longwood’s commitment to stewardship will assure the biodiversity required for the Meadow to thrive.