Land Trust of Bucks County
Land Trust of Bucks County
Sycamore Farm Bucks County

Sycamore Farm

Stretching between Old Windy Bush Road towards the Delaware River, Sycamore Farm's history reaches back to before the American Revolution. That alone would make the property noteworthy, but the events of the last 100 years, and especially some connections to the areas most famous inhabitants, make this estate's story stand out.

The property was part of the Penn family's private pre-revolutionary holdings. The original deed was signed in 1784 by two of William Penn's grandsons - both named John Penn - one of whom served as Governor of Pennsylvania from 1771 through 1776. It was sold to Thomas Smith and his wife Sarah for £350 "lawful silver money of Pennsylvania". The original tract was quite large, encompassing roughly 200 modern acres, and included an allowance of 6 acres for future streets and highways. The state apparently did appropriate some of the land, since Covered Bridge Road ran though part of the property at one point. That portion of the road has long since been abandoned, but its presence is still evident from the air (see the old roadbed at the 2:00 minute mark in the accompanying video).

The original house was built in 1784, just after the property was purchased. And there have been at least 5 additions over the years, the most recent completed in the late 1800s. Mike and Debby Brady own the property today. Debby's father Reed Denby, and her mother Sally Nimick Denby, preserved the 50 acres that remain from the original purchase with Solebury Township and the Land Trust of Bucks County in 2002.

Golden SealIt's one of the prettiest farms in the area, with views from the house rolling down the slope towards the river. It was recognized as a significant natural area by the Nature Conservancy in the 70's, largely because it had, at that time, an exceptionally large wild stand of golden seal. Much of that stand has been lost, but there's still a small area growing above the house in the woods.

The property boasts one of the first private pools ever built in the county, engineered from a natural spring below the house. There, was of course, a spring house there before the pool. Family lore says that Debby's grandfather Tyson Nimick, who took ownership in 1929, had once hired a local farmer to manage the dairy farm on the estate. Tyson and the manager had a significant falling out. After arguing one day, the manager went down to the spring house, which was being used to store milk, filled it with explosives and blew the thing up.

That's one of the many, and probably the most outrageous, stories associated with Sycamore Farm. For example, there's a cannonball that sits near the main house's front porch. When Reed was in his late teens, he and the sons of the famous architect neighbor - Rolf Bauhan, Hobey and Billy Bauhan - were out drinking in New Hope and decided to appropriate it from the pile on display in Cannon Square downtown. (A search of local news coverage did not uncover any mention of this theft.)

Mischievous behavior apparently ran in the family. Sally Denby's mother, Sally Nimick, first came to, and fell in love with, Bucks County to attend the Holmquist School for Girls (now Hotel Du Village) after being expelled from the Oldfields School in Maryland. Her ghastly offense: Smoking one cigarette. Apparently the powers that be at Holmquist were worried about repeat misdeeds and made her sign a statement that she wouldn't smoke until after she was 18, and then only with both parents permission.

Sycamore Farm

The farm also has a connection to two of Bucks County's most notable people. As many homeowners did in the 40s and 50s, Sycamore Farm hosted young actors from the Bucks County Playhouse over the summers. In the Summer of '49 Grace Kelly stayed at the farm and spent time at the family pool.

Also, George Nakashima's home and workshop are located on a former part of the Nimicks acreage. Nakashima came to New Hope in 1943, and originally worked on the adjacent farm owned by famed Architect Antonin Raymond whom Tyson had befriended at his time at MIT. As Nakashima wrote in his biography "after a year of doing general farm work, it was quite clear that chickens and I were not compatible." He and his wife first moved to Carversville, but wanted to move to a piece of virgin land to build a home and a workshop. In the late 1940s, the Nimicks helped him achieve that goal. Nakashima, again from his biography said, "Through a great act of generosity, a landowner, whom we hardly knew offered us three acres of land to be worked off in on barter, exchanging construction work for the deed. This was true American goodness of heart. With no collateral whatsoever, he offered us the title to our property. His construction plans changed, so we finished paying for the land in money." You can also see the proximity of the Nakashima Studio at the 1:34 minute mark in the accompanying video which lies through the woods just to the north of the farmhouse.

Sycamore Farm has played an important part in the history of our area and we would like to thank both Mike and Debby Brady for sharing this story with us and allowing us to share it with you. Although this property has been a home and a livelihood for many families through its history, as with many of the these preserved properties it is the simple things that leave the longest impact on their owners as Debby Brady who was born and raised at Sycamore Farm said her fondest memories of the property are "spending the day walking the stream in the woods with her children".

The Land Trust of Bucks County would like to thank Mike and Debby Brady for inviting us into their home. The Solebury Township Historical Society for their work on this and many of the properties in the township and to Jim Searing whose tireless and unique photographic perspective of the property was used in portions of the video.

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    Farmhouse circa 1935
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    Survey of Sycamore Farm from the Farm Map of Solebury Township by Mathew Hughes, 1859 depicting the 150 acres owned by Richard Janney. Note Covered Bridge Road bisecting the property and ownership encompassing all of the southeastern corner of Aquetong and (Old) Windy Bush Road.
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    The woman reclining is Francis Reid who acted on television for the second half of the 20th century, most notably as the grandmother on the soap opera "Days of Our Lives". She and her husband, Phillip Bourneuf, were a lifelong friends of the Nimicks. Phillip had a long stage career before appearing in many films and television programs, most notably the western Bonanza. The Bourneuf's purchased a building lot on Aquetong Road from the Nimicks.
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    Envelope for the smoking pact 1925
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    Sally Todd (Nimick) smoking pact 1925
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    Sally Todd (Nimick) flaunting her cigarette at the Holmquist School circa 1925
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    Sycamore Farm dairy cows in front of Bowmans Hill
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    Grace Kelly at the Bucks County Playhouse 1949
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    Cannonball on the front patio
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    Present day