Last evening, I attended a virtual zoom lecture via the Willows Park Preserve titled “Lost Mansions of the Main Line.” It was presented by Jeff Groff of Winterthur who is the Estate Historian there.
It was like opening the Pandora’s Box of history. It was fabulous. I wished the program had been longer. The program was primarily mansions and houses which no longer exist. Some that still exist in a mostly adaptive reuse capacity.
So I grabbed some screenshots:
I posted the screenshots to show people the coolness of the lecture and the response was amazing. So many people had memories of some of the properties, like my weird connection to the Cassatt Estate in Haverford which was discussed.
My great grandmother, Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen, who was in service back then, was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt Family. My grandfather and one of his brothers found pieces of old bicycles in old stables or perhaps a garage and built their own ramshackle bikes out of parts and learned to ride bikes on Grays Lane. When he was in his 80s and my parents had moved us to the north side of Haverford (late 1970s), I wonder what he thought about his daughter and her family living but a minute from where his mother had been in service during the summers?
And I have another weird Cassatt connection, or my husband does. His late mother was one of the many, many Tredyffrin residents years ago who tried for years in vain to stop the development known as Chesterbrook that completely changed the face of not only the Main Line, but part of Chester County. (see this history as compiled by TEHistory.) The Cassatts’ Chesterbrook Farm
So anyway, sharing about this lecture and the response led to other things. People interested in Bloomfield (the Radnor Township estate on S. Ithan Ave that burned in the spring of 2012) and as always, La Ronda which was demolished October, 2009 in Lower Merion Township.)
I have photos of both Bloomfield and La Ronda. I chose to document both with a camera back then. La Ronda over the last few months she stood, and Bloomfield after the fire.
What I also found startling are all of the people who vaguely recall the names of some of these places, but have no idea of the history. Or locations. Or the families that lived there.
We live in such a transient world that the very context of history of an area, and the history itself is getting lost. It goes hand in hand with people don’t know what the “Main Line” is, where the name came from and where it ends ( Name came from the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad for the “Main Line of Philadelphia” or “Pennsylvania Main Line”, ends as Paoli, not Malvern or points west.) It also goes hand in hand for realtors and developers who want to call Malvern and points west “Main Line” or things properly in Downingtown “Chester Springs” or something sitting on Route 3 “Radnor Hunt.”
The history matters. The facts and people and places give said history context. Maybe it’s me, but how can you want to put down roots in a community and not have a clue as to how that community came to exist? Or what are area traditions and beloved celebrations and why? Why certain non-profits have specific fundraisers?
Now more than ever, our history is important, along with the context that goes with it. COVID19 has seriously stressed out especially the smaller non-profits. Big non-profit machines will survive the economic fall-out of COVID19, but our small non-profits need our support. Here’s my list of some I think we all should show the love to and whom I am supportive of:
I will note that the Jeff Groff Lost Mansions of the Main Line lecture will be given via zoom and the Chester County Historical Society on May 12th. It’s free, but if you are not a member a small donation would be nice.
Also, there is a Lost Gardens of the Main Line lecture which will be given via zoom and Jenkins Arboretum on March 18th. It is also a Jeff Groff lecture (and I can’t wait!) Also a free event, but if you don’t already support Jenkins, consider a small donation.
All of the institutions I named are wonderful, and offer very reasonable memberships. There are many more I didn’t name, these are just some of my favorites.
This photo and all of the photos in this post was such a happy day (October 27, 2015) – it was the day that the historical marker was put up commemorating Devon Horse Show (across Lancaster Avenue from the horse show.) That was how I came to know J. Michael Morrison.
I just learned about an hour ago that Michael has died.
Michael was an amazing human being and a passionate historian. He was President of the King of Prussia Historical Society and the Tredyffrin-Easttown Historical Society.
Michael told me in September he was dying.
“Sadly I have pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal illness. Probably won’t last another year. I need someone to pick up where I left off. ” was what he said to me.
Michael was always working towards better historic preservation. He was an endless font of knowledge. He had been a go to person for me since moving to Chester County.
“You are a dear friend. Thank you. I will stay in touch.”
Michael was a spring lecturer for 3 years for the Trust — we have one lecturer at Jenkins each year and we would have Michael speak — he spoke on the history of Devon Inn, on the history of Devon and another one was the King of Prussia Inn, history and its relocation….Michael commanded large audiences, which is why we held his lectures at Jenkins. One of the true gentlemen, he and I first met 35 years ago… we would often meet for coffee and discuss the Trust, the Jones Log Barn, the relationship between the Trust and the Historical Society. I will miss him always.
