Heiress of History

Meg Sharp Walton is the new ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Glen Fo­erd Con­ser­va­tion Corp. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

Hav­ing grown up in cent­ral New Jer­sey and lived the last two dec­ades in Beth­le­hem, Pa., Meg Sharp Walton can rightly be con­sidered a new­comer to the Far North­east.

But in a dif­fer­ent re­spect, the new ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Glen Fo­erd Con­ser­va­tion Corp. can be con­sidered as nat­ive to the area as its old­est res­id­ents, liv­ing or dead.

Sharp Walton and her hus­band, James Walton, now oc­cupy the same ground at the con­flu­ence of the Poquess­ing Creek and Delaware River first settled by James’ an­cest­ors — broth­ers Nath­aniel, Thomas, Daniel and Wil­li­am Walton — more than 330 years ago.

Al­though sep­ar­ated by cen­tur­ies and many gen­er­a­tions from those early loc­al set­tlers, Meg Sharp Walton now finds her­self in the unique po­s­i­tion of pre­serving and telling the his­tory of per­haps the most elab­or­ate and ex­tra­vag­ant res­id­ence ever built in the North­east.

Glen Fo­erd on the Delaware stands as Phil­adelphia’s lone sur­viv­ing 19th-cen­tury wa­ter­front es­tate, a rem­nant of the Gil­ded Age when in­dus­tri­al­ists like the es­tate’s name­sake, Robert Fo­er­der­er, sought to flaunt their wealth in king-sized, ex­quis­itely dec­or­ated homes.

Those two spe­cial­ties, in­dus­tri­al-era his­tory and in­teri­or d&ea­cute;cor, make Sharp Walton an ideal fit for the needs of the non-profit con­ser­va­tion cor­por­a­tion, which re­cently entered its second quarter-cen­tury of main­tain­ing the city-owned man­sion and its sur­round­ing 18 acres of lawns, gar­dens and woods.

“It’s a great site, and it has a great col­lec­tion,” Sharp Walton said. “And it’s not just the col­lec­tion it­self, but (also) what it says about the people who lived here and worked here.”

Sharp Walton can now count her­self among those people. She cred­its a con­ver­gence of fa­vor­able cir­cum­stances for lead­ing her to Glen Fo­erd.

Late last year, the pre­vi­ous ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, Patrick Ho­tard, resigned to ac­cept a sim­il­ar po­s­i­tion at a his­tor­ic man­sion in south­ern Arkan­sas. A nat­ive of the South, Ho­tard was dir­ect­or of the Beau­voir-Jef­fer­son Dav­is Home in Mis­sis­sippi un­til 2005, be­fore ar­riv­ing at Glen Fo­erd.

Sharp Walton most re­cently op­er­ated two busi­nesses, one as a mu­seum con­sult­ant and an­oth­er as an in­teri­or dec­or­at­or spe­cial­iz­ing in room plan­ning. Most of her ca­reer has been spent in mu­seum set­tings, in­clud­ing a stint as a park ranger at the Statue of Liberty and El­lis Is­land.

A nat­ive of New Brun­swick, N.J., she holds a bach­el­or’s de­gree from the Col­lege of New Jer­sey (formerly Trenton State Col­lege) and a mas­ter’s in his­tory from Temple. Her pre­ferred area of study is “the im­pact of in­dus­tri­al­iz­a­tion on so­ci­ety, on the re­la­tion­ships between men and wo­men and fam­il­ies,” she said.

“(Glen Fo­erd) was the home of an in­dus­tri­al­ist, and it fits in­to that time peri­od,” Sharp Walton said.

Around the same time that Ho­tard was leav­ing Glen Fo­erd, Sharp Walton and her hus­band were plan­ning a move of their own. Al­though they loved it in Beth­le­hem, a his­tor­ic­al town un­der­go­ing a renais­sance, the couple were look­ing for­ward to a move to the city.

