Historic auction Saturday marks the ‘end of an era’ for the Coleman estate
MELINDA S. ELMER Record Express Correspondent
, Staff Writer
One of the premier historic estates in Elizabeth Township is coming up for public auction this weekend.
The 33-acre Coleman estate at 2121 Furnace Hills Pike, just north of the turnpike on route 501, will be auctioned along with important family antiques on Saturday, Sept. 28, beginning at 10 a.m. The real estate will be offered at 11.
Eight generations of the Coleman family have lived in the 14-room sandstone mansion since 1776. The home, known as the Stiegel-Coleman estate, is a National Historic Landmark.
Some area residents were surprised to see the auction sign in front of the property, especially after reading an article in the Record Express a few years ago about Bill Coleman moving here from New York care for the homestead, Elizabeth Farms and the Christmas tree plantation. Elizabeth Farms has been a destination for cut-your-own trees and family fun for generations.
"The property is too historic and too grand to go to a developer, or business venture. Lancaster County cannot afford to watch one more historic property be torn done for the sake of progress!" said one Elizabeth Township resident who asked to remain unnamed.
Possible Property Uses
The Record Express recently spoke with property owner William D. Coleman, who assured us that "there will be no development. The deed is restricted and no subdivision is allowed on the property whatsoever."
Coleman also said he has preserved over 1,100 acres of his land with the Lancaster County Agricultural Preserve Board.
Despite conversations with both personnel at the Lancaster County Recorder of Deeds office and Elizabeth Township Zoning Officer Barry Wagner, the Record Express was unable to independently confirm or refute a deed restriction on the property.
The map of Agricultural Security Areas of Lancaster County does appear to show the property as an Agricultural Security Area. Adjoining properties, apparently including Coleman’s Elizabeth Farms Christmas tree plantation, are labeled as Preserved Farms.
Inclusion in an Ag Security Area has three main benefits for landowners: limitations on the state’s ability to exercise eminent domain over the land, normal farming operations cannot be defined as a public nuisance, and landowners who are part of a 500-acre Ag Security Area may apply to sell an ag conservation easement to the Land Preservation Board.
The county’s Ag Security Area handbook says, "While ASA does protect the farm, it is not the same as farmland preservation which protects farm land in perpetuity. The ASA designation does not restrict the use of the property by the farmer who may choose to sell or subdivide the property. The farmer or any subsequent owners may develop the property in any manner authorized by local zoning, subdivision and land development regulations. The farmer, however, is obligated to maintain the ASA status of the farm" for a minimum of seven years, after which the designation may be removed by request of the owner.
Zoning officer Wagner said that the property is zoned Conservation. The Elizabeth Township Zoning Ordinance allows residential subdivisions in the conservation area. The minimum lot size is 10 acres, with other regulations regarding setback distances, required open spaces, water and sewage facilities and approved uses.
Allowable uses in the conservation district include single family dwellings, agriculture, parks, horse stables, kennels, municipal buildings and more. Permitted by special exception are campgrounds, clubhouses for private clubs, golf courses, farm buildings and more.
The township’s zoning ordinance also makes special provisions for conservation of historic resources. It says that "historic resources shall be preserved to the greatest degree practicable, through incorporation into development plans and design, including historic structures, ruins or sites, historic road or other transport traces, paths and trails, and any other historic landscape features."
The anonymous resident mentioned earlier said, "There was a great out-building (on the Coleman property) just (north of) the turnpike, but before you go up the hill, … a gorgeous sandstone building that was taken down due to deterioration. The stones were just fantastic!"
Earlier this month, the Stiegel-Coleman property was the subject of an Elizabeth Township zoning hearing. Coleman requested permission for a special exception, uses not provided for in the ordinance, to allow the estate to be used seasonally as an outdoor wedding venue.
Although he expects only 10 to 15 events each year initially, he believes there may be up to 40 a year in the future. The site can accommodate about 200 people.
Parking would be at the Christmas tree farm off Hopeland Road, with the guests transported by horse or tractor-drawn wagons to the wedding site. Restroom facilities will be provided in self-contained trailers, not the typical porta-potties.
The special exception request was unanimously granted by the three-person board.
The attorney for the Zoning Hearing Board noted that this decision does not set a precedent and does not indicate that weddings are an approved use in the Conservation District.
The Record Express asked Coleman why he requested this special zoning exception less than a month before the property’s auction.
Although he hopes the property will go to someone who wants to preserve it, "it will have to pay for itself." Coleman said the special exception is to give a buyer another option for creating income from the land.
Coleman said he does not have a particular buyer in mind.
The buildings being auctioned include the 14-room, three story mansion with six fireplaces, restored original wood floors, an open staircase and many other original architectural details.
Other buildings included in the sale are a five-room sandstone, recently updated caretaker’s home, the unimproved original homestead known as the Huber House, and a large sandstone stable and charcoal barn.
Along with the historic real estate, "some of the most impressive furniture pieces to ever be offered locally" are on the auction list. Many of the items are from the 1700s. The sale bill is available online at auctionzip.com/Listings/1865190.html.
Photos and information are available at hess-auction.com/auctions/historic-coleman-estate-33-acres/
Asked for his personal feelings about parting with the property and family heirlooms, Coleman was initially at a loss for words.
"I don’t know how to answer that," he said. "I have mixed emotions. It’s the end of an era."
"I’ve only lived here 10 years," he added. "I grew up coming to visit this property as a little boy. My dad and my uncle owned the farm jointly, and still do. I own the house individually.
"The tree farm was started 30 years ago, and that’s what has allowed the property to continue. But nothing is forever.
"I never felt like an owner. I feel more like a caretaker, a steward of the farm. It’s a great responsibility. You have to dedicate your life to something like this; it’s not something that takes care of itself."
Coleman offered a metaphor for what he is doing.
"My mother lived five years after her leukemia diagnosis," he said. "She cleaned out the attic so her kids wouldn’t have to. I could die tomorrow; my three daughters will inherit everything."
He’s simply "cleaning out his attic."
To summarize, Coleman said, "I am trying to preserve things for the community, for future generations, as long as I can. That’s what we’ll be doing."
A tour of the estate and items to be auctioned is scheduled for today, Thursday, Sept. 26, from noon until 8, and on Saturday, Sept. 28, the day of the sale, from 8 until 1.
There is a $20 fee for the guided tours of the home, as well as to attend the auction. Proceeds will benefit the Lancaster County Historical Society.
Parking is available only at Elizabeth Farms, 262 Hopeland Road.
More COLEMAN ESTATE, page A16