By Phyllis C. Maier
Montgomery County: The Second Hundred Years, Chapter 25
Edited by Jean B. Toll and Michael J. Schwager
Published by The Montgomery County Federation of Historical Societies (Norristown, 1983)
1980 Area: 23.34 Square Miles
The township of Lower Merion is bounded by the Schuylkill River, the borough of West Conshohocken, Upper Merion Township, Delaware County, and the city of Philadelphia. The original size was reduced to the present 23.34 square miles when West Conshohocken became a borough in 1874 and Narberth in 1895.
First settlers of what was known as the Welsh Tract arrived in August 1682 aboard the ship Lyon, two months before William Penn. While still in England Penn had sold forty thousand acres to the Welsh Quakers for about ten cents an acre. They named their first settlement Merion, as many had come from Merionethshire. The Merion Friends Meetinghouse they constructed in 1695 is the oldest place of worship in continuous use in Pennsylvania. The meetinghouse and other early buildings, the Owen Roberts house in Wynnewood built in 1695 and the “1690 House” on Mill Creek Road, still stand, as do the house later named Harriton and the General Wayne Inn, both built in 1704.
Following the Welsh settlers came others of English, German, Irish, and Italian origin. The first German-Lutheran church school, erected in 1787, still stands. The site of the Lower Merion Baptist Church was donated to the congregation by Charles Thomson, secretary to the Continental Congress, in 1808. Lower Merion now has forty-seven religious institutions of various faiths actively serving the community.
Soil in most of the township consists of a dark surface layer about eight inches deep with a yellowish brown subsoil ranging from two to eight feet in depth above bedrock. Soils are mainly acid with variable permeability. Most early farms contained one or more springs, many of which are now piped underground. Mill Creek is the largest stream and lies wholly within the township. In its six miles from the source in Villanova to its mouth at the Schuylkill it drops 250 feet and once powered sixteen mills and factories.
A county inventory lists seventy-eight historic and cultural sites in the township. Many others are unlisted. Interest is maintained by the active historical society, founded in 1949.
Lancaster Pike, completed in 1796 from Philadelphia to Lancaster and the first road to be macadamized, passed through Lower Merion for 4½ miles. In 1917 the township had fourteen miles of roadway to be maintained. In 1980 it maintained 212.4 miles of highways.
Although Lower Merion was an independent township in 1713, it did not become a separate voting district until March 31, 1806.
In the early 1880s the township had 1,508 taxpayers, 863 horses, 1,536 cattle; real estate was valued at $4,566,499. There were several businesses, fourteen schools, and ten churches. Soon after came new hotels, boarding houses, railroad stations, industries, and the construction of magnificent estates.
|Density (persons/sq. mile)||2,556.0||23|
|Median Family Income||$38,129||1|
|Persons per Household||2.7||–|
In 1880 Ardmore had only mud roads with an occasional oil lamp lighting wooden sidewalks. The telegraph office had opened in 1850, and by 1885 the first telephone switchboard was installed at Stadelman's Pharmacy, Ardmore. Two hundred customers had telephones in 1904. The Lower Merion Gas Company was organized by Martin Maloney in Ardmore in February, 1886. By 1898 gas lines extended to Bryn Mawr, Narberth, and Bala-Cynwyd. Of the first street lights installed, some were gas, but others were electric, provided by the new Philadelphia Electric Company in 1901.
In 1890 the first firehouse was begun in Ardmore; in 1980 six companies in the township depended on 265 volunteers. The Bryn Mawr Home News was founded in 1877, and today the township has two weekly newspapers: the Main Line Chronicle, established in 1889, and the Main Line Daily Times (1930), which became the Main Line Times, a weekly, in 1939.
When Lower Merion became a first class township officially in 1900, the first so named in the state, its jurisdiction included 23.34 square miles, with a population of 13,271. The commissioners immediately formed a police department, paying the chief fifty dollars a month, and each of six patrolmen forty dollars. They were mounted on bicycles and horses; the last horse was sold in 1911.
In 1904 there were thirty-six miles of sanitary sewers; in 1978 over two hundred miles. In 1913 the township started free garbage collection; in 1981 it was still free, though only once a week.
Several colleges, seminaries, and convents exist within the township. Bryn Mawr College, opened in 1885, was the first college for women that offered B.A. degrees and also gave instruction for graduate degrees in all departments.
The Board of Health was established in 1908, and polio was perhaps its worst problem. After a typhoid outbreak in 1921 milk control was organized, then relaxed in 1972.
Encouraged by a ten-thousand-dollar bequest from Algernon Roberts in 1909, the township began building playgrounds in 1911, accelerating from 1937 to 1940.
World War I saw the establishment of the first Main Line Red Cross in 1917, and Lower Merion became the Number One Draft District of the county, with draftees proceeding to Camp Meade.
The township in 1923 undertook a program of highway construction and broke ground for the township building, which was occupied in 1926. The original Lower Merion Zoning Ordinance was adopted in 1927 and a Shade Tree Commission was appointed in 1931 to regulate trees along public highways. The police department was reorganized in 1938 with a rigid code of discipline modeled closely on that of Scotland Yard. In 1942 the Township Manager plan was adopted by ordinance and a township secretary was appointed. Of prime interest to the township commissioners was encouraging industry to locate in the township. The largest industry was still the Autocar Company, begun in 1900.
After World War I more estates were subdivided; people had more money, more time for leisure. The Ardmore Woman's Club, founded in 1890, built its clubhouse in 1917 but was only the vanguard of the many organizations to come: for example, Main LineChamber of Commerce, 1921; Rotary Club of Ardmore, 1925; Main Line Lions Club, 1934. Now twenty-four institutional facilities and twenty-one quasi-public facilities offer services.
Bryn Mawr Hospital has been in the township since 1893; Lankenau Hospital since 1953.
Adult school night, started by volunteers in 1937, now offers night courses in 120 different subjects at the two high schools. Community Watch, which began in 1978, had 645 volunteers who tallied almost 100,000 patrol miles in 1981.
Suburban Square in Ardmore opened just before the stock market crash, and many businesses started before 1929 are still operating. Many more apartment houses appeared as the population increased.
World War II brought an increase in employment at the Autocar Company, to 2,300 employees. They constructed half-tracks and military trucks for the army. Civil defense and air raid wardens were organized and Lancaster Pike was used by military convoys. Citizens became accustomed to giving blood, food rationing, and drawing blackout curtains.
The years following World War II marked a boom in real estate and housing construction. The Schuylkill Expressway, a high-speed, limited-access highway following the Schuylkill from the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Valley Forge exit to the center of Philadelphia, was under construction, its location in continuous controversy from 1951 to 1968. Mini-malls, shopping centers, boutiques, offices, food specialists, and restaurants have sprung up everywhere. The “Golden Mile,” office and retail buildings along City Line Avenue, comprises what may be the most valuable real estate in the county. After 1945 homes were being built wherever developers could find space. The Belmont racetrack (built for the 1876 Centennial) became Merion Park, containing hundreds of single homes. By 1950 building activity measured in dollar volume passed an all-time record. Permits were issued for $13,831,551 worth of construction. In 1967 aNeighborhood Improvement Program began, and twelve years later 513.76 acres were set aside for parks, playgrounds, and other purposes, as well as 184 acres of school land. By 1980 the market value of all assessed taxable real property was $1,558,823,500, third in the state after Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The median value of a single-family house constructed since 1972 averaged $95,000. The recession of 1980, high taxes, and high interest rates slowed the building boom, but the “solar” house of the future was underway.
In the 1980s the township, adding condominiums and cable TV, was still beautifully residential and well managed.
Land Development and Population
In 1880, 6,287 people lived in the township; in 1980 about nine times that number. The population density in 1884 was 266 persons per square mile; in 1980, it was 2,556. By the 1970s, the population had begun to decline.
The township had been a choice location for estates since colonial times, and the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Main Line encouraged many wealthy city residents, some of them railroad officials, to build estates in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Alexander J. Cassatt, a PRR president, built Cheswold in Haverford in the late nineties; Joseph Sinnott, of Moore and Sinnott, distillers, built Rathalla in 1891; Percival Roberts, president of the Pencoyd Iron Works, built Penshurst in Penn Valley in 1903 and razed it when the township made plans to build a trash disposal plant in Belmont Hills in the forties. As local train and trolley systems increased their service and roads improved, the middle-class exodus from the city began, creating a demand for appropriate housing.
The variety of choices available to prospective home-buyers in 1911 is seen in the Main Line Residential and Business Directory 1911-1912. Cynwyd is described as 6.2 miles from the city with “houses of the most modern type,” with a public garage but no hotels. A real estate development near the station had thirty houses ranging in price from $10,000 to $80,000. Wynnewood, 7.6 miles from the city, was an “essentially suburban station of large places and magnificent estates.” Wynnewood Manor, developed by Walter Basset Smith, had many architectural styles with prices around $10,000.
The progression of change can be seen in the history of Pencoyd, an estate of 150 acres settled by John Roberts in 1683, located in what is now Bala near the present-day Marriott Hotel and WCAU studios. In 1892, George B. Roberts, the sixth proprietor, dug a 150-foot well and installed a deep well pump to supply water through pipes to the house and outbuildings. At about the same time, the house was wired for electricity, and incandescent bulbs supplanted the gaslights with Welsbach mantles. Pencoyd remained a working farm until 1929 and retained its rural setting through World War II. By the close of the 1950s the land had descended to heirs or been sold, leaving about twenty acres actually belonging to Pencoyd House.
The earliest residential development in the township was along or near Lancaster, Montgomery, and City avenues, locations of high-density population today. Most suitable large landholdings have been developed, with Gladwyne's Foerderer estate one of the last to go. In 1980 the township approved plans to build 107 luxury townhouses, each to cost about $270,000-$285,000, on this ninety-acre tract. A century ago 195 farms were in Lower Merion; today only 2 percent of the land is used for farming. More than half of the land is used for residential purposes: 53 percent for single homes, 2 percent for apartments, 1 percent for two-family homes. Individuals and families occupy 7,000 apartments and 15,400 houses. A trend toward conversion of rental apartments to condominiums is controlled by a township ordinance; 326 units were converted by 1980. The housing vacancy rate is 2.3 percent as compared with the national average of 4 percent.
Statistics from the Lower Merion Township Comprehensive Plan, 1979, indicated that Lower Merion families were growing smaller: in 1960 there were 3.2 persons per family; in 1970, 2.9. Close to 40 percent of residents were over forty-five years old, and the median age was 37.6. More than half the population has had college training, and one-third has had four years or more.
Of the 25,107 employed residents in the township in 1970, 900 were in construction; 4,268 in manufacturing and other industries; 456 in transportation; 547 in communications; 1,542 in wholesale trade; 3,907 in retail trade; 2,432 in finance and real estate; 1,007 in business and repair services; 1,502 in personal service; 2,315 in health services; 3,294 in educational services; 2,318 in other professional services; and 619 in public administration. Almost half of the workers are in professional-technical or managerial positions; another quarter is in sales or clerical jobs. Lower Merion's proximity to Philadelphia permits considerable interchange between the two areas. In 1970, 39 percent of employed Lower Merion residents worked in Philadelphia.
In 1970, 6.7 percent of the population was foreign born, listing places of birth in Europe, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and South America. In 1980 about 94 percent of the population of 59,651 was white; about 4.5 percent was black; 1 percent of Asian origin and l percent of Spanish descent. Many black families are longtime residents whose forebears, after being freed from slavery, settled where they could find work in the large and wealthy homes in the area. In 1930 they composed 4.4 percent of the population; in 1960, 4.9 percent. For the most part the black families live in South Ardmore and sections of Bryn Mawr. Irish immigrants arriving in the late nineteenth century settled where they could find jobs as railroad workers, coachmen, cooks, gardeners, and housemaids. Italian families gravitated toward Ardmore, Ashland, and Bryn Mawr in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of the men were stonemasons who found work with the builders constructing middle-class homes, churches, and schools. In the forties and fifties many Jewish families moved from the city, seeking not jobs but the more attractive features of suburban life: more space, more natural beauty, and better schools. In the 1960s and 1970s Asian refugees, mostly Koreans and Vietnamese, made their way to the area.
Although boundaries in the suburbs of the township may seem nebulous to many, the various communities have a strong sense of identity. Civic associations are well supported and active.
Lower Merion towns developed mainly along the transportation corridor of the Pennsylvania Railroad and Lancaster Turnpike. Farmland has become almost entirely residential in the last hundred years. Its hills and valleys dictate the interestingly irregular roads and the unique locations of many of its homes.
In accordance with the township's long-term planning, current industry and commerce exist only in a very few original locations: close to Lancaster Avenue, near the individual towns, or in the section of Bala-Cynwyd along City Line Avenue where huge apartment, office, and retail buildings are concentrated, surprisingly near to the little changed residential area of Bala-Cynwyd.
Houses still remain large and costly in the outlying section of Lower Merion West, though estates are constantly being subdivided. Many median-income families live closer to transportation in the sub-divisions that emerged in the twentieth century in Penn Wynne, Merion, Bala-Cynwyd, and Wynnewood. Apartments are largely confined to Montgomery and Lancaster avenues and near stations.
Sketches of the towns follow, while more detailed information on such topics as their schools and churches are discussed under the specific sections.
Ardmore is both a residential and a commercial center located about three miles west of Philadelphia's city line. In 1870 it was known as Athensville, having been named about 1811 by Dr. James Anderson, a classicist and early physician. In 1873 the Pennsylvania Railroad gave notice that it was going to change the name, and Joseph Lesley, the secretary of the railroad, selected “Ardmore,” the suggestion of the Reverend George Anderson, pastor of the Lower Merion Baptist Church.
The Red Lion Inn, built 1796, located at Lancaster and Greenfield avenues, was a hotel, general store, and center of activity. Closed in 1919, a victim of Prohibition, it was razed in 1941.
Lancaster Avenue, formerly known as the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, was the most important highway of the village. During the 1870s the Lancaster Avenue Improvement Company acquired control of the highway as far as Paoli and thoroughly rebuilt and improved it. Tolls were collected along Lancaster Pike until 1917, when the state took over the roadway.
The Merion Title and Trust Company opened for business in 1889 on the corner of Lancaster and Cricket avenues, in a room formerly occupied by Hartley's Shoe Store. The first fire company in the township, Merion Fire Company No. 1 of Ardmore, began in 1889, occupying a lot on the north side of Lancaster Pike, west of Ardmore Avenue. The firehouse also served as the first township police station. The police department consisted of a chief and deputies mounted on horseback or bicycles.
When Lower Merion was named a first class township in 1900, Ardmore became the center of government. The first Board of Commissioners met and began construction of sanitary and drainage sewers.
Opening in 1900, the Autocar Works was the first large manufacturing industry in Ardmore. The Autocar developed the shaft-driven principle in an American car, and the circulating oil system. The company was the first to build wheels with wooden instead of wire spokes.
Workers from Philadelphia reached Ardmore by the Pennsylvania Railroad or by the Philadelphia and Western Railway, which served Ardmore from the 69th Street Terminal from 1907 to 1966. The handsome P&W station in Ardmore, barely a block from the railroad station on the south side of Lancaster Avenue, has been razed for a parking lot.
In 1901 building continued at a high rate and many businesses began; several operated by succeeding generations were still running in 1981.
Among the well-known landowners in Ardmore were Louis S. Clark, founder of the Autocar Company, who had a home on Old Gulph Road, as did Joseph N. Pew, Jr., an officer of the Sun Oil Company. His brother, J. Howard Pew, at thirty years of age, took over the presidency of the company in 1912 after his father's death. J. Howard Pew, whose home on a high slope overlooked Mill Creek, had already played a major part in the development of petroleum asphalt. Under his leadership during World War I, when the United States was concerned over its loss of tankers, the Sun Shipbuilding Company was organized in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Ardmore opened its first movie theater in 1921 to show Rudolph Valentino, Richard Barthelmess, and Lillian Gish.
Sun Oil Company built its first gasoline station in Ardmore also in 1921 at Lancaster Avenue and Woodside Road.
In 1927 a new idea was put into effect: the development of a variety of shops clustered around a large department store, movie theater, supermarket, and business offices. This was Suburban Square.
The stock market crash of 1929 brought great loss to Ardmore residents. At the time Ardmore had three banks—the Merion Title and Trust Company, the Ardmore National Bank, and the Counties Trust Company—all of which closed. The Autocar Company laid off many workers, and unemployment was widespread. Soup kitchens were set up by church groups, and residents who could provide employment for the needy were urged to do so.
Eugene Jules Houdry (1892-1962) of Ardmore introduced to Sun Oil the first large-scale commercial catalytic cracking plant. “Blue Sunoco” was the first unleaded high-octane gasoline. During World War II 41 million barrels of 100 octane aviation gasoline were delivered for Allied planes.
The Autocar Co. plant closed down and moved to Exton, Pennsylvania, in 1954. A wrecking crew began to demolish the building but on July 31, 1956, a welder's torch touched off the worst conflagration ever seen in Ardmore. The fire threatened to destroy the north side of the Lancaster Avenue business district. All of the township's fire companies fought the fire, assisted by units from Philadelphia. More than a dozen firemen were injured, and it took six million gallons of water to end Ardmore's worst disaster.
On the site of the former Autocar Co. plant, construction commenced for a shopping center, Ardmore West. Completed in 1973, it contained a variety of shops, a bank, and a fast-food restaurant. Many of Ardmore's business establishments modernized their properties and increased their parking facilities. Ardmore celebrated its centennial that year with many special activities.
Suburban Square, fifty years old in 1979, received a face-lift. Introducing a European concept, it acquired an open mall surrounded by small shops. The movie theater was converted into market stalls, offering a variety of foods. The Square's record as the first shopping center in the world accorded by the Guinness Book of World Records proved erroneous after many years. In the 1979 and later issues Guinness has credited a shopping mall near Baltimore with predating it.
The largest black community in Lower Merion lives in South Ardmore (extending south into Delaware County). It is a stable community made up of families who found work on the Main Line several generations ago. Of the residents here 65 percent were born in Ardmore. The Ardmore Progressive Civic Association gives voice to their concerns.
The 1970 census revealed thirty-six houses below standard in South Ardmore, and a vigorous program has been instituted to help finance improvements and build new housing. In 1974 ground was broken for a condominium of sixteen houses on West Spring Avenue to assist individuals unable to pay the increasing costs of adequate homes.
Charitable agencies and government offices concentrate services conveniently in the area. Five organizations serve elderly citizens while the Soul Shack offers constructive activities for children and youth. Beginning with an actual “shack” in the tense times of the late sixties, the Soul Shack keeps its name in the Ardmore Avenue Community center, which was built in 1977 and provides programs for nearly two thousand people of all ages, races, and interests each month.
The Ardmore Free Library also adapted to the aspirations of the black community and opened the Gate Library as a book station in a storefront in 1967. It sponsored a tutorial program and maintained a special collection of black literature, history, and biography, which was filed with the regular collection in 1972 when the Gate Library closed.
Bala-Cynwyd was settled in 1682 by Edward Jones and seventeen families of Welsh Quakers. John Roberts, a maltster, took up his claim to 150 acres, paid the surveyor in barley, and named his tract “Pencoyd” for ancestral holdings in Caernarvonshire, Wales. His strip of land, which began at the Schuylkill and formed part of the eastern border of the present township, was adjacent to land of Gainor (nee) Roberts, the woman he married in 1684. The history of the area is threaded with the names of people who trace their ancestry to John and Gainor Roberts.
Bala-Cynwyd, once called Merionville and its post office Academyville, is bounded by City Line Avenue, Old Lancaster Road, Parsons Avenue, Levering Mill Road, Manayunk Road to Belmont Hills, and the Schuylkill. The 1980 census lists its population at 6,264. The names Bala and Cynwyd were selected by Mrs.George B. Roberts, the wife of a descendant of John Roberts. George Roberts was president of the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1880 to 1897, during which time the railroad built its Schuylkill Valley branch. Mrs. Roberts chose the names for the three stations: Bala, for the ancestral land in Wales, Cynwyd, and Barmouth because of their Welsh origins. Further Welsh influences can be found in the names of such roads as Llandrillo, Llanberris, and Clwyd.
Early industry was predominantly farming, milling, ice harvesting, quarrying, and iron manufacturing. Gulley Run supplied the power to operate numerous mills, and the hills on either side of it were quarried for several varieties of stone. Ice was cut from a pond behind a dam across Gulley Run. Two leading ice companies, Knickerbocker and John C. Hancock, harvested ice on the Schuylkill and stored it in huge stone buildings along the waterfront. In 1890 the water was found to be polluted and the companies moved to sites on the Perkiomen. The Glen Willow Ice Company had to be razed when the expressway was built.
The Pencoyd Iron Works, founded in 1852 by Percival and Algernon Roberts, descendants of John Roberts, and located along the Schuylkill, became famous for the manufacture of metal bridges. In 1900 it merged with the American Bridge Company, which became a major component in the formation of the United States Steel Corporation.
The growth of the City Line area, also known as the Golden Mile, began in the early 1930s. At that time three heirs still living on Pencoyd land—T. William Roberts, Mrs. Algernon Roberts, and G. Brinton Roberts—gave the township a strip of land fifteen wide along their respective properties on City venue to widen the roadway. The extension of the Schuylkill Expressway to City Line opened the area to a tremendous building and development boom. Some of the businesses that built there include WCAU Radio and Television Center (1952), Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center (1955-57), Gulf Oil Co. (1956), Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., Whitman's Chocolates (1957), Barclay Building, now the Germantown Savings Bank (GBS) building (1958), Luria Brothers & Company (1959) and the Marriott Motor Hotel (begun in 1960). Williamson's Restaurant on the twelfth floor of the GSB building affords diners spectacular views of Philadelphia and Lower Merion. Martin Decker's first building was the “191” apartment building, followed by Decker Squares I and II in 1966 and 1969. Although Decker was public spirited and well liked, financial difficulties led to his bankruptcy in 1974, at time his properties were appraised at $84 million. His complex has been renamed “Bala Cynwyd Plazas I and II.”
