I’ve lived in Pennsylvania’s Chester and Montgomery counties since the mid 1990’s, and to be honest, the Exton area never spoke to me. For one, there’s no quaint town center like so many boroughs in this area to draw you in and make you want to explore the shops and neighborhoods. The busy routes 100 and 30, which transect Exton, are uninspired corridors of stop and go traffic lined with same-same chain stores and restaurants. It really could be Anywhere, USA. So when my husband Ben and I started looking for a home close to a train station and near our children’s charter school, we reluctantly decided to take a second look at this area.
The Benjamin Jacobs House was the first home for sale that we looked at online and based on the pictures and description, it seemed to be exactly what we were looking for. Large enough for our big family and situated in a peaceful park setting, Ben and I were excited to see it in person. We also liked that this home has a really interesting past that is connected to the founding of our country (Benjamin Jacobs’ father, John Jacobs, was Speaker of the House when the Constitution was signed, and Benjamin not only helped to fund the Revolutionary War but was also a signer of Continental Currency – stay tuned for more history!).
Our first viewing was in March, 2014 and I have to say my first impression as I pulled in and parked in the home’s parking lot (yes, it has a 15 car parking lot) was Addams Family, here I come! Half of the front porch had fallen down and was lying next to the house, all the exterior paint was flaking off, and there are no shrubs or gardens, so the huge white structure felt stark and at odds with its setting. The house sits a little way back from Ship Road, but given the unwritten rule that everyone must exceed the speed limit by at least 20 mph, I didn’t feel too keen about living on this busy road. When I looked to Ben to gauge his first impressions, I was amazed to see my beloved beaming from ear to ear. My English husband had finally found his country estate, and where I saw years of renovations ahead of us, he saw vast potential in this dilapidated gem. Our realtor Terry, who with his wife Lois, has helped us to sell and buy previous homes, let out a chuckle – he seemed to already know that this place would be right up the alley of his quirky clients.
Inside, Tom – the realtor for the property’s current owner the Church Farm School – gave us a warm welcome, and basically left us on our own to explore. The stone structure of the home was built in 1790 and is two-thirds Georgian, and then in the early 1900’s, a wooden two story extension was added off the side of the house. At the same time, a two story bay was added in the front of the home. As we started to explore, everywhere we looked were doors leading to outside porches, even on the second floor, and the view from every window was of mature trees and the rolling fields of Exton Park- it was simply beautiful!
As Ben and I walked around and took in room after room, despite the disrepair, we started to fall in love with the home’s character and potential – four original marble fireplaces, lots of large windows, high ceilings, wooden floors and a maze of rooms that all served to spark our imaginations. When we arrived back downstairs, we met up with Tom to talk through some of our questions and concerns. We liked how transparent and frank he was with his responses – we’d need a new roof, there was bounce in the floor that we hadn’t even noticed, there was an underground oil drum that needed to be removed – point by point, he openly took us through things we should consider if we were interested in purchasing the house. But he also shared our belief that all this home was missing was someone to give it some much needed TLC. Even the more recent history was very cool. He told us that at one point it had been the Strawbridge’s summer home, but most recently it had been the residence for students and teachers of Church Farm School.
That night Ben and I sat down – glass of wine in hand – and weighed it all out: there wasn’t a single room that wouldn’t need significant work, there was no working kitchen, and the ancient septic system and all the unknown problems that were likely to rear their head scared us quite a lot. But in the end – and we couldn’t quite put our finger on why – something about this house felt right. The home we owned was already on the market and had sold in less than a day, so there was nothing holding us back – we put in an offer on the Benjamin Jacobs House the next day. And what do you know, the Church Farm accepted!