Michael Morrison, we are all better for having known you. Fly with the angels.
A little closer to home for us in Chester County, in addition to whatever happened or hasn’t happened or will happen in West Whiteland, Tredyffrin is now tag you are in in the municipal game of billboards.
…..With the annual historic house tour in the rear view window, I turned on the township’s Board of Supervisors meeting last night to watch a presentation by Catalyst Outdoor Advertising. Catalyst is proposing the installation of a monument billboard in Paoli to ‘welcome’ people to the township. This proposed large electronic sign (similar to the digital billboard on Rt. 202 in East Goshen) is planned for the corner of the busy intersection at Lancaster Avenue and Rt. 252…..one resident brought up exactly what I was thinking as I watched the presentation – safety concernswith the proposed digital sign at one of the busiest intersections in the township!
Although safety concerns were quickly dismissed by the Catalyst representative as not a problem, there are many available accident studies about driver distraction as a result of digital billboards that would counter his position. These digital billboards are extremely bright and are designed to be visible in bright sunlight. With images rotating every few seconds, this type of signage is designed to be eye-catching (read distracting), and they are….
Aside from my strong aversion to these large computer generated billboards, I have saved the best for last. To accommodate the installation of this large 20 ft. high billboard, Catalyst will need to demolish the historic Clockworks building that is located on the proposed site.
The Clockworks building was chosen as worthy of protection and was included in Tredyffrin Township’s 2003 Historic Resource Survey. The building dates to 1900 and is built in the Colonial Revival architectural style. Although it is not an 18th century toll house, it was built to replicate a toll house which was originally located on the site. The best part of the story is that the building’s design was by none other than famous American architect R. Brognard Okie. The Clockworks building is a complete Okie house (versus an Okie restoration or addition) and is a prized building by many and meaningful in the architectural development of the township
So this is the little Clockworks Building:
I love this place! It and this place not too far away (next photo below) have always captured my imagination:
These little bits of our history are little architectural gems that dot our landscape. And Clockworks is an Okie! (Iknow nothing about the other little building and how it came to be.)
Ok so this isn’t my circus in Tredyffrin, I don’t live in Tredyffrin, but I don’t care if the billboards are digital or SMD (surface mount diodes) or platinum encased Lincoln Logs, at what point are there enough? This is at a crazy intersection of a densely populated area. WHY?????
If you listen to the Tredyffrin township meeting recording (and who knows how long this stays on line) it sounds like this presentation occured as part of some litigation settlement agreement? Something like Tredyffrin was threatened with litigation over the way they treat billboards by the billboard company?
So yo Tredyffrin, even Phoenixville fought the billboards. And they WON:
WEST CHESTER – A Chester County Court judge dismissed a Philadelphia-area billboard baron’s challenge to the Phoenixville zoning ordinance that he claimed improperly excluded such signs from the borough.
In a May 20 ruling, Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Tunnell upheld the ruling by the borough’s zoning hearing board, finding that the zoning ordinance did allow for billboards and other large outdoor signs to be erected, just not in the location that Thaddeus Bartkowski III and his company, Chester County Outdoor, wanted to erect them.
Bartkowski had filed a substantive validity challenge to the ordinance in 2011, claiming that it unconstitutionally prohibited a type of business from the borough. In 2012, the zoning board ruled against Bartkowski, finding that the types of signs he wanted to erect were a permitted use, even if they were not specifically identified.
It makes you wonder sometimes in these situations whose rights are valued more, doesn’t it? But if Phoenixville could prevail, I am thinking so could Tredyffrin’s solicitor if challenged?
Below is a screen capture from the televised presentation and is this what you want people of Tredyffrin? I will leave you with that image. I put an arrow as to where Clockworks would be removed from. I vote for Clockworks but I don’t live in Tredyffrin, so that is just my opinion.
Enjoy these photos of what we today know as a Goddard School at 95 Crestline Road in Wayne (Strafford). This was Cramond. My friend Michael Morrison at The Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society gave me special permission to share. I had asked if they had any photos of when this was an active estate.
Cramond is a historic home located in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County. It was a project of the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White in the “Classical Revival” style.
