Foundations: Ridgewood Winery features spirits along the Schuylkill
The house sits on a small rise above the Schuylkill River, innocuous and harmless looking. It is a high style Federal mansion with beautiful, museum-quality woodwork and gracious high-ceilinged rooms. The atmosphere is welcoming, and the proprietors, Tracy and Bill Smith, make all who enter feel at ease. Nevertheless, no one likes to be there alone at night.
Ridgewood Winery is a destination with cozy, bistro-style tables and chairs. Visitors sip wine made on-site and chat quietly in the well-appointed rooms. They are there for the excellent wine and for the appearance of “Jakie” and the other active spirits who dwell in this historic house. They are also there for the dark undertones of tragic stories and mayhem that have haunted this beautiful house for 150 years.
There were previous attempts to establish businesses at Ridgewood, but none reached their full potential. Somehow, the combination of the production and sale of good wine, and the owners’ welcoming hospitality, managed to make this business a success.
Tracy Smith explains, “The house was built for entertaining, and that is what we do.”
Ridgewood Farm has its beginnings in the year 1733, when settler and Welsh Quaker James Lewis acquired the 300-plus acres that comprised the farm. The smaller side of the mansion house is said to have been built by the Lewis family in 1750.
The farm was purchased by Jacob Dick and his wife, Susannah Lutz, in 1806. The family had enough wealth and prestige to build the large triple-decker barn in 1809 and the beautiful Federal wing in 1811.
In 1857, Jacob Dick died under very strange circumstances. His throat was slit, and he died on the upstairs hall floor. Bloodstains remain on the floor, and handprints keep re-appearing on the wall.
His funeral note reads, “He cut of his thread wis a shaving knife.” The problem here is that it takes tremendous strength to cut through to the blood vessels, and the presiding minister was a son-in-law! Was Jakie, the presiding spirit at Ridgewood, murdered? Did a cover-up take place?
For 150 years after his death, no one lived in the Federal side of the house — only in the earlier side — because of ghostly activity; and the neighborhood legends that surrounded this spirit-filled house became well known.
Former owners have said, “We didn’t use that side because the ghosts are over there.”
Despite the mysterious and tragic circumstances of his death, Jakie and the other spirits of Ridgewood Farmhouse can be very playful. They’re scary for some, amusing for others.
“There are a lot of corks going,” said Tracy. “Not flying up under pressure, but just removed and put down. And the tablecloths on the tables in the front parlor get pulled off, sending everything flying.”
Bill and Tracy are aware that customers come in not only seeking their good wine but the resident spirits.
“Customers come in and feel stuff,” said Tracy. “They describe what they see or sense. More than one person described a gentleman who could, by his clothes, be Jakie. There are several children seen on the stairs to the third floor as well. “
The Smiths have owned Ridgewood Winery for five years. They were welcomed to the neighborhood and were told the many ghostly stories surrounding the house, including ones about a headless horseman and a suicide. Everyone was glad to see the stately house used and occupied by real people.
Somehow, the Smiths have managed to co-exist with the spirit-filled activity that surrounds them.
“We don’t see it; neither of us feels it,” Tracy said.
As for Bill, “I’m too busy making wine, I don’t have time for this.”
Nevertheless, Tracy had her own strange experience with corks. When she was upstairs in the office there were three corks on the desk, but they did not stay there.
“I had three corks thrown at me,” she said. “There was no one there; everyone else was downstairs.”
There are many reports of orbs appearing in photographs. And the security cameras that are on at night show strange balls of light and movement on the surveillance tapes.
“This happens every night,” said Tracy as she showed me a tape.
When reflecting on the Smiths’ easy co-existence with the purveyors of ghostly activity at Ridgewood Winery, Tracy muses, “I think they are here, and they let us know they are still here. They are more like jokers than harmful. And we respect them.”?
Susan Speros is historic programming and interpretation coordinator for the Berks County Parks and Recreation Department. She writes for the Berks History Center’s Review and 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Properties Tour. She is also a partner with Michelle Lynch in a Berks-based historic preservation and research consulting firm. Contact her at Firecracker32@verizon.net.