The First 300

Lawrence and Dorothy Saunders’ Idlewild Farm

1939 Aerial view of Idlewild Farm. The residence, (c. 1700, 1740, 1910), is at the center, surrounded by the Carriage House/ Stable and Farmer’s House (1870); Bank Barn (1825); Dairy Barn, Milkhouse and Bull Pen (1905); Wagon House (1827); Springhouse (1860). In 1924 the pool was added, a Garage in 1950, the Chicken House in 1975.

The Saunders Purchase

In 1897, Mrs. Frances Baugh Saunders (1858-1937), wife of Philadelphia medical publisher Walter B. Saunders (1858-1905), purchased the newly-named Idlewild Farm (or Idylwild) from Samuel G. Williamson. Her purchase along Williamson Road, Bryn Mawr, included the nucleus of farm buildings and 87 of Williamson’s 104 acres. Around 1900, Mrs. Saunders converted Idlewild to a dairy farm and summer house.

When Frances Saunders purchased the farm, she acted independently, using her own inheritance. Although their home was in Overbrook, the Saunders family spent summers at the farm. It was a place for work and play, especially for the children: William L. Saunders II (later Lawrence, “Larry”) and Emily.

Flight from Philadelphia

The period at the turn of the century was one of migration by affluent Philadelphians from the industrial city to the farm areas of the Old Welsh Tract. Many of these rural estates became “country gentlemen’s estates” or hobby farms, with mansions or greatly remodeled homes.

Mrs. Saunders preferred to retain the old stone farm buildings, remodeling the main house as little as possible. By 1900, she added a herd of Ayshire milking cows, a milkhouse, plus a large wing and bull pen to the bank barn. She also purchased three adjoining properties, increasing the farm to 167 acres by 1920. Although she was completely deaf, she ran the dairy business from the farm or home until 1927, selling high-quality raw milk to Suplee Dairies.

Lawrence and Dorothy

In 1923, while on a visit to New York, Lawrence Saunders (1890-1968) met Dorothy Wynne Love (1902-1992), a Vassar College student. She was the daughter of cotton factor William Love of Memphis, Tennessee, and his wife Mary. Lawrence and Dorothy were married in 1924 at Princeton, New Jersey, where Dorothy’s mother resided. The couple took up residence at Idlewild Farm.

In 1927, Frances Saunders deeded the farm buildings and 70 acres to Lawrence, and the remainder of the land to her daughter, Emily. Although Frances had made limited changes to the farmhouse, the young couple undertook a partial remodeling and renovation in order to make it a permanent residence. The facade was modified to give a more formal appearance; stucco covering the building was removed, and the beautiful old locally-quarried fieldstone was repointed.

Family Growth

The years which followed were busy ones as the Saunders raised their five children. In 1937, Lawrence became Treasurer of the family publishing company, later President and Chairman of the Board. The couple was also active in the community, particularly in matters concerning the environment.

In 1927 Dorothy and Lawrence, with a group of property owners in the area, began Bridlewild Trails Association. It now has a large membership of families who enjoy riding or hiking on over 30 miles of marked trails.

In 1951, Lawrence created Saunders Foundation, a private group to maintain Saunders Woods (also known as Little Farm), a 26-acre property he had purchased in 1922 on Waverly Road, Gladwyne, for the public enjoyment, recreation and preservation of its natural beauty.

Dorothy at Idlewild

After the death of Lawrence in 1968, Dorothy purchased Idlewild Farm with 26 acres from his estate. It was a working farm and Dorothy enjoyed farm life in all seasons. She would later incorporate her feelings about its rolling pasture lands, woodlands, lovely old trees and quarried stone walls into a book of poems, Unbroken Time, published on her 80th birthday. In her later years, graduate students stayed at the farm to help her. Dorothy made all who came to live or visit Idlewild feel welcome.

An Active Life

Despite failing eyesight and other infirmities in later life, Dorothy kept active with social events, travel and writing poetry. Uppermost, however, was her need to fulfill a longtime dream: to find a way to protect her beloved Idlewild Farm for the enjoyment of future generations.

Beneath her warm and gentle manner, this soft-spoken woman had the strength and determination to protect this property which had been in the Saunders family for almost 100 years. The first step, the research to substantiate Idlewild’s history pursuant to a National Register nomination, was for Dorothy a fascinating study of this, the oldest operating farm in the township.

National Register Nomination

In 1983, Idlewild farm with its farmhouse, outbuildings and 26 acres was entered on the National Register of Historic Places as an excellent example of a turn-of-the-century country gentlemen’s estate. Over the ensuing years, with the aid of the Natural Lands Trust, a private, nonprofit corporation, Dorothy’s preservation and conservation dreams came to fruition. In 1988 she conveyed Saunders Woods to the Natural Lands Trust for its protection and maintenanace. In 1990 she conveyed 21.2 acres of Idlewild Farm, including farm buildings, to be kept as a preserve. The main house was sold and the remaining lots were sold to create an endowment for this purpose.

Dorothy Love Saunders passed away in February 1992 at the age of 89, having spent the last years of her life at The Quadrangle in Haverford. This remarkable woman had accomplished her goal: to leave for the enjoyment of future generations a lasting gift of unspoiled landscape.

Lawrence and Dorothy Saunders in front of the walk-in fireplace in the Old Kitchen.
New Year’s greeting, 1967.
The Saunders family, c. 1949. (Standing, from left): Morton, Nancy Gayle, Patsy. (Seated): Lawrence, Dorothy, Sally Love, Grier.
Hay wagon.
Facade of residence before 1927 remodeling. Stucco covered the locally-quarried fieldstone and was removed.
Idlewild Farm’s springhouse (1860).
Remodeled front elevation is seen in 1980 photograph.
Recent photograph shows the westerly side of the house, shed porch (at right) removed. The earliest portion of the house is in the middle section, later expanded, roof raised. Current owners had made additions and renovations.
Dorothy Love Saunders, c. 1975. Along with her devotion to Idlewild Farm, her efforts in support of local land preservation have made a significant impact on the landscape of Lower Merion Township.