Plan to Raze Trees at a Villanova Estate Causes Environmentalists to Fervently Bark in Protest

Image via Save Oakwell.
Activists protest outside of Lower Merion School District's administration building every Friday afternoon.

A century old arboretum on a Gilded-Age era estate is the battleground between preservationists, environmentalists, and Lower Merion School District. Activists say that the school district wants to fell hundreds of trees on Villanova’s Oakwell Estate to make room for auxiliary playing fields for Black Rock Middle School. Stacia Friedman got to the root of the controversy for Hidden City Phila.

A 2018-founded preservation organization, Save Oakwell, is fighting to keep the trees on the historic site.

It’s been home to Dr. John Bennett for the past 25 years. He told Hidden City that he originally wanted to sell the property to Villanova University to be used as a retreat.

However, Lower Merion School District voted to condemn the property and then acquired it through eminent domain. It agreed, however, to pay Bennett $9.95 million for the plot, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

The school district further committed to planting 631 replacement trees for the 500 it planned to eliminate.

Experts are still concerned.

Adam Langley, a biologist at Villanova University, said that the demolition of the trees would release “15,000 metric tons of [carbon dioxide],” reported Hidden City’s Freidman.

The estate’s Oakwell Mansion, built in 1922, is legally protected from being demolished. Lower Merion instead proposed its renovation.

Demolition of the estate is set to begin in May of 2023.

Read more about the fight to preserve Oakwell Estate and its beloved forest at Hidden City Phila.

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