Grace Russell Wheeler

March 17, 1927 - March 26, 2008

Many aging landowners in Pennsylvania are faced with a choice: pass on the land to their children or sell it to a developer. But as Grace Wheeler discovered, those are not the only two options. Because of the love she had for the land where she lived for more than five decades, and the foresight she had to protect it, a 37-acre property in Delaware County will never be split into parcels for development.

Grace Wheeler’s property, known as Willowstreams, overlooks the floodplain valley where the Darby and Ithan Creeks merge. She spent many hours caring for the property, removing invasive plants and restoring the banks along the creek.

In the months before her passing, Grace worked with Natural Lands Trust to place a conservation easement on the property. The easement allowed Grace to continue to live on the property until her passing. It also allowed her to pass it along to her daughter with reduced estate taxes. And while the property will remain a home, it will never become a neighborhood or strip mall because the easement limits what can be done to the property in perpetuity.

Grace’s daughter, Grace Sharples Cooke, now lives on the property with her husband and two children. A condition of the conservation easement requires regular maintenance and monitoring. Grace Cooke now follows in her mother’s footsteps, removing invasive vines and multiflora rose shrubs. She is deeply satisfied to be a steward of the land that was so special to her growing up. “Mom felt there was a whole story to the land that needed to carry on beyond the people who lived it,” she said. Her mom always said, “You’re just a tenant here.”

Photo courtesy Grace Sharples Cooke