Saving Oakwell Estate

“Preserve Oakwell – Sister to Stoneleigh!”

I kept seeing signs with this slogan to “Preserve Oakwell – Sister to Stoneleigh” all over my neighborhood. Stoneleigh Garden is one of my favorite weekend hangouts. I love walking around the grounds or simply being still and taking it all in.

I became curious. Who was Oakwell, Stoneleigh’s sister, and why had I never heard of her? I wanted to see Oakwell, and I wanted to know why she needed saving. I had never heard of this mysterious garden before in all my travels throughout America’s Garden Capital. The next time I was at Stoneleigh, I asked the greeters at the entrance what they knew about Oakwell. Here is what I learned.

What is Oakwell?

Oakwell is an estate right next to Stoneleigh that’s in danger of being bulldozed for parking lots and football fields.

Oakwell Estate Entrance

I had never heard of Oakwell before because the estate had a private owner, and the grounds weren’t open to the public. Dr. John Bennett, founder and CEO of Devon Medical Products, owned the property, and his family has lived there for 25 years.

Oakwell has an illustrious history. It sits on the land of the Lenni Lenape people. The following owner, Edmund Smith, acquired it in the 1880s and hired landscape gardener Charles H. Miller, who trained at Kew Gardens in England, to design the grounds on which Oakwell and Stoneleigh sit.

The Bodine family subsequently purchased the estate in the early 1900s. They started a horticultural training program for women during World War I and throughout the 1920s. You can read more about Oakwell’s past here (click “Next” in the lower right hand corner to advance the slides).

As I understand it, Dr. Bennett wanted to sell to Villanova University, which was going to open the grounds to the public as an arboretum. Students would have also been able to study horticulture at Oakwell.

Why does Oakwell need saving?

I learned that this estate needed saving because the school district of Lower Merion seized the property by eminent domain and intends to cut down over four hundred trees, some of which are centuries-old. The district wants to install parking lots and auxiliary fields for a local middle school, Black Rock. From speaking with other township residents and looking at the middle school’s website, it seems as though the school already has athletic fields. Moreover, Oakwell Estate isn’t contiguous with Black Rock – and students have expressed not wanting additional fields. Dr. Bennett went to court to fight the Lower Merion School District and lost.

Bulldozing centuries-old trees on this estate would be tragic because Oakwell is home to many native Pennsylvania flora and fauna.

Bioblitz to document Oakwell’s biodiversity

On April 16, I participated in a bioblitz at Oakwell! A bioblitz is “an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time…The primary goal of a BioBlitz is to get an overall count of the plants, animals, fungi, and other organisms that live in a place.”

A group of 30 or so volunteers met up in the Stoneleigh parking lot on April 16. Although I had never participated in a bioblitz before, I knew I wanted to see Oakwell and to contribute it some small way to saving her.

Here are some of the photos I took at Oakwell that day – some of native plants, some of nonnative beautiful trees and vistas I couldn’t help but share.

We used the app iNaturalist to catalog our finds (you can see more info and photos from the bioblitz here).

During the bioblitz, we were welcomed to explore the ground level of the house and use the facilities. On that day, Dr. Bennett was also holding an estate sale.

I hope that Oakwell can be saved. It would be a shame to lose the centuries-old trees and the historic buildings on this estate. Dr. Bennett’s son is also buried on the grounds.

What can you do to help save Oakwell?

You can write the members of the LMSD Board of Directors at the email addresses listed on this site and share that you think Oakwell should be saved.

If you’re curious to learn more ways to help save this horticultural treasure, please visit,, and 💛🌿

You can also find more information about the Lower Merion School Board Meetings, where you can protest Lower Merion School District’s seizure of the property, here and here. The next school board meeting is Monday, May 8 at 8 pm ET.

Action News 6 and CBS News have both done features about Oakwell, which you can watch here:

Dr. Bennett has to leave his home at the end of May 2023.

One Comment

  1. Well written, really sums up the situation for those who don’t know. It’s wonderful to have an articulate artful person like yourself on board to save this priceless property.

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