I am not Episcopalian by birth. I am Roman Catholic. I have never joined a Catholic Church since I came to Chester County because I have lost faith in the religion of my birth, sadly.
That is not to say I don’t have my faith and belief in a higher power because I do. I often think about maybe an Episcopalian church because among other things, my stepfather belongs to my first St. Peter’s, in Society Hill. (The Society Hill St. Peter’s will live streaming via Facebook live at 11 AM. ) I went to grade school at St. Peter’s at 3rd and Pine. It was founded in 1758.
St. Peter’s in the Great Valley pre-dates St. Peter’s in Society Hill by quite a few years. It was founded in 1704. It was originally I believe a missionary parish of the Church of England. It’s one of my favorite churches in Chester County, truthfully. Every time I have visited I have found it so peaceful.
Today St. Peter’s in The Great Valley had a lovely virtual service. Part of the reason I am writing this post is to say thank you to Rev. Abigail Crozier Nestlehutt. It was a nice, calming thing devoid of fire and brimstone. But it contained messages of community and hope. And an expression of faith that COVID-19 or coronavirus will not destroy us. I looked at her biography on the church’s website and she is a native New Englander. I think even I needed a nice calm dose of New England practicality this morning.
So Rev. Abigail, thank you. Also thank you because this was the first religious service that resonated with me in many years.
People it’s a beautiful day outside. Practice your social distancing and soak up some sun! Take good care and thanks for virtually stopping by.
I am completely out of my depth here. I do recall going past this abandoned farmhouse on Dorlan Mill Road.
I am told this house was owned by James and Elizabeth Dorlan who owned the neighboring paper mill. I think I took photos of this once upon a time myself but I can’t find them
I’m not sure what township this is in. It’s Downingtown and when you look at maps it looks like Upper Uwchlan. The address is 770 Dorlan Mill Road. Is it historically listed anywhere? Or is it just significant due to the family that owned the paper mill￼?
Everyone keeps asking me what the deal is with this old house. People had hoped it would be preserved and become something like a nice little B&B or even a single-family home. But it’s just rotting isn’t it? I seem to recall a few years ago this location being in the paper. And people being upset. (See this old Marsh Creek Forum post)
So who knows what, including history of the area right there? Please leave a comment!
Yes again, I am writing about the Joseph Price house in West Whiteland Township.￼ It’s really starting to deteriorate badly in my opinion.￼ (And I say that from observing it across the street today- I have not been invited to be on the property so I would not presume.)￼
This house is historically listed. It was built in 1878 and altered in 1894 by the house namesake inhabitant at the time. It was altered from a Gothic style to a Queen Anne style.
￼￼I was also told in the 1990s it was separate apartments inside and there were also cottages around it which were rented out as well.
In the 1950s and 60s there was a large barn there that was a sale barn for cattle run by Bayard Taylor —a blog reader told me that. He knew because his mother did bookkeeping for that business while she was in college.
This house is not completely deserted I am told there is still a caretaker who still lives there. However, this house has an uncertain future at best and nobody seems to know what will happen to it. Which is a shame because it’s very cool.￼
There are so many amazing houses like this throughout Chester County from all eras of time￼.
I am told the house is owned by two people in Ambler. Chesco Views confirmed that today.￼￼
This afternoon I had some time so I pulled into the business parking lot across the road on Clover Mill Road. I took some photos from across the road and I just looked at the house. It has been historically listed since the 1980s.￼ And yes I know I’m being repetitive, but it just blows my mind that these gorgeous houses that are historically listed not just locally but nationally rot like this￼.
Things are just crumbling and the property also seems to be quite the haven for dead car bodies.
Truly (and sadly), the house is becoming so decrepit, more decrepit. I really wish these owners would sell to somebody who could restore it.
￼￼￼￼It is just so crazy to me, as this could be the most fabulous property. It’s big enough and there is enough land left that it could be a great restaurant or even a boutique bed-and-breakfast which is not a stretch considering there is one up the road from it on South Whitford – the Duling-Kurtz House and Country Inn.
