Throughout much of the 18th and 19th centuries, approximately 375 acres of rich New Castle County farmland, enclosed by Ashland-Clinton, Center Mill, Snuff Mill, and Creek roads, was owned by generations of Chandler, Green, Kane, Sharpless, and Springer families, among others. As these families divided their farms into smaller parcels for descendants and others wishing to settle in the area, at least two dozen smaller parcels had been created by the early 20th century. In 1927 Urey W. Conway began purchasing various land parcels. By 1939 Conway had purchased 14 adjoining properties totaling approximately 175-acres. Four additional parcels were added over the years, bringing Conway’s total ownership to more than 200 acres.
Conway passed away on July 1, 1951. His will decreed the collection of contiguous Yorklyn properties go to his cousin, Adele Conway Mills of Tulsa, Oklahoma, with the former Wilmington Trust Company serving as executor. Eleanor Annette Marshall (1924-1999) was well acquainted with Urey’s property as it was located on the opposite bank of the Red Clay Creek that served as a border for J. Warren Marshall’s Woodcrest property, her father’s home where she grew up. Preferring the name Bonnie, Marshall bought the 206.48-acre property at auction for $80,000 on May 29, 1952, with financial assistance from her mother, Bertha T. Lamborn Marshall. Bonnie’s intent was to see the untouched stretches of forest, freshwater marshes, open fields, and scenic views of Red Clay Creek preserved for future generations’ enjoyment. Bonnie moved into the former Greene family stone farmhouse that Conway occupied. Bonnie named the property Oversee Farm, pictured below in 1937.
On April 18, 1953, Bonnie sold to developer John Alexander 56.67 acres where the land was flat to lightly rolling along either side of a tributary of the Red Clay Creek. The conditions of sale specified in the deed permitted Alexander to construct up to 10 private dwellings with free-standing garages and storage buildings on subdivision lots of 2.5 acres or more. On December 16, 1953, Konstanty Olewnik, an adjoining property owner to Bonnie, purchased 0.522 acres to “square off” his property. Bonnie lived at Oversee from 1952 until shortly after her marriage.
Bonnie met Benjamin Joseph Reynolds (1927 – 1976), a West Grove, PA, native, whom she married on January 2, 1960. Having moved from Oversee Farm to the Reynolds family farm in New Garden Township after their marriage, Bonnie leased her Oversee farmhouse to various tenants. The Reynolds family occasionally harvested Oversee’s meadows of lush grasses for feeding their dairy livestock during the winter. In addition to operating the Reynolds family’s Green Valley Dairy Farm, Ben, a republican, was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1964 and served until 1972. Bonnie’s father, J. Warren Marshall, was involved in Delaware politics and served as Chairman of the Republican State Committee alongside being President of National Fiber & Insulation and National Vulcanized Fiber Company.
In 1966 Reynolds began developing two large tracts of land west of the Delaware-Pennsylvania state line, one owned by Andrew McIntire and an adjoining parcel owned by John and Isaac Jackson. Broad Run Creek and its valley stretched across the properties. The rich in Kaolin and limestone deposits found in the valley during the later 1800s had been mined out by the early 1900s, leaving open pits and tailing hills strewn about. Reynolds thought it an ideal place to build a self-contained private resort community of more than 480 acres.
What is the present-day name of the community that Reynolds initially named “Shangri-La”? For extra credit, what was the name of the lake Reynolds constructed on the property?
After purchase of the former property, Reynolds set to work laying out his community. Broad Run Creek’s valley made an ideal formation for creating a lake. By forming a lake, Reynolds could eliminate the many open mining pits to either side of the creek. Reynolds created an earthen dam from tailings material across Broad Run valley between 1969-’70. He named the new lake that took several years to form Shangri-La Reservoir, today known as Somerset Lake. Reynolds’ self-contained community included cottages, recreation facilities, and shops. Unfortunately, Reynolds died in 1976 and with construction plans incomplete, and the 28-acre manmade lake nearly full, the project ground to a halt. Photos of the area in 1961, in 1968 with Shangri-La Reservoir under construction, and today as Somerset Lake in 1992 and 2020 are below.
Ten years after Ben’s passing, Bonnie sold 350 acres of the Shangri-La property surrounding what was then called Shangri-La Reservoir to Ernest DiSabatino & Sons (now EDiS Company) and Bellevue Holding Company (now Bellevue Companies) for the development of 477 homes. Additional property (~130 acres) was sold to St. Anthony’s Church in Wilmington for development of a summer retreat. From 1987 to 1994, Broad Run Valley was transformed at cost of $115 million into today’s Somerset Lake community of housing developments, with the St. Anthony’s parcel purchased by New Garden Township in 2018 to developed into a public park complex.
Bonnie was a birthright Quaker and maintained a dedication to Quakerism having served on numerous Quaker organizations and committees throughout her life. She received diplomas from Oberlin College, University of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Reynolds dedicated her life to social service work, world peace, and environmental preservation and protection. Her love of travel included her first cruise at age 13 and climbing the Himalayas at age 73, while her love of photography won her awards in various national and international competitions. She cultivated gardens at Green Valley and Oversee farms and was active in numerous non-profit organizations.
Upon Eleanor’s death in 1999, Oversee Farm was held by Wilmington Trust Company while the former banking institution settled the Marshall-Reynolds Trust. Today the Marshall-Reynolds Foundation gifts millions of dollars annually, supporting local environmental and preservation efforts. To settle Eleanor’s estate, the 121.8 acre Oversee Farm was gifted to the Nature Conservancy on December 1, 2003. Subsequently on December 1, 2006, the land was transferred to the State of Delaware, Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) and added to the administration of Auburn Heights Preserve, now Auburn Valley State Park.
Oversee Farm is approximately 74% forested and 20% grass pasture land. The hilly forested property rises from the creek’s elevation of 155-feet above sea level to a pair of flat-topped hills near Snuff Mill Road, peaking 210-feet higher than the creek. Underground springs feed a 1-3/4-acre pond shaped similar to reading glasses. The Oversee Pond is part of a Red Clay Creek tributary and includes several small waterfalls. An 1800s stone bank barn and matching stone farm house remain on the property. Delaware State Parks maintains the property and has routed a 1.2-mile, figure eight, paved trail, named Oversee Farm Trail, through the lush piedmont meadows and wooded areas. As funds allow, State Parks envisions Oversee Farm Trail connected to Yorklyn Bridge Trail by additional trails and an iron truss bridge spanning the Red Clay Creek1 and Creek Roads (Rt. 82).