Sarobia: The Conclusion… Or Is It?

Photo of  a desk set of articles made by Tiffany Studios

“American Indian” desk set made by Tiffany Studios in New York, circa 1910; bequeathed to the State of PA upon Robert Logan’s death. The Victorian-style implements and lamp are exhibited presently at the Pennsylvania State Museum in Harrisburg.

More data is available about the Logans from before 1915, the year they bought Sarobia, than is found afterwards as far as actual record-keeping goes. Prior to their moving out to the country, the couple lived on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, where Sara’s parents, the Wetherills, maintained a mansion, bequeathed to the Philadelphia Art Alliance and utilized presently as a museum.

From Sara and Robert’s evident hobnobbing with high society, fact-finding proves to be easier for that earlier period of their lives; but once the couple and their 15-year-old daughter Deborah moved to Eddington, besides the preposterous hearsay provided by the locals about cult practices and insanity in the family, information for this past series on Sarobia was derived from obituaries, newspaper articles from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Evening Bulletin, and the Bucks County Courier Times; publications and documentation from the Historical Society of Bensalem; plus from an article in a 1937 Time Magazine, and in all of the aforementioned Logans’ wills.

Mystery and mayhem appeared for Deborah, the youngster of the household. Raised by a governess and a nanny, Logan’s daughter remained with her grandparents much of the time in her formative years while her parents traveled about. According to the Historical Society of Bensalem’s publication: Traveling Through Bensalem: 1692-1984, “This was customary for the wealthy and does not insinuate any lack of parental love. All signs point to a strong bond of affection between Sara and Deborah.”

During the family’s regular jaunts out to California, Deborah met her mate, George White; and they married in 1922. The Whites adopted a daughter, Marion, with whom Logan’s daughter lived in California until Deborah divorced her husband, for which the time of the occurrence is not documented; nor are the reasons for the breakup and events that followed.

What is tragic and on record is Deborah’s death was ruled as a suicide due to “temporary derangement” at the age of 39, her being found hung on 18th June 1939 in the basement of the Friends Hospital, a mental institution established by the Quakers in Philadelphia. Four months prior to that, the relatively young woman had drawn up her will, naming her adopted daughter as beneficiary.

Why Logan’s daughter was institutionalized is unknown. Knowledge of whatever became of Marion, the adopted child, is not readily available as well, fueling the tales of Logan madness.

Another unanswered question is how did Sara Logan die? Details about the woman’s unexpected death, as found in her obituary dated December 2, 1938, in the New York Times stated, “[Sara] died there [at Sarobia] today after a brief illness. She was 64 years old.” Deborah hung herself six months later.

Local obits noted the deaths of the two Logan women were without any other explanations besides the previously mentioned reports, yet they made requests not to send flowers.

Sara’s will left $75,000 to Deborah, an exorbitant amount of money at that time, which in turn was willed to Marion after the youngster’s adopted mother’s unusual death. The rest of the matriarch’s estate, which included property, money and items inherited from her very wealthy parents, went to Robert, who continued to live at Sarobia, and at Arya Vihara in California until his death.

After Robert Logan’s wife’s and daughter’s deaths, his life was documented only through a few photographs left after his own demise, compared to the plethora of photos taken while his family was alive. Many show what Sarobia looked like during its heyday, family events, mystical conclaves, people who lived on the property during the experimental art colony.

This writer saw only a small portion of the pictures available, for which a return to the Historical Society of Bensalem is warranted to see the remainder of their collection for further investigation.

Logan continued as head of the American Anti-Vivisection Society until 1950, when his health deteriorated to the point where he was unable to continue his role. Photographs show him on Sarobia’s porch in a wheel chair on a few occasions, one with a large dog at his side, another amongst some of his favorite artifacts: large base-metal statues of cranes, an elephant planter, and a plaster owl he had made in 1946.

Robert Restalrig Logan died at 81 years old while he was visiting his property in California on June 17, 1956, succumbing to myocardial insufficiency, a day before the 17th anniversary of his daughter’s death. He was the last branch of the Logan family, having had no male heirs.