Anyway, I continue to be obsessed by this property which is not for sale￼. It’s just that this is a historically listed property (since 9/6/1984) and is this demolition by neglect?￼ I really hope someone will save this place.
I have remarked before on what society was in Philadelphia and what wants to be society today and the fact that it all seems to be going kerplunk. Well I think this article that broke news everywhere and I saw first in the Philadelphia Inquier is yet another example.
by Peter Dobrin, Updated: February 14, 2020- 12:06 PM
The Oscar de la Renta and James Galanos gowns can take the year off. White-tie and tails may stay in the garment bag. Next season’s Academy of Music Anniversary Concert and Ball has been canceled, organizers say.
Instead, leaders of the Academy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, which owns the historic venue, will take a year off to rethink the concert and ball. It is not clear when, or if, the ball will be back in the format that made it the city’s premier society event for decades.
“We are going to take this pause and evaluate,” said Academy chair Caroline B. “Cackie” Rogers. “Our net and our gross have been going down, and ticket sales have gone down a bit, and costs, like everything else, have gone up.”
Also, Academy and orchestra leaders are aware of how philanthropic priorities have shifted toward social causes over pure arts and culture.
“The younger generation tends to be sticking a little bit more close to home in the suburbs and supporting their children’s school, which is fabulous, and supporting their community and hospital,” Rogers says. “So we have to make people understand what we are. The Academy is above all a community gathering place, a community center. We support education. And somehow we need to get this message out in a stronger format.”
Rogers said that a working committee would begin considering the ball’s future at a meeting in March. At this point, she said, she cannot say whether Philadelphia will see another Academy Ball.
I think this is indeed quite possibly the end of The Academy Ball. People have changed and the grande dames of society are growing older and so many have passed away. Truthfully there is my generation as one of the last generations to just remember what it was like, but real society doesn’t truly exist anymore in Philadelphia does it? (And many can plunk hats and fascinators on their carefully and not so carefully coiffed heads but does it make them society or just wannabes?)
Philadelphia Inquirer, 1970s – what the society page looked like
I remember when I noticed that Opening Night for the Philadelphia Orchestra was getting too “corporate” in nature￼￼. I remember when people started bringing in drinks in plastic cups into the boxes and the seats and that was never done before. When there was intermission, you mingled in the hallways of the Academy of Music and you got drinks from the bar but you didn’t bring things into the theater space like you were at a movie theater.￼￼
The world continued to change. Society reporters began to fade away, retire, move, die. Society photos changed to and suddenly it was acceptable to shove your way into a photo or say you wanted to be in a photo, versus waiting to be asked. And everything, even if it wasn’t, was suddenly called a “ball”.
I grew up with my parents attending the Academy Ball, and for a bunch of years my mother was on the committees. It has been too long to remember if it was for the program book committee , invitation committee, or whatever. But what I do remember is all the bustle surrounding my mother and her friends finding their perfect gowns and getting ready for the big event.￼ I liked that part of it a lot. Visits to Nan Duskin, John Wanamaker’s, and elsewhere.
What I also liked is the years they were all in the program book (Academy Ball Book) with their friends￼. That program book for the Academy of Music Concert and Ball was awesome every year￼. It was a look book of Philadelphia society and fashion. I loved going through it. Somewhere I have a stack of them from my mother, I went to look for them when I was thinking about this post but I have not unearthed them yet.￼ It was always a reallybigdeal to be invited to be in an Academy Ball Book photo.
There was one year in particular my parents were in it that I remember distinctly. They were photographed in black tie on the steps of City Hall in Philadelphia. My mother had a different haircut for her and I think it was the 70s when she had this haircut, it was sort of pixie like for lack of a better description because my mother has very full hair￼. But I remember my mother had this amazing ball gown on and it was sweeping over the steps with my father at her side￼. (I really have to find that photo because it is one of my favorite photos of my parents together.)
Then around 1998, I had my turn to pose in a photograph in the Academy Ball Book. This mother of a friend of mine back then used to buy a page for their business as a donation in the program book. So this one year, I was invited to be in the photo. It was a lot of fun we got our hair done the morning of the shoot and professional make-up and then we went to Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Philadelphia where the shoot location was￼￼.
