A Brief History of Swiss Pines
Please Note: All historical pages on this website are considered works in progress. Writing will be adjusted as more information becomes available. If you have a source that could improve or correct our information, please reach out to us.
Additional Note: This streamlined story of the property history does not record all of the important individuals involved. For more complete analysis please consult the Timeline of Events and Key Players pages.
Earliest Charlestown Origins
In the late 1600s Charles Pickering discovered what he believed were trace amounts of silver in the Pennsylvania countryside. To pursue his mining interests, Pickering secured a 5,383 acre land grant from William Penn in the hopes of making his fortune. Unfortunately, Pickering and his friend John Tinker proved misguided in their mining ventures and discovered no major veins of the precious minerals. Around 1700 Pickering died during a sea voyage back to England, and his lands were split amongst 16 of his associates.
The property now known as Swiss Pines was a part of that distribution.
Early misadventures in mining and bad business dealings would mark the beginning of a series of interesting land grabs, legal disputes, and mysteries surrounding the property to this day.
Image Courtesy of charlestown.pa.us
Foundational Buildings are Erected
When traveling along Charlestown township road near Swiss Pines passers-by will notice an old stone building. This is the spring house that harbors a valuable source of water feeding all the way down to Pickering Creek. The spring house was built in 1780 and is the oldest known building on the property.
The three story manor house that highlights the grounds was built in 1821, developed and overseen by the property’s earliest owners. It is built in a classic Georgian style and features stone construction with white plaster exterior. The home remains largely unchanged since its time of construction.
Two years later (1823) a large barn was constructed alongside the manor house.
1780 Spring House
1821 Manor House
1823 Primary Barn
William H. Llewellyn -
Renowned Druggist with an Eye for Gardens
Although the property was initially developed by early settlers, the first owner with substantial historical records was William H. Llewellyn.
Born in 1857, Llewellyn grew to prominence in the Philadelphia region as a prosperous drug store owner. At his peak he owned 9 locations in and around Philadelphia, including Phoenixville. In 1895, at the age of 38, Llewellyn purchased a large tract of land in the middle of Charlestown township which included the historic manor house, barn, and spring house.
Llewellyn set about restoring the buildings and adding significant natural beauty to the property. A horticulture lover, he developed a much celebrated Victorian garden on his estate and integrated foreign trees, including Iris and Phlox.
Llewellyn was an avid traveler, counting Japan among his foreign destinations. In the early 1900s Llewellyn brought back four pieces of Japanese garden statuary which he placed along the creek fed by the old spring house.
In 1926 William passed away and bequeathed his sizable fortune to Henry G. Swartley, a protégé and confidant. Swartley began as an assistant to Llewellyn in the pharmaceutical field but eventually proved capable enough to manage stores and act as travelling companion to William. The property and cash assets were valued at just under $1 million (which in 1926 was no small allowance).
Disputes over the property and fortune arose immediately. Llewellyn’s cousins were determined to fight Swartley for control. However, evidence that Llewellyn had no significant contact or affection for his cousins swung the courts in favor of Swartley, and by 1928 the legal matter was closed naming Swartley as the sole inheritor.
Arnold Bartschi - Shoe Magnate with Bold Vision
Arnold Bartschi was born in 1903 in Switzerland. As a young adult he took an apprenticeship in Paris, France in the shoe industry and upon his return to Switzerland began working for Bally Shoe Co. Somewhere between 1920 and 1927 (conflicting sources) Bartschi made his first trip to the United States in order to learn English and grow as a businessman.
Bartschi settled in Brooklyn, New York and began work at a Bally Shoe factory. He quickly rose through the ranks and by 1928 found himself traveling to Cincinnati, Ohio to manage a shoe factory himself. “In those days I was earning $10,000, which was high money then.”
In 1930 Bartschi moved to Philadelphia where he began work for J. Edwards Shoe and Co. It was here that Bartschi established himself as a leader and innovator.
In 1944 Bartschi organized a purchase of the J. Edwards company for $1 million. Bartschi didn’t have the liquid capital to buy the company alone, so he recruited a number of financial partners. Bartschi was named the chief operating officer of the company and for the next 25 years oversaw its growth, developing three additional manufacturing plants and expanding production significantly.
In 1957 Bartschi began a search for additional land to build warehouses. He travelled down the main line to rural Charlestown Township, which at the time was considered quite rustic compared to metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia and Malvern. Bartschi discovered the Llewellyn estate and manor which had been left vacant for some time. He became enamored with the natural beauty of the area and decided to purchase the estate. All told he acquired 520 acres, 32 houses, and 1 apartment building.
Bartschi quickly realized that the land wasn’t meant for warehouses and instead set about making a home for himself. While exploring the grounds he discovered a stand of Swiss Pine trees, which reminded him of his birth country. The name of the property, Swiss Pines, seemed self-evident thereafter.
He also discovered a number of Japanese statuary placed along the nearby creek.
Much like William Llewellyn, Bartschi was an avid traveller and horticulture enthusiast. The Japanese statuary on the property sparked Bartschi’s imagination and he envisioned a grand Japanese garden on the property. Not one to think small, Bartschi began developing plans for his Japanese garden as well as an english garden near the Llewellyn manor house, an herb garden, and other attractive features.