The Marriott Motor Hotel, the sole hotel in the township in 1980, opened in 1961. One of the largest hotels in the United States, the Marriott hosts conventions and meetings year round, bringing visitors from the world over to the Bala-Cynwyd area. In a 1979 prospectus for Lower Merion bond sales, the Marriot was listed as the principal employer in the area, with 1,140 employees. Other major employers were the Gulf Oil Co. with 350 employees; Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 400 employees; General Refractories Co. corporate headquarters, 650 employees; WCAU Radio and Television Studios, 380 employees; and Germantown Savings Bank, 230 employees. WCAU-TV moved from Philadelphia to City Line and Monument Avenues in May 1952. The studio, in its early days, had an entire frontier town built behind its building. Live TV dramas entitled “Action in the Afternoon” were filmed in the open air, with all the accompanying noises of City Line traffic and airplanes overhead. Later six additional radio stations were built in Bala-Cynwyd.
The shopping center on City Line Avenue between Belmont Avenue and Conshohocken State Road opened in 1955 and was completed in 1957. About thirty stores share its twenty-three acres. The first occupants were Lord & Taylor and the Penn Fruit Company. Other shopping areas in Bala-Cynwyd are on Bala Avenue, from Union to Montgomery Avenue, as well as several blocks on Montgomery Avenue in the vicinity of Levering Mill Road. A movie theater, the Egyptian, was built on Bala Avenue by Patrick Lawlor in 1926 and is now the Bala. The origin of its early name is evident from the Egyptian characters on the facade. At the start of the 1980s the area had more than twenty-five restaurants, ranging from coffee shops to the Tavern, which opened on Montgomery Avenue in the late 1920s.
Bala-Cynwyd has numerous single-family dwellings. Construction continues, with townhouses, high-rise apartments, condominiums, and office buildings as the primary types of new construction. The post office serves a total of 2,982 homes and 29,250 people. In 1979, the Bala-Cynwyd post office moved into a new building at One Union Avenue.
Two of the largest cemeteries of the Philadelphia suburbs are in Bala-Cynwyd: West Laurel Hill, originally 197 acres, established in 1869; and Westminster Cemetery, 92 acres, incorporated in 1893. The former is the resting place of Anna Jarvis, founder in 1908 of Mother's Day. A third cemetery, Merion Memorial Park, situated on Bryn Mawr Avenue at Rock Hill Road, was established in 1888 for Negroes and Chinese. James A. Bland, the composer of “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” “O, Dem Golden Slippers,” and hundreds more songs, is buried here. Harry Wright, the father of professional baseball, is represented by a life-size statue.
The Lower Merion Library, organized March 15, 1915, began in the old Lower Merion Academy building that had been built in 1812 at Bryn Mawr Avenue and Levering Mill Road. After some years in the Union Fire House it moved to a new building on Levering Mill Road, which was built under the auspices of, and next to, the Bala-Cynwyd Woman's Club. It was dedicated in 1927 as the “Bala-Cynwyd Memorial Library honoring the men who lost their lives in World War I.” In 1974 the library moved to a larger, new building, which also housed the Bala Elementary School. The school soon closed because of decreasing enrollment. Meanwhile, the Woman's Club of Bala-Cynwyd regained its building on Levering Mill Road, renamed it “Levering Mill House,” and in 1975 converted it for the use of senior citizens. The township finances its operations. The Woman's Club, a civic, social, and cultural organization, holds an annual antique show, begun in 1942. Extensive additions to the club's building were completed in 1955; facilities are made available rent-free to many local groups. Another women's group, the Junior Woman's Club of Bala-Cynwyd, was founded in 1919 and disbanded in 1979.
Bala-Cynwyd residents had a baseball team in the Main Line Baseball League in the early twenties. Tennis has been available at the Cynwyd Club since 1913, with squash and bowling introduced later. The Riverside Racquetball Club on Righters Ferry Road opened in 1977, offering tennis and racquetball. Sports facilities at the schools are also open to other groups, and public tennis courts are available at Belmont Avenue Playground and Bala Avenue Playground. Use of the courts dates from 1917, according to the files of the Lower Merion Planning Commission. Belmont Park also has a baseball diamond, paths for walking and jogging, play equipment, and huge rocks in the creek bed which the children call “the whales.” Gulley Run Park, at Bryn Mawr Avenue and Manayunk Road, is a small picnic area with the creek running through the middle.
A men's bridge club, the Hamilton Club, founded in 1887 in West Philadelphia, moved to Bala-Cynwyd in 1956. The Neighborhood Club of Bala-Cynwyd, organized in 1907, serves the community. A pamphlet, Your Bala-Cynwyd, published about 1937, stated that the group “promoted more frequent trolley service to Bala; improved train service; originated action for mail delivery; investigated purity of water supply, with the result that the state Department of Health ordered changes; underwrote half the cost of ninety-five candlepower lamps for streets; obtained the local telephone exchange; obtained over one hundred new street signs; obtained improved garbage ordinances; obtained many highway and sidewalk improvements; cleaned up vacant lots; opposed increased assessment rates; and secured the building of a new Cynwyd bridge over the railroad.” The Neighborhood Club arranges Fourth of July festivities that include a parade, band concert, children's races, and an award to the “Bala-Cynwyd Citizen of the Year.”
The fire company was begun in 1900 by Algernon Roberts and Emanuel Reyenthaler. It was chartered as the Union Fire Association in 1903, and located at 149 Montgomery Avenue. It has had only six fire chiefs: Luther Parsons, 1903 to 1907; Wayne Babb, 1907 to 1926; Conrad Hettenback, 1927 to 1943; William L. Hornung, 1943 to 1958; Robert Lindsay, 1958; and since 1958, Carl Hornung, son of William.
The community that today covers “the Hill” is roughly triangular in shape—the three angles pointing north, east, and west. The northeast side overlooks the Schuylkill River, and the northwest side joins Penn Valley; the southern base of the triangle is the rocky cliff above Gulley Run and Rock Hill Road. For years the cluster of houses on the big river bluff opposite the Manayunk section of Philadelphia had no official name and was linked with the city side of the Schuylkill River by the Green Lane Bridge, rebuilt several times since 1833 and more commonly called the Belmont Avenue Bridge in 1980. The town was referred to as Goat Hill, or the Heights, and finally as West Manayunk, the Indian word manaiung meaning “here is where we drink.” In 1953 the new name, Belmont Hills, was chosen after resentment flared over unkind references to “West Manayunk” by author James Michener in an article published in Holiday magazine (April 1950).
In 1880 the town was shown on the Pennsylvania Railroad Atlas of the Main Line as West Manayunk. Immigrants from Italy began to arrive, many descended from Christian Albanians who had fled Moslem Turks to settle in southern Italy. They in turn sent for relatives, and by 1914 the Albanians and Italians constituted a considerable portion of the community. The town resembled a Mediterranean hill town with its goats and chickens, garden plots, and women in black, seldom seen on the streets without their men folk. Annually on St. George Day the image of the saint was carried in procession and the pious pinned money to the robe of the statue in supplication or thanksgiving. The Italian language can still be heard in the streets, few residents remember the language of Albania, and St. George Day is no more.
The principal street through Belmont Hills is Ashland Avenue, which took its name from Ashland Hill, the twenty-seven-acre estate of Paul Jones, a descendant of the original Welsh Joneses. In the mid-1800s Stewart Lyle, master farmer, bought the house at 100 Lyle Avenue, said to date from the 1780s. In 1900 only fifteen houses stood along the combined length of Ashland Avenue and Mary Waters Ford Road between the Schuylkill River and Conshohocken State Road. In 1901 a real estate company—Wood, Harmon and Company—bought the Lyle estate and divided it into building sites collectively known as “Belmont Heights.” An adjacent thirty-acre plot belonging to J. Davis Jones was subdivided between 1908 and 1913 and extends south of Ashland Avenue to the cliffs above Gulley Run. North of Ashland an older development, called Ashland Heights, commands a magnificent view up the Schuylkill Valley.
Still another large tract of land on the northwestern skirt of the hill belonged to Jones's relatives until 1854, when Sara and Benedict Leedom acquired sixty-five acres. On it was a fifteen-room stone house built in 1787 as a manor house of Glanrason Plantation. The Leedom descendants lost the property in a sheriff's sale in 1927, and Marion Lewis Croyle became the owner. A member of the Croyle family, Guy, who was a contractor, quarry-owner, and nurseryman, occupied the stone house. Lower Merion Township bought the property in 1964 and in 1978 sold it to Joan and Ronnie Doroba.
The Belmont Hills Fire Department was founded in 1919 by thirteen men who elected Joseph Grow as its first president. The present building was erected on Washington, near Ashland Avenue, and the original firehouse there was razed.
The men of Belmont Hills traditionally found work in the mills along the Schuylkill, on the canal boats that served as river transport, and in factories and quarries bordering Gulley Run. Stone-cutters and masons among the Italian immigrants worked in the quarries and in the two nearby cemeteries, West Laurel Hill and Westminster. An outstanding native son, Henry Jacobs, was the chief stone mason for the Reading Railroad and had built the Flat Rock Tunnel in 1838; he died in 1897.
Manufacturing enterprises have existed in the narrow, rock-walled valley along Gulley Run. In 1900 a shoddy mill at the corner of Rock Hill Road and Belmont Avenue made cloth of woolen waste. It was called Belmont Mills sometime before 1913. From 1920 until 1981 the Belmont Cement Burial Case Company occupied the site. Quarrying, at least on the north side of Rock Hill Road, continued intermittently until the 1950s, when complaints from householders on the bluff above stopped the blasting.
The biggest and most famous mill to use the pure water of Gulley Run was the Ashland Paper Mill owned by Sebastian A. Rudolph, born in Germany but raised in Manayunk. He produced newsprint for the Philadelphia Record, delivering the paper in huge rolls, 4½ miles to the roll, instead of in flat sheets, an innovation adopted subsequently by most mills.
Sebastian Rudolph sued the Pennsylvania Railroad because the locomotives on the Pencoyd Iron Works sidings belched black, soft coal smoke which besmirched the Rudolph paper products. Cornelius Rudolph, his son, served as his lawyer, and the Rudolphs won a large settlement.
Cornelius and his family lived on River Road at the river end of Rudolph's Row, a series of attached houses in which the mill workers lived. An open area along the river bank between the row and the bridge was the scene of prize fights, vaudeville performances, carnivals, and gypsy encampments. In 1981 a great-granddaughter of S. A. Rudolph and granddaughter of Cornelius recalled that when gypsies washed clothes on Sunday virtually in the front yard of Rudolph's Row, her mother fumed, regarding such Sabbath labor as akin to mortal sin. The row and that section of River Road were demolished when the expressway was built in the 1950s.
In 1981 Belmont Hills had 1,021 residents. A single grocery store on Belmont Avenue caters to neighbors as well as motorists passing to and from the expressway. Service clubs include the civic association, the Senior Citizens' Club, Men's Club, Boys' Club, and the American Legion. McMoran Park, named for a native son and commissioner, provides recreation space next to the library building dedicated in 1969, and both sites overlook the outdoor swimming pools in Lewis J. Smith Park. The Smiths, who owned and operated a road-building firm fronting on Rock Hill Road, gave their residence and adjoining land on Mary Waters Ford Road to the township.
The community of Bryn Mawr, nine miles west of Philadelphia, serves residents of at least two counties and three townships. More than half its three square miles lie in Lower Merion, the rest in Delaware County's Radnor and Haverford townships. Its many specialty shops and services draw customers from a distance; its hospital tends patients from a wide area; its private schools attract pupils from both city and suburbs.
Known nationally as the home of Bryn Mawr College and locally as an attractive and convenient place to live, the Lower Merion portion, consisting of the old wards of East and West Bryn Mawr, had a population of 5,280 in 1980 compared with 1,800 a century ago. The inclusion of the women residents at Bryn Mawr and Harcum colleges and the two boarding schools distorted official demographic figures in 1970, when Lower Merion's Bryn Mawr contained 80 percent more women than men. The local post office disregards municipal bounds and serves seven hundred businesses and seven thousand dwellings.
About 1869 the Pennsylvania Railroad Company established a new community, supplanting a hamlet called Humphreysville, on land that once belonged to the Thomas and Humphreys families. An earlier generation of railroad men had designed a sinuous track to avoid the hills, but new equipment and more powerful locomotives enabled engineers to straighten the route. To overcome local opposition to the proposed location of the new tracks, the directors bought full properties rather than mere rights of way. Between April 1, 1868, and March 18, 1869, William H. Wilson, the railroad company's agent, acquired 283 acres of land with more to be added later. Not only was the railroad built, but under Wilson's guidance the company improved existing streets, opened new roads, planted trees, subdivided properties, and offered land for sale. Although deed restrictions controlled the density, use, placement, and value of potential buildings, these plots found buyers.
In his book Reminiscences of a Railroad Engineer, written in 1896, Wilson claimed credit for choosing the new name, Bryn Mawr, for the former Humphreysville. He had discovered the name in the property records of Rowland Ellis, one of the original Welsh settlers, who called his early-eighteenth century house Bryn Mawr, meaning “high hill.”
Although the new railroad tracks bypassed the White Hall Station on the county line, the White Hall Hotel, dating from early railroad days, continued to attract visitors as did old and new summer boardinghouses. The railroad built its own hotel near Bryn Mawr Station in 1871, the same year the nearest post office dropped the name West Haverford in favor of Bryn Mawr. By 1881 three hundred new dwellings, many of them fine country seats, had joined the original twenty-one houses of old Humphreysville. The local population swelled by some two thousand persons every summer, the season when the Presbyterians took care to collect their annual missionary contributions. Boyd's Blue Book Season of 1884-1885 lists 183 families in Bryn Mawr, 55 of them having “summer residence only” in the hotel.
The conductors of the twenty-seven daily trains accepted, in the morning, the empty shopping baskets of the new suburbanites and returned them filled in the evening.
In the nineteenth century the Bryn Mawr Citizens' Association provided police protection. The Temperance Hall (c. 1840-1902) on the Old Lancaster Road was the first meeting place for several area churches and groups.
The Home News (1876) and the News (1881) kept residents informed. The Bryn Mawr Trust Company (1889) and the Bryn Mawr National Bank (1887), originally located side by side in one building, answered financial needs. The Bryn Mawr Water Company (1892), the Bryn Mawr Hospital (1893), the Bryn Mawr Ice Company, and the Bryn Mawr Fire Company (1903) provided basic services.
Some people joined the Merion Cricket Club (1865), the Radnor Hunt (1887), and the Bryn Mawr Polo Club (1898). Many attended the Union Sunday School, the frequent church outings, and the balls and celebrations at local hotels. Members attended meetings of the Lower Merion Society for the Detection and Prosecution of Horse Thieves (actually an insurance company) and the Bryn Mawr District Number Ten of the Sons of Temperance. Some visited the Bryn Mawr Reading Room in a small building near the station. All heard the concerts of the Bryn Mawr Brass Band (1869), which flourished for over a century. Herman Giersch directed the band for sixty years (1912-74). (His son with the same name has led music groups with the Lower Merion School District since 1938.) The pond that had powered the Morris Grist Mill on the Old Gulph Road since before 1851 offered skating and swimming in season.
In the 1890s, like other new settlements, Bryn Mawr considered seceding from the township to incorporate as a borough. After Lower Merion took advantage of new legislation to become a first class township the movement subsided.
The Bryn Mawr public school was built on Lancaster Avenue after the railroad moved its tracks. In 1916 what is now Ludington Library began in two rooms of the old public school. Private schools included the discontinued Kirk School for Girls (1899-1934) and Miss Wright's School (now the Bryn Mawr College dormitory for graduate students). The Shipley School (1894) and the Baldwin School (1888) continue. Bryn Mawr College, created under Dr. Joseph W. Taylor's will (1880), now owns some eighty acres of the first railroad property.
Grocery stores, ice cream parlors, bakeries, millinery shops, shoe stores, and livery stables provided necessities and luxuries. Gane and Snyder (1903), once the source of delicacies transported by liveried coachmen and consumed by affluent households, continued until 1977. The clock-making firm of J. Fish and Son (1888) continues under the direction of the founder's grandson. The Connelly Flower Shop was in business from 1891 to 1980, and the Philip Harrison Department Store has continued since 1891. Yerkes Associates Incorporated (the current name) have been surveyors since 1874.
The Philadelphia and Western Railroad, now part of SEPTA's Red Arrow system, opened its Bryn Mawr Station in Delaware County in 1906.
Harriton House, which has stood since 1704 on the tract Rowland Ellis called Bryn Mawr, and which became the home of Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, became a museum in the 1970s. Wyndham House (1796), owned until 1830 by the Morgan and Elliott descendants of Thomas and Patience Morgan who built it, now belongs to Bryn Mawr College. The Lower Merion Baptist Church, founded in 1808, built in 1809 (and rebuilt in 1875), still stands on ground given by Charles Thomson. In its burying ground lie veterans of the country's wars, and sixteen descendants of William Penn.
The White Hall Station, long used as the contagious ward of the Bryn Mawr Hospital, now houses the Bryn Mawr Hospital Thrift Shop. The Church of the Redeemer, opened on Lancaster Avenue in 1851, occupies the building it erected on New Gulph Road in 1879. Railroad Avenue and Glenbrook Road run on the former railroad right of way.
The railroad hotel was designed by Furness, Evans and Company and built in 1889 for summer visitors after its predecessor burned. Since 1896 the Baldwin School has occupied it. Bryn Mawr College, the Shipley School, Harcum Junior College (1915), and the Bryn Mawr Conservatory of Music also occupy land William Wilson bought for the railroad. In all, nine-tenths of this acreage holds educational institutions, which preserve and use stately residences designed for the affluent by the leading architects of the last century. Joining are new school and college structures as well as apartment houses and condominiums. Property now adjacent to the railroad holds new shops. The square between the station and Lancaster Avenue is no longer park, but parking lot. The Bryn Mawr Trust Company, merged with the Bryn Mawr National Bank, has presided over a major corner since 1928. Across Lancaster Avenue, on municipal property, stand the Ludington Library, the Bryn Mawr Community Center and War Memorial, the Spring House Senior Center, and the John Winthrop Post #118 of the American Legion, all well used. In 1980 fifty-two daily express and local trains to town offered transportation. The community built by the railroad survives in the age of the automobile.
Gladwyne is still a quiet, walkable country village. Its center at the intersection of Youngs Ford and Righters Mill roads, historically known as Merion Square, includes small shops and single or double houses. The double houses, now privately owned, were once tenant housing for the laborers or mill workers of Mill Creek Valley. The name Gladwyne was adopted June 5, 1890, replacing Lower Merion, the official post office name, to avoid confusion with other “Merions.”
Although Gladwyne is geographically undefined, the postal zoning map boundaries run from Mill Creek Road at the Schuylkill River along the west bank of the river to the borders of West Conshohocken, Villanova, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford.
Mill Creek flows through Gladwyne; all but one of its many mills have vanished or are in ruins. The earliest gristmill, begun by 1690, was followed in the eighteenth century by saw, paper, powder, and oil mills and in the nineteenth century by cotton, woolen, lamp wicks, buttons, and gun-parts manufactories. In mid-May 1894 a devastating flood wiped out many of the mills and destroyed all of the bridges. Losses totaled $100,000. A few mills continued on into the twentieth century, but the milling industry along Mill Creek was virtually ended.
By 1880, according to William J. Buck, writer of the Lower Merion Township section of Bean's history, Merion Square had 35 houses and 207 inhabitants. Area residents depended for transportation on a stage that operated from Gladwyne to Ardmore, or on the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, which had a station at the village of Rose Glen.
Rose Glen, located a half-mile from the Schuylkill near Mill Creek, was owned in 1836 by cotton manufacturer William Chadwick, and later by his son Robert. In 1884 the Rose Glen post office was located in a store. The small community became known as the Gladwyne Colony in 1912, when psychiatrist Dr. Seymour De Witt Ludlum converted the Chadwick mill buildings into a neuropsychiatric center. After Dr. Ludlum died in 1956, his son S. DeWitt Ludlum, Jr., continued to run the center for several years, but in 1968 all but two of the fourteen old buildings were demolished.
Gladwyne has several old cemeteries. The Llewellyn family cemetery on Youngs Ford Road opposite what is now the entrance to Old Stony Lane dates to the eighteenth century, but its headstones are long gone. Two adjoining cemeteries on Righters Mill Road behind the Methodist Church and the Odd Fellows' Hall (Merion Hall Cemetery Association), which began in the mid-1880s, continue to be well maintained. Another cemetery, Har Hazaysim (Mount of Olives), is described under Jewish Synagogues and Cemetery.
The village of Merion Square appears to have changed little since 1880. Many old family names are still represented in Gladwyne: Cornman, Barker, Stirk (Winters), Keech, and Roberts. The old Merion Square Hotel on the southeast corner of the crossroads is now the Guard House Inn. The store on the northwest corner, once owned by the Young family, is now the Delaware Market, and the store on the northeast corner, formerly Cornman's and long called the “War Office,” is now the Village Store. Nearby, at 366 Righters Mill Road, is a house, once a butcher shop, that was the late-nineteenth-century Democratic stronghold. Members called themselves “Sons of Tammany, ” and even had their own marching band.
By contrast, substantial changes were occurring at the turn of the century to the rural lands surrounding the village and only ten miles from downtown Philadelphia. Improved transportation brought wealthy city dwellers in search of country seats. The 1908 Atlas of the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad from Overbrook to Paoli (Plates 13, 14, 15) shows numerous estates, including Clement A. Griscom's 90~acre Soapstone Farm and 40 acre Cedar Crest, William Scott's 100-acre tract called Dipple, Charles Halberstadt's Waverly Heights of 103 acres, Seldon Twitchell's 135-acre Pleasant View Farm, and Mrs. Walter B. Saunders's 167-acre Idylwild Farm.
The steel-making Wood family owned a total of about 400 acres in the late nineteenth century. Of this, Alan Wood, Jr.'s estate Woodmont comprised 95 acres. William L. Price designed the French Gothic mansion house, which was built in 1892 at a bend in the river on high land overlooking Conshohocken and the Schuylkill. The grounds included two lakes, a fresh-water stream, formal and terraced gardens, aviaries, and greenhouses. By 1953 the house was vacant and the land reduced to seventy-three acres. It was sold for seventy-five thousand dollars to members of Father Divine's Palace Mission Church of the Peace Mission Movement, renamed “Mount of the House of the Lord,” and designated world headquarters of the movement.