Doing that shoot, is still to this day, hands down one of the most fun things I ever did! (Of course it’s amusing that I am posing with a glass of red wine in my hand because I am very allergic to red wine.￼) I still have a tiny 3 or 4 inch black-and-white test photo of this shoot in a little frame.￼ My friend and I were temporarily glamorous.
I did not ever actually go to the Academy Ball as an adult because I married later in life and it always has been a very ridiculously expensive ticket prospect if you were single. I did go a couple of times as a kid with my sister to the concerts because my parents wanted us to hear whatever the concert part of the ball was. One of the years was when Pavarotti played the concert of the 118th Academy Ball. I still remember that. My parents had a car and driver and someone who came￼￼ to escort us down.
We sat stage left up in the second level or third level boxes on that side. I remember peering down and watching Pavarotti sing. It probably should have meant more to me at the time than it did, but I was a kid. However, it was so fun to get all dressed up and then look around the entire inside of the glittering and glowing Academy of Music and see all of the people in their white tie and tails and ballgowns￼.
Every year until a few years ago, truthfully I loved looking at the Academy Ball photos. As the crowd changed and a lot of the familiar faces faded away for whatever reason, it became less interesting to me. The past couple of years I have taken a cursory glance every now and again at the photos and there are people in the photos that wouldn’t have even received an invitation years ago, and then there are the people we just weren’t dressed correctly. There are even people with short dresses. This was a real actual ball which meant white tie and tails and ballgowns￼.￼
I took a peek at a program book in the last year or so and one of the things that surprised me is there was somebody that was in two photos in the same book. They never used to do that! They never had repeat people in photos in the same book during the same year.￼￼
It makes me sad that events like this are becoming nonprofit dinosaurs. But I guess too much is changing in the world around us, and it’s not going to stand still for events like this. So this event will either evolve and change, or remain mothballed.￼ I am thinking mothballed.
But this was a big event for the Academy of Music’s benefit￼. So it had to give you pause if you think about it as to how they are going to make up the money that needs to be raised. The Academy of Music is a national historic landmark but I’m told it needs work.￼￼ A lot of the titans of philanthropy that used to support the Academy are dead￼.
I have to wonder in the age of selfie sticks and Insta stories if there is enough interest to really see the Academy of Music into the future? Do people today really care about the arts in Philadelphia in the region? Or is what they care about more selective, more localized?
Today I picked up some things from a storage locker sale I had purchased. One thing was a limited edition book published in 1965 when I was a year old. Philadelphia: The Unexpected City by Laurence Lafore and Sara Lee Lippincott. The publisher was Doubleday. It was a copy of the “Philadelphia Edition.”
I don’t think too many people would be as excited to see this book as I was. But it was a book I remember people having in their homes when I was growing up, especially people that lived in Society Hill because there was so much of Society Hill in the book.￼
And there’s one thing that’s a picture of when they were raising the houses around Front Street to basically put in the highway. And I remember when they were doing all of that because it took a while to build and my mother’s friend Margery Niblock the artist had done a wood cut of it that I have the artist’s proof of￼￼.
So again, unless you live there during this time this probably wouldn’t mean anything to you. But it means something to me because there are so many pictures in this book of what Society Hill looks like when people like my parents came in and bought house is dirt cheap and started to restore them.
And the restoration of Society Hill is still a historic preservation triumph even with all of the houses that were in such bad condition they had to be demolished.￼￼
I guess that’s why sometimes I wonder why municipalities let people say “Oh we can’t possibly fix this, it has to be taken down!”￼ I look at what happened then when I was a kid, and the technology wasn’t as advanced and so on and so forth, yet the historic preservation actually happened and restoration actually happened.
So I wish people would look at examples like this, and then look more towards preservation where they live. It is possible. Communities just have to want it. And if communities want it, they need to make that known to local government.￼￼
People have to realize you can save pieces of the past and people will love them and will live in them.
