River Ridge Farm apparently in process of being sold
The Derrick, 3/22/02 By JUDITH O. ETZEL

Special thanks to The Derrick for allowing this story to be posted


One of Venango County's most prestigious tracts - the River Ridge Farm overlooking the Allegheny River between Oil City and Franklin - is reportedly in the process of being sold to a New England development company.

And that company apparently has its eye on creating a resort center there.

Lawrence Wood of Franklin said he and his brother, Neil, have "signed the papers" to sell a 900-acre tract known as River Ridge Farm. The property is located off Bredinsburg Road, but it is most visible to motorists traveling on Route 8, directly across the Allegheny River.

While Wood said he is barred by the sales agreement from revealing any details about the buyer, he said the property includes five buildings and the former River Ridge Gravel Co. excavations. All oil, gas and mineral rights are included in the purchase.

"I have no idea what they are going to do with the property," Wood said. "I know they did buy it for an investment."

The tract does not include the former main River Ridge house, now owned and used by Life Ministries Inc., and the River Ridge Golf Course, now on the market for $255,000.

There are a number of reports, though, that the buyer intends to convert the property into an upscale resort, including the construction of a hotel-like facility, and seek a hotel liquor license. To date, no building plans have been reviewed by Cranberry Township officials and no requests for zoning and related information have been formally made.

The Price-Century 21 real estate office in Meadville is handling the deal. Agent Larry Price was not available for comment Thursday.

The transaction is expected to be finalized in late May or early June, according to Wood, who with his brother, formerly owned the Depot Restaurant and the Waterfront Restaurant, both in Franklin. The Wood brothers have owned the land since 1974 when they bought it as an investment.

The potential River Ridge resort plans are the first ones involving a privately owned lodging and recreation complex to be bandied about for Venango County in many years. The only other proposed development, one that involves a meeting center, lodge and other facilities, was pegged nearly two years ago for Two Mile Run County Park, a public facility. That project has since been considerably scaled back.

The River Ridge Farm has an illustrious history that began with oil millionaire and politician Joseph C. Sibley purchasing R.G. Lamberton's Argeon Farm in 1911 and renaming it River Ridge. Within two years, a 33-room mansion (now Life Ministries) and several other buildings had been constructed on the site.

The property boasted a four-story brick barn, acres of formally landscaped gardens, pools, fountains and numerous out-buildings. It gained fame as an experimental farm and Sibley took delight in using new techniques for growing crops and raising livestock.

Sibley died in 1926 and the farm stayed in the family until 1948 when it was purchased to use as a seminary by the White Fathers of Africa. Life Ministries later bought the main house, and Hammermill Paper Co. purchased much of the remaining property.

Since then, a gravel excavation project began on the property, but operations have ceased and the excavated areas are being filled in.