With their daugh­ter hav­ing gradu­ated high school in 2010, the Waltons wanted to be closer to the cul­tur­al re­sources that they both love.

“My hus­band and I are ter­rible his­tory fan­at­ics. He’s much worse than me,” Sharp Walton said.

They con­sidered mov­ing to New York, but Phil­adelphia is much more af­ford­able. A rus­tic corner of the Far North­east isn’t ex­actly the set­ting they had in mind, but the area of­fers easy trans­port­a­tion to down­town des­tin­a­tions via high­way or train.

The couple would learn only after her hir­ing about their fam­ily con­nec­tion to the broth­ers cred­ited as the first Quakers to set foot on the site now known as Glen Fo­erd.

“We knew (my hus­band) was prob­ably a des­cend­ant of the By­berry (Friends Meet­ing) Waltons, but we didn’t know about the earli­er, earli­er Waltons and how they got here,” she said.

Re­gard­ing Glen Fo­erd, Sharp Walton be­lieves that pri­or ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­ors and the site’s ded­ic­ated vo­lun­teers have made great pro­gress in the last 25 years sav­ing the man­sion from de­moli­tion, or­gan­iz­ing the con­ser­va­tion cor­por­a­tion and rais­ing money for ne­ces­sary re­pairs and im­prove­ments.

Each year, the site hosts dozens of var­ied pub­lic pro­grams, along with a thriv­ing ca­ter­ing busi­ness. Sharp Walton plans to con­tin­ue the many suc­cess­ful pro­grams while ex­pand­ing the site’s pub­lic out­reach and edu­ca­tion­al ef­forts while fur­ther re­search­ing and doc­u­ment­ing its 160-year his­tory.

She be­came the full-time ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or in mid-Janu­ary.

“I came in when they were just fin­ished mark­ing their twenty-fifth an­niversary,” she said of the con­ser­va­tion cor­por­a­tion, which leases the prop­erty from the De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation for a nom­in­al an­nu­al fee.

“They were in trans­ition. They were re­new­ing their lease; they had just rene­go­ti­ated their ca­ter­ing con­tract (with Con­roy Ca­ter­ing); and they were hir­ing a new ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or and em­bark­ing on a new stra­tegic plan,” she said. “The board here is great and the vo­lun­teer com­mit­ment here is un­be­liev­able. That’s be­cause it’s the com­munity that saved the place.”

One of Sharp Walton’s first moves was to open the man­sion to weekly pub­lic tours, every Wed­nes­day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pre­vi­ously, tours were avail­able one Thursday per month.

In the com­ing weeks and months, the site will host many fa­mil­i­ar pro­grams, in­clud­ing the fi­nal per­form­ance of its sum­mer con­cert series with the Tim­lin & Kane Ir­ish Duo (Aug. 16), a bird walk (Sept. 17) and its his­tory lec­ture series (Sept. 13, Oct. 11 and Nov. 1).

A new dec­or­at­ive-arts series will be avail­able to the pub­lic on Sept. 27, Oct. 25 and Nov. 15, while an an­tiques-ap­prais­al event sim­il­ar to An­tiques Road Show has been sched­uled for Oct. 4.

Fees vary for dif­fer­ent pro­grams, al­though ad­mis­sion is free for some.

For con­ser­va­tion cor­por­a­tion mem­bers, there are new book and poker clubs that will meet monthly.

“We want Glen Fo­erd to be known as a cul­tur­al cen­ter of the North­east,” Sharp Walton said. “We want people to see Glen Fo­erd as a place where you can do all of these cool things and you can also have your event here.

“Our mis­sion is to pre­serve and to provide pro­gram­ming to the pub­lic. (The con­ser­va­tion cor­por­a­tion) has pre­served, and now the fo­cus is really on the pro­gram­ming part.” ••

For in­form­a­tion about Glen Fo­erd on the Delaware, vis­it www.glen­foerd.org or call 215-632-5330.

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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