This section of Philadelphia when I was growing up was a sea of construction and scaffolding. I remember the contrast of going to neighborhoods where other people we knew lived and then coming back to our own. But it was exciting to see.￼￼￼ Even then.
Hopefully someday when I am no longer around, someone else will happen upon what is now my copy of this book and love it as much as I do.￼
This was something the greeted me this morning when I popped open my tablet. An update from Meg Veno at Life’s Patina about the restoration in progress of the Jenny Lind house in Historic Yellow Springs Village￼ this morning she was talking about antique fire backs and it triggered a memory in me, reminding me of my late father upon seeing these fire backs.
When I was very young, as I have written before, my parents bought a wreck of a house from the redevelopment authority in Philadelphia. Literally a wreck. It was their first house and they had lived in an apartment close by as newlyweds.
An 1811 double front townhouse turned into bad apartments in the depression (if memory serves.) This was the early 60s and most of Society Hill was a slum. I remember my father hunting for fire backs for all the fireplaces (and almost every room had one except for the back building.) Because the homes were in such a general condition of disrepair, you would salvage for missing parts quite literally from other homes being torn down.
This was the original “sale sign” on the house my parents bought in the ‘60s in Society Hill
Yes above you see the actual sale sign that was hanging on the house my parents bought from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority in the early 1960s￼. I will note that in today’s world, realtors and others get the actual date of this house I was born in wrong. Sometimes it’s just buy a couple of years, other times it’s been by decades. I don’t know how they can’t do their research. I keep the sign with me as a souvenir of my childhood there.
I have distinct memories of Society Hill when I was really little and it was like a giant construction site. There were so many houses that were beyond repair being torn down, other houses being restored, and in some cases entire blocks being leveled for new construction. Including next door to our house.
From Philadelphia government archives. Photo dates to 1957
If you look at those photos, the one immediately above the one that was taken in the 1930s when the house was part of an entire row of homes built in the same early 19th ￼century. The photo above that is from 1957 and a bunch of the houses had already been demolished. I will further note that the house at the end of the row in the 1957 photo (269 S. 4th) was torn down by the time my parents bought their house (271 S. 4th.)
When I was a little girl until they started building, right next-door to us was a big old empty lot with a giant sycamore tree in the back corner.
When I look at that photo I get wistful because the little street tree is a pin oak tree my father planted when I was a little￼ girl. I also have that memory of him planting the street tree and taking care of it throughout the years. Just like I have memories of my mother scrubbing down by hand the white marble steps. It was the only way to keep them clean.
The next screenshot is a Google shot my parents’ old house today￼￼. I have no idea who owns it I know it’s sold a couple of years ago. I presume it is still single-family. It would kill me if it was put back to apartments after all these years.
And look to the left of my parents home townhouses built in the early 1970s.￼￼ I don’t think it was late 1960s, but maybe they were at least in planning. Look at the difference between what you see being built today and what was built then. It has a better size and scale to fit into the existing neighborhood. The design while modern, nods to the past.￼ It is a shame we can’t get that today with new construction, isn’t it?
Society hill in the 1960s was a very different place than a place you see being gentrified today. It was like this unspoken word-of-mouth saying that when houses were being either taken down or strip to the studs, people from the neighborhood that were in the middle of restoration projects always got a pick at salvage basically.
Meg’s photo of her firebacks took me back to when my father was restoring the fireplaces in our house back then. I have no idea if the fireplaces are still wood-burning, but they were when I was a child. And I remember my father going in and out of houses being torn down or houses that had been torn down and all were left were piles of rubble looking for hardware and firebacks and even some mantelpieces￼. The mantelpieces in this house I was born in were predominantly marble. A lot of them were black marble with beautiful veining.
