Renovating the Four Mills Barn

Jamie Stewarti
The Future of the Four Mills Barn 


The Four Mills Barn is at the heart of Wissahickon Trails and is a regional icon. Driving down Morris Road, the barn is hard to miss and it’s easy to imagine what life was like more than a hundred years ago. The barn’s four walls have been the starting point for every land acquisition, every easement, and every mission-

driven action since we moved in.  


The Four Mills Barn is a significant figure in our past, present, and with the help of the community, our future. 


As of October 2022, we have reached our fundraising goal and renovations have started. We are grateful to the individuals and businesses, like Bank of America and BLBB Charitable, who have invested in our vision to create a space for all members of our community to connect with nature.  


"BLBB Charitable is proud to support the preservation and renovation of the historic Four Mills Barn, which is a critical community resource for educating and engaging our diverse community to protect and enjoy the land and waterways of the Wissahickon Valley. We hope this gift will encourage others to join us to create a space for visitors, program participants, students, and volunteers to learn, gather, and connect to nature.”

-Nicole Tell, Executive Director

Reimagining a Local Landmark


The Four Mills Barn, built in 1891, was designed by prominent Philadelphia architect of the Gilded Age, Horace Trumbauer, who is known for designing gentleman farms of the region and numerous iconic institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Jefferson Medical College, Free Library of Philadelphia, Keswick Theatre and much of the campus of Duke University. The barn was part of a 93-acre estate called “Abendruh,” the mansion—which no longer stands—was built across Morris Road. The Barn has been Wissahickon Trails’ headquarters and community education space since 1976 when it was acquired from Natural Lands. No longer housing chickens, goats, pigeons and horses, the Barn is a regional landmark and treasured community space. The last update to the Barn was in 1982, when the second-floor loft was created as a community space and offices built on the first floor.  

Four Mills Barn in the 1890s

Today, the Four Mills Barn is a great environmental education asset for the public hosting school and public programs throughout the year.  In addition, the Four Mills Barn is positioned as a gateway to the Green Ribbon Trail as it passes through Four Mills Nature Reserve, right along the Wissahickon Creek.  Visitors that come to hike on the Green Ribbon Trail can visit the Barn to get trail maps, water, and use the bathrooms. In 2020, on a weekend with beautiful weather, we counted more than 600 trail users at the Four Mills Nature Reserve alone. With parking availability at this location, visitors can hop on the trail with ease. The Barn is also a short 15-minute walk from downtown Ambler, which is accessible vis SEPTA bus routes 94 & 95 as well as the Ambler Regional Rail station.  

2017 Jamie Stewarti
Craft Beer by the Creek in the courtyard

The Wissahickon Valley is home to more than 200,000 people and Wissahickon Trails serves these individuals by preserving open space and making these areas accessible to the public at no cost. 


The Case for Renovation 

Today, Wissahickon Trails is at a critical moment to protect the integrity of this historic structure while providing a dedicated space for public education and events. The proposed renovation addresses two needs: flood resiliency and an updated accessible facility for programming.  


The Four Mills Barn was built in the floodplain of the Wissahickon Creek long before ordinances restricted floodplain development.  Today, strict zoning codes would not allow the barn to be built in its current location. Flooding is a continued threat to the barn but rather than see this historic building abandoned due to flooding issues, we are embarking on a renovation that will prioritize flood resiliency. This will allow it to serve as the home of environmental education, engagement, and action in our region for future generations. 

Flood Resiliency 

With the anticipated increase in the intensity and frequency of storms in the mid-Atlantic due to climate change, it is critical that the Barn be renovated for flood resiliency. In addition to the existing concrete floors and raised outlets that were implemented years ago, we will remove all drywall and insulation from the bottom 3 feet of all first-floor walls and install water-resistant insulation and cover it with removable, water-resistant wainscoting.  There will be no permanent furnishings on the first floor and storage spaces will utilize shelving no closer than 3 feet from the floor.   

Jamie Stewarti
Flooding at the Barn caused by Tropical Storm Isaias, August 2020

Program Space & Accessibility 

By removing all offices from the first floor to the second floor, we have the opportunity to create a versatile and highly visible education and community programs space. This space will be seen by anyone entering the barn from the courtyard and will be used by thousands of people each year through programming, events, school groups, and other community organizations.  

Plan for new community & conference room overlooking the Wissahickon Creek

The second floor will house additional gender inclusive bathrooms, which is a necessity for the number of visitors that attend the variety of events and education programs held at the Barn. The second floor will also have a conference/community room overlooking the Wissahickon Creek. This will provide a dedicated space for meetings and events for both internal and external partners. The creek side wall of the conference/community room will be made entirely of windows, offering guests a unique view connecting them with the Wissahickon Creek and Four Mills Nature Reserve.  


Overall, this renovation will improve accessibility of the Four Mills Barn with updated, wheelchair accessible entrances and bathrooms available on each floor.  

David Freedi
Maple Sugaring Festival
Proposed First Floor Plan
Proposed Second Floor Plan 
Rendering of new conference room exterior and deck with bird safe windows. 
Rendering of staff office space