It was built in 1886, and is a 2 1⁄2-story, six-bay half-timbered dwelling sided in clapboard. It has a hipped roof with a pair of hipped dormers and two large brick chimneys. It has been used as a daycare/educational facility for years at this point.
In 1916, 33-year-old widow Marian Newhall Horwitz made the difficult decision to leave her affluent Philadelphia life behind and move to frontier Florida. Her husband had planned an agricultural venture there and although he had died suddenly, she intended to continue in his place.
She soon found herself and her young son on a 2000-acre farm in the northern Everglades, near Lake Okeechobee, far from Florida’s burgeoning coastal cities with fashionable tourist hotels and six-story “skyscrapers.” She grew corn, beans, cabbages and especially potatoes, which particularly thrived in the muck there. Only recently had farming started in the region, for this was primarily the land of cattle ranches and Florida cowboys. Barbed wire fences stretched for miles along unpaved, dusty roads, and cattle drives ran right through Okeechobee, the largest city.
In 1952 a summer resident of Seal Harbor, ME named John Joseph O’Brien (1882-1971) mounted a bronze plaque on a granite cliff in his “Sea Bench” estate garden and invited garden tours to visit and enjoy it. The memorial commemorated the first settlement of Europeans on Mount Desert Island, ME and the introduction of Christianity to the island in 1613….O’Brien, a Philadelphian and a University of Pennsylvania Law School graduate (1908), was a journalist, industrialist, entrepreneur and politician from Grosse Pointe Farms, MI. Upon graduation he entered newspaper work, but he resigned as city editor of the Philadelphia Ledger in 1914 to go to Florida and develop agricultural land. In 1917 in Hillsborough County (Tampa), FL he married Philadelphian Marian Newhall Horwitz (1882-1932), the widow of Philadelphia attorney George Horwitz, and daughter of Daniel Newhall, vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He and Marian lived in Moore Haven on the southwest side of Lake Okeechobee. There they formed the Southern Sugar Corp., later reorganized as the U.S. Sugar Corp., the country’s largest producer of cane sugar, and established the town of Clewiston, “America’s Sweetest Town.”
Marian was elected mayor of Moore Haven, a.k.a. “Little Chicago” from its location on Lake Okeechobee, and became the first woman mayor in the South. She also was president of the Moore Haven bank. By 1924 he and Marian had sold their land holdings and left the area. In 1925, while a Palm Beach resident, O’Brien purchased “Guy’s Cliff,” a 6-acre waterfront estate in Bar Harbor that today is the site of the College of the Atlantic’s Kaelber Hall. Marian died in their Grosse Pointe Farms home and is buried with her son and sister in St. David’s Episcopal Church cemetery, Wayne, PA…..
This is the house where John grew up. It’s located about 2 miles from Brick House 319. It was designed by the prominent architect Charles Follen McKim of the influential architectural firm McKim, Mead & White in NYC.
The three architects defined the look of the gilded age in the late 19th century and at the turn of the 20th century; they designed some of the country’s greatest buildings, most were concentrated in New York and New England. They were the most famous and successful American architectural firm of its time. Until 1887, the firm excelled in designing large homes built of shingles in Newport, Rhode Island, Long Island and the Jersey Shore….John’s father who was an attorney, bought the house in 1954 and sold it in 1983. John grew up in the house until the age of 23; he had fun living in such a great, big house.
Howellville, one of Tredyffrin’s earliest villages, grew in an area convenient to the farms of the Great Valley. A tavern was often the start of a town, and the first one here was built about 1712. By the early 1700s, sawmills and gristmills had appeared. Nearest to the center of town was the sawmill on Crabby Creek. Several of the early farms had their own limestone kilns. The first school opened about 1720. A factory of some kind belonging to the Workizer family is listed on the 1798 Direct Tax. [Note 1] By the late 18th century, a shoemaker and a wheelwright had set up shop.
More industry developed in the 19th century, including a woolen mill owned by Samuel Wood. There was at least one blacksmith. By the middle of the century there was a store and the Chester Valley Railroad, and by the late 1800s Howellville was a thriving industrial town. The limestone quarries became big business and Italian immigrants arrived to work at them. Other nationalities followed, but were never as numerous or as prosperous as the Italians.
