Director Victoria E. Laubach says Welkinweir doesn't advertise and, in truth, couldn't accommodate many more guests.
"Because I'm it," she says. "I'm the staff."
During its heyday as a private residence, the estate had four house servants and a half-dozen groundskeepers. Today, Laubach, a Pennsylvania State University horticulture grad, works full time doing all the administration, grant-writing and finances. Her base budget is about $115,000 a year.
She's also the tour guide and works outside, aided by two summer interns and an arborist, as needed.
"At least I don't have to do all the mowing," she says, laughing. (You get the feeling she's about to add, "Not yet, anyway.")
In the tradition of families who left their estates to the public trust, like the Morrises and, at Longwood, the du Ponts, Welkinweir was at first a country home, then the permanent residence of Grace and Everett Rodebaugh. They were graduates of West Philadelphia High School and the University of Pennsylvania, residents of Rosemont who made a fortune with a court reporting and stenography business in Philadelphia.
They bought Welkinweir in 1935 during the Depression, when it was a declining farm, and spent decades improving the house and replanting native trees and meadows. (That would be between their seven round-the-world cruises!)
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the nonprofit Welkinweir is owned today by the conservation-minded Green Valleys Association, which was founded by the Rodebaughs and has its headquarters at the estate.
It's a quiet neighbor along Prizer Road in East Nantmeal Township. Driving up, you'd never guess what's beyond the sign. You can't imagine the treasure.
And that might not be a bad thing.
"There's such an abundance of wildlife," Laubach says, "we're trying to strike a balance between protecting what's out here and getting people to know it - without loving it to death."
Made of local fieldstone, the house was designed by Philadelphia architect Fridtjof Tobiessen and built in 1940 around two earlier sections dating to 1750 and 1830. It's in the Colonial Revival style, meant to blend into the site's natural beauty and promote relaxed country living.
The house is about 12,000 square feet, which would hold its own against a McMansion, with five bedrooms, seven full or half-baths, 13 fireplaces, and assorted other spaces including third-floor living quarters for the help.
Only the first floor is open to visitors, but who needs more? It has white pine floorboards, sterling-silver wall sconces, and the crazy-fun Skinner theater organ, with 1,300 pipes hidden beyond the foyer's 20-foot ceiling.
This, and the photos showing guests cavorting in Hawaiian hula outfits, convince us that the Rodebaughs truly were party animals. "This is what you can do when you don't have kids," Laubach likes to joke.
The grass skirts are long retired, but the organ plays its kooky tremolo for guests for Mother's Day, Christmas, and the occasional wedding.
So, you walk into the living room, which is wealthy-casual, nice and roomy. (Martini, dahling?) And there it is - the giant picture window that explains everything.
You can see to the bottom of the hill, to the six-acre Great Pond, one of seven, where the Rodebaughs and guests used to row and fish. Today, it's alive with sunnies, bass and blue gills; black, garter and water snakes; painted and snapping turtles; Canada geese; and more whirring blue dragonflies than you can count.
Soon, we're standing on a wooden bridge Monet would love. Gleaming white water lilies with yellow centers are bobbing before us in intense colonies. A warm breeze riffles trees along the shore, and we're positively hypnotized into lethargy.
We tear ourselves away and head back through the meadows dotted with stands of upright joe-pye and wild white yarrow, frothy milkweed, and orange butterfly weed. They're crawling with frenzied butterflies.
How can they call the great spangled fritillary common?
Welkinweir is known for its Azalea Lane and barn ruins, native plants and trees, tiered ponds, and hiking. The Horse-Shoe Trail runs through it.
But Laubach gives equal time to the flying squirrels and chipmunks, red foxes and pileated woodpeckers, coyotes and songbirds of every kind. Frogs, bats, it's all here in a roaring daylight circus. Starry night skies to come.
Laubach grins. "I love my job."
If You Go
Welkinweir is at 1368 Prizer Rd., East Nantmeal, Chester County.
Summer hours: Guided group tours of house and gardens are available by appointment 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; weekends are reserved for Green Valleys Association members or groups by appointment. Members of the public can walk the grounds during normal business hours.
Admission: Donation requested.
Information: 610-469-7543, www.greenvalleys.org/welkinweir.asp.
Tour Welkinweir through a video and photo slideshow at http://go.philly.com/welkinweir.
Contact gardening writer Virginia Smith at 215-854-5720 or email@example.com.