The 26-acre Isabella Furnace complex in West Nantmeal Township, Chester County, is an incredibly well-preserved remnant of the region’s iron and steel heritage. In addition to several historic buildings—some of which have been converted to a private residence—the property includes 18 acres of forest bisected by Perkins Run. The woodlands and floodplain of Isabella Furnace are now permanently protected through a conservation easement with Natural Lands.
The original charcoal iron furnace was built in 1835 and went out of blast in 1894, the last furnace in Chester County to operate. In 1973, Daniel and Patricia Lieberman purchased the 26-acre property and began restoration of many of its structures. They also converted two attached buildings—the crusher house and the charging house—into a private residence. Ted and Debby Flint purchased the property in 1986 and continued its stewardship. In 1991, much of the complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
When Ted Flint passed away in 2016, his wife Debby began to explore options to preserve the unique site and its natural resources. Ultimately, she decided to place most of the property under conservation easement, which is a legally binding agreement that permanently limits a property’s use for all present and future owners of the land.
Debby Flint spoke of the property’s unique attributes, a place she has called home for 36 years. “The land we’ve preserved is a beautiful combination of floodplain and rocky hillside. Perkins Run, which runs through the property, is clear and fresh. The stream is what remains of an old, 10-acre lake that once supplied power to the furnace, so the area is a significant part of the history of the furnace.” She added, “Our area is experiencing rapid growth and I felt the property must be preserved from development.”
Indeed, according to the Chester County Planning Commission, an estimated 46,000 new residents are anticipated by 2045—a population increase of 30 percent. This influx of people brings increased demands on housing and other services, including schools, roads, and police and fire protection.
Development often means the destruction of forests that offer essential climate mitigation services like storing carbon, cooling the atmosphere, soaking up floodwaters after heavy rainfall, filtering drinking water, absorbing carbon dioxide, and generating oxygen. Woodlands also provide essential habitat for insects, birds, and other wildlife.
“We are grateful to Debby Flint and the other partners who helped fund this conservation project,” said Oliver Bass, president of Natural Lands. “The acres of forest in her care will now be protected forever. Those trees are working for all of us, every day, even if we can’t always see it.”
Debby Flint donated the value of the conservation easement and additional funds to support its perpetual monitoring and enforcement. Additional funds came from the Conservancy Grant Program – Commissioners of Chester County, PA; the Virginia Cretella Mars Foundation; and WeConservePA.
Commenting on the County’s partnership on this conservation project, Chester County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell, and Michelle Kichline said, “Preservation of land can often overlap with preservation of our historic resources, and this project is a perfect example of that. Preserving acreage and, at the same time, our heritage doubly contributes to our county’s quality of life, enhancing our economy, and maintaining our character. We thank Debby Flint and Natural Lands for their appreciation of this and their contributions to conserving the Isabella Furnace complex.”
Natural Lands is dedicated to preserving and nurturing nature’s wonders while creating opportunities for joy and discovery in the outdoors for everyone. As the Greater Philadelphia region’s oldest and largest land conservation organization, Natural Lands—which is member supported—has preserved more than 125,000 acres, including 42 nature preserves and one public garden totaling more than 23,000 acres. Nearly five million people live within five miles of land under the organization’s protection. Land for life, nature for all. natlands.org