In his will, Robert left generous endowments to the theosophical societies with whom he continued his affiliation throughout the remainder of his life. He had mentioned as a beneficiary, Richard Blossom Farley, one of the artists who lived and worked on Sarobia, and who was a close friend of the former; however, Farley died in 1954, ahead of his benefactor.

Another artist was named in the document: M. May Grey, whom Logan knew from California. She had painted a portrait of Robert which was bequeathed to the Anti-Vivisection Society, hanging there allegedly today at their headquarters in Jenkintown, a suburb of Philadelphia. One thousand dollars was left to the Ryerss Infirmary for Dumb Animals as well.

Robert’s friendships with several people were honored in his will, his having given handsomely to many of whom are pictured, and identified on the backs of the myriad of photographs left behind, mostly housed at the Pennsylvania State Archives. Sara’s nieces and nephews, and their families, received large parcels of the Wetherill family property.

Logan had a personal secretary and housekeeper, Mabel K. Zimmers, who had worked at Sarobia for thirty years. She was instrumental in providing a vast majority of what is known now about the reclusive proprietors of the estate, having given the information to a reporter from the Bucks County Courier and Times for a 1956 article that delved into her employers’ dealings in theosophy, their love of animals, and details about some of the individuals involved with the art colony.

Mabel was one of the major beneficiaries in Robert’s will, having been bequeathed everything in the weaving studio on the estate, implying the woman was part of the artistic commune also. The housekeeper was helpful with inventorying all the household items remaining at Sarobia, as well as being named as one of the executors of the estate, operant in turning over the property ultimately to the state.

Most of the furnishings and Logan’s belongings from the mansion are contained in collections of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Item XLIII of Robert Logan’s will stated the following:

I give, devise and bequeath my real estate in Eddington, Pennsylvania, known as ‘Sarobia,’ and containing with the accretion about 150 acres, together with my farm equipment, my Ford ‘pickup’ and all the contents of the buildings thereon not herein otherwise disposed of, to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the purpose of a public park or museum or any educational or recreational purposes compatible therewith and so far as possible as a sanctuary for wild life, especially birds. It is my desire, but I do not require, that the residence shall be preserved.

The events following Logan’s death with regards to his estate are quite disheartening. Vandals rummaged through Sarobia, ravaging the premises, looking for a rumored cache of money stored inside the walls of the mansion. Logan was reportedly known for his fine gold collection. When the commonwealth’s officials arrived for the initial inventory of the property, Logan’s safe was found standing wide-open, empty. The structural integrity of the house was determined to be in such utter shambles and unsafe condition, demolition crews tore the edifice down as a result.

The project of turning Sarobia into Neshaminy State Park met many delays from 1956 until its official opening in 1974. The Historical Society of Bensalem, who were given space in the old barn for their own purposes, stated that the park’s first supervisor, Andreas Eisenmann, was merely a caretaker of the estate and gardens during his tenure there until 1966, supervising mainly a greenhouse operation that grew spring flower-plantings to spruce up Independence Mall, the site of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, run by the commonwealth.

While in the process of restorations being made to Logan’s garden and the outbuildings on the property by the historical society, a fire at 4:40 a.m. on Saturday, February 29, 1992 (leap year), left the 19th-century, two-story barn in rubble, destroying completely the structure that had once housed Logan’s theater and greenhouses. The blaze was considered arson. According to a March 5, 1992, article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ed Driscoll, then-president of the Historical Society of Bensalem Township said, “It’s a pity to have lost the building, but there is no money available to do anything to replace it.”

Besides providing space for the historical society, the barn had been used for storage of the park’s lawn-mowing equipment and as a sign shop.

Overhead View of Sarobia's barn, greenhouses and garden, prior to the devastating fire.

Overhead view of Sarobia in 1995. The building attached to the greenhouse in the garden was the carriage house.

Logan's Garden Today; a look at the wall from the inside.