The mantelpieces my father picked up out of homes being torn down were wood. Some of those had future use in other houses. Daddy hated the waste so he literally collected hardware, doors, etc. Everyone did in those days. Of course yes there were scavengers that just stole from everyone but I don’t remember them actually living in Society Hill. They would just appear like carrion crows every now and again. I do remember my father chasing a contractor out onto the roof of the 4th floor for using interior mouldings as window trim. (But I digress as I ramble)
The PhillyHistory.org is a treasure trove of photos. You can see how bad a lot of the houses were on the inside, let alone the outside. I haven’t been able to find archival photos of my parents’ house from before they bought it but here’s a screenshot I took from one of the neighborhood homes of these archives that will give you an idea of the restoration that was necessary:
It’s crazy when I think about the way it was to what it has become as an area today. One thing no one ever talks about is how Society Hill got the name Society Hill. ￼ Cue USHistory.org :
Named after the long defunct Free Society of Traders, this area of Philadelphia extends from Walnut to Lombard Streets, from Front to 8th Street.
The Society for which Society Hill is named is now defunct. The Free Society of Traders, a stock company to whom William Penn made liberal concessions of land and privileges, encountered virgin territory and woodlands stretching westward to the Schuylkill. They found some Dutch and Swedes living here as well. Though by 1683 the Society’s assets already included a sawmill, a glasshouse, and a tannery in Philadelphia, but two score years later they were bankrupt. The Assembly put the property of the Society in the hand of trustees in order to pay its debts.
Home to many members of the federal government when Philadelphia served as the nation’s capital, the area also attracted the locally wealthy and international nabobs as well. As the land juxtaposed the river and the seat of government, it was the most valuable in the city. From greed and speculation, lots were divided and divided again. The result: the serpentine walkways, abrupt angles, and tiny alleys that today make the area so appealingly intimate.
Over decades the area lost its cachet and ultimately became a dilapidated slum with a massive food distribution center located on Dock Street
But an interesting thing about when Society Hill came back to life is a lot was abandoned and derelict and empty. It wasn’t a case of just displacing people to allow gentrification. That happened in many other areas of the city, however. I am not going to say the Redevelopment Authority was full of angels. There were always stories growing up.
Harry Schwartz, 84, remembers when his neighborhood, Society Hill, was one of the poorest parts of Philadelphia. But by the time he moved there as a young lawyer in 1969, things had changed. City planners had fixed up crowded blocks of crumbling old houses and razed a congested, old wholesale produce market to make way for majestic modernist towers. Schwartz and his pediatrician wife were attracted to Society Hill’s architectural gems, tucked among its cobblestoned, walkable streets. Soon, they found themselves surrounded by a community of artists, activists, and young professionals like them.
They loved it. Society Hill allowed them to bike to work and walk to friends’ houses for Julia Child-inspired dinner parties…The reinvention of Society Hill in the 1960s is widely considered one of the first instances of gentrification — although no one called it that at the time….“What happened in Society Hill in our experience, and I speak only from that, was not displacement,” says Schwartz, who moved in about a decade after city government spurred the redevelopment of the neighborhood. “But rather [by the time they moved in 1969], re-occupation and restoration.”
It was different. And it was a time where progress didn’t hurt so much and people were actively participating in historic preservation.
There is this website I have discovered called Preserving Society Hill. They have these oral histories transcribed. Some I have read have made me very emotional reading them. These are the people of my earliest years, the faces of where I lived. Some I still know today. It is boring for all of you to hear me talk about this website, but for me, I am reading interviews given by people whose houses I played in or who my mother was in the babysitting co-op with and so on.
I will share a snippet of one given by Mrs. Burnette. She and her husband who is an architect were friends of my parents and my sister and I went to school with their daughters. They lived on S. 3rd Street. I loved their house and still am connected to the daughters today:
DS: Tell me more about the condition of the house. Had it been open to the elements? Had it been vacant for a long period of time?
MB: I think it had been vacant for a while, because it was – as I remember, it was just large and dirty. [Laughs]
DS: Large and dirty. Were there animals or anything inside?
MB: No, no, it didn’t seem to be that way.
MB: No. Of course, it’s surprising that we went up into the attic and cleaned (5:00) the attic first of all. I remember being up there with a broom and sweeping out the attic and finding an old shoe. But the rest of it was pretty open. I don’t know if the Redevelopment Authority had come in and cleaned some of it out. Has anybody else said anything about that?
……DS: The Redevelopment Authority – you bought it from them.