The property on Merion Square Road known as Skylands, built in 1928 for Mr. and Mrs. William Wood, became the Lutheran Deaconess Center in 1953. The Pew Memorial Foundation renovated the house and donated it with twenty-six acres to the Philadelphia Motherhouse of Deaconesses. Additions were made in 1958 and 1968. Thirty-seven deaconesses are in residence, most retired or semi-retired.
For fire protection, Gladwyne residents depended upon Ardmore and Bryn Mawr until 1944, when the Gladwyne Fire Company was incorporated. Stuart Bell was its first president. The volunteers met at the Merion Square Repair Shop. In 1950 the company built a firehouse at Black Rock and Conshohocken State roads, and enlarged it in 1972-73. In 1980 the company had four pieces of equipment, including an eighty-five-foot snorkel truck, and a rescue boat. The staff is volunteer with the exception of one full-time paid driver.
The Gladwyne Civic Association began in 1945. Griscom Bettle and John Russell were its first presidents. Membership in 1980 included about 760 families. Among its concerns are land use, subdivisions, youth activities, township matters, conservation, and historic preservation.
The Gladwyne Library and its league, an important part of the community, is discussed with Lower Merion's other libraries. Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold was born at the Arnold homestead at the southwest corner of Youngs Ford and Conshohocken State roads. The son of Dr. Herbert A. and Mrs. Louisa Harley Arnold, he attended the Merion Square School and the Lower Merion High School. A 1907 West Point graduate, Arnold became a five-star general of the air force during World War II.
Another noted resident was John Robert Schrieffer of the University of Pennsylvania, who was living in Gladwyne when at age forty-one he won the 1972 Nobel Prize for Physics with two other American professors for their fifteen-year-old theory of superconductivity. He has since moved to California.
The construction in 1953 of the Schuylkill Expressway made access to Gladwyne from Philadelphia more convenient. The ensuing subdivision of large estates by developers and a rising population brought the need for more shops, services, and religious facilities in the village. A school was added to St. John the Baptist Vianney Roman Catholic Church; additions and improvements were made to St. Christopher's Church, the First Presbyterian Church of Lower Merion, and the Gladwyne Methodist Church. A three-unit commercial structure was erected on Righters Mill Road (1955, 1979), and a six-unit French country style shopping center (1959) was built by Walter Durham at the southwest corner of the crossroads.
In the late 1970s the type of residential construction in the village shifted from single dwellings to attached townhouses. Another change came in 1981-82 on the former Foerderer tract, where condominiums were clustered together, leaving large portions of the land for open space. This arrangement, the first to be approved in the township, was made possible under the township's 1973 zoning amendment called “Planned Residential Development.” The 90-acre Foerderer tract is bordered by Conshohocken State, Spring Mill, Lafayette, and Mount Pleasant Roads. It is part of the former 250-acre estate of leather tycoon Percival Foerderer, who in the twenties built a Spanish style mansion called La Ronda.
Gladwyne residents and township officials have long had an interest in protecting the environment and rural setting of the area and encouraging outdoor activities. In 1980 Bridlewild Trails Association, begun in 1927 by Lawrence Saunders and a group of property owners, had a membership of over 150 families who participated in riding or walking the more than thirty miles of marked trails. Under the auspices of this association the Pony Club began in 1959 to foster youth riding activities through the competition of members in Pony Club regional rallies. Club membership began with 40 and in 1980 totaled 321.
Hunting has also been popular. In 1885 Mordecai Worrell, owner-manager of the Merion Square Hotel, kept a small pack of hounds for residents and fox hunting guests. The Gladwyne Hunt Club began in 1885, when William Epright moved his large pack from his residence, called The Gulph, to Merion Square Road. Epright's grandson, Malvern, continued the pack until the construction of the expressway put an end to hunting.
The Philadelphia Country Club opened its Spring Mill Golf Course in 1927. By 1957, three large tracts of land totaling 294 acres were combined to form the present site.
The Mill Creek Conservancy Agreement of 1941 between the township and property owners along Mill Creek prohibited new building one hundred feet either side of Mill Creek Road and the creek. By 1980, 75 percent of the owners had signed. This agreement has made a significant contribution to the protection of the waterway.
The Henry Foundation for botanical research specializing in North American plants was established on the estate of the late J. Norman Henry on Stony Lane about 1950. In 1980 Josephine deN. Henry was president and director.
The Gladwyne Plan of 1951, for which residents paid eleven thousand dollars, strongly influenced the township's policy pertaining to park land and playground acquisition, and set forth guidelines for zoning and subdivisions. Growing out of this, as well as the township's comprehensive plans of 1937, 1952, 1960, and 1979, have come the following parks, playgrounds, and road sites: Kenealy Nature Park, 87 acres; Gladwyne Playground (W. A. L. Barker Park), 13.10 acres; Henry Lane Park, 18.70 acres; Mill Creek Valley Park, 88.54 acres; West Mill Creek Park, 9.59 acres; Flat Rock Park, 15.29 acres; and the projected Williamson, Merion Square, and Black Rock Road sites.
Saunders Woods, 1020 Waverly Road, is a twenty-five-acre tract maintained for the preservation of its natural beauty by the Saunders Foundation. A house and barn are open for public school and scout group use by appointment.
The Lower Merion-Narberth Watershed Association, founded in 1974, is dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the township's streams. Arthur S. Wolfe, its first president, began, with his students at Lower Merion High School, removing the trash and debris that had been thrown into the streams. The association stocks the stream with trout and has four sampling stations set up to monitor Mill Creek. It also has an active education program in the public schools.
Riverbend Refuge, Inc., at the end of Spring Mill Road, is an environmental-educational center formed in 1974 by the descendants of Howard Wood, Jr., and Phoebe Wood, and staffed by ecologists. Open to visitors are twenty-six acres of nature walks, woodlands, open fields, trails, a waterwheel, early Pennsylvania farmhouse, and barn.
In 1976 under the leadership of Betty Brockett, then owner of the John Roberts III House, which was built in 1752, many residents participated in the civic association's efforts to have two of Gladwyne's old areas preserved as historic districts: the MerionSquare Historic District, the village at the intersection of Youngs Ford and Righters Mill Roads and surrounding area; and the Mill Creek Historic District, site of the earliest mills along Mill Creek where Old Gulph and Mill Creek Roads meet. The two districts were designated as historic by the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners and were certified by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission on June 11, 1980. They were also added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Gloria O. Becker, historic districting coordinator of the project, supervised the architectural survey, on file at the township Planning Department.
Haverford originated over the line in Delaware County but it spread northward across Lancaster Pike into Montgomery County. The name itself, which came into use early in the history of Pennsylvania, is Welsh. The boundary line extends directly across the campus of Haverford College to Buck Lane (named after Buck's Tavern, which stood at its intersection with Lancaster Pike). Although largely in Delaware County, Haverford College has been an important part of the community since it's founding in 1833 by the Society of Friends.
Families began moving to Haverford from the city during the hot summers. In 1872 Dr. Edmund Cadwallader Evans purchased one hundred acres and built a house at the end of what is now Evans Lane. The following year Alexander J. Cassatt (1839-1906) bought fifty-six of these acres, which stretched from the railroad down Grays Lane and over to the present Cheswold Lane. He engaged the firm of Furness and Evans to design a huge mansion for him and his growing family and named his estate Cheswold. Only the gatehouse still stands.
When Alexander Cassatt began his residence in Haverford he was general superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Many other railroad executives followed his lead and built large homes, increased by the developing railroad and the easy commuting to the city.
Alexander Cassatt, running on the Democratic ticket in the heavily Republican suburb, was elected a township supervisor in 1882 and served until 1898. The leadership qualities that brought about his presidency of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1899 had been freely used in the interest of the township. “Within a few years, the township under his guidance had the finest system of macadamized roads in the nation. Believing the best materials were an economy in the long run, he insisted on granite curbstones and sturdy street signs, saving Lower Merion taxpayers a tidy sum, for those curbstones and street signs are still in use” (Patricia Talbot Davis, The End of the Line: Alexander J. Cassatt and The Pennsylvania Railroad, 1978, p. 99).
Of Cassatt's service to Lower Merion, Allen Evans, the noted architect, remarked in his journal: “As a simple token of the appreciation of his friends and the citizens of Lower Merion Township for the great work of neighborhood welfare by Mr. Cassatt, a bronze tablet was erected in 1910 on the Merion Cricket Club wall, at the corner of Grays Lane and Montgomery Avenue, setting forth the work that he had done for the countryside” (“Notes on the Main Line,” pp. 35-36). The bas relief, taken from a photograph of Cassatt on his horse as he appeared riding around the township looking after the roads, was the work of a talented young sculptor, Karl Bitter.
Allen Evans designed the Haverford Station. The Haverford Civic Association has decided to restore the station, which was damaged by fire in 1978. The civic association is seeking its designation as a historic landmark and has started its project by cleaning the interior walls, which were covered with graffiti.
Another leading citizen who settled in Haverford was Clement A. Griscom, a shipbuilder who became president of the International Navigation Company. He shared an ancestor with Betsy Ross, whose maiden name was Griscom. He bought sixty-two acres across Grays Lane from Dr. Evans and Alexander Cassatt, and named his estate Dolobran, the name of a family seat in Wales. The house, located on Laurel Lane and in 1980 owned by John Griffiths, was designed by the architects Furness and Evans and built in 1891.
Two notable Haverford citizens lived on Booth Lane in their later years. Catherine Drinker Bowen, distinguished biographer, wrote several books there. Dr. Harold Pender, an outstanding electrical engineer and author of Pender's Handbook for Engineers (1914), lived there until his death at eighty in 1959. In 1903 Dr. Pender proved to French scientists the presence of a magnetic field around a rapidly rotating statically charged disc.
Mrs. Moreau D. Brown, winner of the Gimbel Award in 1974, was recognized as the founder of the Antiques Show held annually to benefit the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. Also notable was a mother in Haverford, the late Frances Conrad (Mrs. J. Weir) Sargent, who waited by her television in Haverford in 1965, as did millions of other Americans, to watch her son “Pete” (Charles) Conrad on the Gemini 5 spacecraft.
Catherine H. Dixon Sharpe bequeathed her home and a 2½-acre property at Montgomery Avenue and Haverford Station Road to the township for a bird sanctuary. In 1978 her house was razed, and fencing and trails for walking through the wooded area were added.
Attractive and interesting shops are grouped around the intersection of Station Road and Lancaster Avenue. The Mellor Book Store, following McCawley's long reign on Station Road, was a Haverford institution from 1937 until 1956, when Clinton Mellor and his wife, Catherine Stroud Mellor, moved to an Arizona ranch. Clothing, antiques, china, glassware, gifts, and a variety of good foods are available at such stores as Natalie Collett, Ann Pakradooni, Jacob Reed's Sons, the John Poteat Collection, the Cheese Wheel, and others. After the Penn Fruit market on Lancaster Avenue closed in the mid- seventies, a mini-mall with quality shops took its place. Two pharmacies, Camp's and Haverford (their present names), date from the 1920s or earlier.
A Haverford landmark for sixty years was the Haverford Hotel, built of brick in 1913 at the corner of Grays Lane and Montgomery Avenue. Its stately white columns supported the roof over a wide and gracious porch entrance. Fifty rooms were decorated with Chippendale desks, Chinese screen paintings, mahogany china cabinets, brass sconces, and sparkling chandeliers. Many wedding receptions, including that of President Eisenhower's granddaughter, balls, other parties, and meetings were held there, but in 1973 the hotel was demolished, and Gray's Lane House, an apartment condominium designed by Vincent Kling, now occupies the site.
Under construction in 1981 was another luxurious condominium, 101 Cheswold Lane off Montgomery Avenue. Prices of its 35 units ranged from two on the ground floor at $295,000 to the four penthouse apartments already sold at up to $565,000, the highest prices for housing of this type in the entire Philadelphia area, including downtown Philadelphia.
Merion is a residential suburban community contiguous to Philadelphia and bordered by Bala-Cynwyd, Narberth, and Wynnewood. Three of the oldest streets in Lower Merion form its boundaries: Old Lancaster Road, City Line Avenue, and Lancaster Avenue. It is intersected by a fourth, Merion Road, which began as a trail between the Darby and Merion meetinghouses.
Merion Friends Meetinghouse, at the corner of Montgomery Avenue and Meetinghouse Lane, was built in 1695 and enlarged in 1714 by Welsh settlers who had purchased land from William Penn. A celebration of the stone building's bicentennial was held in 1895, when members and friends sat down in a large tent to hear historical papers, poetry, and a prayer by the young Rufus M. Jones, later to be cofounder of the American Friends Service Committee and a professor at Haverford College. Fifty years later, September 16, 1945, the 250th anniversary celebration took place and Rufus Jones again spoke, as did Justice Owen J. Roberts of the United States Supreme Court and a descendant of the pioneer John Roberts. In 1982 the Merion Friends marked the three-hundredth anniversary of the founding of their meeting.
The meetinghouse stands just outside a walled graveyard in which members of the meeting, as well as a number of nonmembers, lie buried. Modern heating has been installed, and indirect electric lighting illuminates the plain white plaster and dark paneling of the interior. Upstairs a small schoolroom contains desks where Indian as well as white children once learned their ABCs. The Merion Friends Nursery School was organized in 1950 by a member, Juliet Mills, in the new Activities Building finished in 1949. The school closed in 1979 because of declining enrollment.
Next door to the Friends meetinghouse stands the General Wayne, a typical crossroads tavern of the early eighteenth century, where today luncheons and dinners are served. The inn was named for “Mad Anthony” Wayne, who was entertained here in 1796 after his victory at Fallen Timbers. Beginning in 1806 the Wayne became a polling place, and briefly in 1830 and from 1850 to 1882 served as a post office. Until about 1883 the premises were known to summer visitors as a hotel catering to city folk. The Lower Merion Board of Commissioners had its first meeting at the General Wayne in 1900, and held road repair contract auctions there for several years. During the Depression years the General Wayne ceased to operate as a hotel, was used as a gasoline station, and eventually reopened as a tavern. A fire in 1963 gutted a portion of the main building but left the walls standing and it was rebuilt. In 1980 Barton Johnson owned the restaurant; as founder and president of the Anthony Wayne Historical Association, Inc., he led the effort to place the building on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just behind the General Wayne Inn and across Meetinghouse Lane William McDowell sold seventy-one acres in 1876 to the Belmont Driving Park Association for harness racing, then the most popular sport in America. An oval course eighty feet wide and one mile in length was laid out; later a half-mile track was built inside the larger course. The association built a frame grandstand and later added a four-story clubhouse with tower, cupola, and two long verandas overlooking the track. This building still exists in two parts, each made into a private residence. The culminating event in the nearly fifty years of the Belmont's history was the Grand Circuit of 1917, then as prestigious as the Kentucky Derby. In 1924 the park was sold to Martin Maloney, who developed it into 347 building lots in the section called Merion Park.
In 1881 the roughly rectangular area of Merion bounded east and west by Old Lancaster Road and Lancaster Pike, and north and south by modern Rockland Road and City Line Avenue, was owned by 31 families: the biggest landowners on both sides of the railroad were Isaac Hazelhurst, James Sullivan, William Simpson, William F. Potts, Joseph B. Townsend, and Thomas Suplee, each owning between 36 and 88 acres, and Jacob Stadelman who controlled 155 acres along City Avenue stretching well beyond the boundary of Merion. In the following three decades, however, executives of the Pennsylvania Railroad as well as other wealthy refugees from the city increased the number of owners in Merion's basic rectangle to 82 in 1900 and 189 in 1913.
The railroad was the community's lifeline to the city—even household supplies and groceries were patiently unloaded from the trains and left at the station for cooks and butlers to retrieve. Already a pleasant place, Merion improved after Edward W. Bok, who lived on North Highland Avenue at Merion Road and was editor of the successful Ladies Home Journal, organized the Merion Civic Association in 1913. It chose the motto “To be Nation right and State right, we must first be Community right.” So much was accomplished to make Merion the ideal suburb—paving, better lighting, fire and police protection, and ornamental trees—that President Theodore Roosevelt wrote an article in 1917 for Bok's magazine entitled “Model Merion.” Bok and his wife, Mary Louise Curtis, founder of the Curtis Institute of Music, were patrons of the Philadelphia Orchestra, whose famous conductor, Leopold Stokowski, lived in Merion from 1917 until about 1920.
After World War I the people of Merion resolved to build a “Peace Memorial Community House.” As they struggled to collect funds, the founder and president of the Victor Talking Machine Company, Eldridge R. Johnson, and his wife, Elsie Fenimore Johnson, residents of Merion, offered to give their home and eight acres on Hazelhurst Avenue, adding sufficient money to demolish the old house, build and endow “the most beautiful structure of its kind in this locality.” Dedication of the Merion War Tribute House, as the community center was finally named, was held May 12, 1924. The Tribute House served as the meeting place for the Merion Civic Association, Merion Community Association (Board of Directors for the Tribute House), Merion Garden Club, Botanical Society of Lower Merion, and American Legion Post 545. More than one hundred party rentals each year help offset the cost of maintaining the building and grounds.
In World War II Merion had more than three hundred participants, including several women. Fourteen men died; one was the son of Walter Karcher, co-designer of the War Tribute House.
In 1946 rumors circulated that planners in Philadelphia intended to develop one or more major arteries to the west to relieve pressure on Lancaster Pike. One of the suggested routes was Old Merion Road. Alarmed, the Merion Civic Association once again armed itself, as it had against apartment houses, duplexes, unwanted institutions, and the like, to prevent the widening of Merion Road. Under the leadership of the president, Henry Hallowell, Merion united the civic groups along the Main Line to push for an alternate route, namely the “Valley Forge Parkway,” today the Schuylkill Expressway.
Merion has two museums: the Buten Museum of Wedgwood and the Barnes Foundation museum. Both are discussed in the Arts section of this chapter and in the Art chapter of Volume 2. The Arboretum of the Barnes Foundation, based in part on the collection of trees and plants of Joseph Lapsley Wilson, former owner of the property, offers a three-year program of classes in botany, horticulture, and landscape architecture.
The Lower Merion Botanical Society was founded in 1944 to rescue sixteen weedy, rat-infested acres from developers. With the help of the township, the civic association, and Dr. and Mrs. Albert C. Barnes, the Merion Botanical Park was planted between Merion Road and the railroad south of the station.
A rural area comprising the three localities of “Fairview,” “Crow's Hill,” and “Bowler's Woods” came to be known as Penn Valley in 1930, when local residents formed a civic association, still active, and chose the name Penn Valley. This area, less than three square miles, encompasses the land from the Schuylkill River, along Mill Creek Road to Old Gulph Road to Gypsy Lane, along Montgomery Avenue to the Nine-Mile Stone (east side of Montgomery Avenue opposite Price Avenue in Narberth), then by an imaginary line drawn eastwardly until it touches Manayunk Road, and then from Mary Waters Ford Road to the Schuylkill.
Penn Valley's first place of worship was the Fairview Union Sunday School, which was built of stone in 1826 by local farmers. It served as a public school from 1834 until 1919. Religious services continued to be held in the building until World War II, when it was closed. The newly formed Penn Valley Women's Club restored the building in 1951, and in 1978 it was designated a historic site by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Although Penn Valley is not a real valley, Hollow Road does follow an old ravine leading to the river. The elevation is from 300 to 380 feet along Hagys Ford Road. It was a farming community until the 1950s when the Charles W. Latch family farm was sold. Their forty-one acres along Hagys Ford Road sloping down to Hollow Road provided vegetables for many local families.
Penshurst Farm, the 539-acre estate of Percival Roberts, Jr., was the largest property in Penn Valley, located on both sides of Hagys Ford Road and extending to the Schuylkill. The seventy-five-room mansion, built in 1903, was in the Jacobean style heading into the Stuart with typical English gardens. The rock garden on Conshohocken State Road was a show place with ornamental fountains, a fish pond, balustrades, and terraced stairways. Specimens of every variety of tree that survives in this climate surrounded the main house. A pump carried water from nearby springs to a water tower near the main house from which the water flowed by gravity through the estate's piping system. A private electrical system lighted the mansion.
Penshurst Farm had a prize herd of imported Ayrshire cattle, as well as pedigreed Berkshire hogs, chickens, and sheep. The barns and dairy were immaculate, and the natural milk was bottled and sold through local distributors. Penshurst farmers were pioneers in growing fine alfalfa for their cattle.
In October 1939 Roberts applied for a permit to demolish the mansion, which was sold to a wrecking crew for $1,000, and the contents of the house were sold at auction. When Percival Roberts, Jr., died in 1943 at the age of eighty-six, the land was sold to the Home Life Insurance Company. It was subdivided for the building of private homes.
Other farms included that of George Grow on Hagys Ford Road. Sold in 1921, it is still known as Crow's Hill (the “G” having become a “C”). Another farm was the Grove of Red Partridges on Old Gulph Road near Bryn Mawr Avenue. The property later was part of the tract of 302 acres belonging to James and Michael Magee. John Frederick Bicking, who operated a paper mill along Mill Creek, owned ten acres where Summit Road ends at Fairview Road. The Bicking family cemetery, mentioned in Bicking's will of 1809, still exists at this location. Ardeleage, the estate of Charles Chauncey at Righters Mill and Summit roads, was torn down in 1938, and fourteen homes were built on the property.
The Penn Valley area is noted for its beautifully landscaped homes, the Hampton House and Oak Hill apartments overlooking the Schuylkill on the Roberts estate, a Catholic church, and two synagogues. Mail deliveries are made from the Bala-Cynwyd, Gladwyne, Merion Station, Narberth, and Wynnewood post offices. Narberth also serves the community as a shopping area and offers a convenient station for transportation via the Paoli Local.
The history of Penn Wynne over the last one hundred years is marked by two major factors: the development of the three-hundred-acre Green Hill Farms plantation, which covered most of the land between Lancaster Avenue and Haverford Road along City Line, and the role of the McWilliams and Maloney Real Estate firm in the development of the area known as Overbrook Hills and Penn Wynne.
In 1682 the Welsh Quaker Thomas Lloyd received a grant of 118 acres from William Penn. This land became the nucleus of the Green Hill plantation. The land was bounded by the Philadelphia city line (roughly Seventy-seventh to Sixty-fourth streets) on the southeast, Lancaster Avenue on the northeast, the Montgomery-Delaware county line on the southwest, and Remington Road on the northwest. By the time Israel Morris and his son Wistar owned the estate in 1869, it had swelled to 300 acres. These acres remained intact until 1910, when the owners began to sell the land gradually, beginning with the property on the city side. The area thus developed slowly from wooded, rolling countryside to the suburb of today.