By the early part of the 20th century, Howellville had become a close-knit community-a bit naughty, with lots of drinking and gambling. Then came the Depression which dealt rather harshly with the village. Having lost their jobs, and with no place to go, the quarry workers lived hand-to-mouth. In 1934 Frances Ligget, later a member of the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club, marshalled the help of the Valley Forge Farm and Garden Club to clean up the town and help the unemployed workers and their families. Free seeds were given for gardens. The state provided medical assistance as well as sewing, knitting, and cooking classes, and a nursery school. Weaving was taught by Lettie Esherick, wife of the artist Wharton Esherick.
In 1681 land in the center of Tredyffrin Township that would eventually become most of Howellville belonged to William Mordaunt and John Hort Each owned 500 acres. They were Welsh Tract brokers-they bought the land from William Penn but never lived on it. In 1711 Mordaunt’s sons sold their 500 acres to John Evans, who had previously been Governor of Pennsylvania. Just to the east lay 1340 acres that David Meredith sold to William Powell in 1706. They were also Welsh Tract brokers.
Llewellyn David, a Welshman and one of the early settlers, bought 300 acres in 1708. The name David (later changed to Davis) was the biggest name in Howellville for the next two centuries.
The area sat at the bottom of a natural bowl where three hilly roads met to form a triangle. Swedesford Road, forming the north side of the triangle, came into existence about 1720, very early in the settlement of the Great Chester Valley. It led from the vicinity of Randall Malin’s house in East Whiteland to the Swede’s Ford at the Schuylkill River, near present day Norristown, and gave settlers in the interior access to Philadelphia.
Bear Hill Road, which formed the southeast side of the triangle, connected the Valley with the Black Bear Tavern at the top of the South Valley Hill near the Lancaster Road and today’s village of Paoli.
The southwest side of the triangle was Howellville Road, until a traffic light was installed at the corner about 1960. Then it became part of Swedesford Road and the north side of the triangle was made one-way. It was this way until most of Howellville’s buildings were torn down and Route 202 was completed and dedicated in 1971.
The triangle at the bottom of these roads was a convenient place for horses and wagons to stop and rest, and in 1745 a license was granted to establish the first tavern. When David Howell settled in the area and became the second innkeeper of the tavern, about 1765, it was called Howell’s Tavern. The village that grew up around it became Howellville. When the old inn was razed in 1921, the only house in the triangle was the little house described by Henry Darling later in this article.
The triangle disappeared in 1967 when Route 252 was widened and Route 202 was built.
The history of Howellville is fascinating and rich. Most people just think of Howellville Road today…not that it was a historically important crossroads village. It is an integral part of the history of Tredyffrin and was discussed in Tredyffrin’s 2009 Historic Preservation Plan.
Last time I was on Howellville Road was in the fall when I was noodling around and found myself on that road. It has long fascinated me and I lament the loss of one crossroads village after the other as time progresses.
You may recall the abandoned Jimmy Duffy property on Lancaster Avenue in Berwyn and the subsequent construction of Daylesford Crossing, an assisted living facility on the site. The approval for Daylesford Crossing was a long, drawn out redevelopment process in 2012 that required a text amendment to permit senior living facilities as a by-right use in C-1 (commercial) zoning.
Some argued at the time that the zoning change to permit senior living in C-1 was ‘spot-zoning’ to accommodate this specific project and others questioned what this would mean for future C-1 development in Tredyffrin Township. In 2015, the township expanded the C-1 District zoning to also include townhouses as a by-right use.
During the last few years, developers have flocked to the township with their assisted living and townhouse, apartment and condominium plans. Assisted living projects currently under construction or in the review process include Erickson Living at Atwater Crossing in Malvern (250 beds) and Brightview Senior Living on E. Conestoga in Devon (196 beds).
On the townhouse-apartment side in the township, there are many projects in the planning stages or under construction….Areas that were once farmland continue to be developed. Top ranking school district, T/E brings an influx of people to the area which means an influx of students, and the growing problem of finding a place to put them….. a new proposed land development plan in the works that is extremely troubling – townhouses on Howellville Road. The proposal is to wedge a cluster of 20 townhouses, in four buildings, between the village of Howellville and the shadow of the Refuge Pentecostal Church.
….The proposed land development plan on Howellville Road is not compatible with the character and appearance of the area. Beyond the impact of traffic on Howellville Road, the proposed development plan creates serious safety concerns. The steep narrow winding nature of Howellville Road makes entry and exit from the proposed dense townhouse project a dangerous situation.
Benson Company’s proposed townhouse project on Howellville Road will change the look and character of this community as well as place a greater burden on the narrow, winding road – and again more students for the school district!
