a walk down memory lane

 In  2009 I documented through photographs the last few months of architect Addison Mizner’s famed La Ronda in Bryn Mawr.  The tale of La Ronda even made the Wall Street Journal back then.

Putting all the drama of the La Ronda and her demolition and the upheaval the demolition caused in Lower Merion Township and across the country aside, the saddest part of the tale of La Ronda is there was a man willing to have the mansion moved brick by brick, who was willing to buy it fairly. Only he was denied that by both the seller of the property and buyer of the property.  Those people sold La Ronda to be torn down and tore down La Ronda because they could and that is kind of sad especially since they were players in the socioeconomic levels where they could actually afford to be more preservation minded.

I am not getting into some protracted discussion about property rights, what this demolition has done is leave a lasting impression on me regarding historic preservation in Pennsylvania.

Historic preservation in Pennsylvania remain a lofty ideal, but is seldom a true reality. So when you hear on rare occasions that you might not like what a developer is doing, but they are saving and preserving a historic structure on a property they bought? Well that my friends is huge and doesn’t happen very often. See ( Linden Hall post July 24  and Farmhouse Post on July 27 and Adaptive Reuse from April 2013 )

Truthfully, all these years later and salvagers are still selling bits of La Ronda. And people still write about La Ronda and what happened (reference Proper Philadelphia in 2012 )

I watched and documented the last sad few months of La Ronda, and to me it is a glaring reminder of  what   lip service preservation is. In 2009, Lower Merion Township Commissioners (including the current Board President Liz Rogan) did much beating of the collective breast and waxed long and poetically on how they were going to do things differently and how they were going to preserve historic assets.

Flash forward to 2014 and well, much like other places, it’s all been talk. Or political gob smacking…. take your pick. Now the William Penn Inn is under a 90 day stay of execution err demolition, which means it will inevitably come down.  And that is the case even though people are saying it may have had something to do with the underground railroad (and see cool photos of the place here thanks to Main Line Media News.)


Also facing an uncertain future is the historic Odd Fellows Hall and property and United Methodist Church and property in Gladwyne.  People have said for decades that there are Revolutionary War soldiers buried there.  Famous Phillie Rich Asburn is buried there and heck some of my friends have all their family buried there.  So Odd Fellows is in limbo. What is historic will survive if  the developers who are the owners, Main Line Realty Partners, do the proper preservation.  They can do the right thing if they want to.  They have in the past and truthfully the partners in these projects have done beautiful work.  Last I heard that Odd Fellows plan was tabled, but these same developers have now purchased another church, First Baptist in Ardmore.  They also bought the United Methodist Church in Narberth Now the developers are calling themselves Main Line rebuild.

3941005703_d390c4249e_oBut like I said, adaptive reuse and historic preservation by developers are the exception rather than the rule.

I do not know a lot of the preservation groups throughout Chester County as I have not lived here that many years yet .  I love the  Chester County Historical Society and they have lots of neat stuff in their headquarters in downtown West Chester and they do fun things like walking tours.

Also worth noting is the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust. Their 10th annual house tour is September 27th, 2014.


And if you like house tours you should also consider signing up for Chester County Day which benefits Chester County Hospital.  They have preview lectures starting in September which are open to the public.

Anyway, remember the La Rondas…once they are gone, they are gone.

Thanks for stopping by today!

can you help identify graves and families in this very old cemetery?

1468805883_df564a5cce_bYes a little far afield if you live in Chester County, but I love old graveyards and church yards and this one has its place in history and needs help because the buildings and church associated with what is actually two graveyards in one is going through a development plan/proposed development plan.

Truthfully if it is the right kind of plan, I have no issue with adaptive reuses of churches.  But I have a big problem with developers all across the country not respecting the dead and buried.  Abandoned and disregarded graveyards are so sad, and people are working feverishly to see that fate does not fall to these graves. I have long wondered if this land parcel was developed if some or all of the graves would be at risk, and I think they are.  And how do you do that knowing veterans of many wars who fought for our freedoms are buried there?  Are the graves of our ancestors and soldiers and others so disposable?

1468796263_ea168356cd_bI am talking about the Odd Fellows and United Methodist Church of Gladwyne cemetery on Righters Mill Road in Gladwyne, PA.  (Although I have blogged about the abandoned crumbling ruin that is Ebenezer AME in Frazer.) Many familiar area names are

buried there – even beloved Philadelphia


Phillie Richie Asburn is buried there.  This is where a childhood friend’s family is buried.  I photographed the cemetery a few years ago and it needs love. 1469783630_3d389c57e8_b

The long and short of it is some really wonderful people are trying to ensure this cemetery land is preserved along with the graves and family plots that are still viable (which I am sure is not many).


Here is the e-mail I was sent today and if you can help in ANY way, please contact the sender of the e-mail, not me:

From: “christine mcguire” <cmpointe@hotmail.com>
Sent: Friday, June 7, 2013 11:31:18 AM
Subject: Cemetery Info

1468847689_d85fc9a5e6_bHello All,

This is the most recent information regarding the Merion Square Cemetery and Gladwyne Methodist Church. Thank you for reading this long email, we really need your help.