Logan’s garden today: a look at the wall and reflecting pond from the inside.

View of the garden wall from the outside, as seen presently.

View of the garden wall from the outside, as seen presently.

Back-corner view of Logan's Garden today.

Back-corner view of Logan’s Garden today.

The Historical Society has since relocated to their new digs on Knights Road in Bensalem.

In conclusion, Sarobia’s art-colony experiment failed due to the Logans’ being the only support for the community, according to the 1956 article mentioned previously. That news clipping, including another one from Bucks County Courier and Times, published in 1983, reported Robert and Sara were nudist supposedly and ran a nudist colony.

Magazines found in Robert’s collection and destroyed at Washington Crossing in 1960, where some of the estate’s artifacts are stored, had titles such as Nudism in Modern Life, Maurice Parmelece, Knopf, 1931; and Nudism Comes to America, F. & G. Merrill, Knopf, 1932. A painting deaccessioned from another storage facility in 1986, depicted two nude woman under the moonlight, located alongside a river, which could have been the Delaware. I would be willing to bet Richard Blossom Farley painted that one.

From conversations with an individual who knew the Logans, an investigator claimed that a reflecting pond in the garden allegedly had a glass bottom for private viewings. Looking at the garden today, one can see a pond remains; although, its bottom is made of concrete, which could have been filled-in later. The overhead photo pictured above shows a building was on the other side of the wall behind that pond, making an entrance underground possible for such an arrangement. That structure has since been removed, and no evidence of a subterranean voyeurs’ den exists.

Another person in the know stated Robert and Sara worshiped Bastet, an Egyptian cat goddess, yielding an explanation for the many felines kept on the property, and the iron statues of black cats which adorned the tops of the gate posts at the entrances to the estate. Most likely though, rather than worshiping the critters, the Logans loved the animals purely as the couple had loved life and nature apparently.

Robert’s evident love for the animal kingdom was expressed implicitly in the section of his will as seen above, requesting that Sarobia remain “so far as possible as a sanctuary for wild life, especially birds.” Ironically, deer hunting during bow season is allowed on present-day sections of the former estate.

The Logans were way ahead of their time with respect to the pair’s humanitarian and theosophical outlooks, their exploration of Eastern philosophies and religion, their extreme distaste for experimentation which utilized animals as test subjects for medical and cosmetic purposes, all before such practices were deemed “cool” by the so-called enlightened, societal standards of the 1960s and ’70s.

The experimental art colony, precursor to the popular communes of the mid- to latter portions of the 20th century, seemed to have had a brisk, artistic and intellectual band of resourceful individuals, attempting to establish a utopian society; but it lasted unfortunately for roughly only a decade, similar to the 19th-century socialistic experiment at Brook Farm, from which Robert and Sara modeled their small community.

Lastly, the name “Sarobia,” inspiring this writer to begin his quest for the lowdown about the former estate, primarily from the moniker’s esoterically sounding and exotic inferences, was coined simply by combining the first three letters from each of the two Logans’ given names: Sara and Robert.

Future updates to this story are likely to show up in this journal, as further exploration on the grounds of the now-defunct estate continue. In closing, the following is a video from the most recent excursion out to Neshaminy State Park:

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About Mike Slickster

As an early retiree with an honorary doctorate degree from the proverbial "School of Hard Knocks," this upcoming author with a lot of free time on his hands utilizes his expansive repertoire for humorous yet tragic, wildly creative writing that contains years of imaginative fantasy, pure nonsense, classic slapstick, extreme happiness and searing heartbreak; gathered by a wealth of personal experiences throughout his thrilling—sometimes mundane or unusually horrid—free-spirited, rock-'n'-roller-coaster ride around our beloved Planet Earth. Mike Slickster's illustrious quest continues, living now in Act Three of his present incarnation, quite a bit on the cutting edge of profundity and philosophical merriment as seen through his colorful characters, most notably evident in the amusing Thirty Days Across the Big Pond series, all of which can be found at Lulu.com.
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