David Price, yeoman of Merion, built a home he called the Old Homestead in 1694 on the estate. The Old Homestead, the birthplace of Wistar Morris (1815-1891), was demolished in 1964 to make way for Green Hill, a $10 million eleven-story apartment complex. Morris was a director of the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1858 to 1891, president of the board of the Pennsylvania Hospital from 1887 to 1891, and president of Haverford College in 1886. When he married Mary Harris of Bellefonte in 1863, he built a stone mansion about three hundred yards west of the Old Homestead. His grandson, Charles Morris Wood, sold this mansion and eighteen acres in 1925 to the Friends' Central School.
Sections of Green Hill Farms plantation were sold or leased over the years to various recreational, business, and philanthropic organizations. One hundred acres were leased to the Overbrook Golf Club in 1900, and 5½ acres were given to Charles Morris Wood in 1919 for the construction of the $2 million Green Hill Farms Hotel, which he managed until his death in 1933. His sister, Marguerite Pascal Wood, sold the hotel in 1939 to the fundamentalist branch of the Baptist church for the Eastern Theological Seminary. Although a chapel was added in 1950, it remains relatively unchanged today. Lankenau Hospital acquired the land of the Overbrook Golf Club about 1949 and moved in 1953. A block of land between the golf club and the seminary had been purchased by the Pew Memorial Foundation and later used by the Lankenau School of Nursing. In the early seventies Mabel Pew Myrin bought a piece of land from the Lankenau Hospital on which to build Saunders House, a residential and long-term health care facility for the aged.
The Institute of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart purchased land on City Line and Haverford Avenue from Julia Lewis Carter in 1922. They constructed an English Gothic-style building that housed the Convent and Day School of the Sacred Heart until 1971, when, because of declining parochial school enrollments, the property was sold to the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia. In 1981 the building housed the Solomon Schechter Day School and the Jewish Y, Kaiserman Branch. Sacred Heart School, now called Sacred Heart Country Day School, moved to Radnor Township.
McWilliams and Maloney, builders, were the first to develop and shape the future of Penn Wynne as a residential community, coining the name and laying out most of the streets. By 1927 the firm had built over two hundred detached and semi-detached homes. Community activities centered in the McWilliams & Maloney carpenter shop. The Men's Association, formed out of concern for public safety, community spirit, and favorable zoning, met there in the late twenties. The books of the library, founded in 1929, were first shelved in the builders' office. The Men's Association split to form the Penn Wynne-Overbrook Hills Fire Company, which built its own building in 1931, and the Penn Wynne Civic Association. Development of the land slowed drastically during the Depression. Many new houses stood empty during those years, but by 1936 McWilliams & Maloney were building again.
The library, through the zeal of its women volunteers, erected a building in 1947 and added to it in 1962. The need for a school was met by the construction of the Penn Wynne School in 1931 on Haverford Road.
A census, taken during the early thirties, showed a predominance of Presbyterians. When the Federation of Churches asked the Presbyterians to sponsor a church, the old carpenter shop of McWilliams & Maloney was renovated and became Christ Community Church of Overbrook Hills in 1931. In 1948 it merged with the West Hope Church to become Christ-West Hope Church, and in 1975 the two congregations, joined by the Wynnewood United Presbyterian Church, became the Penn Wynne United Presbyterian Church.
Penn Wynne was home not only to peaceful citizens who wished a suburban setting for their daily lives. The gangster Mickey Duffy, who was slain while sleeping in the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City in 1931, owned a mansion on the Penn Wynne side of City Line across from Seventy-seventh Street. Built by McWilliams & Maloney to look like a Mediterranean villa, the structure was white with green satyrs on the sides and black painted palm trees on the facade. Residents recall a man with the pushcart selling Mickey Duffy ice cream, “the ice cream with a kick in it,” during Prohibition. The mansion was razed in the late 1960s.
The building of Penn Wynne halted during World War II and resumed in 1946. By the late 1940s the farmland had been changed into a residential community of modest homes, churches, and schools. Penn Wynne's growth spurt was over, but its pride in its identity continues.
Rosemont is the westernmost of the communities along the Main Line within Lower Merion Township. The line between Delaware and Montgomery counties passes through it near Rosemont Station, placing the main portion in Delaware County. Its post office, originally at the station, was moved to Lancaster Avenue and in 1968 was joined with that of Bryn Mawr.
The commercial section, limited to Lancaster Avenue and portions of the adjacent roads, consists of a few individual shops, filling stations, and the printing shop of Charles J. McDevitt, who continues the one-man firm established by his father in the early 1900s. The Rosemont Mall, with twenty shops, was built in 1975 on land where a siding from the railroad used to serve the Mehl and Latta Coal and Lumber yards. Of the two early carriage works, the Derham Body Company continued until 1970.
North of the railroad are fine homes on large plots. Rosemont's stately houses on Montgomery Avenue date from 1868 and 1869, when the Pennsylvania Railroad was straightening and leveling its tracks between Haverford and Rosemont. The railroad had to buy almost three hundred acres of farmland, using part for its tracks and dividing the rest into lots. Those on Montgomery Avenue were priced at $8,000 and on the other streets at $5,000. Building was strictly controlled, as it was in Bryn Mawr.
Apartment houses have now been permitted on Montgomery Avenue. A seven-story condominium containing sixty-seven units, each of which sold for between $59,000 and $82,500, was completed in 1975.
Rosemont's name is derived from Rosemont Farm, the land of Rees Thomas, who reached America in 1683 on the second boat of Welsh people to settle here. He purchased 625 acres lying on Roberts Road extending west between Old Gulph Road and the Delaware County line. In 1785 the southern portion was sold to John Curwen, who, with his four succeeding generations, called their home Walnut Hill. Ashbridge House was built in 1769 on the northern section by one of Rees Thomas's sons, William, and his grandson, Rees Thomas III. Peter Pechin purchased this property in 1850. He left a farm to each of his four children, giving the Rosemont property to Rebecca Emily Pechin Ashbridge. Her husband, Joshua Ashbridge, already owned forty adjoining acres on the south, and the tracts took on their master's name Ashbridge.
A small section of the Ashbridge land was deeded to the Pennsylvania Railroad for a station with the understanding that it be named Rosemont. Both Montgomery Avenue and Airdale Road were constructed through the property, which had a long straight lane to Roberts Road.
Rebecca and Joshua Ashbridge's three daughters inherited the tract in 1891 and, with foresight, planned wills as early as 1906, when Mary died. With the death of the third sister in 1940 the farm was left to Lower Merion Township to be used for recreation. The sisters ran a dairy on the property, selling milk commercially until the Board of Health instituted milk control in 1922, and the Ashbridges could not meet its stringent standards. An old building east of Ithan Avenue, used earlier as a boarding house for men working on nearby farms, has been replaced by a modern house. The stable-carriage house and the barn are now used for repairing and storing the township's equipment.
Now named Ashbridge Memorial Park in memory of the soldiers of World War I, the “Tribute Walk” was built by the Rosemont-Villanova Civic Association to honor those who fought in World War II. The area of rare specimen trees, some ancient and some carefully selected by the late Jack Kenealy, tree warden of Lower Merion Township, has been called the “Kenealy Arboretum.”
Ashbridge House now contains the library and museum of the Lower Merion Historical Society and is a meeting place for many township groups, while the 28.81 acres provide areas for walking, sledding, jogging, tennis, and a play lot.
The civic association participates in a Community Watch program in conjunction with the police department. Rosemont neighbors worked together a century ago when severe property damage and poverty followed the railroad strike. A “Relief Association” and soup kitchen were initiated by a Rosemont resident, John B. Garrett. In 1888 this organization joined the “Protective Association” organized by John Converse, another outstanding Rosemont citizen. The two groups became known as the Bryn Mawr Citizens' Association. This organization hired its own police to protect private property and the families in 1881, almost twenty years before Lower Merion had its own police department. In the 1930s private citizens again united to form the Mount Moro Protective Association to prevent the dumping of trash and hunting on private property.
One of the finest estates in Rosemont was Rathalla, a spectacular thirty-two-room medieval chateau designed for Joseph Francis Sinnott, a Philadelphia distiller. Rathalla, completed in 1891, is now the centerpiece of the Rosemont College Campus. Two neighboring mansions are used for the school and convent of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus.
The three acres of the Austin Memorial Park that lie between Rosemont Station and Lancaster Avenue were contributed to the township by Rebecca J. Austin as a memorial to her father, William Liseter Austin, former president of the Baldwin Locomotive Works. Planted by the Rosemont-Villanova Civic Association with rhododendron, dogwood, forsythia, and hemlock tram, and surrounded by a low wall, Austin Park reflects the pleasant tone of the community.
Villanova, at the southwestern corner of Lower Merion Township, takes its name from Villanova University, established as Villanova College in 1843. The university, the small surrounding business community, and the railroad station are in Delaware County.
Old Gulph Road, which bisects Villanova and Rosemont, has been used for east-west traffic through Lower Merion since it was an Indian trail. Its milestones, reputed to have been set in place by William Penn, bore a design on their backs similar to his coat of arms.
Farmers conveyed their produce or drove their herds through the gulph to the Philadelphia markets along Old Gulph and New Gulph Roads (New Gulph opened in 1728), while its north-south counterpart, Spring Mill Road, dating from 1771, was the route to the ferry across the Schuylkill. The Green Tree Hotel, the most important of the four inns and restaurants that existed along Spring Mill Road, has stood since revolutionary days at the intersection. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1856. Farmers who worked in nearby fields remember quenching their thirst at its bar, or with a bottle of “sody.” It was rebuilt again in 1892, and a later owner had the inn turned ninety degrees when it was made a private dwelling. Its blacksmith and wheelwright shops below on Old Gulph Road are now also attractive private homes.
Diagonally across Spring Mill and Old Gulph Roads is an eighteen-acre estate owned by the late William Goldman (1888-1974), head of a multimillion-dollar chain of movie companies. Equally well known as a philanthropist, he made many contributions to the promotion of better education for children. He served for fourteen years on the Philadelphia Board of Education and is credited with having made WHYY (Channel 12) an educational TV station.
Farther north on Spring Mill Road the Mount Pleasant School was built in 1830 on a small lot bought for fifty-five dollars at the northeast corner of Spring Mill and Mount Pleasant Roads (the latter road opened in 1736). A large one-room stone building that replaced the old school after it had been destroyed by fire was used until 1916.
Moro Phillips, a wealthy chemical manufacturer and real estate investor from Poland, and his sons amassed by 1890 the eight hundred acres of Stoke Poges, which included several farms and old farmhouses west of Spring Mill Road. The Stoke Poges house and Pear Grove were among these, as well as Diehl House, now called Appleford, which has a 1728 date-stone although tradition dates the earliest portion from 1705. After a variety of additions the architect, Richard Brognard Okie, redesigned the house and gardens for modern living in 1926. In 1973 Mrs. Louis H. Parsons bequeathed it to Lower Merion Township. With its valuable early furnishings, greenhouses, and beautiful landscaping, it is to be preserved as the “Parsons-Banks Arboretum,” and is now available to the community for meetings, receptions, and garden parties.
For more than two centuries 594 acres east of Spring Mill Road have made up the Harriton property lying between Old Gulph Road and Morris Avenue. The original 1704 house, once owned by the famous patriot Charles Thomson and sold out of the family, has been restored and is open to the public. The Villanova portion of the property has been occupied and was still owned in 1980 by Thomson's heirs, James and William Maier.
After the railroad improved, many executives working in Philadelphia built country seats of imposing dimensions for the summer months. The produce from their farms could be maintained in root cellars for long periods, so that apples, carrots, potatoes, and squash were shipped to the city along with fresh eggs and milk on the Paoli Local, to be met at appointed times at the Philadelphia end.
Soon winterized homes replaced the farms. Builders and developers took advantage of the breakup of the large holdings to make profitable subdivisions. Some land was restricted to estates with several acres, while other areas have R-1 zoning, requiring three-fourths of an acre per house as well as other limitations. Now owners of smaller, as well as luxurious, homes possess swimming pools and often tennis courts. Houses in 1980 sold for $100,000 to $300,000
The Northeastern Christian Junior College at 1860 Montgomery Avenue uses a private home as its central building. Clairemont Farm, with 250 acres, belonged to Joseph E. Gillingham. On March 3, 1892, the first cattle tuberculin test in the country was given to the herd belonging to Dr. Gillingham. Morris L. Clothier, head of the Strawbridge and Clothier firm, owned the farm from 1922 to 1947. Now on a 24-acre tract, the Clothier home was purchased by members of the Churches of Christ in 1957 for the purpose of integrating Christian principles with higher education.
Calvary Cemetery occupies one hundred acres in the northwest part of the township at Old Gulph and Matson's Ford Roads. It is cut off from the rest of the township by a brief strip of the long-uncompleted Mid-County Expressway, which is intended to connect the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Plymouth Meeting with Chester and Interstate 95.
Wynnewood is difficult to define geographically since the post office, the election board, and the Wynnewood Civic Association use different boundaries for it. Wynnewood is surrounded by Merion, Narberth, Penn Valley, Ardmore, and Penn Wynne. It is named for Dr. Thomas Wynne.
The first land-owning families bore the names of Jones, Wistar, Owen, and Price, who were primarily farmers. By 1883 new names appeared on the property maps: Henry C. Gibson, distiller; N. Parker Shortridge, Philadelphia banker and director of the Pennsylvania Railroad; and Isaac H. Clothier, department store magnate. These were businessmen expecting to commute to the city. Among the large properties remaining in 1913 were the Wynne Wood tract owned by Edward D. and Robert Toland and St. Mary's twenty-six acres owned by Mrs. S. E. Chichester (Tolands and Chichesters were Jones and Wistar descendants). From about 1890 to 1920 developers such as McIlvain and Company owned many lots and built and sold homes in the $10,000 range to middle-class buyers. This trend in home building persisted, slackening only during the Depression and World War II, when labor and materials were lacking.
Between the world wars English Village, begun in 1925, north of the former Ardmore Junior High School, was designed by architect S. Arthur Love, Jr., and built by his brother, Donald Love. The houses are reproductions of Cotswold village cottages with appropriate landscaping. A winding road through the development is called Love's Lane; a circular drive was called King Arthur's Round Table until recent years when residents opted for a less romantic address.
After World War II one of the last open areas in Wynnewood was the Shortridge tract, 160 acres of farmland with Indian Creek meandering through, bounded by Lancaster Avenue, Bowman Avenue, and East Wynnewood Road. Local boys were still trapping muskrats along the stream until the forties. Real estate developers had acquired the land in the thirties, but only one garden apartment complex, Wynnewood Park, and a few houses had been constructed. In 1945 there was a building explosion, and 360 single homes were built on the Shortridge Tract in a few years. Two more apartments were built, the Wyndon in 1948, and the Brynwood in 1955. A small shopping district along East Wynnewood Road, across Penn Road from the station, had grown up earlier. This was joined in 1954 by the Wynnewood Shopping Center, built on Shortridge land, housing eleven stores, a supermarket, and the department stores of John Wanamaker and Bonwit Teller. The Wynnewood post office moved from the station into its own building in the shopping center. Office buildings, apartment houses (Wynnewood Plaza and Thomas Wynne) and businesses have grown up in the environs of the shopping center.
Wynnewood is a fully developed residential community with a well-defined commercial segment. Shortridge Park, part of the Lower Merion Park System, offers recreation along Indian Creek.
Some landmarks, fortunately, have been lovingly preserved. The Owen House, also known as Penn Cottage, at 380 East Montgomery Avenue, has been preserved and is included in the Pennsylvania Inventory of Historic Places. The stone house was built on 442 acres bought from Deputy Governor Thomas Lloyd in 1695 by Robert Owen. Since Owen was a magistrate, his house, described by a grandson as “a large commodious dwelling house,” frequently served as a court. The name Penn Cottage derives from the legend that William Penn visited there.
Wynne Wood was built in 1818 by Jonathan Jones, grandson of the first Jones owner of Owen House. Jonathan's son, Owen Jones, was born at Wynne Wood and lived his life there. He was a congressman and a colonel in the Union Army. The house was destroyed by fire in 1858, but the contents were saved and the house was rebuilt. The property descended to J. Aubrey Jones, who died childless, and then passed to his cousins, Edward D. and Robert Toland in 1908. By 1900, however, only one hundred acres still surrounded Wynne Wood house. The house was subsequently demolished to make way for homes on Wister, Chichester, Owen, and Fairhill Roads.
One part of the original Jones tract, fifty-four acres near today's Wynnewood Station, was bought by Henry C. Gibson, a distiller, for his impressive home Maybrook, designed by George W. and W. D. Hewitt to resemble a medieval Scottish castle, and built in 1881. The grounds were beautifully landscaped; two trees of every variety that would grow in this climate were planted. In the early 1950s, part of the woodland was sold and the Thomas Wynne Apartment House was erected. In 1956 Miss Mary Gibson sold Maybrook to John Merriam. Having reached its centenary, Maybrook is still a beautiful reminder of a way of life that once flourished in Wynnewood.
Another portion of the original Jones holding near Church Road was sold to Dr. Malcolm and Hannah Macfarlan in 1894. The Macfarlans purchased Homeworth, a remodeled house of the early nineteenth century, and named by Jonathan Jones's widow, Mary Thomas Jones, in 1840. They changed the name of the house to Ellerslie, Dr. Macfarlan's birthplace in Scotland, and built three additional houses at 201, 207, and 213 Church Road. They had bought Ellerslie for a summer residence, and the property was used as a small farm. Dr. Douglas Macfarlan, one of the founders of the Lower Merion Historical Society, grew up there, and, after 1930, lived there with his wife. His interest in local history and his sketches of historic buildings have conserved knowledge of the area's past. After his death in 1966, the Philadelphia Electric Company purchased the property and resold it. Ellerslie was razed, and luxury homes were built in the late 1970s on the land, some of which the township reserved for recreation.
Walter Annenberg has his home on Llanfair Road, which is also on the old Jones tract. According to his biographer, Gaeton Fonzi (Annenberg, 1969), his “communications empire” made him “one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the United States.” Although he sold the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia's Daily News in the sixties, he controlled a national newspaper, the Morning Telegraph, two magazines—TV Guide and Seventeen—six TV stations and nine radio stations, in addition to several other enterprises. He established the Annenberg Foundation and the Annenberg Fund, which support many causes concerned with welfare, medical education, culture, and relief programs. In 1977 the foundation allotted $967,000. His principal contributions have been the Annenberg School of Communications and the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, both at the University of Pennsylvania, and the establishment of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Under President Nixon he served as ambassador to the Court of St. James.
Part of the original Price land was sold to Isaac H. Clothier, who in 1881 built Ballytore, a Victorian mansion still standing on West Wynnewood Road. It remained his home until 1933, when it was sold to the Agnes Irwin School for Girls. The school occupied the building until 1961. The house was used in the filming of David and Lisa (released early in 1964) after the school had moved to Ithan. In 1962 the building, with some alterations, became the Armenian Church of St. Sahag and St. Mesrob.
Another piece of original Price land made up the farm of Josiah Knox, which appears on early nineteenth-century maps. The farmhouse in 1981 was the west wing of the Knox Home, 718 Sussex Road, a home for the elderly established by Margaret and her brother Charles Knox on the latter's death in 1937. The springhouse of the farm, believed to have been built in 1833 and located at Lakeside Avenue on West Wynnewood Road, has been converted into a residence by Mr. and Mrs. J. Charles Hutton.
Landmarks that have been destroyed include the old Wynnewood Schoolhouse on East Lancaster Avenue. Used as a community center after it had ceased to be used as a school, it became the Nash Realty Company's office before it was torn down in the fifties. Wynnewood's school has undergone changes. The former Wynnewood public elementary school, discontinued in 1978, was purchased and occupied by the Torah Academy.
Lawrence R. Klein brought fame to Wynnewood in 1980, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics. A winner of many honors and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Pennsylvania, Klein has been a pioneer in econometric forecasting and has developed the first econometric model of the United States economy. With the “Wharton Model” he uses statistics and economic data gathered from businesses and government to forecast the economy for large corporations and the government. His international project LINK ties together economic forecasts for the entire world.
A number of civic organizations work toward keeping Wynnewood an attractive place. Among them are the Wynnewood Civic Association, the Shortridge Civic Association, the Wynnewood Valley Women's Club, the Ard-Wynne Club, and the Main Line Temple Sisterhood.
Business & Industry
Means of livelihood in Lower Merion Township changed between 1880 and 1980 from agriculture to industry, and finally to retail and urban services. The chief occupation one hundred years ago was farming, and Lower Merion was the only township in the state where the farm value exceeded $4 million. Farms had ceased to be important after World War II.
In 1883 businesses included nine hotels, two confectioneries, three drugstores, one grocery, two restaurants, two dry goods, one stove, one provision, three flour and feed, fourteen general stores, two lumber, and two coal yards. These contrast with statistics of the Pennsylvania Department of Commerce, Bureau of Statistics, Research and Planning for 1977, when there were 702 retail establishments, 332 wholesale, and 1,136 service organizations.
The Pencoyd Iron Works was started by the Roberts family on fifty acres along the Schuylkill in 1852. The company became a major bridge and structural steel supplier. In 1898 Percival Roberts, Jr. (1857-1943) dispatched steel girders and six engineers to the Sudan to bridge the Nile slightly below its confluence with the Atbara River. Lord Kitchener and his railroad builders, struggling against the desert conditions and warring tribesmen, were hurrying to transport soldiers for what would be the last great cavalry battle in history at Omdurman. The bridge was built, said Emil Ludwig in The Nile, 1937, in forty-two days. The battle on September 2, 1898, was a tremendous victory for the English-Egyptian army.
When Percival Roberts, Jr., was invited to join the United States Steel Company in 1900 his Pencoyd Iron Works became the American Bridge Company; it employed one thousand men. The plant was a subsidiary of the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation in 1937, functioned through World War II, and then closed. A portion of the old plant was occupied by the Connelly Containers, Inc., corrugated carton factory. Next to the Pencoyd mill was the Ashland Dyewood and Chemical Mill, later to become S. A. Rudolph's Ashland Paper Mill.
