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Rock Hill Farm: The History of the For-Sale Berwyn Property

Photos by Jim Graham

For the first time in a generation, the Main Line home dating back to the 18th century hits the market for $38 million.

Rock Hill Farm harkens back to an all-but-bygone era, when the great homes of the Main Line were private sanctuaries surrounded by hundreds of acres of lush terrain. It’s the last of its kind—a 14,031-square-foot manor house with five secondary homes, stables, barns and greenhouses sited on 222 idyllic acres of old-growth forests, wetlands, rolling hills and streams.

The estate’s long history dates back to the 18th century, when the land was acquired by Benjamin Cox, a founding Quaker. In the latest chapter in the Rock Hill story, the Berwyn property is for sale for the first time in 36 years. Its $38.25-million price tag make it the most expensive listing in the Commonwealth. “Many times, a beautiful estate comes on the market only after the owners couldn’t take care of it any longer,” says Jack Aezen of Compass, who’s the co-listing agent with Lavinia Smerconish. “Rock Hill is exquisitely maintained—every building, every inch of it.”

Sweeping views from the back patio.

Sweeping views from the back patio.

Indeed. Leaves that fall on the velvet lawns surrounding the house are swept away daily by a team of five full-time groundskeepers. Views of the manicured grounds are glimpsed through large sparkling windows. There’s a pool and a poolhouse. The red slate roof was recently replaced for $1 million. The pillars at the gates were constructed from river rock and field stone collected by farmers who tilled the fields in the 1700s. Flowers and other plantings at the entry are changed with the seasons. “You kind of catch your breath every time you go through the gates,” Aezen says. “Just the foliage along the approach gives you the feeling that you’re arriving at a resort.”

The elegant dining room.

The elegant dining room.

“Many times, beautiful estates come on the market only after the owners couldn’t take care of it any longer. Rock Hill is exquisitely maintained—every building, every inch of it.”

Faithfully Preserved

Since 1985, Rock Hill has been meticulously maintained and faithfully preserved by the family of Tristram C. Colket Jr., a grandson of John T. Dorrance Sr., founder of the Campbell Soup fortune. The estate came on the market after Colket died in 2020 at age 82. He was a longtime supporter and later board member of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, eventually becoming chairman of the Research Institute.

The two-story stone stable.

The two-story stone stable.

Three large commercial-grade greenhouses provide a year-round profusion of flowers, including an array of orchids.

Rock Hill is an ideal home for a philanthropist, with all the amenities needed for fundraising and other large-scale entertaining. Multiple sets of French doors open onto walled verandas. An expansive, wood-paneled dining room can seat 40 guests, and there’s a large, strategically located wet bar off the entry hall. Custom mahogany panels cover the top when the bar is not in use, “so it looks like a piece of furniture,” the agent notes.

Three large commercial-grade greenhouses provide a year-round profusion of flowers, including an array of orchids. “They grow things from tiny sprouts on up,” Aezen says. “There are always flowers in the house, and they’re simply jaw-dropping.”

Inside a greenhouse.

Inside a greenhouse.

The pool and poolhouse.

The pool and poolhouse.

Built to Last

Constructed in 1900, the colonial-style main house reflects an era when craftsmanship and natural materials were at their zenith. Six fireplaces are ornately carved from wood and marble, each in a different pattern. The family room is crowned with a molded plaster ceiling, and the floor of the oval entryway is paved in brick tiles. A service elevator runs all the way down to the basement.

More visible evidence that Rock Hill is a working farm.

More visible evidence that Rock Hill is a working farm.

A huge butler’s pantry serves both the dining areas and a chef’s kitchen suited for caterers as well as an active family. A sprawling living room accommodates four seating areas for conversations. Panoramic vistas of rolling hills can be had in the sunroom. “In those hills, you feel like you’re in the Sound of Music—it’s that breathtaking,” Aezen says.

The property is rooted in nature, with a number of walking trails traversing the land. Rock Hill is bordered on three sides by picturesque Chester County roads, enhancing the feeling of a bucolic country estate.

Beyond the side porch just off the living room, an impressive allée of mature trees leads to a peaceful pond with a nearby tea house. A stone footbridge—one that looks like it might have been built by elves—crosses over Crum Creek, the protected Pennsylvania waterway that runs through the property.

Related: Preservation and Progress Mark the Main Line’s Evolution

A Working Farm

In addition to growing plants in the greenhouses, the current owners keep bees, raise chickens and tend an apple orchard. There isn’t any livestock on the farm these days, but there could be. The property includes two hay barns, a two-story stone stable, and several other outbuildings designed to service a working farm. “There’s a beautiful stable for grooming horses with a tack room and another stable where animals could stay when they aren’t in the fields,” Aezen says.

Outdoor beds yield fresh vegetables at rock hill farm

Outdoor beds yield fresh vegetables.

The exceptional level of stewardship at Rock Hill requires many skilled hands. Much of the staff lives on-site in the five additional homes on the property, all built well before the main house. Each is named for either its purpose or its surroundings: Cook’s House, Duck House, Pond House and so on. One dwelling located near a road has its own address. Six garages, including two that serve the main house, are located throughout the property.

Despite its scale and formality, the main house is welcoming, with abundant natural light. The elegant master suite has a dressing room and a large, updated bathroom with soaking tub. “It’s very tasteful—not showy,” Aezen says of the home.

rock hill farm tea house

The tea house.

With Crum Creek as a natural dividing point for the estate, the seller is also offering the property in two parcels—one for a tad more than $20.5 million, the other for $17.7 million. Combined, the properties have an annual tax bill of $63,156.

Because of its scope, condition and location, Rock Hill is attracting attention far beyond the Main Line from prospective buyers smitten by its history, tranquility and ready access to Philadelphia. “Homes like this just don’t exist anymore,” says Aezen. “When I show it, people don’t just say thank you. They say, ‘What a gift it is to see such a property.’”