Hans E. Daniel (above) replaces Charles Mohr as Director of Swiss Pines.
A Garden Spectacle, a Public Destination
Bartschi’s ambition to contribute to the natural beauty and preservation of Charlestown Township quickly took on a more professional tone. In 1958 he established the Bartschi Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to oversee the development of his gardens and create a more public-facing experience. The formation of the foundation was done in collaboration with the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and Charles E. Mohr, former education director of the Academy of Natural Sciences, was named director of Swiss Pines.
In 1962 Charles Mohr concluded his time as director and was replaced by Holland-native Hans E Daniels. Daniels proved a knowledgeable horticulturist, educator, and presenter, making a name for himself in the flower/garden show circuit. That same year a man named Carl Shindle began work as a caretaker and quickly became one of the most consistent and reliable entities responsible for the gardens continued development.
1969 was a landmark year for Bartschi as he successfully sold his shoe empire to the tune of $5 million (although Bartschi stated it was more like $3.5 after dealing with lawyers/taxes/expenditures). This windfall helped fund Bartschi’s lofty vision for the future.
Hiroshi Makita's Zen Influence
Throughout the 1960s Arnold’s ambition to grow and legitimize his garden continued. With Hans Daniels acting as director and Carl Shindle acting as primary caretaker, Bartschi consulted twice with the famed Japanese garden designer Katsuo Saito and began to adjust his plans according to Saito’s recommendations.
In 1966 a young man named Hiroshi Makita was sent to the United States on business. He returned in 1970, this time joining the ranks of Swiss Pines. Makita brought with him a unique personal connection to Japanese garden artistry. Makita had been adopted by Zen monks of the Rinzai Sect at the temple of Fusaiji, Nagano Prefecture on the island of Honshu, Japan, where he lived for 16 years. During his time there he learned the deepest aspects of Zen Buddhism and its connection to garden experiences. When Arnold Bartschi met Makita, Makita was not withholding of his critiques of Swiss Pines. Seeing it from a deeper philosophical perspective, and aware of the intricacies and subtle rules of design, Makita was better able to interpret the plans provided by Katsuo Saito. Bartschi decided to hire the man and utilize his unique skills to achieve superior results.
Makita continued on as the chief director and artistic visionary of the grounds until 1981 when he moved on to other projects throughout the United States.
Hiroshi Makita. Image property of Hilary Jay.
Henriette Bumeder and Arnold Bartschi at Swiss Pines Manor House.
Resting place in honor of Arnold Bartschi.
The Vision Slips Into Decline
Bartschi was a well-connected and celebrated businessman in Pennsylvania, experiencing a polished life in Malvern with his wife Meta. However, he found himself more comfortable with the natural surroundings of his Charlestown estate. While there he enjoyed the company of Henriette Bumeder, a young German model who shared his love of the gardens and lived with Bartschi on the property.
After Meta passed away and Arnold grew into his twilight years, it fell to the younger Henriette to oversee more of the garden’s upkeep and maintenance. Carl Shindle and a small handful of dedicated employees continued to work on the property and keep it open to the public. Despite their diligent effort, Swiss Pines began to fade throughout the 80s.
As Arnold’s ability to oversee his estate waned, he sectioned off certain pieces of land and granted control to the Bartschi Foundation or French and Pickering Creek Conservation Trust. He was instrumental in the development of the Charlestown Nature Center, dedicating 10 acres of land and $50,000 to seed the start of the project. By 1987 he had parsed out the entirety of his land holdings.
In 1996 Bartschi passed away and bequeathed the foundation to Henriette. Although a lover of the gardens, Henriette was not fully suited to the rigors and demand of upkeeping such an intricate property with so many buildings and acreage. Over time she retreated more and more into seclusion, keeping only her closest friends and confidants in her life. Carl Shindle was retained to do basic upkeep and maintenance.
By the mid-2000s the availability of the gardens to the public had been drastically reduced, largely relegated to call-ahead visits.
The Time of Disrepair
Carl Shindle continued his work at the grounds as long as possible, but Henriette had stopped executing real management of the Bartschi Foundation and so meaningful development of the grounds also stopped.
In 2016 Shindle passed away, followed by Henriette in 2018. Henriette handed the Bartschi Foundation to Kim and Bill Coyle, individuals who had cared for Henriette in her autumn years.
Staring down a depleted endowment and a property well past normal recovery, the Coyles remained determined to keep the property afloat as best as possible. Kim and Bill undertook a number of recovery projects, such as settling outstanding debts to the property, clearing bamboo, tackling legal disputes, and repairing buildings.
Swiss Pines closes its doors due to disrepair.
A ray of hope for the future of Swiss Pines.
The Road to Recovery
The Coyles collaborated with Jill and Jay Beaver in order to maintain the property while contemplating recovery options. Ultimately they decided to partner with Matthew Apsokardu who brought 25 years of Japanese/Okinawan cultural study as well as a track record of entrepreneurial business development.
Apsokardu presented a plan to aid in the recovery of the grounds and create a viable business model in line with Arnold Bartschi’s original vision for the property. The result is what you see today. An opportunity for fresh guidance, modern digital tools, community engagement, and sustainable fundraising aimed at the restoration of Swiss Pines, a beloved property in the heart of Charlestown Township.