Near the intersection of Lancaster Pike and County Line Road in Rosemont, Joseph J. Derham, a native of Galway, Ireland, founded a carriage works in 1887. Growing numbers of wealthy residents along the Main Line were his customers. In 1907, when one customer requested a body to be put on his open automobile, others followed and by 1920 Derham Body Works had converted to building bodies for cars. The Derham sons turned out $20,000 custom built auto bodies for such notables as Joseph Stalin, Pope Pius XII, King Farouk, President Eisenhower, and even auto designer Raymond Loewy. Derham cars were used in fifteen coronations. During the war the factory built pontoons for navy training craft and special ambulances.
The Autocar Company had moved from Pittsburgh to Ardmore in 1900. Louis S. Clarke, founder, gave his first model to the Smithsonian Institution, but kept his second—a shiny black phaeton built in 1898—which was displayed at the Autocar plant in Ardmore. Despite the original purpose, Autocar became a manufacturer of commercial motor vehicles, powerful highway tractors, and diesel trucks. During World War II Autocar employed 2,300 workers. In 1952 sales totaled more than $31 million; Louis Clarke was eighty-six years old. Robert F. Black, president of the White Motor Company, announced in 1953 that his firm had bought Autocar. After fifty-four years Lower Merion lost its last heavy industry to Exton, Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Auto Motor Company built a plant on Maple Avenue in Bryn Mawr in 1906, only to fail. Edward L. Powers, faithful to the horse, announced in the Ardmore Chronicle of August 9, 1906, that he planned to build a harness shop next to the Bryn Mawr firehouse to be the finest in the country “containing 30 whip cases, horse blanket cases . . . the building to be heated by hot water, and illuminated by gas, electricity and sunlight.” The Property Atlas, Main Line, Pennsylvania Railroad of 1908 shows the blacksmith and wheelwright shops of Luther Parsons, whose knowledge of horses was legendary, on the corner of Parsons and Montgomery Avenues.
Considerable industry was in operation along Gulley Run between Belmont Hills and Bala-Cynwyd. The articles on these towns contain this information. In 1980 Rock Hill Road, which follows the stream, was still the location of a variety of businesses as well as a condominium.
As manufacturing declined, retail merchandising began to grow. In 1921 the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce was incorporated. In 1928 the innovative Suburban Square Shopping Center, discussed under Ardmore, took shape. In 1929, shortly before the Wall Street crash, Strawbridge & Clothier declared its intention to open a branch department store in Suburban Square and did so in 1931. Also in that year, S.S. Kresge and Sears Roebuck and Company opened stores in Ardmore. Feeling threatened by Suburban Square, the Ardmore Retail Merchants Association was formed at a meeting held in Thom McCann's shoe store in 1931. The Great Depression and World War II both ran their courses before the Main Line Chamber of Commerce came into existence in 1945. The following year, coincidentally, parking meters were installed in Ardmore.
The Theodore Presser Company moved from Philadelphia to the site of the Pennsylvania Auto Motor Company in Bryn Mawr in 1949. The building had once been the Thomas M. Royal Paper Company. As the publisher of music for everyone from solo artists to village music teachers, Presser's inventory became sufficiently vast to require an IBM computer to locate sheet music to fill catalog orders. In earlier days, Presser published the Etude music magazine, mailing 150,000 copies each month.
In November 1950 the township Board of Commissioners held hearings to rezone a 600-foot strip along City Avenue in Bala-Cynwyd for commercial use. WCAU radio and television applied for space for its new studio. This special zoning classification required larger lots, and less ground coverage, and allowed greater heights. The result was the Golden Mile. In 1954 Lord & Taylor opened; General Refractories came from Philadelphia in 1974. It was corporate headquarters for operations throughout the world, and makes refractory, building, insulating, and fiber products. Other major operations include the Marriott Hotel complex, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Germantown Savings Bank building, Esso Building, and those discussed in the section on Bala-Cynwyd. The Marriott is now the township's only hotel.
The Wynnewood Shopping Center came to life in 1954 with the opening of John Wanamaker's new store.
Of the township's working population in 1980, over 40 percent worked in Philadelphia, 40 percent in Montgomery County, and 17 percent elsewhere. Many Philadelphians worked in Lower Merion. In 1980, while Lower Merion was the eleventh largest municipality in the state, it ranked third, just after Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, in the combined sales of its retail, wholesale, and service establishments.
FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS AND INSURANCE
Many locally founded banks have come and gone during the last hundred years, but one remains as an independent banking organization. The survivor is the Bryn Mawr Trust Company in Bryn Mawr, incorporated in 1889. Harold E. Hennessy, who spent forty-seven years at Bryn Mawr Trust Company, and R. L. Stevens, the bank's president, attribute its survival to its being a small bank specializing in personal service. In 1980 the bank had 184 employees in four branch offices; assets were $74,275,419, compared with original resources of $25,000.
President Roosevelt closed the banks and prohibited currency transactions on Saturday, March 4, 1933. The next day, Sunday, the Bryn Mawr Trust Company bought coins from churches and wrapped them so that the bank's customers, such as retail stores, could be provided with change on Monday.
For many years Bryn Mawr Trust Company shared a building (which is now the post office) with the Bryn Mawr National Bank, founded in 1887. In the1920s the Bryn Mawr National Bank built its offices at the southwest corner of Bryn Mawr and Lancaster Avenues. In 1928 Bryn Mawr Trust built its current building on the northwest corner of the intersection. In 1954 the two banks merged, taking the name Bryn Mawr Trust Company.
An important change in banking in Lower Merion Township occurred in the period 1950-80 with the introduction of branch banking. The township had three banks in 1890 and 1900, four in 1910 and 1920; and four banks with six locations in 1930. By 1970 there were seventeen banks with twenty-six banking offices in the township, including banks and savings and loan associations. Growth has continued; in 1980 there were fifteen banks at thirty-two locations.
Beneficial Savings Bank has a branch in Ardmore. Central Penn National Bank has a branch in Bala-Cynwyd, as do Lincoln Bank and Industrial Valley Bank and Trust Company. Fidelity has branches in Bala-Cynwyd, Wynnewood, and Rosemont. Girard has branches in Bala-Cynwyd, Haverford, and Wynnewood with an automated teller in Bryn Mawr. First Pennsylvania still has its Ardmore office and has added an office in Bala-Cynwyd. Provident National Bank has an office in Bryn Mawr and one in Gladwyne. Germantown Savings Bank has its headquarters at the GSB Building in Bala-Cynwyd, with one branch there, one in Bryn Mawr, and another in Wynnewood. Jefferson Bank has an office in Haverford, and Continental has one in Bala-Cynwyd. The Philadelphia National Bank has branches in Bryn Mawr and in Ardmore, and an automated teller in Bala-Cynwyd. Philadelphia Saving Fund Society has an office in Ardmore and another in Bala-Cynwyd. Western Savings Bank has offices in Bala-Cynwyd, Gladwyne, and Haverford.
Among the banks that did not retain their identity, the Bala-Cynwyd National Bank saw its deposits increase from $51,772.44 when it opened in 1925 to $381,245.35 in 1928. After the stock market crash in 1929 it was absorbed by the Merion Title and Trust Company of Ardmore, which also took over the Ardmore Title and Trust Company (1930). The Counties Title and Trust in Ardmore survived from 1927 to 1931, the same year the Merion Title and Trust encountered financial difficulties, and became the fourth local bank to succumb. At the request of the Pennsylvania Banking Department, which felt a bank was important to the business community in Ardmore, the First Pennsylvania Bank in Philadelphia, then known as the Pennsylvania Company for Insurance on Lives and Granting Annuities Bank and Trust Company, took over operations of the Merion Title and Trust Company in 1932, and its Ardmore branch remains an integral part of the Ardmore business community.
Savings and loan associations with branches in the township are Bell Savings and Loan Association in Bala-Cynwyd; Crusader Savings and Loan in Rosemont; Main Line Federal Savings and Loan Association in Ardmore and Bryn Mawr, Metropolitan Federal Savings & Loan Association of Eastern Pennsylvania with headquarters in Bala-Cynwyd and a branch in Ardmore; and Public Federal Savings & Loan Association in Wynnewood, a division of Trevose Federal Savings and Loan Association.
The banking industry has advanced from handwritten bookkeeping to mechanical, to electric, and now to electronic machines. Large banks in the big cities are providing centralized computer service. A Pittsburgh bank, for example, does the computing for the Bryn Mawr Trust Company.
One of the earliest types of insurance in the township had its beginnings in an old association still meeting today: the Lower Merion Society for the Detection and Prosecution of Horse Thieves and the Recovery of Stolen Horses. By 1981, in its 163rd year, it may have changed its objectives of 1818, but the menu for its annual meetings still included the same first four courses: oyster cocktails, oyster stew, escalloped oysters, and fried oysters.
Solomon S. Huebner (1882-1964), international pioneer in finance and insurance, lived in Merion for fifty years. While professor of insurance and commerce at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, a post he held for forty-nine years, he established an Insurance Department that gained world renown, attracting large numbers of international students. An author and editor of many textbooks on the stock market, and on life, property, and marine insurance, he envisioned a professional designation for the life insurance business similar to that of Certified Public Accountant. His dream was actualized in 1927 when the American College, a fully accredited non-traditional educational institution awarding the Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designation and the Master of Science in Financial Services degree, was founded in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County. Later the CPCU designation was added for the Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter.
Dr. Huebner served the United States government as an expert adviser to committees concerned with risk and insurance in shipping during World War I. During World War II he served on the War Department Advisory Committee on Insurance and as a special adviser to the Aeronautics Board. He lectured on finance and insurance in many countries of Europe and Asia. The emperor of Japan awarded him one of Japan's top honors for his contribution to the welfare of the Japanese insurance industry.
During the late 1820s agitation began for a railroad from Philadelphia to open up the western portions of Pennsylvania for development and to provide competition for New York State's Erie Canal.
The first portion of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad opened in 1832 and was part of the Main Line of Public Works, a cumbersome series of railroads, inclined planes, and canals that spanned the width of the state. The “Main Line” portion of the name stuck and eventually came to refer to the territory between Overbrook and Paoli.
The Pennsylvania Railroad later took over the Philadelphia and Columbia, with stations in Lower Merion at Merion, Narberth (Narberth village became a borough in 1895), Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Rosemont. Eventually turning into a four-track electrified line, the railroad became one of the busiest in the nation. In 1980 it was still the heaviest traveled of the region's commuter lines.
The Reading Railroad's predecessors opened a rail line along the west bank of the Schuylkill in 1839, running through West Manayunk (now Belmont Hills) and Gladwyne. Passenger trains operated on this line until the 1930s. In 1980 it continued for freight only.
The Pennsy opened a third railroad line in the township in 1884 that branched off from the main line at Fifty-second Street, with stations at Bala, Cynwyd, and Barmouth, the last serving the area of West Laurel Hill Cemetery. Passenger service between Philadelphia and Manayunk still operated on this line in 1980 as the Manayunk Line.
The Pennsylvania Railroad exerted tremendous influence on the growth of Lower Merion Township. The company's executives lived on the Main Line, and the railroad constructed an elegant hotel for summer visitors at Bryn Mawr. By the 1880s the Pennsy had created a booming summer resort business. The railroad even renamed villages. The old names were not distinguished enough, thought the railroad's top management, and so Humphreysville was changed to Bryn Mawr in 1871 and Athensville became Ardmore in 1873.
New trolley construction was sweeping the country at the turn of the century. The mighty Pennsylvania Railroad—which considered the Main Line its private fiefdom and which controlled much of the Pennsylvania legislature—tried unsuccessfully to prevent upstart trolleys from invading its territory.
The Philadelphia and West Chester Traction Company, which operated a trolley line from Sixty-third and Market Streets in West Philadelphia to West Chester, built a branch from Llanerch to Ardmore, opening in 1902. The line had originally been incorporated under a steam railroad charter as the Ardmore Railroad Company to take advantage of eminent domain laws and to be in a better position to fight the Pennsy.
The Ardmore trolleys initially operated from Sixty-third and Market Streets to about one-third of a mile short of Lancaster Pike in Ardmore. Three years later the tracks extended to Lancaster Pike, and a large two-track terminal was constructed on the west side of the pike, a block from the railroad station. The new terminal was described as “one of the handsomest electric railway stations in the country” when it opened in 1905. It contained an ornate fireplace, rest rooms, a separate waiting room for women, a newsstand, and a ticket office. A freight terminal was later built at the rear of the terminal, and special freight trolleys served Ardmore merchants.
In 1907 the 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby opened, and this became the eastern terminus for the Ardmore trolley until trolleys were replaced by buses in 1966.
The Philadelphia and West Chester Traction Company changed its name in 1936 to Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company, using the nickname “Red Arrow Lines.”
The Philadelphia and Western Railroad Company opened a high-speed third-rail electric line between 69th Street Terminal and Strafford in 1907 and built an extension from Villanova to Norristown in 1912. Although only two P&W stations—County Line and Conshohocken Road—are within the township, the railroad skirts the township near Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Rosemont, and many who live or work in Lower Merion use the line.
The P&W connected in Norristown with Lehigh Valley Transit Company, whose high-speed “Liberty Bell Limited” cars once ran all the way from 69th Street Terminal to Allentown. The P&W operates in 1980 as part of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).
The Main Line Transfer Company, a subsidiary of the P & W. in 1922 began operating a short loop bus connecting the P&W's Bryn Mawr Station with the Pennsy's Bryn Mawr Station. The service was abandoned in 1927 and re-instituted in 1936 for a short period.
Red Arrow's first bus route into Lower Merion was Route D, which began service in 1926 between 69th Street Terminal and Ardmore. Route E began the following year between Ardmore and Bon Air in Haverford Township. This route later extended through Springfield to Darby. Its northern end was extended to Gladwyne, and the route still was operating in 1980. Route H between Ardmore and Darby via Llanerch began in 1928.
Bus service on Lancaster Pike began in 1920, when Frank J. Carlin started running two twenty-passenger vehicles from Bryn Mawr to Sixty-third and Market Streets. Carlin was succeeded by Montgomery Bus Company, which served Bryn Mawr, Ardmore, Gladwyne, and Narberth. Montgomery Bus was acquired by Red Arrow in 1936. In 1939 a bus route began from Fifty-fourth Street and City Avenue in Bala to West Manayunk and Ardmore. An extension to Manayunk was added later. Red Arrow was operating so much service along the Main Line that it built a bus garage in Ardmore in 1940. The garage closed about a dozen years later.
The most important public transportation facility in Lower Merion is the four-track electric commuter line of the former Pennsylvania Railroad, in 1981 operated by Conrail and subsidized by SEPTA.
SEPTA operated fourteen bus routes within the township in 1981.
The first regular postal service by railroad from Philadelphia to Columbia along the Main Line began in 1843. Old timers of the twentieth century remember the pouches of mail hung at the local stations to be grabbed by the trainmen of the Paoli Local. Men sorted the mail in the baggage cars while moving and delivered it in turn to the waiting hooks at the different stations.
Post offices, with the exception of Merion's, were gradually removed from the railroad stations and located in buildings designed for the purpose. In 1963 each office was assigned a zip code number, and a more central distribution system was adopted. In 1971 the U.S. Postal Service took over operations, and in 1973 rural post offices and branches were changed to “Community Post Offices.” Names of small towns were retained but smaller post offices closed. Rosemont's post office, for instance, was discontinued but its name has been preserved and mail is distributed from Bryn Mawr, using the same zip code number, 19010.
TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH
The first telephone came to Lower Merion sometime in the 1880s, and the first switchboard was installed in 1885 in Herman Stadelman's drugstore at Anderson Avenue and Lancaster Pike in Ardmore. Until 1895 subscribers could place calls only when the pharmacy was open. In 1895 William McCormick became telephone manager and introduced night service. In 1904 the telephone office moved to the second floor of the Merion Title and Trust Company Building in Ardmore.
In 1845, a year after Morse's first message was sent by telegraph, Norristown's Borough Council granted the Magnetic Telegraph Company permission to “erect posts” on the streets. The natural line from Washington to New York would have followed the railroad tracks but the railroad company feared the wire would reduce the need for business travel and refused permission. The wire, therefore, followed roads, crossing the Schuylkill at Norristown and passing to Philadelphia along roads of Upper and Lower Merion townships. Ardmore's Western Union office closed in 1972.
When the Delaware and Atlantic Telephone Company cane into service in 1885 it purchased the telegraph line between Norristown and Lower Merion for telephone service.
RADIO AND TELEVISION
The county's first FM station, WDVR (now WEAZ), began in Bala-Cynwyd in 1963. Six other stations now operate in Bala-Cynwyd: WYSP, WIFI, WIOQ, WMGK, WPEN, and WWSH.
Amateur radio began in Lower Merion in 1914 with the successful communication between Bill Sellers, a youth living on Glenn Road in Ardmore, and a professor at Haverford College using the spark created by a doorbell and anticipating by six years the birth of commercial radio at KDKA in Pittsburgh.
During World War I the government closed off the equipment of “hams,” but Lower Merion operators were back on the air as soon as possible after the war. John F. Williamson put Lower Merion on the international map in 1923, when his signal was heard in New Zealand. The communications men aboard dirigibles frequently were hams who chatted with fellow hams on the ground. In September 1925 the dirigible Shenandoah was hit by a violent storm over Ohio and broke into three pieces. The dirigible's operator established contact with Barry Barker (3BTA) of Lower Merion, who received the distress call and notified police. They in turn alerted Ohio authorities to begin rescue operations.
Radio enthusiasts met at the Cassatt estate in Haverford, and later, in 1928, in the Ardmore Legion House, where about twenty hams compared notes.
In 1941 the War Emergency Radio Service enlisted amateurs across the country. The local control station was at the Township Building with emergency stations throughout the township. One such station was the tower of the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, where a longtime ham, Foster Hammonds (W3BUX), conducted drills and was on duty during alerts.
A renewed surge of interest in amateur radio communication occurred after 1945. Each June local hams meet with others around the country to conduct a field day exercise using emergency equipment to ensure that in a disaster they can quickly mobilize to help. Lower Merion has a large number of licensed amateur radio operators to call on in an emergency.
Television broadcasting arrived in Montgomery County in 1952, when CBS-owned-and-operated WCAU-TV and WCAU-AM-FM (then owned by the Bulletin Company) located their studios and offices on City Line Avenue in Bala-Cynwyd.
By 1981 at least half the population of Montgomery County was covered by cable TV. Comcast of Bala, which was granted franchises for the Abington, Jenkintown, and Lower Merion areas, is the giant of this communications system. It won the franchise for Lower Merion by promising special programming for children, ten thousand dollars to maximize library related programming, an intern program for students, a feasibility study for home security service, and a large commitment for the production of locally oriented programming. Comcast's office is near Belmont Avenue and Levering Mill Road.
The Bryn Mawr Home News began in 1877 in an office on Bryn Mawr Avenue. After it was consumed by flames the business was operated by the Howers, father and son, from Norristown, in an ancient bungalow nearly opposite the offices of the water company. A stuffed white horse, once the paper's trademark, was in 1980 tethered outside a hardware store on Lancaster Avenue near the firehouse. From 1890 to 1893 the paper was known as the News and Home News. It was revived in the 1930s and again in 1972 but died after a brief period.
The Ardmore Chronicle, now the Main Line Chronicle, first appeared in 1889. In 1953 the Chronicle was bought by Bernard “Uncle Ben” Kramer, who became editor and publisher. He sold the paper in 1974. In 1980 the owner was Chester County Communications, Ltd.; the publisher, Irvin S. Lieberman, and the editor, Charles E. Montgomery.
The Merion Review and Advertising began publishing Gladwyne news in 1891, just when the changing of the name from Merion Square to Gladwyne was in hot dispute. This publication, much smaller than a tabloid, printed at least three issues.
In the early 1920s appeared the Ardmore Main Liner, the Merionite, and about 1923 the Bala Cynwyd and Merion News, sponsored by the Cynwyd Neighborhood Club and published at first by Philip A. Livingston. A political newspaper, the Record in Haverford, was the mouthpiece of Dirigo Hall, a political organization in Ardmore. Dirigo Hall was Jeffersonian and echoed the sentiments of the farmers' Tammany Hall at Merion Square. In January 1920 Francis “Red” Stiffler began the Main Liner, a publication on the latest doings of the mustang set. Ladies riding sidesaddle were featured regularly. The date of the paper's demise is about 1948.
About 1929 the Main Line Daily Times began under the ownership of Milton Baker, Gordon Crilley, Frederick Dryer, and Ledyard H. Heckscher. It's offices were in the Times Building in Suburban Square. The paper went into bankruptcy under new owners and it, was rescued in 1933 by a Midwesterner, Ainslie Hickerson, who bought it with his brother J. M. Hickerson, T. F. McDonald, and W. E. Underwood. Publication began again in 1934. It remained a daily until 1938 and became a weekly, known as the Main Line Times, in 1939. In 1980 it was a weekly of seventy-two pages with a circulation of about eighteen thousand. Hickerson sold out to Ingersoll Publications in 1966, when the corporate name was changed to Acme Newspapers, Inc. Joseph R. Burt, a native of Brooklyn, became publisher and served until 1977. Thomas O'Leary was editor under Burt. In 1980 the publisher was David Carr; Joan Connor Toenniessen was managing editor.
One of journalism's greats was Bernard Kramer, associated with both the Times and the Chronicle over a period of thirty-two years. “Uncle Ben” Kramer came to work for the Main Line Times in 1948 and introduced the features for which he became well known. He wrote local stories about landmarks, people, animals needing homes, and the way of life in the Main Line of the past. He also wrote a “Dining Out” series, guiding his readers to the best restaurants and warning them of the mediocre or poor.
In 1953 Ben Kramer and his wife, Ethel McDuffee Kramer, purchased the Main Line Chronicle, in which he continued his famous features. He was a severe critic of politicians and politics, never bowing to pressure, always acting in what he saw as the public interest, and occasionally was sued for libel. His critics charged that his news reports read more like editorials than straight news, but he never altered his style. Although Kramer sold the paper in 1974, he continued as a columnist and restaurant reviewer four years longer. After he terminated his work at the Chronicle in 1978, he rejoined the Times, writing a weekly opinion column, “Ben's Page,” devoted to local history, and, with his wife Ethel, his restaurant column. He died at the age of eighty-three in 1980.
