Floor Plans: The historic farmhouse
When Bill Smith decided to take his award-wining amateur wines to the next level, his wife, Tracy, agreed to join him in a commercial winery. But she laid down three rules for the business site.
“I told Bill, ‘One: Not in our house. Two: It has to be within 15 to 20 minutes of our home. Three: It has to be a place with character,’ ” she said.
The Caernarvon Township, Lancaster County, couple set out looking for a property to meet those criteria and came back with five candidates.
“Bill found four, and I found one,” Tracy said. “Guess which one I found.”
The “one” is Ridgewood Farm, home to the Smiths’ Ridgewood Winery.
Before buying the Cumru Township farmhouse in June 2003, the couple spent a year working with township, county and state officials on various permitting processes.
“Cumru Township was wonderful to work with,” Tracy said. “Officials helped walk us through what was needed. They understood the community loves this house and didn’t want to see it demolished.”
The property was threatened by changes in land use that came during the second half of the 20th century and encroaching commercial and industrial development. More than once, the old farmhouse narrowly escaped the wrecking ball. Each time, historic preservationists rallied around the farm, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. By the time the Smiths bought the endangered farmhouse, it had been subdivided from the rare triple-decker barn.
“The oldest section of the house dates to the mid-1700s,” said Susan Speros, Historic Programming and Interpretation coordinator for the Berks County Parks Department. “This was originally a Lewis family farm, as in Lewis Neck.”
Lewis Neck, extending from the west bank of the Schuylkill River, and Poplar Neck, extending from the east bank, form the famous S-curve viewed from the west summit of Neversink Mountain. The name Ridgewood, drawn from a nearby wooded ridge, was given to the farm a century later to help travelers on the Underground Railroad identify this place of safety, Tracy said.
The main house was built in 1811 for Jacob Dick and Susanna Lutz, who were married in 1805. The finish carpentry of the elegant federal addition was influenced by the fine woodwork produced in Germantown, outside Philadelphia, and is attributed to the Amity Township shop of Jacob Bunn and his son John, Speros said. Jacob and Susanna’s sons, Nicholas and Amos, operated the Dick canal boat yard at the nearby port of Naomi and shipped the farm’s bounty to Philadelphia markets.
“Sue opened our eyes to the richness and importance of the architectural features,” Tracy said. “And her stories of the former inhabitants gave life to the old house.”
The Smiths said what appealed to them was the homey, welcoming feeling of the former farmhouse, but before they could open their winery, they embarked on a year of cleaning and renovating. Paint was touched up throughout, and a concrete floor was poured in the basement.
“We did major cleaning,” Tracy said. “We cleaned and cleaned again. We had real friends cleaning cobwebs from the basement before we could put in the sterilized tanks. Those are true friends: friends that clean.”
Friends and entertaining are a large part of what led Bill into wine making. He long enjoyed the blending of science and art that go into the craft. Friends and family were his first and continue to be his taste-testers, offering feedback.
“All of our wines are friends and family approved,” Tracy said.
As an amateur wine maker, Bill began winning state awards. When he won the amateur grand championship two years straight, the judges told him not to return.
“They said he was pro level,” Tracy said. “They didn’t want to see him at the amateur competition anymore, he needed to go commercial.”
That’s when the Smiths had to make a decision. Now, Bill is happy doing what he loves: making wine. Tracy handles all the events and activities at the farmhouse: booking weddings, rehearsal dinners, corporate events, parties, showers and more; and hosting murder mystery nights, ghost hunts, Christmas caroling, craft parties and a summer concert series.
“At the end of the day, I still get to go home and relax,” she said. “Remember my rules? Not in our house.”
Michelle Napoletano Lynch is a former editor of the Berks History Center’s Review. She is a partner with Susan Speros in a Berks-based historic preservation and research consulting firm. Contact her at Berksgal@live.com.