Pictured above is a student-drawn watercolor of Westtown School’s farm, circa 1816
Image courtesy of Westtown School Archives
Which way do you go to Pete’s?
For many, the most direct route is probably 926. That’s Street Road, the west end of which takes you all the way out to Route 10 and limitless countryside; the east end will put you out onto Route 3 (that’s Market Street), into Philadelphia, where the landscape gets decidedly more cityfied. There’s also Shady Grove Way and Dilworthtown Road. It’s hard to call any one of them the scenic route, though. In Chester County, there’s plenty of “scenic” to go around.
Maybe you’re coming from town, in which case you might just turn down Westtown Road and take that the whole way—past the car dealerships, the government services center, the 202 overpass, the housing developments that not too long ago were farms themselves—until you find yourself driving beneath the shade of really, really old trees, as the road curves parallel to the creek on your left. If you go this way, you’ll come upon the entrance of Westtown School before you hit Pete’s.
They say that a school becomes great when people become sentimental about it. And, if you look around these beautifully preserved 600 acres today, it’s hard not to feel something. Taking in Addison Hutton’s stately architecture, interwoven with the campus’s idyllic sylvan backdrop, Westtown School appears as timeless and majestic as the land on which it stands. Indeed, the school’s historical roots run deep within its proud faculty, alumni, and neighbors. For all the Hogwartsian charm of its buildings, though, it is perhaps the school’s “living campus” that has most impressively been preserved as a transformative pastoral escape—a veritable Arcadia for all.
The land was purchased in 1794 from James Gibbons by a group of Philadelphia Quakers, whose plot for the school was to provide a useful and spiritual education for their children in a setting away from the city. Its rural campus was meant to serve as a guarded respite from society’s oppressive machinations, artificiality, and ailments of the time (Philadelphia being fresh off the Yellow Fever epidemic). Though other locations were considered, they chose Westtown for the simple fact that it was one day’s carriage ride west of the city.
Since its inception (and consistent with its mission statement), Westtown School has demonstrated a unique commitment to agriculture and conscientious stewardship of the land. Sometimes, the farm’s operations were leased to tenant farmers. Other times, the school saw fit to hire a farmer and manage it themselves. In the 1920s, the farm was added to the school’s educational program, promoting agriculture to students, both as a profession and a civic service. Not long after, during the labor shortage of the 1940s, all students were called to help harvest crops for the township—even being dismissed from school some days to do so!
In 1996, he partnered with what was then the Chester County Gleaning Program and demonstrated just what could be done with a couple acres of farmland instead of building houses on it. By 2000, however, as farmland continued to disappear, Pete moved his stand and all farming operations to Westtown School, whose campus would once again serve as a bucolic refuge from society’s modernizing course. Along with Pete came his enthusiastic customers and partners in the community, including the Chester County Food Bank.
These past two decades, Pete’s Produce Farm has given many of us public access to Westtown School’s pastoral charms—a break from screens, distractions, the stresses of modern life. Whether you journey to Pete’s as an employee, a volunteer, or a customer, it is not hard to imagine how liberated the first Westtown students and faculty must have felt as they stepped off that carriage from Philadelphia. We all bear witness to the same time-honored traditions. The same windswept hush of the tree-lined horizon, a brilliant blue sky overhead, constant sounds of insects at work, the familiar fragrances of tilled fields—it’s all still here on the farm.
And each time we visit, we then head home transformed and restored, and it was only a carriage ride away.