John Benson of Benson Company has enthusiastically offered that his proposed Howellville Road townhouses will look like his Grey’s Lane townhouses on Lancaster Ave. A couple of things – (1) Grey’s Lane is on Rt. 30, a commercial 4-lane road vs. Howellville Road, a rural country road and (2) he squeezed 12 townhouses in at Grey’s Lane in 3 buildings where as this proposal is for 4 buildings with 20 townhouses….Areas that were once farmland continue to be developed. Between the assisted living communities and the townhouses and apartments, should the objective in Tredyffrin Township be to approve any and all land development projects regardless of the impact?
And from an aesthetic point of view, every time I see a staged interior of a “fabulous” Benson new construction piece of new construction dreck I am struck with the fact that every interior looks the same. If you want Barbie’s dream house, you are pretty much there. No character, predictable, mass produced, plastic.
Residents of Tredyffrin are soooo right!! How much of this does any one township want or need? And much like neighboring East Whiteland it seems like people are hell bent on developing every square inch of the township! Who needs King of Prussia? Soon Tredyffrin and East Whiteland will definitely resemble King of Prussia meets Bensalem.
Oh yes, one more thing? Tredyffrin residents need to get to the Planning Commission TOMORROW February 16th when this next great godforsaken plan makes it’s debut along with “Westlakes Hotel” and “Chestnut Road Apartments”.
Again I ask where the hell the Chester County Planning Commission and Brian O’Leary are? Lord above, Chester County is drowning, yes drowning in development plans.
Michael Morrison was supposed to give a talk at the Easttown Library April 29 on the history of the horse show, right? (It was scheduled everywhere and even had a nice sized blurb in the Daily Local.)
If you follow the Easttown Library, a note went up on their Facebook page was that the event was suddenly cancelled.
Why was a program about a huge part of local history cancelled?
Is it true he had to cancel because someone told them the historical society cannot speak for the horse show and isn’t that kooky? Seriously???? Why are people saying this??? It’s viable local history isn’t it?
Correct me if I am wrong but didn’t the horse show and TEHS establish a partnership to write a BOOK not so long ago??? To chronicle a fascinating history and tradition and preserve documents and artifacts that had been moldering in a musty barn or attic somewhere? As in they wrote a book with a tag line on the cover that says “Working Together to Preserve History” with both the logo of the horse show AND the historical society on it? As in this book can be purchased off the Devon website ?
So is the pretzel logic here that they wrote the book, but aren’t qualified to give a talk on the history? They did all this research and got all this stuff together to preserve and they can’t talk about it? Are we all Illuminati on this horse or what LOL?
What’s next? We out here in Everyday People Land are not allowed to mention the Devon Horse Show without express written permission of the board? Will they be coming after elderly ladies who try to replicate the recipe for Devon Fudge next? Or little kids who try to make their own lemon sticks (you know the lemon with the candy straw in it) will be spoken to?
Is this new Devon Horse Show like those Las Vegas ads? Everything that happens at Devon Stays at Devon? Wonder if they will do a glossy series of ads featuring people in Low Brow Lily for Target LOL? (Sorry just had this whole visual and it made me giggle)
It’s so odd that an organization which formerly used to herald and celebrate its history now doesn’t want to isn’t it? It is like they seem to want over a century of history and tradition to disappear, isn’t it?
They seem afraid of a historical marker and talks on the history? Are the trying to re-write history? Create a new history? Or maybe they really don’t want the horse show to survive do they?
It poses an interesting local conundrum doesn’t it? Who does our collective local history belong to?
The thing is this ladies and gentlemen, the Devon Horse Show has been part of our lives collectively for over a century. Generations of families have competed and contributed and supported this show. This show is part of Chester County and Main Line and Philadelphia history.
If you live around here what is it you grew up doing around Memorial Day ? Even if you went to the beach you always made time for Devon didn’t you? So if we have these memories that are part of our personal history as well as our local history of going to the horse show are we now no longer allowed to talk about those things?
So seriously, who owns our history? And if experts from a historical society become so hogtied that they can’t speak about local history, how do we preserve our local history going forward?
I realize full well the new board of the Devon Horse Show doesn’t like my opinions or questions but are we not allowed both in this great country? Don’t they get that they are but temporary stewards of a piece of local and regional history and tradition? Are they trying to obliterate the history and tradition?
Devon Horse Show in the end can’t exist without all of us so how do we ensure it survives so our children can some day take their children?