The Church, cemetery and parsonage twin 1468852087_7bc386929b_bhouses (2) are all under an agreement of sale with a developer (Main line realty investors) who are Evelyn “Mac” Brand, Craig Brand, and Scott Brehman. The 1468854015_4bbbc8da64_bsale will not go through if they do not get all of their various zoning, HARB, Planning Commission and township approvals to change set backs, zoning, impervious surface areas, etc. The plan is to 1468879067_cb74ce44db_bconvert the church into 3 condos with garages and to put 2 new construction houses on either side of the Odd Fellows hall next door – which they already own. They will reconfigure the driveway that allows people to drive into the cemetery, and combine the church and odd fellows cemetery into 1 larger cemetery.1468879951_860c465331_b

The Church is not sold yet, and they will not go to closing if they do not get everything they want and need to make this project. If it is all approved, the condos will be 1468915657_da3d8828f9_b20 feet to the first grave, and on one end that is the grave of Richie Ashburn. Beyond the Ashburn grave is another sold plot, owned by a family now living in Ohio and they want their plot. It will have a driveway over it if this project goes forward.

The church cemetery has graves from the 1469717634_ae8cc3e84a_b1850s that are clearly marked with headstones. Running along the side of the church cemetery is a long strip of land approximately 20-30 feet wide and over 100 feet long. There are no headstones in this strip of land, and there is no clear separation of this land from the cemetery. We do not know if there are graves, 1469719386_e2690c3fc9_bvery very old graves, in this strip of land and perhaps that is why the church began burials in what is now the main cemetery part. There are 2 flags planted in this seemingly empty strip of land every 1469765244_278a8a6774_oMemorial Day, and this year we asked why. The response was that there are 2 Revolutionary Soldiers there, and I got their names from the SAR cemetery website, Miller and DeWees, and Drummer and a Fifer. Their names are also on the DAR Plaque 1469766090_ea388ceefb_bat the Baptist Church on Old Gulph Road, though that plaque says John DeWees and Unk Miller (Fifer).

So the questions we must answer are: 

  • Why are the flags placed in that open part of the cemetery every year? 
  • Does anyone know or can prove that the location of the soldiers is actually in that spot where the flags are? 
  • Does anyone have any paper record of why or how we got their names, and why we think they are in that cemetery? I have confirmed that there are NO OTHER revolutionary soldiers in that cemetery. 
  • Does anyone know anything about that long strip of land and why it was not used by the Methodist church for more burials post 1850? I know there was discussion about using it for more burials in the 2000’s, but that may have been by people who did not understand that there were bodies there already.

Please note that I have cross checked DeWees and Miller with the names of everyone who is in the church cemetery, with a headstone or not. To be clear,  I have the names of the person who owns the plots and the names of who is buried in the plots, and Miller and Dewees are not there.

So by default, if Dewees and Miller are there at Merion Square cemetery, then they have to be in the strip of land that appears empty, because the main cemetery is completely sold out, though there is room for more burials in different family plots, and the developers will have to allow these funerals and burials to continue.

The same for Off Fellows cemetery right next to Merion Square, though Odd Fellows has 361 plots that could be sold, the developer does not want more funerals and has stated that she will not sell those plots, but will allow people to be buried in the plots they currently own.

We know that the land was given to the Methodist Church in 1840 by Dr. John Anderson for the sum of $2.00
It is possible that this was because that land was already a cemetery and this made it the perfect place to put a church? Maybe this is why the church began its burials slightly apart from where the original cemetery was??

The developers have conducted their ground penetrating radar and found nothing anywhere. We have done ours and found anomalies in the ground, but nothing definitive. Shifts and changes in the dirt could be tree roots, pipes, old pieces of structures, etc.

Our radar man is coming back next week with a different machine to try again. He told us that without a coffin and with the bodies possibly being 230 years old, we may not ever find them using any type of radar. In fact we had him run a control and try to see a known 1857 grave, and it did not come up on the radar at all and we know that there was a body there. Our ground is full of clay, and this is the worst soil to use radar with. So clearly, we can now dispute the claim of the developer because it is unlikely that any radar company would find a 230 year old body buried without a coffin in clay soil. Add to that the information that many drummers and fifers were very young teens, in some cases children, and so the bodies would be smaller to begin with, and they were buried in sacks, not in coffins.

We just need any type of record to prove that Dewees and Miller are there. The Planning commission has stated that the developer must not find any bodies in that strip of land, or it will have to all be considered cemetery – and then their parking lot plan is finished. We should have as many groups as possible involved in this to prevent paving over the graves of these young heroes……

Please note that the church is not falling down or in disrepair. The John Neumann fellowship is currently renting it and wants to stay. The church has a ballroom and offices that could be rented out so to generate income to continue to maintain the cemetery, and there is also the possibility of another church group or community group buying the church, and allowing it to continue on as it was intended.

Thanks so very much.

Dr. Christine McGuire



To see more photos of graves of Odd Fellows and Gladwyne United Methodist Church please see this photo set HERE.