Ardmore in Lower Merion Township is a place that will always have a place in my heart, and many of my friends and I will always have a place in her history. We made up the then Save Ardmore Coalition and we helped save historic downtown Ardmore from eminent domain for private gain, which is part of Ardmore’s history, uncomfortable or not. It’s probably inconvenient to mention it during the year which represents Ardmore’s Sesquicentennial (1873 – 2023), but it needs to be remembered in the ghosts of recent past. And the recent past photos? Mine. Including the opening photo which made the cover of Main Line Today magazine once upon a time.
I have said before that I wonder sometimes what we have saved Ardmore from, and that Ardmore’s biggest problem has always been Lower Merion Township is headquartered in it, and I remain unapologetic for that. I don’t get back to Ardmore as often as I should, but a lot of us don’t. Our lives are different, in different stages. But she will always be part of our hearts. Even if the parking is worse than ever, Lower Merion Township….
From the Lower Merion Historical Society:
Ardmore began on 410 acres of land bought by Richard Davis in 1686 from five Welshmen for 32 pounds, 16 shillings. One of the few local towns without a Welsh name, the village’s original name was Athensville, a nod to the fascination with the Greek revival style movement of the time (1811). William J. Buck reported in his 1884 history, “Athensville is situated on the Lancaster turnpike, seven miles from Philadelphia, and is the largest village in the township. It contains [at the center] 8 houses, three stores and one hotel.”
The first roads were but trails, and only horse and foot transportation were available. Conditions were impossible: dusty in hot summer, muddy after rains. The settlement of Lancaster led to a demand for an adequate highway that led there from Philadelphia. In 1796, the Lancaster Turnpike (first one constructed in America) allowed ponderous Conestoga wagons to carry merchandise and interior bound settlers…..The original settlers of the area were Welshmen who came to work in the neighboring farms and the thriving mill industry along Mill Creek. Then followed a wave of Germans who contributed their industrial skills. Next the Irish added their abilities and found work in the hotels and staffed the lavish estates built in the mid 1800s.
About the same time, the establishment of railroad systems added to Ardmore’s expansion and prosperity. The first Board of Commissioners met in 1900 (at the General Wayne) to establish a local government. The same year, The Autocar Works relocated from Pittsburgh, attracted by good roads, a high grade of labor supply, the closeness to Philadelphia and a location on the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Ardmore is a popular residential area with a lively business center…..Ardmore has retained a number of examples of the wooden houses of “The Gingerbread Age.” From the mid 1800s through the end of the century, as the suburbs were burgeoning, there was a need for tastefully designed, practical housing at moderate cost. Because Victorians admired the English and American Queen Anne styles of domestic architecture, there was a growing housing market. For those who could not afford an architect (too expensive, too difficult, too time consuming) one could buy plans books, choose a style and have a local builder put up the house. There were hundreds of designs available; some books also featured designs for gates, posts, inside doors, hardware and bookcases for the average woodworker to follow. A medium quality home could be built, complete, for $2,000 to $5,000. There are no building records, though, for these….Along a short commercial stretch of “The Pike” in Ardmore, businesses are shown in approximately their original locations, keyed to a 1926 map. A few of the establishments are in business today.
Originally named “Athensville” in 1853, the community and its railroad station were renamed Ardmore in 1873 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, on whose Main Line, west out of Philadelphia, Ardmore sits at Milepost 8.5. The Autocar Company moved its headquarters to Ardmore in 1899 and constructed a factory on the edge of the downtown area. The factory closed in 1954; during demolition in 1956, a major fire broke out that threatened the downtown area before it was extinguished. Today, Ardmore consistently ranks among the most desirable suburbs of Philadelphia…In 2004–2006, Ardmore’s business district was the subject of a hotly contested eminent domain battle. A grassroots organization, the Save Ardmore Coalition, along with local businesses and other civic groups, opposed an eminent domain/redevelopment program that would have involved the demolition of historic buildings, in favor of preserving those buildings for other commercial use. In March 2006 the Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution disavowing the use of eminent domain for the benefit of private redevelopment projects. The Ardmore battle was also instrumental in prompting the Pennsylvania General Assembly to enact legislation in 2006 restricting the use of eminent domain for private projects.
Now my friends and I were the original Save Ardmore Coalition. Not the thing it eventually became years later. We did the eminent domain heavy lifting. We all went on to remain involved and working on things like First Friday Main Line which was started by Sherry Tillman who owns Past*Present*Future still to this day in Ardmore. First Friday Main Line made art accessible to everyone. Art in unexpected places. Lots of music. Fun events. Artists exhibiting monthly. I did the PR and photography for Sherry for First Friday Main Line. Things we did within First Friday Main Line included initiatives like Operation Angel Wings. We worked to help the innocent children of Afghanistan in 2009 by collecting items that United States soldiers could carry and distribute while out on patrol in war torn Afghanistan at that time. In 2010, we received a US Congressional Commendation.
So now onto the Ardmore Sesquicentennial. I had to add some of the history back that I feel would be left out for well….political reasons. And that’s fine. That is what a blogger is for: to remember the other parts of the history, even if inconvenient for some.
I like to think what we did in the early 2000s caused today to be possible, right or wrong. Other things we did was Scribe Precious Places Video. That was an amazing, unforgettable experience. We captured our Ardmore 2005 -2006. Our video has been shown again this year again in Ardmore as a matter of fact.
All of 2023 has had Ardmore Sesquicentennial events. Among my favorite things is this amazing project from the creative genius of a man I do not know named Jeff Mellin (See WEBSITE HERE) and a lady now at the Ardmore Initiative named Jane Murray (who should be the next Executive Director of the Ardmore Initiative)…along with Lower Merion Conservancy’s Director of Historic Preservation Kathleen Abplanalp (with intellectual contributions of Greg Prichard, Historic Preservation Planner for Township Of Lower Merion).
This is one cool project. https://www.jeffmellin.com/ardmoresesquicentennial :
Windows Into History: Explore Historic Ardmore is a “pop-up museum” collaboration between the Ardmore Initiative, the Lower Merion Historical Society, Lower Merion Conservancy, and The Township of Lower Merion.
The Ardmore Initiative Streetscape Committee wanted to create a more inviting downtown shopping, dining, and pedestrian experience, in a way that could speak to the whole community, and would go beyond mere, uh, window dressing. We decided to convert vacant storefront windows into a cohesive, informative, and (I hope) aesthetically pleasing celebration of Downtown Ardmore’s history.
So now, after months of research, through binders and binders of archival photos and documents, we’re installing our multi-panel posters showcasing a treasure trove of historic photos and stories, some site-specific, some general, depending on location. Passers-by can read about Ardmore’s 150-year history, and view these amazing archival photos at (or near) their historic locations.
It’s been a ton of work, but absolutely worthwhile. I’ve learned so much about my adopted town and got the chance to meet and work closely with people both knowledgeable and passionate about the community. If you’re in Downtown Ardmore, take a look around.
Seriously? How great is this project. And another slice of genius: the stories of Ardmore’s past can be found in her storefront windows. (We used to do that with art for First Friday Main Line too!)
So it’s been a year, Ardmore. I am sorry it took until Halloween night to write you a little love note for the year of your big anniversary. Ardmore is proof that Main Street oriented communities can survive in spite of hideous development.
Happy 150th Ardmore!