"It's a soap opera," said William Andersen, who hopes to raise his family amid the farm's tranquility. Those plans are on hold until the lawsuit is settled.
Chester County Court President Judge Leonard Sugerman is expected to decide the case later this month.
Bartschi, 85, contends that the Morrises, his friends for decades, tricked him into signing an agreement that severely restricts development of Baughman Farm and threatens his plan to sell it to the Andersens for $500,000. The Morrises say Bartschi understood the agreement.
Bartschi wants to sell the land and donate the profits to the Bartschi Foundation, which he established in 1958 to protect Swiss Pines - 20 acres of Japanese gardens that are open to the public - and a separate 150-acre wildlife preserve, both in Charlestown.
But the Andersens, who hope to buy Baughman Farm, want to build a farm house and tenant house there. That is where the trouble begins.
In 1986, Bartschi signed an agreement with the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust Inc. that blocked development of the farm and granted the trust power to enforce the restriction. Eleanor Morris is president of the trust; Samuel Morris is its lawyer.
Bartschi insists that he did not understand the agreement, which he signed at the Morrises' urging, and he wants it rescinded. Bumeder calls it a swindle.
The Morrises counter that Bartschi knew exactly what he was doing when he signed the document and has simply changed his mind. They say the agreement is legally binding and should be upheld.
Through similar agreements with other property owners, the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust has helped to preserve more than 4,000 acres in the western suburbs. If the Baughman Farm agreement is declared invalid, the Morrises say, the validity of other agreements could be challenged.
Area conservation groups are watching the case closely, and one, the Brandywine Conservancy, plans to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the trust.
"Our interest," said William Lamb, the conservancy's lawyer and chairman of the Chester County Republican Party, "is a general interest in suggesting to the court that the integrity of these agreements must be maintained."
The Baughman Farm agreement, called an open-space easement, restricts the deed to the property so that "no additional buildings or structures" may be built on the farm, except those necessary for agricultural purposes.
Bartschi received no money for the easement, but by signing it he became eligible for a federal tax credit equal to the amount by which restricting development of the property reduced its market value. He said he did not claim the deduction.
The agreement also provided that the trust would receive an unspecified percentage of the sales price if conserving the land ever became "impossible or impractible" and it was sold for development.
Bartschi said he never would have agreed to those terms had he understood them.
For one thing, the agreement prohibited replacing the Baughman Farm house, which burned down several years ago. How could he ever expect to sell the farm if the new owners couldn't build themselves a house, Bartschi asked in a recent interview.
And why, he asked, would he let another conservation organization control or profit from his property, when he has his own foundation dedicated to preserving land? Bartschi said that was never his intention.
Yet his signature is on the documents.
"I signed without knowing," Bartschi said during an afternoon walk through the lush greenery of his Japanese gardens. "She (Eleanor Morris) said it was to preserve the land, so I signed. But then I read it, and I didn't like it."
Trust officials dispute that. In court papers, the trust's lawyer, Robert J. Sugarman, said Bartschi signed the agreement with "deliberate intention" and "full knowledge" of its consequences.
"There was absolutely no pressure," Eleanor Morris said in a telephone interview. "He wanted to do it. This was not done under pressure. But other people have put pressure on him."
She declined to elaborate. But in court documents, trust officials allege that Bumeder pressured Bartschi and "overwhelmed his will . . . to satisfy her desire to control more resources."
Bumeder, a trustee of the Bartschi Foundation, who is paid $12,000 annually to manage Swiss Pines, said that allegation is baseless.
"They can call me a floozy. They can call me anything they want," said Bumeder, 49, Bartschi's friend of 20 years. "But to say I'm trying to rip him off, to attack my integrity. That's too much."
Bumeder said trust officials and members of Charlestown's social establishment have long spurned her because of her relationship with Bartschi and her position as steward of his valuable land.
And, after all, it was she who urged Bartschi to sue.
"I blew the whistle on them," Bumeder said in an interview at Swiss Pines. "I read the documents, and I blew right open how they swindled Arnold."
Bartschi said he was dissatisfied with the Baughman agreement from the start, but did not pursue the matter legally because he did not want to take his old friends to court. But it ended up there after all - when a dispute over a similar agreement with the trust arose in 1987.
