When we think about the history of conservation, we tend to think about the 1970s, which was the decade of the birth of modern environmental movements. However, conservation efforts are rooted in the late 1800s, early 1900s. An exceptional example of these roots is located seven miles south of Butler, Pa, is a 50 acre of collection of some of the most beautiful flora Pennsylvania has to offer. The property, today known as the Succop Nature Park, has changed owners only four times in 214 years. The first owners to note, John Maharg and his family, were some of the residents of Penn Township, dating back to 1805. The Maharg family took the empty plot of land and built their first brick farm house and a barn in 1830, both of which are still in use today. Later, after several years of renovations on the house, John Maharg would pass away in 1871. However, his family would retain the farm and property until its sale in 1921 to T.W. Phillips Jr.
The park is T.W. Phillips Jr.’s legacy and is the direct result of his family’s stewardship. Phillips Jr. was born on November 21, 1874 just a short distance away from the park in New Castle Pa. After graduating from Yale University, he followed his father’s footsteps by working for the family business, T.W. Phillips Gas & Oil Company. Phillips Jr. also became the Republican representative in the House of Congress for Pennsylvania from 1923-1927. When Phillips Jr. declined to run for a second congressional term, he returned home to led and grow his family company. With the revenue he earned and some family money he and his wife, Alma Sherman Phillips, they had enough money to purchase the plot of land from the Maharg family in 1921.
Looking back now, conservation in the 1800s was predominantly advanced by the white, businessmen who were able to invest and were most familiar with the resources they were trying to conserve. It may have been a conscious and strategic action on the part of some businessmen to manage resources to ensure their future use but Phillips Jr. had been a lover of nature since he was a boy and as with this almost empty plot of land, he only sought to make it beautiful with what his God had seen fit to put on this earth. He sent his son in law, Craig A. Succop, on a mission to collect trees and bush species in an attempt to preserve the flora of the entire state of Pennsylvania. Philip Jr. had six children with Alma and after they were grown and gone, left void in their daily lives. Phillips Jr. turned to nature for solace. He stated that “this pet, this child, this hobby of mine in becoming my master has also become my servant. Finally, it is a hobby that leads me gently down a noiseless path, a path fringed by hollies and laurel.” He used this property to express himself so much that he would make a place where if, “spirits are privileged to walk the night, here shall I return, where nature should remain for a thousand years,” and where “all the beauties of nature have long since fallen victims to the individual expansion of my native town.”
The park is named the Succop Nature Park though. Not as a famous family as the Phillips, the Succops have a healthy connection to Pittsburgh as well. As John August Succop wrote in his Historic Account of the De Succope Family as Recorded to the Best of our Knowledge, John Henry Succop arrived in Baltimore, circa 1820, from Bromscia, Germany. He worked for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. His job, ironically, was preparing railroads ties from trees he had cut down. One of Henry’s great grandsons, Craig A. Succop, born 1909, married Margaret Phillips, T.W. Phillips Jr.’s daughter. Craig Succop was extremely helpful to his father-in-law by acquire the different trees and bushes he placed in the park. Margaret would inherit the plot of land from her father at the time of his death in 1959.
Margaret and A. Craig’s oldest son, Thomas Craig Succop and his wife JoAnn donated the park to the Butler County Community College Education Foundation in 2001. Butler Community College used this land to teach college students about the environment and how to make beneficial changes to the environment. Up until 2011, the park was owned by the community college until they sold it to the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. The Audubon Society continues to educate the community through weekly naturalist led walks where birds are identified, summer caps for kids and adults, hosts garden clubs and school field trips, rent the property for weddings, and allow the public to walk the property, dawn to dusk to enjoy “one of, if not the most beautiful arboretums” Pennsylvania has to offer. We are fortunate to reap the benefits of the Philip's and Succops’ actions to preserve and share resources they though beautiful by creating a place where the public can learn what conservation can mean for individuals and to group therefore take their own actions that will benefit the environment for the future.