Ezra and Sara

Recalling a Hollywood power couple amid
the campaign to preserve their Bucks farm.

A treasured novel of my California childhood has two links to Bucks County. Eric Knight of Springfield in Upper Bucks authored  the 1940 classic “Lassie Come Home.”  It was only recently I discovered Ezra Stone of Middletown in Lower Bucks directed one of the last episodes in the 20-year TV spinoff series.  “Lassie: Peace Is Our Profession” centered on my hero traveling with her master to Vandenberg Air Force Base near where I grew up to observe a missile launch. But wait! Lassie befriends a snow goose and her hatchlings at the launch site. Canine to the rescue.
As I would discover, Ezra’s show business career stretches far and wide. He and actress wife Sara Seegar made their 175-acre Stone Meadows dairy farm on Route 413 a sought-after destination for celebrities for 40 years. Cast parties and weekend getaways were the norm. Among the regulars were actors Red Buttons, Jackie Cooper and Debbie Reynolds; comedians Martha Raye and Anna Russell; Hollywood producer Michael Todd; and playwrights Tad Mosel and Garson Kanin.  Francine Stone, the couple’s daughter who now lives in England, recalled the fun. “It was a gas. I remember Burl Ives singing ‘Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t Care’ in our living room, and having my secret crush Jack Cassidy serenade me on our front lawn.  Mother and Daddy named one of the cows after Martha Raye, so she was determined to help milk the cows in order to get to know her namesake.”
Ezra, son of Sol Feinstone who founded the David Library of the American Revolution in Upper Makefield, broke into show business in the 1938 Broadway comedy “What a Life”. He played a youth who answered in a falsetto when his mother cried out, “Hen-REE! Henry Aldrich.”  The play ran 600 performances before being adapted to radio as the immensely popular “The Aldrich Family.”
After a decade-long run, Ezra morphed into director and producer of more than 1,000 shows for Broadway, TV, radio and film. Wife Sara, who began her career on the London stage, married Ezra in 1942, the beginning of a 48-year relationship. She starred in “The Music Man” and played Mrs. Wilson in TV’s “Dennis the Menace.”
The couple, parents of two including son Josef, commuted to Hollywood and New York, always returning to Stone Meadows which they founded in 1947. Sara helped found Newtown Friends School opposite the farm on Route 413. Both were cast regulars at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope where Ezra also directed. Sara helped Newtown stage its tricentennial celebration, and Ezra was president and director of the David Library.
Sara passed away in 1990, her husband four years later. Both were laid to rest in Washington Crossing National Cemetery. Surviving family members continue living on the farm. In 1998, they filed plans to subdivide the acreage into three parts. That’s when the alarm sounded: Was development in the offing? Would new housing exacerbate already difficult traffic congestion on two-lane Route 413 between Langhorne and Newtown? The township delayed approval of the subdivision while launching eminent domain proceedings to seize the entire farm for recreational space. The Stones retaliated in a 10-year legal fight resolved in their favor by the state courts. Josef said before his death in 2010 the struggle had “taken a toll on me, my family, my resources and my well being.” He added, “All I wanted was for this to continue to be my home and not someone else’s property.” 
 Today most of the property is under contract for a 150-home development. The Stones have set aside 9 acres for a family compound including their two homes (one built in the 1700s) and various outbuildings. Dairy operations have long ceased. Fields produce annual corn crops. So far, new houses aren’t popping up, stalled by the approval process. Meanwhile, a community “Save the Farm” group is hopeful of coming up with enough money to buy the acreage, estimated to be worth $20 million or more, according to published figures. Today you can’t drive highways around the farm without seeing scores of lawn signs, proclaiming “Still Fighting to Save Stone Meadows Farm.”
Certainly preserving Ezra and Sarah’s estate as a memorial is a worthwhile goal. To that end, the Langhorne Open Space Land Trust has joined the effort. Nevertheless, I sympathize with the family’s right to sell to the highest bidder when Middletown has suburbanized to the max on former farms all around Stone Meadows. That includes construction of the massive St. Mary Medical Center complex and housing developments squeezing the farm. The need for recreational space? Core Creek Park’s 1,200 acres exists within view of  the farm off Toll Gate Road. As to Route 413 traffic, isn’t it time to face reality and widen the road to four lanes?

Sources include the Meg McSweeney of the David Library of the American Revolution; the effort to save Stone Meadows Farm found on the web at /www.savestonemeadowsfarm.org; “Estate of Ezra Stone and Sara Seegar goes up for auction” published on Oct. 3, 2013 in the Bucks County Advance; “Middletown Twp v. The Lands of J. S. Stone, et al. – 2152 & (Complete Opinion of the Commonwealth Court)” found on the web at https