Elizabeth’s Historic Farms in Lancaster County Heading to Public Auction: An Interview with the Owner | Local company
If you’ve ever taken a horse-drawn wagon ride and picked out a Christmas tree at Elizabeth Farms, there’s a good chance you’ve met Bill Coleman. He has been the gregarious face – and the mastermind behind – of the popular U-pick operation and vacation attraction since 1990. He is also the eighth generation heir of the 346-acre Brickerville property that dates back to the American Revolution. More recently, Coleman added a wedding venue and farm-to-table restaurant, as well as a Mangalitsa pig farm, prized by chefs for their high level of creamy fat. Elizabeth Farms is one of some 30 farm-to-table companies across the country raising the sought-after pigs, according to Barbara Meyer zu Altenschildesche, an expert in the field.
A former Wall Street stockbroker who turns 69 this month, Coleman has once again decided to pivot. This time he sells the farm. A public auction on October 29 will determine the fate of this historic property.
Managed by auction house Ephrata Kline, Kreider & Good, the auction will oversee the sale of three plots. When asked for a rough figure for packages, his partner Randal V. Kline declined to comment. “The value will be set on the day of the auction,” Kline told LNP | LancasterOnline by phone, declining to give further details. Kline, who has been in the auction business for 48 years, said Elizabeth Farms is one of the most unique properties he’s ever put together for auction.
Coleman sat at a picnic table on his farm eating a Honeycrisp apple last month, reflecting between bites on a family heirloom as old as this country, the land, and why he decided to give it up.
The story of Elizabeth Farms, Coleman said, begins with Robert Coleman, a teenager who left Ireland for the new frontier of colonial Pennsylvania with a few guineas in his pocket and a reputation for exceptional calligraphy. He landed in the slave port city of Philadelphia around 1764, and these handwriting skills would, a few years later, pave the way for Lancaster. (“Back then, it was a skill a lot like being able to write software today,” said Coleman, who has records in his ancestor’s hand.)
The War of Independence was yet to come.
Robert Coleman kept the books and did clerical work for well-known blacksmiths including brothers Grubb of Reading and James Old, who owned Quittapahilla Forge in North Annville, County of Lebanon, and Speedwell Forge in the Elizabeth Township, where he lived with the Old family. . He married Ann Old, the boss’s daughter, in 1773, which also marked the start of his illustrious career as America’s first industrialist.
In 1776, in a fledgling America, Robert Coleman had his eye on the nearby Elizabeth Oven, which he would eventually own after acquiring it from glassmaker Heinrich Wilhelm Stiegel and his partners.
The property known as Elizabeth Farms was first used to grow crops and raise cattle which fed the hundreds of laborers employed by Robert Coleman.
“The ovens were running all the time, seven days a week,” said Bill Coleman. “The explosion never goes out. They worked in shifts. It was a wood-fired oven with acres of wood. They would go out and cut a tree by hand. And then they would burn it in pits to make charcoal. Then the charcoal was transported by cart to the oven.
An expanding family footprint
Robert Coleman would acquire 27 more kilns, including Cornwall Furnace in Lebanon, which became, as the Pennsylvania Historical Marker database describes, the largest and most important iron mine east of the Lake Superior ore body. . (Cornwall, a designated historic monument that remains fully intact, was part of the Coleman dynasty until the 1930s.)
His family, which included “13 or 14 children,” lived in the Stiegel-Coleman mansion on the Elizabeth Furnace compound, which included a dairy, general store, blacksmith’s shops, cottages, and schools for workers.
Located just north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Furnace Hills Pike, Elizabeth Furnace has hosted many guests, including the first President of the United States.
“During the Continental Army’s tenure during the American Revolution, ammunition was made here,” said Bill Coleman. “[Robert] Coleman was building cannons and making gunfire for the Revolutionary War, but he never got paid. Instead of payment, George Washington sent him Hessian prisoners from the Battle of Trenton. They came to the furnace and they dug what is called the Hessian Ditch, which brought water from Furnace Run to increase the power of the water that would go through the wheel.
“After the war, Washington and a delegation from Philadelphia came to Elizabeth Furnace to visit Coleman and presented him with a portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart (of Washington). This portrait remained in my family until my father’s generation, when, for some inexplicable reason, it was sold.
Elizabeth Farms remained a production farm until 1850, said Bill Coleman, when the “oven broke down and advances in technology made this oven obsolete.”
The next 100 years and more
Over the next 125 years, more or less, the Coleman family left the property – which stood at around 1,800 acres – unoccupied, even when Bill Coleman’s father (Bertram D.) and his uncle (Francis IG) have become joint heirs. in 1950.
“They didn’t like each other,” Bill Coleman said. “They had a farm manager to take care of things and act as a go-between, and the place was losing money every year.”
Bill Coleman’s turn as co-heir would come unexpectedly, after his father died in a car crash in 1976.
“The executor of my father’s estate insisted that I sell,” Coleman said. “And I said, I’m going to try to build a business there and take it forward. I convinced my uncle of that. And in 1980, we started growing Christmas trees.
For 10 years, Coleman ran a wholesale Christmas tree operation out of Manhattan, with Stauffer’s of Kissel Hill as his main customer. In 1990, they switched to retail with the horse-drawn wagon rides. Coleman, who had never lived on the property, moved into the Stiegel-Coleman home in the early years with his youngest daughter, Virginia. He has been on the farm full time ever since. (In 2013, Coleman sold the 33-acre estate at public auction for $ 2 million. The buyers were his cousins, Craig Coleman and Bruce Coleman, who turned the property into an event venue.)
Why he sells
Bill Coleman clarified that whoever buys the property cannot turn it into a shopping center or subdivision; the land is protected by a 2008 joint easement between the Lancaster Agricultural Preserve Board and the Lancaster Farm Trust.
“It’s unspoiled farmland, and we have these businesses that are closely tied to preservation and the land,” he said. “Whoever buys this property, I’m pretty confident, will continue to operate it as we have.”
When asked why he was willing to move (and leave the property), Bill Coleman fell silent. He took a few more bites of his apple. He closed his eyes, which began to cry.
“I have three daughters,” he says. “I know from experience that owning real estate together with your family is not a good thing. And if I did that with my daughters, they would start arguing and then they would start thinking, “Why did daddy do this?” I think the only person who can sell it properly is the one who rode it.
“When my mother (Patricia Disston Detchon, who served in WWII as a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots) died of leukemia, she knew what her timeline was. Before she died (in 1995), she went upstairs and cleaned her attic. And she did it so her kids didn’t have to. And that’s what I do with the sale of the farm. I clean my attic.
The Elizabeth Farms property, 262 Hopeland Road, Lititz, will be auctioned in three lots by Kline, Kreider & Good Auctioneers starting at 1 p.m. on Friday, October 29.
Personal inspection available by appointment or via an open day today and Saturdays October 16 and 23 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Offers will be accepted onsite at Elizabeth Farms, online at klinekreidergood.hibid.com, or by phone at 717-733-1006.