The Lower Merion Academy, established in 1812 in Bala-Cynwyd, was one of the first public schools in the United States, and the first in the township to provide free education. It continued to be used as a school until the Cynwyd School opened in 1915. It is still governed by a board of trustees to whom the Lower Merion School District pays fifty dollars each year as rent on a ninety-nine-year lease.
Following the state's mandate to “establish a General System of Education by Common Schools,” a group of men met in the Public House of David Young (now the General Wayne Inn) on April 1, 1834. Lower Merion was the first district in the county to follow the mandate, opening its public schools in November 1835. The schoolhouse in Wynnewood (near where Stouffer's restaurant was in 1981) was not completed until 1836. In Penn Valley the Fairview Union Sunday School was given to the township in 1834 as a part of the new free school system. In 1890 when a larger school building was needed, the township built a two-room structure adjoining this school, and the enlarged building was used until 1919. The Ashland School was built in 1883 in the present Belmont Hills, in the block between Price and Jefferson streets, and rebuilt ten years later.
The Merion Square School on Youngs Ford Road was contracted 1880-81 on the site of an earlier school built about 1840. Over the years additions were made to the Merion Square School to meet the needs of increasing enrollment. By 1956 first and second graders were moved to the Belmont Hills School. They were the first students to go to a new building constructed in 1958 on 12½ acres between Righters Mill and Merion Square Roads. The property was formerly used by the U.S. Army as an antiaircraft site, part of the perimeter defense of Philadelphia, and it had temporary barracks for about a hundred men. The Gladwyne School was formally dedicated on December 1, 1958. The old school is now a Montessori school, “Children's House.”
In 1892 the Lower Merion School District administered eleven schools of mixed grades: Bryn Mawr (Lancaster and Prospect Avenues), Ardmore (Ardmore Avenue), Merion Square (Youngs Ford Road, Gladwyne), Fairview (called Penn Valley in 1980), Bala (Union and Bala Avenues), Pencoyd (Righter's Ferry and Monument Roads, Bala-Cynwyd), Ashland (Jefferson Street, Belmont Hills), Narberth (North Essex and Sabine Avenues), Mt. Pleasant (Spring Mill and Mt. Pleasant Roads, Villanova), Wynnewood (Lancaster Avenue near Wynnewood Road), and the Academy (Bryn Mawr Avenue near Levering Mill Road, Bala-Cynwyd). Slightly more than one thousand boys and girls studied at a monthly cost to the township of $1.90 each. Most boys left school at age thirteen.
Eventually all students were moved to newer, larger schools. Bala School, built in 1888 and moved in 1974 to a new building that combined the school with the community library on Old Lancaster Road and Highland Avenue, was the last to be replaced.
The first high school of the district was organized at the Ardmore School in 1895. As the population increased, plans for a high school large enough to house three hundred students began to materialize in 1908, when land in Ardmore was purchased from George and Sarah Chichester, heirs of the original Welsh owners. A junior high school was created in 1914, to “appeal to the most restless period of children's lives,” according to minutes of the School Board.
In 1895 Narberth Borough withdrew from Lower Merion and created an independent school district. In October 1900, the Ardmore School, which had been built in 1875, burned; neighboring churches served as classrooms until the new Ardmore School opened in 1901. One-room schools at Pencoyd, Mt. Pleasant, and Wynnewood closed about 1915, the same year that the new Cynwyd School opened near the old Academy building, and the new Bryn Mawr Elementary School, Old Lancaster Road and Bryn Mawr Avenue, was completed. In 1919 Fairview pupils began to ride buses to Ardmore, and the old two-room schoolhouse was deeded to the Fairview Union Sunday School, which had shared the premises with the secular school since 1834. The Penn Valley Woman's Club occupies the former Sunday school.
Minutes of the School Board during World War I show that “regular school work was insisted upon as the chief function of the school” even though the high school boys drilled with real guns in a Cadet Corps and girls sewed for the Red Cross and Emergency Aid. Postwar emphases on public school sports, health care, music instruction, and student clubs increased the administrators' responsibilities. The superintendent of schools received his highest salary to date, $4,200 annually.
In 1920 a new Belmont Hills School opened several blocks away from the abandoned old school, and Ardmore Junior High on Montgomery Avenue was ready for occupancy about 1924. The Merion Elementary School on Bowman Avenue opened in 1925 and was enlarged in 1971. Wynnewood Road School opened in 1927, and the Penn Wynne School on Haverford Road began to hold classes in 1931. During this period the Narberth School District asked and received permission to send boys and girls to the Lower Merion junior and senior high schools in Ardmore on a tuition basis. By 1933 kindergartens flourished in all the elementary schools. Bala Cynwyd Junior High School (now Middle School) was ready for use in February 1940 next door to the old Academy building.
The baby boom after World War II resulted in the building of Harriton High School, occupying thirty-two acres on Ithan Avenue in Bryn Mawr, Welsh Valley Junior High School between Hagys Ford and Tower Lane in Penn Valley, the new Gladwyne School off Youngs Ford Road, and Penn Valley School on Righters Mill Road. The 1948 school census showed almost six thousand schoolchildren in the township. In 1963 the aging Ardmore Avenue School was closed, partly to eliminate its racial segregation, and in 1974 the new Bala School-Bala-Cynwyd Public Library was dedicated. Lower Merion School District, once again encompassing Narberth, contained fifteen public schools in the sixties and seventies, serving a student population of more than ten thousand.
Since 1947 Interschool Council, a federation of home and school associations from each of the public schools, has been providing support to the schools combined with analytical studies of educational needs. Its study of teachers' salaries in the late fifties received national attention. The Interschool Council has brought professional children's theater to the community, produced lists of quality books to be read by children and youth, prepared guidelines for social behavior, and provided information on financing post-high school education. The council also helped to form the Lower Merion Township Scholarship Fund and the Volunteer Resource Office, which lists residents available to enrich the education program.
Toward the end of the seventies the postwar surge in student population ended, expenses climbed, and economy measures became imperative. Schools reorganized for efficiency: kindergarten through fifth grade now constituted elementary school, sixth grade through eighth grade became the middle school, and ninth through twelfth grades were high school. Four elementary schools—Bala, Bryn Mawr, Narberth, and Wynnewood Road—as well as Ardmore Junior High School closed. In 1981 the district closed the Belmont Hills Elementary School.
Merion-Mercy Academy for Girls, operated by the Sisters of Mercy adjacent to their motherhouse, provides kindergarten through twelfth grade for approximately six hundred girls. The Mater Misericordia Convent came from Philadelphia to its location on Montgomery Avenue in Merion in 1884. Under the leadership of Mother Mary Patricia Waldron it acquired an extensive campus.
Waldron Academy for Boys, which shares its campus, had its roots in the Village School taught by the Sisters of Mercy between 1885 and 1923. More than three hundred boys attend preschool classes through eighth grade.
The Sisters of Mercy also operate St. Margaret's School in Narberth, and additional parish schools, kindergarten through eighth grade, in Lower Merion Township: Our Mother of Good Counsel on Pennswood Road in Bryn Mawr, founded 1899; St. Thomas of Villanova in Rosemont, opened in 1908 and in 1981 combined with and moved to Our Mother of Good Counsel School; St. Matthias in Bala-Cynwyd, established in 1914; and Presentation Blessed Virgin Mary School in Penn Wynne on Haverford Road, organized in 1959. St. Katherine's Day School for Mentally Handicapped Children on Bowman Avenue in Overbrook is an un-graded school for ages three through eighteen.
The Baldwin School was founded at the suggestion of Dr. James L. Rhoads, first president of Bryn Mawr College. Miss Florence Baldwin started the private college preparatory boarding school in 1888. In 1896 she leased the Bryn Mawr Hotel, a popular summer resort, in which to teach some two hundred girls from seven years old to college age during the winter months. The Baldwin School, incorporated in 1905, purchased the hotel in 1922. Fifty years later the boarding department was terminated for economic reasons, and the students' rooms were converted to teachers' apartments. In 1980 enrollment numbered slightly more than five hundred girls.
The Shipley School, formerly for girls only but coeducational since 1972, is a college preparatory school for more than six hundred students, preschool through twelfth grade. It was founded on its present site in 1894, across the street from Bryn Mawr College, by three sisters who opened “The Misses Shipley's Bryn Mawr School” to educate young women to enter college. In 1982 the boarding department closed. Fund raising in the seventies made it possible to renew the physical plant, to provide new buildings and playing fields, and to add to the endowment.
The Phebe Anna Thorne School of Bryn Mawr College bears the name of a Quaker lady honored by a bequest to Bryn Mawr College about 1909. The school became an experimental laboratory for bright children. John Dewey of Columbia University cited it as one of the “schools of tomorrow.” After a hiatus caused by the Depression, Dr. Katharine Elizabeth McBride, then president of Bryn Mawr, reopened it as a laboratory nursery school for the Graduate Department of Education. It promotes active participation of parents in play-tutoring and advanced methods of child development.
Montgomery Country Day School, founded in 1915 by the Reverend Gibson Bell of All Saints Episcopal Church in Wynnewood, was formerly located on Montgomery Avenue between Penn and Wynnewood Roads. In 1922 the school moved to Old Gulph Road, Penn Valley, where, in 1980, 120 boys and girls attended kindergarten through eighth grade. Stress is placed on reading and mathematics.
Episcopal Academy, one of the oldest institutions for education in Pennsylvania, dates from 1785. In 1921 the academy moved to the former Gilmore property on City Line Avenue in Merion. A building program from 1958 to 1962 resulted in a chapel designed by Vincent Kling, a gymnasium, and the acquisition of additional property on Latch's Lane. In 1974 the school began coeducation with the first three grades, adding girls to one grade each year thereafter. Simultaneously the academy added a second campus in Devon for a section of each of the first six grades. By 1980 enrollment reached nearly one thousand.
The third home of Friends' Central School was the manor house of Green Hill Farms purchased in 1925. The house was built by Wistar Morris in 1863 on City Line in Overbrook. Friends' Central was founded in 1845 in Philadelphia by three Hicksite monthly meetings of the Society of Friends. The school is coeducational and has six hundred day students divided into the lower, middle, and upper schools on a twenty-two acre campus. Friends' Central has long maintained affiliation with schools in other countries and fosters student exchanges.
The Haverford School began as the Haverford College Grammar School in September 1884 on the campus of Haverford College. Its early years were devoted to primary and secondary education for boys in the area. In 1912 the school was incorporated, and since that time it has been known as a non-sectarian, private independent school with a Christian heritage and tradition. The school occupies thirty acres and has four major buildings, with the construction of a new Center for the Arts to be completed in 1983. It is the last nonsectarian independent school for boys, grades K-12, in the Philadelphia area and it is the largest country day school for boys in the country. The school has over 3,200 alumni and in 1982 enrolled about 865 students. In 1982 it had 81 faculty members and administrators.
The School of the Holy Child opened in 1949 on the former Samuel Castner estate in Rosemont. In 1980 a faculty of thirty-three taught two hundred pupils, preschool through grade eight. A senior school closed in 1974. It is the only coeducational independent Roman Catholic elementary school in the area. In the wake of reforms by the Ecumenical Council of 1962 the Sisters of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus adopted a modified religious habit, resumed their baptismal names, and elected a lay chairman of trustees.
Adath Israel Temple of the Main Line built a modern synagogue in 1953 at North Highland Avenue and Old Lancaster Road, in Merion. It had a religious school for children three times a week, a nursery school, and, until 1980, an elementary school.
In 1946 the Akiba Hebrew Academy was organized to ensure a continuation of traditions and culture of Judaism. The school moved several times in Philadelphia and in 1956 settled in Merion at 223 North Highland Avenue, in M. J. McMenamin's mansion, Drake Linden Hall. In 1980 nearly three hundred students in grades six through twelve pursued a formal curriculum coordinated with Jewish studies.
The Children's House School, Inc., a Montessori school, started in September 1962 in a carriage house in Rosemont, moving to St. Sahag and St. Mesrob Armenian Church from 1966 to 1968 and to its present location in the former Merion Square School building (1880) on Youngs Ford Road in Gladwyne in 1968. In 1982 the school had 204 students from eighteen months of age through sixth grade.
St. John Baptist Vianney, on Conshohocken State Road in Gladwyne since 1963, maintains a school for the first through eighth grades, operated by the Bernardine Sisters.
The Vanguard School came to Lower Merion in 1964 to offer an un-graded four-year program corresponding to grades nine through twelve to students needing special care. About 150 students were enrolled. The school left its location in Haverford in 1980 and moved to Paoli.
The Main Line branch of Solomon Schechter day schools, formerly in the Main Line Reform Temple, Wynnewood, occupied buildings of the former convent and day school of the Sacred Heart at City Line and Haverford Avenue in 1980. The Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia purchased the building in 1971. Solomon Schechter School provides instruction from kindergarten through grade six for about 185 children. It is allied with the Conservative movement in American Judaism.
The Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia purchased the former Wynnewood Road School from the Lower Merion School District in 1979. The academy emphasizes scholastic achievement in general and Hebrew studies for children from nursery school through eighth grade. Founded in 1963 in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia, the school follows the Orthodox teachings in Judaism but welcomes pupils of all branches of the Jewish faith.
Haverford College, with its stone gates and playing fields along Lancaster Avenue, has an extensive campus, which lies principally in Delaware County. Founded in 1833 for male students only, it has enjoyed both the intellectual influence and the financial support of Quakers. In 1980 it began enrolling women, and about one thousand students studied the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences in classes with a student-faculty ratio of twelve to one. The James P. Magill Library contains 425,000 volumes and is especially known for its Quaker Collection.
The Theological Seminary of St. Charles Borromeo, founded in Philadelphia in 1832 and chartered in 1838, moved in 1871 to 137 acres at City Line and Lancaster Avenues purchased from W. P. Beekman and T. P. Remington. Owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the seminary educates young men for the special lives they will lead as priests in the local archdiocese as well as the Diocese of Allentown and others. The Religious Studies Division opened in 1969, when sisters of religious communities became the first female students at the Overbrook campus. This division and the School for Pastoral Studies, opened in 1967, grant the Master's Degree in Religious Studies. Pope John Paul II visited the seminary during his tour in America in October 1979.
Bryn Mawr College, founded in 1885 on a site chosen by benefactor Joseph Taylor, became the first women's college to offer both the Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Tenets of the Society of Friends (Quakers) strongly influenced the direction of the institution. President Martha Carey Thomas, its first dean and second president, hoped her graduates would “become as well known and universally admired a type as the Oxford and Cambridge man.” Cooperation with Haverford College includes a sharing of facilities, activities, and courses, but Bryn Mawr remains a woman's college demanding rigorous scholarship. The Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research and the Graduate School of Arts and Science admit men as well as women. Enrollment in 1980 in all branches of the college numbered 1,784.
Founded October 1, 1915, Harcum Junior College was first organized as the Harcum Post-Graduate School with an enrollment of three. Mrs. Edith Hatcher Harcum, founder, held that young women she undertook to educate must have a general education in the fine arts and culture as well as an occupational skill. In 1952 Harcum's existence as a privately owned institution ended in bankruptcy. The Philadelphia Junto Adult School purchased the assets and granted the property to a board of trustees, which reorganized the institution as a nonprofit junior college. In 1955 the state Council of Instruction gave permission to confer the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees, the first time a junior college in Pennsylvania was accorded this privilege. In 1980 more than one thousand students, many as residents, attended class on the 13½ acre campus in Bryn Mawr.
In 1920 Sisters of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus purchased the Sinnott estate in Rosemont with its great manor house, Rathalla. Students were already in residence in 1922 when incorporation was completed, creating Rosemont College of the Holy Child Jesus. Since its founding young women have been admitted without regard to race, religion, handicap, ethnic or national origin to earn degrees in the arts and sciences. Rosemont College shares courses, facilities, and special educational activities with Villanova University and Cabrini College.
The Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, founded in 1925 in Philadelphia, moved to Montgomery County in 1940 to occupy the former Green Hill Farms Hotel. The seminary owns 7½ acres, which include, in addition to the original hotel building, a fine chapel in Georgian style dedicated in 1951. Approximately three hundred seminarians study there for the Master of Divinity degree, a three-year graduate program. The degree of Doctor of Ministry may be earned in pastoral theology and in marriage and family studies.
The Northeastern Institute for Christian Education, later renamed Northeastern Christian Junior College, opened its doors in September 1959 to forty students from fourteen states and one foreign country. It was founded by members of the Church of Christ in the northeastern United States as a private coeducational liberal arts institution. The site of the college is the former Morris Clothier estate on Montgomery Avenue, Villanova. Northeastern has sought to maintain educational excellence while encouraging students and faculty to channel free time into community and church-oriented service.
Lower Merion Township also has a business school, three driving schools, and a school to teach speed-reading. Seven music schools offer instruction in instrumental music and singing. The Main Line Center of the Arts, Old Buck Road in Haverford, provides lessons in several art forms. Numerous churches and synagogues sponsor nursery schools and kindergartens or rent space to independent schools, some of which follow the Montessori technique for early childhood education.
The Lower Merion Library Association, organized in 1935, administers six community public libraries: Ardmore, Bala-Cynwyd, Belmont Hills, Bryn Mawr (Ludington Memorial), Gladwyne, and Penn Wynne. Reorganized in 1961, the association has a board of three members from each of the six library boards and three appointed township commissioners. Each library has a board of directors made up of members of the community in which it is located. Each is supported by a combination of community funds, state support, and appropriations from the township. Twenty-one percent of the support comes from the community. With the reorganized association, one library card became the passport to the holdings of all six libraries. Sixty-three percent of residents are registered borrowers.
The Lower Merion Library Association has a processing center where all of the book ordering, cataloguing, and preparation for circulation is done. Each library strives to have a comprehensive collection, and to develop at least one specific subject strength.
The Ardmore Free Library, founded in 1899, occupies a building erected in 1923 in memory of Mrs. Charles H. (Ethel Saltus) Ludington. Its specialties are black history, literature, biography, sewing patterns, and puzzles.
The Bala-Cynwyd Memorial Library, founded in 1915, was located in a building erected by public subscription to honor World War I heroes until it was moved in 1974 to its present location on Old Lancaster Road in a new building cooperatively conceived by the township and the school district to share the children's library and other facilities and to serve as a community library, reference center, and school. Its specialties are music, economics, Jewish studies, and historical children's literature.
Bryn Mawr's Ludington Public Library, the main library and reference center of the township, began in 1916 with twenty books and two dozen chairs. It occupies a building erected in 1926 as a memorial to Mrs. Charles Ludington, a special friend of libraries. A children's wing was added in 1954, and a major addition built in 1967. In 1980 it had a collection of eighty-seven thousand books, and its circulation was over a quarter of a million. Art, gardening, research materials, foreign language books, finance, children's folklore, and poetry are its specialties.
Penn Wynne Library started in a small building in Overbrook Park in 1929. Community support made a larger building possible, and a wing added in 1960 was the gift of the Decker Foundation. Specialties are plays, women's studies, and Judaica.
Gladwyne Free Library, founded by Maude Butler Bell in 1930, occupies the Gladwyne Community Hall, built in 1921 at 362 Righters Mill Road. The library added a wing during 1975 and 1976, and a community meeting room in 1980. Its Pennsylvania Room houses an extensive collection of rare state and local monographs contributed in 1964 in memory of Mabel Stewart Ludlum by her husband, Dr. Seymour De Witt Ludlum, whose neuropsychiatric “Gladwyne Colony” is described in the Gladwyne portion of this chapter. The library's specialties are local, state, and United States history. Through benefits such as house tours and garden sales, the Gladwyne Library League helps to support the library. The league, organized with twenty members by Mrs. Evelyn McCoy in 1963, had five hundred members in 1981.
Belmont Hills Public Library, organized in 1941 as the Bird Memorial Library, occupies a building erected in 1969 on Mary Waters Ford Road and specializes in children's materials and educational games.
In all six libraries citizens contribute thousands of hours of volunteer work each year. Their efforts enable the libraries to provide increased services to the community without a proportionate increase in costs.
The dates below show when each congregation organized. An asterisk means it no longer exists.
|St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church||1765|
|St. Mary's Episcopal Church||1887|
|Ardmore United Methodist Church||1894|
|Matthew Simpson Methodist Church
(merged with above)
|Zion Baptist Church||1894|
|First Baptist Church of Ardmore||1895|
|Ardmore Presbyterian Church||1902|
|Mt. Calvary Baptist Church||1906|
|Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church||1908|
|St. Colman's Roman Catholic Church||1917|
|First Church of Christ, Scientist||1921|
|St. John's Episcopal Church||1863|
|St. Asaph's Protestant Episcopal Church||1887|
|Presbyterian Church of the Covenant||1901|
|United Methodist Church of Bala-Cynwyd||1905|
|St. Matthias Roman Catholic Church||1906|
|Lower Merion Synagogue||1954|
|United Methodist Church, Ashland Avenue||1896|
|St. Lucy's Roman Catholic Church*
(Members joined St. Justin Martyr, Penn Valley)
|St. Andrew's Episcopal Church*
(Merged with St. John's of Bala-Cynwyd, later dissolved and township took over building about 1977.
|St. John's Roman Catholic Mission*
(Members joined St. Justin Martyr, Penn Valley)
|Nes Ami Synagogue*
(Used vacated building of Episcopal Church until 1977. Now used as community building.)
|Lower Merion Baptist Church||1808|
|Church of the Redeemer (Episcopal)||1851|
|Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church||1873|
|St. Luke United Methodist Church||1876|
|Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church||1878|
|Our Mother of Good Counsel Roman Catholic Church||1885|
|Saints Memorial Baptist Church||1903|
|Gladwyne Methodist Church||1830|
(used as chapel until 1884)
(First Presbyterian of Lower Merion)
|St. John Baptist Vianney Catholic Church||1927|
|Merion Friends Meeting||1695|
|Temple Adath Israel of the Main Line||1947|
|Har Zion Temple
(moved to Lower Merion 1973)
|Beth Am Israel Congregation||1927|
|St. Justin Martyr Roman Catholic Church||1964|
|Christ Community Church*
(Merged with West Hope Presbyterian Church 1948 to become Christ-West Hope Presbyterian. Both merged with Wynnewood United Presbyterian Church 1975 to become Penn Wynne United Presbyterian.)
|Overbrook Park Presbyterian Church*
(See Wynnewood United Presbyterian Church)
|Church of the Holy Apostles (Episcopal)||1950|
|Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic||1953|
|Penn Wynne United Presbyterian Church||1975|
|Church of the Good Shepherd (Episcopal)||1869|
|Faith Presbyterian Church||1964|
|All Saints Episcopal Church||1911|
|Armenian Church of St. Sahag & St. Mesrob||1917|
|St. Mark Armenian Catholic Church||1923|
|Wynnewood United Presbyterian Church
Began in Philadelphia 1848. Became Overbrook Park Presbyterian in 1944, Wynnewood in 1949, Penn Wynne in 1975.
|Main Line Reform Temple||1952|
|Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El||1958|
Roman Catholic Churches
Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Bryn Mawr was founded in 1885. The building, designed by Edwin F. Durang, was built in 1896, after the construction of the rectory in 1894. Augustinians have always served the parish, with the Sisters of Mercy in charge of the school, which was built about 1904. A convent was added in 1912 and a new school in 1965. The church began as a mission church of the Augustinian Fathers in Villanova. In 1980 the congregation included twelve hundred families.
