Hildacy Preserve: Delco’s Secret Oasis of Nature

Just around a bend on Palmers Mill Road in Media, Hildacy Preserve is one of Delaware County’s best kept secrets. The 55-acre nature preserve is one of 43 properties owned and managed by Natural Lands, a non-profit organization that works to save land, care for nature, and connect people to the outdoors throughout eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

Hildacy Preserve is virtually all that remains of a300-acre land grant from William Penn to a local tanner and his family in 1683. The stone farmhouse on the property dates to 1806, with wings built in 1850 and 1943. The farmhouse and a 2001 addition serve as Natural Lands’ regional headquarters. A smaller building, circa 1870, was once a domestic springhouse and is now the preserve manager’s residence.

William Penn described the area as having plentiful springs, air that was clean and sweet, and “an innumerable quality of water fowl.” Once prized for its mature oak trees, the land was slowly cleared for timber and agriculture until, by the late 1800s, only one small grove of trees remained.

In 1936, Hilda and Cyril Fox (hence the name “Hildacy”) bought the property. They lived there for nearly 40 years, using the farm to raise racehorses and German shepherds. As the surrounding farmland and forests were lost to development, the Foxes were determined to keep their land open for wildlife.

A hawk lands on the nest box outside of Hildacy headquarters at Natural Lands. Photo credit: Patrick Gardner

Mrs. Fox donated Hildacy Farm to Natural Lands in 1981 with instructions to continue the Foxes’ conservation work. Since that time, the organization has worked to restore the woodlands, meadows, and wetlands to a more natural state.

The former farm fields at Hildacy have been converted to meadows filled with native grasses like big and little bluestem, Indian-grass, and broom-sedge. Native warm-and cool-season grasses are particularly valuable as nesting areas and food sources for birds such as Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Eastern Bluebird—all of whose populations have been in decline nationally due to loss of habitat.

Crum Creek, a tributary to the Delaware River, meanders through the preserve. The creek is the leading drinking water source for Delaware County residents and was designated a “Special Protection Stream” by the PA Department of Environmental Protection. With help from volunteers, Natural Lands has planted hundreds of trees along the edge of Crum Creek. Trees and other plants in this area filter the nutrients and sediments transported by surface and groundwater flowing into the creek. Native trees also provide shade and food that benefit fish and other aquatic species

Photo Credit: Colin Purrington

Two miles of trails traverse the preserve, offering visitors the chance to seethe diverse landscape either through self-guided exploration or by participating in one of many activities and programs offered throughout the year. Like all of Natural Lands’ nature preserves, Hildacy is open to everyone, free of charge, dawn to dusk. “An important part of our work is creating opportunities for joy and discovery in the outdoors for everyone,” said Natural Lands President Oliver Bass. “It’s a fact that time spent outside makes us all happier and healthier.” Through the organization’s active restoration of land at Hildacy, Natural Lands is preserving a piece of what William Penn observed more than 300 years ago…and creating a place where both people and nature can thrive.

  • Hildacy Preserve is located at 1031 Palmers Mill Rd, Media, 19063.
  • Trails are unpaved; wear sturdy shoes for hiking uneven terrain.
  • Dogs are permitted but must be leashed at all times to keep people, other pets, and wildlife safe. No exceptions.
  • Restrooms are available Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.
  • View a trail guide at: natlands.org/hildacypreserve

Article contributed by Kirsten Werner, Senior Director of Communications, Natural Lands. Blog cover photo credit: Jennifer Mathes