Some 20 years ago, when Toll Brothers began construction on the Swedesford Chase development near Exton Square Mall, they discovered the Witch’s Cap. Dating to the 1800s, the highly decorative cedar shake structure was used to top a farming silo. Originally, it was slated for a repurposed structure in Exton Park. Beautiful sketches were made, but the project was deemed too costly.
And so the Witch’s Cap sat. Sadly, it still sits, covered in a shredded boat tarp looking like an abandoned teepee, on a West Whiteland Township public works property near the Church Farm School. “That property’s being sold. We were told the cap really needed to be gone by the end of 2021, but that deadline came and went,” says Julie Bauer, chair of the township’s historical commission. “When that property sells, possibly the cap will be bulldozed or whatever. It’d be a shame.”
Bauer has taken steps to find someone interested in acquiring the cap, which is 15 feet high and 15 feet in diameter—large enough to make a nice roof for a park’s gazebo. It’s free for the taking, but it’s the taking that’s problematic. She’s emailed Boy Scout chapters, woodworking schools, companies and individuals. On Facebook Marketplace, more than a hundred folks offered to volunteer their time and resources, even if they themselves couldn’t use the thing. One is Dawn Corrado, who owns nearby Valley Hill Farm. She used to play under the cap in the farm’s original barn as a child. But she didn’t take it, and wouldn’t return calls for this story.
A few others have expressed interest in reclaiming its wood. Drew Wallace owns 37 acres in Chester Springs that’s part of Natural Lands’ Bryn Coed Preserve. He was hoping to repurpose the Witch’s Cap as part of the restoration of an early 19th-century dairy barn, or perhaps the property’s wagon shed or corn crib. Wallace and his wife needed a place to live after their home in West Vincent Township was destroyed by Hurricane Ida. “We’ve been displaced until we get the barn rebuilt,” he says.
Unfortunately, wood from the Witch’s Cap won’t be part of the plan. “We looked at it, but had to pass,” says Wallace. “All the logistics—it was more of a hassle than it was worth.”
Wallace notes that builders routinely buy large tracks of land with old houses, barns and other outbuildings. “Out of necessity, and as a cost savings, they tear them down, or rip the roof off and sabotage what’s left,” he says. “So they then become eyesores or dangerous.”
When Bauer joined the historical commission a few years ago, she’d heard murmurs about the Witch’s Cap. Fellow members would encourage developers to buy it during proposal meetings for other developments or projects. “There would be jokes—‘If that person buys this property, we’ll throw in the Witch’s Cap for free,’” she says. “I didn’t know what it was. Then, one day I asked. It was called a witch’s cap. Was that a generic term, a common name for a silo top, or for this one in particular?”
It’s believed that the Witch’s Cap was part of Ship Farm. The property’s tenant house was constructed around 1800 by John Bowen, owner of the Ship Inn. Its roof was damaged in a storm in the 1970s, and it was demolished in the 1990s, along with a number of the surrounding outbuildings on the farm.
West Whiteland just completed a review of its historical resources for the first time since the early 1980s. The undertaking allows residents to “know what we are, and to know the history of the area,” Bauer says. “Then it’s easier for the historical commission to try to save things, if we can. It’s one reason we believe people love Chester County. The area is a beautiful mix of modern and historic.”
That mix draws the likes of Ben Schafir, a creative director for luxury brands in New York City who has a barn-home in the Hudson Valley. All renovations have been done with historical salvage, sell-offs and reused materials. “It’s become a fascination, but it’s almost just a loving way of working,” he says. “Everything already has a patina and history, then there’s the personal connections we’ve made from meeting and having dialogue with previous owners.”
Schafir wanted to add a silo shed structure to the property topped by the Witch’s Cap, but the plan never came to fruition. “Over the past year, I’ve learned to guard my expectations,” Bauer says. “There’s definitely been very passionate folks interested in it. Someone who wants it badly enough will make it happen. We remain cautiously optimistic.”
Interested parties have spoken to crane companies. Most determined the impossibility of transporting it on a truck bed due to its extended height. One potential taker floated the idea of picking up the Witch’s Cap with a helicopter and carrying it over the woods “as the crow flies” and dropping it on her property.
It’s likely the cap will have to be disassembled, cataloged and rebuilt at its new home—and therein lies the expense. “It must have felt good when it was first saved,” Bauer says. “They were unable to save the farm, but at least they were triumphant in working with the developer to find a compromise.”
As of now, the Witch’s Cap still sits—on two steel I-beams outside the township building. “It’s sad to see it sitting out there,” Bauer says.
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