Saint Matthias in Bala-Cynwyd was founded in 1906 with the Reverend Michael McCabe as its first pastor. Parishioner John Lougheran bought the land on which the church now stands. Father McCabe stayed twelve years; by 1918 both the church and the first school were completed. The Sisters of Mercy arrived in 1914, started the Sunday school, and finally had a full school for boys and girls from first to eighth grades. Father McCabe's brother, the Reverend Luke McCabe, was rector from 1918 to 1930. He was succeeded by the Reverends Thomas Haney (1930-48), James E. Heir (1948-80), Monsignor John J. Noone (1980-81), and in 1982 the Reverend Thomas Kane.
Saint Colman's Roman Catholic Church in Ardmore was founded in 1907 with the Reverend James J. Carton as the first rector. The school opened in 1915 under the direction of the Sisters of Saint Joseph from Chestnut Hill. The present church was completed in 1926. In the 1970s the school combined with the parochial school in Bryn Mawr.
St. John's Roman Catholic Mission in Belmont Hills began in 1920 in the former Ashland School. When the mission congregation was incorporated into St. Justin's parish in Penn Valley, the former school building was demolished.
The Reverend Augustus J. Schulte founded Saint John Baptist Vianney in Gladwyne and celebrated the first Mass in 1927. In the early days folding chairs were placed on the porch for the overflow crowd, and families went to Ardmore to Sunday Mass. The church was not built until 1940. Since Father Schulte's death in 1961 the parish has been under the direction of the Reverend Ignatius Reynolds, who established the school and convent in 1963.
A Catholic chapel in Rosemont was started by the Saint Thomas of Villanova parish in 1948 in celebration of its one hundredth anniversary. A school building and convent were also built. In 1973 renovations provided a new altar for the renewed liturgy. Since then three beautiful stained glass windows have been installed in the nave. The number of students at the school, from kindergarten through eighth grade, declined, and in 1981 the children joined the classes of Our Mother of Good Counsel School in Bryn Mawr.
Saint Mark's Armenian Catholic Church, at 400 Haverford Road, Wynnewood, came to Lower Merion in 1975 from Sixtieth and Market Streets in Philadelphia. In 1980 it had a membership of about 135 families. It is the only Roman Catholic church in the Philadelphia area where services are conducted largely in the Armenian language.
Jewish Synagogues and Cemetery
In 1893 the Har Hazaysim (Mount of Olives) Association, which had been formed by several beneficial societies based in Society Hill in Philadelphia, bought a twenty-acre site in Gladwyne off Conshohocken State Road between Mill Creek and Youngs Ford Roads. No one lived near the proposed burial ground, and this was fitting as Jewish tradition since Talmudic times shows that Jews prefer to bury their dead at a distance from their homes.
In 1898 Jewish immigrant families in Philadelphia paid less than fifty cents a year to guarantee that the Independent Chevre Kaddishe (Holy Brotherhood), which had eventually become solely responsible for the cemetery, would provide a ritually correct burial for each member. Hundreds of Jewish immigrants were buried at Har Hazaysim, but by 1910 burials were diminishing. The last person to be interred there was Seaman Second Class Benjamin Shurr, who died on March 28, 1945.
Temple Adath Israel, the first Conservative synagogue on the Main Line, now located at Old Lancaster Road and North Highland Avenue, Merion, was established in 1946 by a group of six men representing eighteen families. Its congregation had grown to seven hundred families by 1980. Rabbi Martin Berkowitz, its first rabbi, is still serving.
Other Conservative synagogues now include Beth Am Israel congregation and Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El. Beth Am Israel led by Rabbi Andrew Sacks, moved from South Philadelphia to Hagy's Ford Road, Penn Valley, in 1973. Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, led by Rabbi Marshall J. Maltzman, was founded in 1958 and is located in Wynnewood at Lancaster Avenue and Remington Road.
The call to organize Main Line Reform Temple, Beth Elohim, Montgomery Avenue and Penn Road, Wynnewood, was issued in 1952 by Natalie Lansing Hodes. She became the temple's founding president and, it is believed, the first woman president of a Jewish congregation in the United States. Rabbi Theodore F. Gordon, its first rabbi, served until 1972. The rabbi in 1980 was Dr. Max Hausen. The congregation of Main Line Reform Temple, Beth Elohim has expanded from 55 families to 1,050 in 1980.
The first High Holiday services for the Orthodox congregation of Lower Merion Synagogue were held in a log cabin owned by Vandiver-Moylan American Legion Post 355, Manayunk and Conshohocken State Roads, Cynwyd, in 1954. The congregation later found a home at 123 Old Lancaster Road, Bala-Cynwyd. Rabbi Abraham A. Levene has served the congregation since 1967.
Lower Merion Synagogue provides classes in Jewish subjects ranging from the Talmud to cantillation and has active committees on Soviet Jewry and on fostering interest in Israel. Temple Adath Israel conducts a Hebrew school, a nursery school, and, until 1980, a private day school, as well as sponsoring lectures and cultural events. Main Line Reform Temple, Beth Elohim serves as a house of worship, a house of study, and a house of assembly for social celebrations.
The Armenian Church of St. Sahag-St. Mesrob has a congregation of 450 families living in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The Armenians keep alive their language and the Armenian form of Christianity adopted in 301 A.D. In 1962, the churchmoved from Philadelphia, where it had been organized in 1917. Its new residence became Ballytore, the castle like mansion built in Wynnewood for Isaac Clothier in 1885. The interior was gutted and renovated for the church.
Merion Friends Meetinghouse was built in 1695 by Welsh Quakers who had settled Merion. It is the oldest place of worship in continuous use in Pennsylvania, a fact substantiated in the pamphlet entitled Merion Meeting House, 1695-1945: A Study of Evidence Relating to the Date by Samuel J. Bunting, Jr.
Merion Friends Meetinghouse has been a place of worship, celebration, and schism. Here meetings for worship every First Day (Sunday), marriages, and memorial services as well as forums and Scouts ceremonies are held. Its bicentennial celebration took place in a tent on Seventh Day, Tenth Month, Fifth, 1895 (Saturday October 5, 1895) near the original building, to which an addition had been made in 1714. Its members experienced the schism that split Ouakerdom in 1827. The two groups, the “Orthodox” and the “Hicksites” attempted to share the building, but eventually the Orthodox withdrew to Hestonville, near what is now Fifty-second and Jefferson Streets in Philadelphia. Unity was restored in 1955.
The meeting decreased in size during the first part of the twentieth century, but never actually closed its doors. In the years before World War II and during the war, however, there was a marked resurgence in the number of members. A new activities building was constructed in 1949 to accommodate the First Day School, committee meetings, and social events, and in 1950 the Merion Friends Nursery School began its use of the building, which lasted until 1979.
Merion Meeting acquired the status of a “monthly meeting” in 1951, meaning it continued to meet for worship every Sunday but conducted its own business meetings once a month. Until then it had been a “preparative meeting” participating with Old Haverford and Radnor in the Radnor Monthly Meeting. The meetinghouse stands beside a walled burial ground in which lie thousands of members and a number of nonmembers who are consigned to the now indistinguishable Strangers' Row. A double line of hybrid Yoshima cherry trees noted for their deep pink double blossoms borders its walkway.
The Lower Merion Baptist Church was founded in 1808. The congregation built its meetinghouse in 1810 on ground at New Gulph and Old Gulph Roads presented by Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress. His likeness is represented in a stained-glass window contributed later by George W. Childs, publisher of the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Other memorial windows were added in 1887 when renovations changed the style of the historic building. It was restored to its original plain lines in 1930, when interior improvements were also made. Although the meetinghouse, built before there was any village, railroad, or college in Bryn Mawr, remained the heart of the church, the congregation had missions in several other locations. A chapel and educational building on Lancaster Avenue were in use until a few years before the property was sold to the Philadelphia Suburban Water Company in 1952. The church also organized a Sunday school in Merion Square (Gladwyne) in 1873. In 1884 a chapel was erected at Conshohocken State and Youngs Ford Roads to house the school. This building was used by the church until the fifties. It was sold to the Gladwyne Boy Scouts in 1961.
In 1880 it was still the only Baptist church in the township and had two hundred members. Between 1894 and 1906 four additional congregations were added until, by 1980, the township had fourteen hundred Baptist members.
The burial ground adjacent to Lower Merion Baptist Church, nonsectarian since its establishment in 1810, had little empty space in 1980, necessitating limiting future sale of lots to church members only. Sixteen descendants of William Penn are buried here, as well as members of the armed forces from the Revolutionary War to the present.
Zion Baptist Church (1895) seems to be the first attempt to organize a Black church in Ardmore. It grew from a Sunday school class that met in the Ardmore Baptist Church. Services were held in a frame building on Cricket Avenue for a short time. But the independent minded people, wanting a church of their own, soon purchased land at Greenfield and Spring Avenues. The need for a church on that site brought about an unusual event.
A diligent handful of people procured a frame building on Lancaster Avenue, where the Ardmore trolley terminal had stood. Measuring about twenty-seven by sixty feet, the building had once been used as an ice cream parlor. It was moved whole across soggy fields and mired roads to its present location. The frame building was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1915.
Another account says a new edifice was built in 1899, five years after the presentation of the organizing charter by Pastor Jeremiah Gregory of Philadelphia. Extensive renovations were started in the 1960s under the inspired leadership of the Reverend and Mrs. Leonard Jones. The pastoral couple in 1982 were the Reverend and Mrs. James Pollard.
Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Ardmore was organized in 1906 by a dissident group from Zion Baptist Church. They began meeting in the home of Mrs. Flora Woodson in 1906 and for a time met on the third floor of Sutton Hall on Lancaster Avenue. Eventually a site was acquired at 127 Walnut Avenue, and the church built at that location has remained in service. Most of the construction work for the new building was undertaken during the pastorate of the Reverend F. M. Hedgeman, who served from 1912 to 1953. The 350-member congregation called the Reverend A. Davis to the pastorate in July 1982.
The First Baptist Church of Ardmore began as a Sunday school in 1891. In 1895 twenty-four members formed the First Baptist Church under the leadership of the Reverend Charles M. Reed. The Sunday school building, dedicated in 1893 and located on Cricket Avenue, became the home of the new church until its present sanctuary at St. Paul's Road and Athens Avenue was completed in 1924. A parsonage adjacent to the church is now used for educational purposes. In 1975 the Overbrook Baptist Church, founded in 1916, merged with the Ardmore congregation. In 1980 the Reverend Charles A. Paul was pastor, and membership numbered 157.
Saints Memorial Baptist Church in Bryn Mawr was originally called Second Baptist Church of Bryn Mawr. First services were held in a blacksmith shop across from its present location. The present church was built in 1928, under the leadership of the Reverend James Arthur Younger. In 1982 the Reverend and Mrs. Barry Hopkins were continuing the active community involvement and multifaceted church programs of their predecessors. A new area of endeavor was the production of a radio ministry.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, of Ardmore began at the Ardmore Woman's Club in 1921, the same year a Sunday school started. It was originally established as “Christian Science Society of Ardmore, Pennsylvania.” In 1923 it became a branch church and received its present name.
The site at Athens and Linwood Avenues was purchased and the building was ready for use in 1929. Services continued at the Woman's Club until the dedication on December 24, 1939, after all debts had been paid, a requirement of the Manual of the Mother Church. The Reading Room at 21 Rittenhouse Place, Ardmore, opened in 1947 and is available to the public as well as to church members.
Thirteen Episcopal churches composed the Merion Deanery in 1980, seven of which, plus Christ's Chapel at Episcopal Academy, were in Lower Merion.
The Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr is the oldest in the township. In 1851 vacationers from Philadelphia began holding services in Temperance Hall, which stood slightly beyond the eight-mile stone on Lancaster Pike in today's Haverford. The first church, at Lancaster and Buck Lane, is no longer standing. The first rector, Henry Brown, was followed by the Reverend Edward L. Lycett, who organized a mission for workers from factories along Mill Creek and supervised a Sunday school in Ardmore's Masonic Hall, both of which became thriving churches in later years. In 1879-81 a new church, designed by Charles M. Burns, Jr., was built at Pennswood and New Gulph Roads in Bryn Mawr to serve the many prosperous parishioners. Cassatts, Wheelers, and Ewings, among other notable Main Liners, are buried in the adjacent cemetery. The church had major renovations in 1976. In 1980 the pastor was the Reverend Timothy Pickering.
St. John's Episcopal Church, built in what was then called Merionville and today is Bala-Cynwyd, is the oldest Episcopal church still in use in the township. Construction was hurried so that the new building could be used on Sunday, August 6, 1863, President Lincoln's day of national thanksgiving for victory at Gettysburg. By 1901 other buildings had been built to form a quadrangle, and a Lady chapel was consecrated in 1906. The pastor since 1965 has been Father Robert Keel.
St. Christopher's Church in Gladwyne began in the Reverend Edward L. Lycett's St. Joseph's Mission for mill workers. The mission was under the leadership of the Church of the Redeemer in the 1860s and 1870s. The chapel subsequently came under the care of St. Mary's Church in Ardmore and, in 1930, of All Saints Church in Wynnewood. To supplement services in the chapel, a Community Hall was built by the diocese in Merion Square during the Depression. In 1950 a new church building was erected on Righters Mill Road and used for the first time on Christmas Eve. The first rector, the Reverend Robert Q. Kennaugh (1950-55), promoted activities especially for the young. The first woman graduate of the Philadelphia Divinity School, Helen McHenry, became St. Christopher's Christian education director. The pastor in 1982, the Reverend Warren H. Davis, Jr., wrote and hosted a TV interview series on the aggression of man.
St. Mary's Episcopal Church was also begun by the Reverend Edward L. Lycett and established as the Chapel of the Church of the Redeemer and as a Sunday school in 1873 in the Masonic Hall in Ardmore. It later moved to the Odd Fellows Hall on Lancaster Pike. In 1886 the congregation chose St. Mary's for the name of its new church being built on Ardmore Avenue. In 1982 the rector for 285 families was the Reverend Harry Mayfeld.
The Church of St. Asaph's in Bala-Cynwyd was built in 1889 on Conshohocken State Road by a congregation that first met in a cold, leaky frame building near City Line Avenue in 1887. Since the area had been settled by Welsh, the church was named for the twelfth-century cathedral of St. Asaph in northern Wales. A walled-in cemetery is entered through a roofed lich gate, defined by Webster's dictionary as “an opening or gate to a churchyard where a bier is placed to await the arrival of the clergyman.” In 1982 the pastor was the Reverend Edgar G. Adams.
The Church of the Good Shepherd on Lancaster Pike at Montrose Avenue in Rosemont, given by Harry B. French as a memorial to his wife Augusta, first opened its doors for services in 1894. The congregation, founded in 1869, began worship in an earlier church on Lancaster Avenue near Garrett Avenue in1872. In 1873 members opened the Hospital of the Good Shepherd in a rented farmhouse on Ithan Avenue. The hospital, first on the Main Line, was primarily organized to render medical help to children whose parents could not otherwise afford such care; doctors donated their services. In 1883 a building was built on Conestoga and Garrett Roads in Delaware County. The Good Shepherd facility later became an orphanage, and in 1921 was absorbed into the Church Farm School. The Reverend Andrew C. Mead was pastor in 1982.
All Saints Church began in 1910 when residents of Narberth and Wynnewood asked the Reverend Andrew S. Burke to conduct Episcopal services in his home on Manor Road on Sunday afternoons. In 1911 Mrs. Burke's mother, Mrs. Alford Forbes Fay, gave land for the construction of a church on the corner of Montgomery Avenue and Gypsy Lane. Services were first held at All Saints Church in December 1911. The Reverend Gibson Bell of All Saints founded and served as headmaster of the Montgomery Country Day School, and for twenty years held services at St. Joseph's Mission on Mill Creek in addition to ministering to his own parishioners. The pastor in 1982 was the Reverend Harry E. Krauss III, following the Reverend John J. Albert (1956-80).
The Episcopal Academy has a striking chapel, built in 1960 and designed by Vincent Kling, on its campus in Merion. It holds services daily for the students, but has no parishioners or Sunday worship. Marriages, funerals, and special services are held upon the request of alumni.
St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church has had a long history. It began when ground was secured in Ardmore in 1765 for the first Lutheran log church. Nicknamed the “Dutch Church” and built about 1769, it was established by the first German immigrants, and services were in German. A stone schoolhouse (20 by 25 feet), built on the land in 1787, is still standing and is now a Pennsylvania landmark. The church assumed the corporate name of “The Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Saint Paul's Church” in 1833, when it moved into its third building. The sexton's house and the parsonage were added in 1844 and 1852. In 1873 the cornerstone was laid for a fourth church structure. A fifth building was constructed in 1941 at Argyle and Wynnewood Roads, and the Luther Parsons Bell Tower erected in 1957. After renovations to the sanctuary and parish building in 1961, the church was rededicated. Further renovations were made in 1977. Although the church uses an Ardmore address, it is actually in Wynnewood. Membership was still growing in 1980, when the church had about eight hundred baptized members.
A burial ground, started by the earliest settlers, now surrounds the “Old Dutch Schoolhouse” and fills the entire block bounded by Athens Avenue and Argyle, West Wynnewood, and Hood Roads. Nearly 4,500 burials of several faiths have been recorded here. The remains of over 200 veterans, including 42 from the Revolutionary War, are recognized each Memorial Day and on other patriotic occasions.
The Gladwyne Methodist Church was organized in 1830 as a church school in Fritz's School House, where the congregation met only from March until late fall. The church records note that annual picnics, called “a celebration,” were all-day affairs held in September. Traditionally one of the leading men in town donated a long rope. The superintendent would take hold at the beginning of the rope and then all the others grabbed on behind to keep all in line and to prevent the youngsters from getting lost as they traveled from one cow path to another until they arrived at the picnic site. The original one-story building erected in 1840 is now used as the Fellowship Hall.
St. Luke's Methodist Episcopal (now St. Luke's United Methodist) Church began in 1876 when a committee, presided over by Bishop Simpson, made plans to establish a Methodist church in Bryn Mawr. By August 29, 1877, ground was broken on the southeast corner of Penn Street and Montgomery Avenue. Until 1883 St. Luke's shared the pastor of Radnor Methodist Church. The educational building was erected in 1950. The original church building, now used as a chapel, was replaced by a new sanctuary dedicated March 23,1962. After a succession of thirty-one pastors, the Reverend George C. Lurwick of St. Luke's completed his thirty-fourth year of ministry in 1981.
Narberth Methodist Episcopal Church began in 1885 when Methodists worshiped at the Union (or Fairview) Sunday School, which was known as “Beth Raffen.” In 1892, three years before the borough of Narberth was established, land was donated for the new church at Narberth and Price Avenues in Narberth.
The first preaching service of the Ardmore Methodist (later United Methodist) Church was held on Sunday afternoon, October 7,1894, in Dirigo Hall on Lancaster Avenue opposite Ardmore Avenue. Two years earlier a group had reorganized a Methodist Sunday school at the home of Henry Adams, postmaster of Ardmore. The church building at the corner of Argyle Road and Lancaster Avenue was dedicated on April 26, 1896. The Reverend John Galen McEllhenney wrote a brief history, which was printed in 1973 in Ardmore's Centennial publication (Ardmore Centennial Corporation, 1973, p. 9). As the Methodist church approached its fiftieth year in 1944 the Gibbons estate (location of the Holman School) at Argyle Road and Linwood Avenue was purchased. Here ground-breaking ceremonies were held in August 1948 and, according to the Reverend Dr. McEllhenney, “the beautiful Georgian colonial church with its white spire soaring upward through stately old trees was consecrated in December of 1949.” Since 1961 a new Christian education building has served both church and community.
In Belmont Hills, the Ashland Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church of West Manayunk was organized on May 17, 1896, in the home of Archibald Gilmore, and ground was broken for the chapel at Ebenezer and Price Streets in July. A new lot at 35 Ashland Avenue was secured, the cornerstone was laid in 1924, and the present church was dedicated in March 1925. Later an army surplus building served as a Sunday school building and social hall. The church, now Ashland Avenue United Methodist Church, has a part-time minister, is self-supporting, and is the only active church left “on the hill.”
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, standing at 505 Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr, houses the oldest black congregation on the Main Line. It was started as a mission in 1878, in the residence of John Hooper, a local minister. Although his wife was an infidel and his children were untrained in Christian doctrines, he conducted services in his home, securing the presence of two or more persons to join him whenever he could. He was joined by George Barrick, and the two of them held services wherever they could until Hooper's death two years later. Barrick carried on the services, with some help, for a year, until he was joined by Samuel Curtis. The main meeting place was at Duty Hall on Buck Road, Haverford. Unable to stay current with the rent of four dollars per month, they were compelled to move from place to place. Having ninety dollars in their possession, they attempted to purchase a plot at White Hall in Haverford. But the minister needed the money to support his family, so the group lost possession of the ground.
After an appeal to the Philadelphia Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church for the assignment of a minister to serve the mission, the Reverend J. B. Hill was sent in 1888. In the absence of a parsonage or church building, Pastor Hill, his wife, and their seven children moved from place to place.
