At Bryn Gweled Homesteads, intentionally making a community for 75 years

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Thomas Fetterman (left) and Larry Spungen, with Pearl, at the pond at Bryn Gweled Homesteads in Upper Southampton. Residents collectively own and maintain its 240 acres.

A chilly Saturday did little to stop the march of progress at Bryn Gweled Homesteads in Upper Southampton.

There was a crowd at the tai chi class in the community center. Upstairs, Bill Dockhorn, his wife, Carol Wengert, and Jerry Smith sifted through 75 years of documents.

Bart DeCorte worked in the community garden. Louise Kidder was off to her kitchen to make sourdough bread to be served later with jam made from the 60 quarts of blueberries her husband, Bob, picks each year in their yard.

Bryn Gweled - "hill of vision" in Welsh - is an intentional community of 75 families, homesteading on 240 acres that are collectively owned and maintained by its residents.

An intentional community is designed to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork - that is Bryn Gweled, celebrating its 75th anniversary.

Residents share an organic community garden, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a soccer field, and a community center.

Houses here - many designed by architect-settlers who were students of Frank Lloyd Wright - sit on two-acre lots leased for 99 years, since all the land is held in common.

Residents are as new as last autumn, such as Brian and Kristen McBride and their three children, or as original as Bob Dockhorn, who arrived here as an 8-week-old in 1941, moved away as an adult, and then returned.

"We thought the whole world was like this," Dockhorn said about growing up in Bryn Gweled. "Everyone called everyone else by their first names - even children and adults."

They still do.

Hans Peters arrived with his parents in the 1950s at age 3, and, like Dockhorn, moved when he grew up and returned.

"There were more children around - we were a homogeneous group age-wise, but there is much more age diversity today," said Peters, whose father built many of the homes.

Bill Dockhorn has lived in the house his parents built when they and 11 other Philadelphia families pooled $18,000 to buy foreclosed farms for $75 an acre in "the country."

The founders welcomed everyone, while "all around them, people were being excluded because they were African American or Jewish," said resident Jenifer Davis.

"One reason for our success is that we don't demand anything from anyone," said Ed Kramer, who is Bryn Gweled's new president.

"We only ask for a few hours on the first Saturday of the month, two or three hours working, a two-hour meeting, and a potluck supper," said Kramer, an artist who grew up in Mount Airy and has lived in Bryn Gweled with his wife, Beth, more than 30 years.

"Our chief underlying value is tolerance," he said.

"It is a friendly mix of community and individuality," said Peters. "You have considerable privacy, but you can do your own thing."

The membership process takes about six months, said Eva Mergen, a spinner and weaver and the new membership committee chair.

Prospective residents write an essay, fill out a questionnaire, meet everyone, and must be approved by a four-fifths vote.

"The essay helps us get to know them," she said. "The questionnaire is not a test but a conversation-starter."

Until the process ends, people can't buy a house for sale, where availability can range from several to a waiting list. The five houses for sale now range in price from $185,000 for one built in 1943 to $359,000.

Because real estate rules don't apply, a real estate task force looks into mortgage financing and other issues, said Jan Whittaker, who joined in 1982 with her husband, Stephen, an occupational therapist.

"We want to make the community more attractive," said Whittaker, a special-needs teacher.

Successful applicants pay a fee of $3,000 to $4,000 for all the common land and structures, refunded if they move , said Lucas Mergen, housing committee chair.

Monthly assessments of about $100 each pay annual operating expenses.

For the McBrides, Bryn Gweled was a "do-over" for their lives.

They had spent two years successfully battling their 12-year-old daughter's childhood cancer and when "everything turned out OK, we knew it was time for our second chance," she said.

"After having to maintain a sterile environment for so long, we had shared vision of an organic garden, chickens, and dirty kids," said McBride of her three, the others 10 and 6.

They now have seven chickens, each of which lays an egg a day, she said.

While neighbors love the fresh eggs, they "always send something back with the children when we send them over with a basket of them," she said.

 


aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472 @alheavens

 

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