He said it happened this way:
In the spring of 1987, after several friendly meetings and lunches with Eleanor Morris, Bartschi signed an agreement with the trust to preserve another of his properties, a 52-acre tract adjacent to Swiss Pines. He said he signed the papers without consulting a lawyer and without reading them first
because he trusted his friend - despite what he described as his misgivings over the Baughman Farm agreement.
Later that same day, Bartschi said, he read the paperwork and realized that he had signed away his development rights and granted the trust control of the land next to his cherished Swiss Pines.
"I went right down to West Chester (to the county courthouse), but I couldn't undo it," he said. "It had already been recorded."
Bartschi said he complained to the Morrises - and had his lawyer send them a letter - but the deed was done.
In November 1987, Bartschi gave the 52 acres to Bumeder, on the condition that she maintain it and, upon her death, leave it to the Bartschi Foundation. Bumeder was as displeased as Bartschi with the restrictions on the land and suggested that they see a lawyer. Later that month, Bartschi sued the trust, seeking to have both agreements overturned.
Eleanor Morris and her husband, Samuel, who acted as the lawyer for both the trust and for Bartschi in the land deals, insist that they explained the agreements to him in painstaking detail.
"To have this end up in court is very sad," said Eleanor Morris. "It's not in my view characteristic of Mr. Bartschi at all. . . . I wish I could take the old Mr. Bartschi that I knew and step back in time and explain to him that you can't just establish an easement one year and then decide to change it."
Bartschi, a native of Switzerland who made a fortune selling shoes, befriended the Morrises decades ago. They shared an interest in preserving Charlestown's rural landscape.
Sugarman, the lawyer for the trust, described Bartschi as "a sophisticated businessman and philanthropist who (has) dealt extensively in real estate and business." For him to profess ignorance of the land agreements is ''incredible," Sugarman said in court papers.
"An easement is a done deal," Sugarman said in a telephone interview. ''There's no way to undo it - anymore than anybody can undo a deed for you to sell your property to someone else."
Bartschi and Bumeder say they are willing to uphold the agreement's goal of preserving the land - but they want to be the ones to do it. "We have no interest of selling a tree, of selling an acre of land," said Bumeder. "We want to keep it open."
Trust officials say they have the same goal.
So why fight?
In court papers, trust officials suggest that Bartschi's commitment to preserving open space has declined as he has aged. They point to the proposed sale of Baughman Farm as an example.
"This case is about money," said Sugarman, lawyer for the trust. ''Control of land. Control of money. Money, money, money."
That's not the way the Andersens see it.
They envision the Baughman property as "the ultimate farm," a place for them to raise their children, Katy, 3, and Charlie, 1, till the land and enjoy the rural quiet of Charlestown.
On the winter day they first visited the farm, William Andersen said: "We were convinced that we wanted to buy it. It's really spectacular."
The Andersens signed an agreement of sale in April of last year and began talking to Eleanor Morris about their plans for a farm house and a "tenant house," where relatives or farm workers could stay. Initially, they said, she agreed that the land agreement could be interpreted to permit that. But after several discussions about the design and location of the buildings, she called early on a July morning last year to say the deal was off.
"She said, 'You're just going to have to find another property,' "
Elizabeth Andersen recalled in an interview. "I was in tears after that phone call. Then I thought, it's just not right, and then it became a moral issue, and that's when we decided not to back down."
The Andersens, both 30, had expected Charlestown residents to welcome them to town and embrace their plan for Baughman Farm.
They want to run a farm there. Not sell it to a developer. Not build a shopping center - although William Andersen, as a developer of shopping centers, does that for a living. They want to make it their home.
"I just can't for the life of me see anything objectionable about this plan," William Andersen said, spreading out sketches of the farmhouse on a table in his living room. "We want to recreate a colonial farm there."
"But first," Elizabeth Andersen said, "We need to be able to build a house."
Sugarman, the lawyer for the trust, said the Andersens' plans to build the house not far from where the original farmhouse stood violated the development restrictions on the property.
"It's like saying I want to build a very pretty mansion in the White House front yard," he said. "This is a pristine property in a pristine area. The kind of intrusion they're talking about would be very significant and adverse."
Judge Sugerman, who held a three-day hearing on the dispute last month, said he would review legal briefs submitted by both sides and review the hearing transcript before deciding the case.
The Morrises say the integrity of land preservation agreements is at stake. And the Andersens' dream farm hangs in the balance.
For his part, Bartschi said: "I've got to get it all straightened out before I die. I don't want to leave a mess."