MB: Yes. As I remember, it was $9,800.
Another oral history was given by my friend’s father Philip Price. What an amazing man he is!
Philip Price, Jr.’s account of his experience restoring 321 Spruce Street seems to include more lawsuits than do those of other narrators. A fire on the third floor had done a lot of damage to the house when Phil and his wife Sarah bought the place in 1965. The house was in “absolutely appalling” condition, but Phil and Sarah wanted to live in Center City and “enjoy the challenges of moving into a redevelopment area.” They also bought the property next door, 319 Spruce, where they would enjoy planting a garden. They did a complete rehab of the house: electrical, plumbing, roof, painting, nine fireplaces all restored to working order, and ultimately shutters required by the Redevelopment Authority.
One lawsuit arose after Phil and his contractor discovered that the chimney shared by the unrestored, unoccupied house next door at 323 Spruce was about to fall off the houses and crash onto the sidewalk – so imminently that Phil had the chimney removed immediately and wrote a letter to the other owner describing what had happened. The other owner sued Phil, but Phil prevailed
Truthfully this Preserving Society Hill website is a gem to me. Even some of my childhood playmates are interviewed with the oral histories. If you lived in Society Hill when we did you will love the memories evoked. It’s why I love oral histories and think they are so important. I have always said communities should commit to oral histories.
But what is also so great about the oral histories I am reading on this website is I am not mis-remembering things. Like all of us who got jumped or mugged. Yes truly and as kids. They stole my friend’s bike right out from under us in Bingham Court which was down the street from our house. My friend wore glasses and they smashed them in her face. Then there was the Halloween a whole bunch of us got mugged for our Unicef collection boxes. And we were with parents. I remember we were wearing these giant paper costumes by Creative Playthings too – parents loved them because you could bundle kids up underneath.
Society Hill was tough but it was wonderful. I loved the history of it and still do. It was proof that historic preservation does and can work. This is my touchstone when I think about historic preservation anywhere. Society Hill brought together people from all walks of life, backgrounds, races, religions. Oh and guess what else? Most people had walled gardens they created as they were restoring their houses.
So Meg Veno? Thank you for inspiring me today and evoking happy memories that made me take another ramble down my own memory lane.
We need more preservation. We need development to fit with where we live when it happens. It is possible.
Today we went old school and headed to D&K for breakfast. It was as good as it always is, and we wandered on our way through the Borough Of West Chester.
I have always liked West Chester. What I don’t like however is all the infill development. Why? Because what is going up now is not in the least complementary of the borough, which has little brick houses of more of a colonial style through to grand Victorian mansard roofs and gardens with wrought iron gates.
See above. Another Kahnification of West Chester (blue and new going up to the right of Kildare’s). That used to be the Mosteller Department Store which truthfully from it’s early history morphed into something quite unattractive. But what is replacing it is also unappealing to me because it just doesn’t jive with the area. I am not saying people have to build imitation Williamsburg, but if they are going modern, why does it have to be ummm…jarring and unattractive and out of size and scale with the surroundings?
I really started to explore West Chester in the 1980s when one of my best friends came out to West Chester to go to college. I used to visit her and explore. In those days I did not have a car so often I took a train to Paoli and a cab into West Chester if I could not get a ride. (I will note where you wait for cabs on the westbound side of Paoli station is still creepy.)
West Chester is one of those towns where I always find something to look at. Now these are newer townhouses in the next photo, and I actually don’t mind the design even if I don’t quite get the height and bunker like quality of the wall in front:
GPS took us down a street that really wasn’t a street to me, but the rear of a development. Here I saw once again what I dislike about most townhouse developments:
This is an actual street and look how narrow. And Look at SUVs and trucks NOT being able to fit in their own driveway. To me this looks like a street in Sea Isle or Ocean City, NJ.
One of the things I also have always liked about West Chester are the alleys and side streets. Always something cool to see there as well. A lot of old stable structures still exist, among other things.
West Chester is just fun to wander.
It’s also fun to check out old postcards to see what has changed and to see what still exists. Take for example (and thanks for rambling with me):