The Historic Greenwood Farm Carries George Washington’s Legacy

Greenwood Farm, George Washington’s “Second Headquarters,” pushes onward amid ups and downs in Tredyffrin Township.

Greenwood Farm has its issues. “We’re at the bottom of the hill, so the water always flows,” says current owner Danielle Francis. “It seems that at least once a year there’s six inches of it in the basement.”

But the water never flowed like it did five years ago, when a sewer pipe burst and backed up into the house as their oldest child, Abby, was taking her first bath in a clawfoot tub. Francis and her husband, Chris, had just purchased the residence historically known as George Washington’s “second headquarters” from her mother and stepfather, Carole and John Giegerich Jr. These days, the historic estate includes the main home, a carriage house and a barn—all on three acres along West Valley Road in Tredyffrin Township.

Now 92, Giegerich had owned Greenwood Farm with his first wife since 1971. He hated to list it when relocating to Florida, fought off developers interested in condominiums, then found solace when the property remained in the family. He and Carole have since returned and are living in the two-bedroom carriage house. “I have a sense of permanency in living out my life here,” says Giegerich.

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The historic 18th-century manor home boasts high ceilings, hardwood floors, eight fireplaces, six bedrooms and three full baths. There’s elegant millwork throughout, and large centuries-old windows provide plenty of natural light. The property includes a pool and poolhouse, lush perennial gardens, specimen trees, spring-fed fountains, various sculptures and a circa-1914 clay tennis court. The historic stone-and-clapboard bank barn has an adjoining rental apartment. “It’s a great property, right?” says Francis. “It’s a great place to raise kids, a place where we can really spread out.”

A plaque in the home’s entrance hall documents the site as Gen. Washington’s interim headquarters in December 1777, before his move to the Isaac Potts House at Valley Forge. Through much effort, Giegerich was able to get the property on the National Register of Historic Places as an example of a transformed working farm. Even so, retired historian and preservationist J. Randall Cotton notes that Washington’s stay can’t be confirmed, and there’s a question about some of the original architectural detail.

Cotton has authored a comprehensive history of Greenwood Farm, which was referenced as Washington’s temporary headquarters in a speech by Samuel W. Pennypacker. The farm was originally part of a 160-acre tract granted to David Meredith by William Penn’s agents in 1706. The property was little improved until it was purchased by James Davis, a member of one of the area’s founding families. A farmer, Davis likely built the house around 1760. He was listed as the largest landholder in Tredyffrin Township in 1765, and his family owned the farm until at least 1798.

By the mid-19th century, the property had become a gentleman’s farm for a succession of wealthy owners, most of them esteemed doctors. From 1860 to 1874, it had several short-term owners until it was bought by J.G. Richard Heckscher, founder of the largest anthracite coal mine in Pennsylvania. The Heckscher family rented a townhouse in Philadelphia and occupied Greenwood Farm as a summer estate. After Heckscher’s death, his son, Stevens, made substantial improvements to the estate in 1913. The swimming pool and a now-demolished billiards hall date from that era. An established lawyer in Philadelphia, he also built the tennis court, on which Spanish Davis Cup players the Alonso brothers occasionally practiced.

The estate was sold to Radcliffe Urquhart in 1942, and the farmland was subdivided by a developer in 1969. The parcels with structures were sold to Giegerich, who moved in with his first wife and their sons. After a divorce, he ended up with the property. He married Carole in 1989. “One of my big loves around the farm has always been the tennis court,” says Giegerich. “I’m looking forward to getting my ball machine out in the spring.”

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Greenwood Farm

They’ve tried to determine which room Washington may have slept in. Back then, it was a four-room house, so it would’ve been one of the two bedrooms. Today, there’s a surplus of evidence pointing to a typical family living in an atypical home. There’s even a ’90s-era camper parked in the driveway that’s past its expiration date. “It’s become way low on our priority list,” Francis says of getting rid of it.

For the first major restoration effort, the family had about 95 percent of the barn’s stone walls pointed. Its roof is next. “We love the barn and have made more of an effort out there,” says Francis. “We’ve kept it with regard to its historical nature—rustic but functional.”

An established lawyer in Philadelphia, Stevens Heckscher build the tennis court, on which Spanish Davis Cup players The Alonso Brothers occasionally practiced.

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In the house, the couple has repainted woodwork that was “a dark, muddy, historical but depressing green,” replacing it with bright white. They’ve also refinished the floors, installed new toilets and ripped out the kitchen cabinets (they’re still waiting on new ones).

Mostly, the family lives in the den and kitchen. They don’t use the formal dining room or the living room, and the house has no period furnishings. Francis describes their decorating style as eclectic. “I believe in being comfortable,” she says.

An established lawyer in Philadelphia, Stevens Heckscher build the tennis court, on which Spanish Davis Cup players The Alonso Brothers occasionally practiced.

Every spring, hours are spent relocating mating frogs that have moved into the pool. Now 82, Carole has gardened on the surrounding grounds for years. “Given the anxiety and lack of socializing in 2020, I’m happy to be back here and close to family,” she says. “I enjoy having the grandchildren pop in for ice cream or other treats, and I’ve promised to help get the garden going in the spring.”

The family has a distinct, if simple, vision for Greenwood Farm. “We’d like it to last for another 100 years,” Francis says. “For that to happen, it has to be maintained, which means people have to live here.”

Where Eagles Landed

There was a time when Greenwood Farm was known for its parties. “They were wild,” says owner Danielle Francis. “Our parties are tame by comparison.”

Fifty years ago, Greenwood became a place to unwind for Philadelphia Eagles players when longtime Main Line insider and railroad descendant Jay Charles Woodward rented there. Once a nationally ranked tennis player, Woodward was working at Exxon. He’s now 74 and wheelchair-bound, suffering the effects of Agent Orange exposure from his time in the Vietnam War. Woodward grew up outside Berwyn, though the family also had a farm in Sugartown. He graduated from Conestoga High School, attending Temple University and finishing at Florida State. He later returned to Temple for a master’s degree in logistical science and law.

Woodward recalls hosting as many as 600 guests at Greenwood Farm’s parties, hiring Tredyffrin police officers (his godfather was chief) to keep an eye on things. “If Jay says it, it’s true,” says former Eagles middle linebacker Carl Gersbach, who grew up in Swarthmore and played seven years of pro football.

In 1970, his rookie season with the Eagles, Gersbach was one of four players living at Greenwood. “I’ve always loved real estate, and I’m sure it was one of the attractions when I decided to rent a room at Greenwood,” says Gersbach, a 73-year-old senior vice president with CBRE, a commercial real estate firm in Radnor.

The tenants had “the run of the place,” says Woodward, who hunted the vast grounds. “But I haven’t been back on West Valley Road in a million years.”

Subsequent reunion parties among renters lasted into the 1970s. “It became like an informal fraternity,” says Woodward, who recalls a personal property auction at the farm in 1968 that netted over $12 million. “In the barn, a buddy of mine found a piece of marble from Greece,” he says. “There were 200–300 pounds of sheet music.”

In an early exploration of the estate once he began renting, Woodward found an original Canterbury Tales etching in the basement. Then valued at $8,000–$10,000, it’s worth maybe $80,000 today. Woodward had it cleaned, and it drew attention over the years. “I always told people it was a fake,” he says.

Years later, while living in West Chester, Woodward lost his treasure in a robbery. “I loved that thing,” he says.

Related: Spend a Weekend at This Historic Glen Mills Farmhouse

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