Because all authentic records of the founding of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Ardmore, have been destroyed, information has been obtained from people associated with the founders. Their accounts vary. Thus, there are three versions of the founding of Bethel. This account is based on Sunday school records substantiated by parallel facts of the founding of other AME churches in the area.
In 1894 a group of people living on a farm section called Wyola (Delaware County), located between Leopard and Newtown Square, thought it wise to start a mission. They met one Sunday afternoon and organized. The Reverend L. W. Thurston, who was serving the AME churches in the area, preached the first sermon. The services began with house-to-house meetings, most of which were probably held in the home of Matthew Shippen. There was no regular pastor. The Reverend George Thomas, the local preacher who served the Wayne church, in the absence of the Reverend Thurston, was also assigned to serve Bethel for about a year. The Reverend I. J. Thomas, of the church in Centerville, Maryland, also assisted.
The Reverend William J. Oliver, who had just been called into the ministry, came into their midst and began holding the services in a blacksmith shop. He, along with Matthew Shippen, was sincerely interested in the progress of the mission. Soon after his arrival, heapproached William Rhodes, his employer, and asked for community support in building a church. Eventually the blacksmith shop was condemned, and, with money reserved through the endeavors of Wyola, those raised in camp meetings, and other efforts in Ardmore, a little mission was built on land between Walnut Avenue and Sheldon Lane.
Under the leadership of the Reverend C. W. Stewart from 1915 to 1920, the little mission on the back lot was moved forward and became a fine building. The Reverend J. A. Portlock, who served the congregation from 1928 to 1931, purchased the present parsonage at 208 Simpson Road, Ardmore.
During the 10 A.M. worship on Sunday, February 18, 1973, the church was destroyed by fire, the cause still unknown. The congregation worshiped for three years in St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Ardmore and then rebuilt the church with its entrance on SheldonLane. The five-hundred-member congregation, led in 1982 by the Reverend and Mrs. Richard R. Stokes, prides itself on “serving God and Man in the heart of the Main Line since 1895.”
The Cynwyd Methodist Episcopal Church (now the United Methodist Church of Bala-Cynwyd) was organized with ten members in 1905 under the leadership of the pastor of the Gladwyne Methodist Episcopal Church. It received its charter on August 12, 1916, but continued to hold services in the room over the Cynwyd Fire Company, as it had since July 1905, until a chapel was built at Levering Mill Road and Bala Avenue in 1922. The first full time pastor, the Reverend Frank M. Gray, served from 1925 to 1930. Ground breaking for the Gothic “Methodist Cathedral of the Main Line” was held on Sunday, June 14, 1931, under the Reverend Franklin Duncombe; but dedication was interrupted by the Depression and bank closings until Sunday, May 26, 1935. During the interim, services were held in the Bala-Cynwyd Woman's Club across the street. Improvements were steadily completed on the new Gothic sanctuary, and a memorial carillon was installed in 1947. In October 1950 the education building was consecrated at 314 Levering Mill Road. Its pastor in 1981 was the Reverend Andrew Schultz.
Headquarters of the Peace Mission Movement are in Gladwyne, just off Spring Mill Road. Followers of Father Divine purchased Woodmont, the estate of Alan Wood, Jr., in 1953.
Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church began informally in January 1873 in the Temperance Hall on the Lancaster Pike. The officially recognized group soon bought a larger piece of ground on Montgomery Avenue where the church stands today. The first pastor, the Reverend William H. Miller, began his work in the new chapel in September 1874 and stayed for thirty-three years, helping to build the church in 1886. The Reverend Dr. David B. Watermulder was minister to a congregation of 3,400 in 1982.
The First Presbyterian Church of Lower Merion began as the Gladwyne Presbyterian Church in October 1874, when a group in Gladwyne reorganized after two years of inactivity. The seventeen members held their first services in the home of Mrs. Margaret Egbert. Later the Gladwyne Presbyterian Church was erected on the corner of Righters Mill and Black Rock Roads. In 1958, changing its name to the First Presbyterian Church of Lower Merion, the church moved to a piece of land off Monk Road, where it remains today. The minister in 1982 was the Reverend Howard E. Friend, Jr.
The Presbyterian Church of the Covenant of Lower Merion began at the turn of the century when George Barr invited some neighbors to join him in worship at his home on Cynwyd Road in Bala-Cynwyd. He found that many of his friends wanted to worship in a place close to where they lived. Worship, with a congregation of forty-nine people, began in a tent on the ground where the church stands today—the corner of Montgomery and Bryn Mawr Avenues. Services officially began on June 23, 1901. Membership in 1980 was 300, the Reverend Robert S. Williamson having served since 1975.
When the Ardmore Presbyterian Church began in 1907, Ardmore had seven churches, but none for Presbyterians. T. Edwin Ross gathered some thirty-two Presbyterians at a meeting that led to organizing the church on October 4, 1907, in the Assembly Hall of the old YMCA. The group bought ground at Mill Creek Road and Montgomery Avenue and began building a chapel in December 1909. The sanctuary was built in 1924. The pastor in 1980 was the Reverend David V. Yeaworth.
The Penn Wynne United Presbyterian Church, located at Haverford and Manoa Roads, is the result of several mergers of city and township churches. Christ Church of Overbrook Hills, established in 1931, merged with the West Hope Presbyterian in 1948. Then the Christ-West Hope Church merged with the Wynnewood United Presbyterian in 1975 to form the Penn Wynne church. In 1981 the sanctuary, built in 1948, served a congregation of 140 members. The pastor was the Reverend C. Russell Doherty.
The Faith Presbyterian Church, previously named the Faith Bible Presbyterian Church, joined the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in the 1970s. Its congregation, organized in 1964 as an outgrowth of a Bible Study group in Gladwyne, meets at 711 Mount Moro Road in Villanova in a former private residence. The pastor in 1982 was the Reverend Peter C. Jensen.
Dr. Robert J. Dodd built a mansion in 1850 on Old Gulph Road in Ardmore; Dodd's Lane now leads to the house. His son, Dr. Robert J. Dodd, Jr., lived there after his father's death in 1876. Dr. Joseph Anderson lived in Ardmore at Old Lancaster and Mill Creek Roads. Dr. Gorham Parsons Sargent, of Bryn Mawr, was especially interested in maternity cases and was physician in charge of the Good Shepherd Hospital for Children, founded by the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in 1873.
In 1893 a group of socially prominent women established the Bryn Mawr Hospital. The new building, designed by Frank Furness, was ultra-modern with an elevator and electric lights. It was the brain child of Ardmore's Dr. George S. Gerhard, nephew of a famous Philadelphia physician, William Wood Gerhard. George S. Gerhard maintained stables in Overbrook, Ardmore, and Devon where he changed horses as he drove on his house call route. When the Bryn Mawr Hospital opened, he was assisted by Dr. Robert C. Gamble who served as president of the medical staff until 1939. A medical laboratory was installed in 1905. Dr. Max Strumia, the director of laboratories from 1932 until after World War II, received honors and worldwide fame for his research on the use of blood plasma in the treatment of shock.
The school of nursing also opened in 1905. Nurses worked seventy hours a week and discipline was severe. Not until 1933 was the work-week reduced to sixty-four hours. At the request of the American Red Cross during World War I, the hospital increased the size of the nursing school classes. Eighteen Bryn Mawr nurses were in military service in World War I.
The hospital's first patient, a man with acute appendicitis, wisely refused surgery but submitted to “freezing” his appendix and survived to age ninety-five. Most of the patients were servants of Main Line families. People went to hospitals for care only in dire extremity. The first blood transfusion at Bryn Mawr Hospital took place in 1918. Four of nine patients receiving transfusions that year died; until blood typing was perfected, transfusion was a risky procedure. An obstetrical department opened in 1919.
Most of the doctors along the Main Line, among them Drs. Chrystie, Council, Branson, Alison, and William C. Powell, a homeopath, had autos by 1902 or 1903. They were mostly Autocars, although Dr. Gerhard had an impressive Maxwell and Rosemont's Dr. Branson made house calls in an immense Stanley Steamer. In 1907 the hospital replaced its horse drawn ambulance with an Autocar that had inflatable tires on wooden wheels, limelight lamps flanking the driver's seat, a big spotlight in front, and a rubber horn. Its top speed was thirty miles an hour.
In 1943 T. Truxton Hare became managing director of Bryn Mawr Hospital succeeding W. W. Bodine as president of the Board of Trustees after the war ended. Other outstanding benefactors of the hospital included Rudulph Ellis, Samuel M. Vauclain, George R. Packard, Robert E. Strawbridge, and C. Willing Hare. In 1980 Carl I. Berquist was president of administration, and Edward Starr III chairman of the board.
From 20 beds, the Bryn Mawr Hospital had grown, by 1980, to 397 beds and 28 bassinets, and employed 1,315 people and a medical staff of 310 doctors to care for the 15,347 patients admitted that year.
The Lankenau Hospital, formerly the German Hospital of Philadelphia, where it was chartered in 1860, moved into Lower Merion in 1953. Designed by Vincent Kling and built on Lancaster Avenue near City Line, the hospital was named for John D. Lankenau, who, with his wife, the former Mary Jane Drexel, was an early benefactor. Dr. John B. Deaver, the surgeon who ruled supreme in the amphitheater from 1880 to 1931, was followed by his son, J. Montgomery Deaver. Some of the nurses were Lutheran deaconesses, members of a German religious nursing order who provided superior nursing care.
Since 1966 Lankenau has been affiliated with Jefferson Medical College. Teaching programs have been broadened, dozens of new medical services have been added, and the original building has been enlarged and renovated. In 1980 the hospital admitted 15,955 patients, employed 1,639 people, and had 448 beds and 41 bassinets.
The controversial Dr. Albert C. Barnes, who was born in Kensington, Philadelphia, made a fortune patenting an antiseptic medicine, Argyrol, for which he lost his medical license. He lived in Merion and left his priceless modem art collection to the community along with his colorful reputation.
Samuel Booth Sturgis, the patriarch of township doctors, was born in 1891 in West Manayunk within fifteen miles of the spot where his Swedish ancestor, Sven Shute, landed on Tinicum Island in 1643. Dr. Sturgis has practiced on the Main Line since 1918. One of his classmates at Lower Merion High School was Monroe Hinson Tunnell, a black doctor who practiced in Bryn Mawr. Dr. Tunnell was a graduate of Jefferson, where he won the graduating class gold medal in gynecology. Dr. Sturgis also remembers Drs. Clifford and Herbert Arnold, who practiced in Ardmore.
Bryn Mawr College initiated two significant early social service projects: the Bryn Mawr Community Center and a summer school for women industrial workers. The college's Graduate Department of Social Economy and Social Research started the community center. Hilda W. Smith, a pioneer in social work and later dean of the college, directed the center, which opened in 1916 in three rooms in the old public school on Lancaster Avenue next to the firehouse. College students worked as volunteers in a program that began with after-school activities for children, a playground, and a twenty-volume library. Later additions included a kindergarten, night school courses in English, a women's club for sewing and recreation, a hot lunch program (soup and crackers for three cents at first, later a more varied menu for fourteen cents), and a number of boys' clubs. Necessary additional space was secured by transplanting the library, the office, and the girls' and women's clubs to a house, the Milestone, three blocks away. In 1917 the township commissioners voted an appropriation for the library, which became the Ludington Public Library.
The center took on many problems created by World War I. It started a canning kitchen to save surplus fruits and vegetables. During the influenza epidemic it organized a kitchen crew to send out hot food to households where no one was well enough to cook. In 1919 a committee of citizens, considering an appropriate war memorial, voted to accept Miss Smith's suggestion: a permanent community center with its own building and an endowment for upkeep as a living memorial to the war dead. A large stone house on the southwest comer of Lancaster and Bryn Mawr Avenues was bought for the memorial.
An experiment in workers' education, the first of its kind in the United States, was started in 1921 by Bryn Mawr College. The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry, directed by Hilda W Smith, was governed by a board consisting of equal numbers of representatives from the college and the workers. Women between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five were recruited from all over the United States to study economics, English, literature, hygiene, science, and music appreciation for eight weeks on the Bryn Mawr campus. This school, in existence until 1933, led to the formation of workers' schools on other campuses. Many former Bryn Mawr Summer School students assumed significant leadership roles on returning to their own communities.
Numerous agencies now offer assistance with health related problems to residents and provide opportunities for them to help others. These include the Family Service of Montgomery County, the Family Division of the Neighborhood League, Jewish Family Service, Main Line Meals on Wheels, Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army, and a Christian organization called The Fish.
Several specialized services are offered to children and youth, including day care opportunities. Two of these are the Neighborhood Youth Corps and ABC, A Better Chance. The Timothy School for emotionally disturbed young children was established in 1966 by the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. The Phoenix House, initiated in 1972 by the Junior League of Philadelphia and aided by the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, offers a home, located on Radnor Street in Bryn Mawr, to troubled adolescent girls. The “Soul Shack,” popular name for the Ardmore Recreation Center, was founded in the late sixties to provide activities for young people, especially those from black families in South Ardmore.
Organizations for older people include the Pennsylvania Association of Older Persons; the Lower Merion and Narberth Coalition for Older Adults, both in Ardmore; Lower Merion Senior Center in St. Mary's Episcopal Parish House, Ardmore; Ardmore Senior Club, Spring and Walnut Avenues; Hillside Club, Belmont Hills; Springhouse, Bryn Mawr; and Levering Mill House, Cynwyd.
A federally funded organization providing activity for older citizens is the RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program). Retired persons volunteer to work in hospitals, as tutors in schools, or in other institutions where their skills are needed. Government funds pay administration costs and volunteers' travel expenses.
Providing in-home services for people over fifty-five as an alternative to nursing home care is Senior Outreach Services, a nonprofit membership organization funded by contributions from individuals, churches, civic associations, and private foundations. Located in Ardmore, it was founded in 1974 under the corporate sponsorship of Resources for Human Development. Other organizations providing in-home care are the Visiting Nurse Service and the Community Health Association in Ardmore and Comcare, Inc., in Bala-Cynwyd.
Nursing homes in the township include Saunders House at Lankenau Hospital, Bryn Mawr Terrace Convalescent Home, Chateau Convalescent Center in Bryn Mawr, and Rosemont Manor. Mary J. Drexel Home in Cynwyd is a Lutheran retirement home with nursing care available. The Charles C. Knox Home, in Wynnewood on the old Knox farm, is open only to Lower Merion residents over sixty-five.
The township has three ambulance services: Allied Medical; Main Line, in Cynwyd; and the Narberth Ambulance (VMSC of Narberth). The Volunteer Medical Service Corps of Narberth, Inc., has served the Lower Merion area since 1947.
Social and emergency relief services are offered by the many benevolent, fraternal, and women's societies in Lower Merion. The American Red Cross Main Line Branch, founded in 1917, established a one hundred bed hospital in Bryn Mawr's old Montgomery Inn during the influenza epidemic. It has given assistance whenever disaster strikes a community or family in the area. During World War II the Main Line Branch initiated its blood donor program while supplying over two million surgical dressings, garments, and knitted articles, and packing thousands of kit bags for soldiers and supplies for prisoners of war. During the Korean War the Red Cross gave valuable assistance to veterans and their families. The blood donor program and many other volunteer activities continue.
The Lower Merion unit of the American Cancer Society, formed in 1974 by Hal L. Bemis, a former president of the township Board of Commissioners, has rendered outstanding service in practical help to cancer victims, in education in cancer detection, in “quit smoking” clinics, and other programs.
Groups having a variety of social service projects include the Knights of Columbus, Bishop Kendrick Council #2256, in Ardmore; the Masonic Lodge, Ardmore; Rotary clubs of Bala Cynwyd-Narberth, Ardmore, and Bryn Mawr; the Optimist Club; the Veterans of Foreign Wars; the Soroptimists; the Woman's Clubs of Bala-Cynwyd, Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Penn Valley, and Wynnewood Valley; and the Women's American Organization for Rehabilitation through Training.
Since 1975 Lower Merion Township has participated in the HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) Community Development Block Grant Program. Grants totaling $3,278,000 provided such programs as upgrading declining neighbor-hoods, assisting lower income residents, supplying low interest loans and direct grants to rehabilitate both owner-and renter-occupied houses, rehabilitating and reselling vacant houses to low income families, operating and maintaining recreational facilities in Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Belmont Hills, and many others.
Resources for Human Development was established in 1970 in Ardmore as a diversified, tax-exempt corporation designed to develop and provide human service programs to retarded persons (Residential Support Systems, Ardmore), to disabled adults (Lower Merion Vocational Training, Wynnewood), to people in “change process” (ECLIPSE, Ardmore), to mental patients (People's Advocate System, Haverford), to older persons (Senior Outreach Services, Ardmore), to probationers and their families (Joint Training and Treatment, Haverford), to drug abusers (Lower Merion Counseling Services, Haverford), and to those who have been exposed to radiation (Genetic Risk Information Project, Ardmore).
The Main Line Center of the Arts, located at Old Buck Road and Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, has more than thirty-two professional teachers giving instruction in the performing and visual arts. The Bryn Mawr Art Center, incorporated in 1936, merged in 1963 with the Suburban Art Center working out of junior and senior high school facilities. This art center, although just south of the border of Montgomery County, is the chief center for Lower Merion.
Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, and Rosemont College have art galleries and exhibit programs. Bryn Mawr College also owns the Hobson Pittman House at 560 New Gulph Road, a converted carriage house formerly the home and studio of Hobson Pittman (1900-1972). Some of his work and that of others are exhibited there, as well as his eighteenth and nineteenth century antiques, Roman and Greek sculpture, and tribal African pieces.
The Barnes Foundation, 300 North Latch's Lane, Merion, has one of the greatest post-Impressionist French collections in the world, including numerous paintings by Renoir, Cezanne, and Matisse, as well as masterpieces of other periods and cultures. Dr. Albert Coombs Barnes (1872-1951), himself, and through others, purchased paintings and sculpture in France, and collected early Pennsylvania furniture and handicrafts. A public interest law suit opened the gallery to the general public in 1961. Chartered in 1922, the foundation has offered art appreciation courses that apply John Dewey's philosophy to the collection. The building, designed by Paul Philippe Cret and completed in 1923, has reliefs by Jacques Lipchitz and murals by Matisse.
The Buten Museum of Wedgwood at 246 North Bowman Avenue, Merion, founded in 1957, displays over ten thousand pieces of Wedgwood and offers lectures on the collection.
The Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary art collection contains, in particular, six portraits by Thomas Eakins of distinguished clerics at the seminary. In the 1970s St. Charles Borromeo started a collection of important modern prints.
Lower Merion Township resident and Philadelphia editor Edward W. Bok (1863-1930) contributed to popular education in art by publishing reproductions of old and modern paintings in his influential Ladies' Home Journal, beginning in 1912.
Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was a student at Haverford College where some of his illustrated notebooks are preserved.
Mary Cassatt (1845-1926) worked most of her life in France, but from time to time painted at Cheswold, the Haverford home of her brother, Alexander Cassatt.
The subjects of Vernon Kiehl Newswanger (1900-1980), an instructor in art at Haverford School (1940-1945), were mainly the Amish people and circus scenes.
George M. Harding of Wynnewood painted the murals (1950) for the county Court House rooms in Norristown on local history subjects.
Francis J. Barone of Merion, a member of the art faculty at Temple University and a board member of the Main Line Center of the Arts, combined sculpture and mosaics in several works, notably his abstract mural on a religious theme in the Main Line Reform Temple on Montgomery Avenue in Wynnewood.
Martha Armstrong (1940- ), Haverford resident, has had several gallery shows of her paintings, including those of Lower Merion suburban scenes.
Ranulph Bye (1916- ) of the Moore College of Art included a Main Line railway station in his book The Vanishing Depot (Wynnewood, 1973).
Lower Merion Township's architecture took its characteristic Victorian American flavor in close association with the Pennsylvania Railroad in the1870s. It built new stations, mostly designed by Joseph Wilson in stick style; the best extant example is the Wynnewood Station.
The first wave of Lower Merion Township building in the 1870s and 1880s was mainly high-style residences, hotels, and mansions, often for summer use. Its rich architecture is described in an excellent up to date survey by Carl E. Doebley, edited by Phyllis C. Maier: Lower Merion—A Portrait (Philadelphia, 1976). Often the residences are in a generally brutalist, many-towered style, as if to indicate the wealth of the owner. A characteristic example in the popular Scottish medieval castle style is Maybrook (Penn Road, Wynnewood), designed by George and William Hewitt in 1881.
William L. Price specialized in designing mansions such as Alan Wood's Woodmont (1890), now the center of the Peace Mission Movement.
Rathalla, designed in 1889 by Hazelhurst and Huckle and completed in 1891 in a French chateau style, is now part of Rosemont College.
The Frank Furness mansion type can be seen in Dolobran, Haverford (1881, 1894). In the general style, with a magnificent interior and ceiling treatment (one wing demolished) is the Otto Haas residence, Spring Mill and County Line Roads, Villanova.
Colonial Revival is the style of the often re-built Appleford (1728, 1890s, and in 1926 by R. B. Okie), now managed by Lower Merion Township. Numerous examples of the English country house survive, notably the Caspar Wistar Morris house by Mellor and Meigs on Rose Lane in Haverford (1916).
Trained in the Beaux Arts style, Paul Philippe Cret designed along simpler lines the residence and museum of the Barnes Foundation, completed in 1923.
More modest but still substantial homes appeared, often with towers, but now in a shingle style or in so called Queen Anne, with a free mixture of historic styles; examples on the Haverford College campus date generally from about the 1880s.
Quaker architect Addison Hutton (1834-1916) designed college architecture in the Victorian manner: Barclay Hall at Haverford College (1875), its original tower now demolished; and Taylor Hall (1878-85) at Bryn Mawr College. Hutton was replaced at Bryn Mawr College by Cope and Stewardson, who did the next six academic Victorian Gothic buildings in a Collegiate Gothic derived from Oxford.
Ecclesiastical Gothic is the style of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, designed by architect Charles M. Burns in 1879-81 and 1901. Many smaller churches along the Main Line followed this model. Sloan and Hutton used the Italian style in designing St. Charles Borromeo Theological Seminary (1868), while Edwin F. Durang chose an angular Gothic style for Our Lady of Good Counsel (1896) in Bryn Mawr.
Frank Furness designed the original building of the Bryn Mawr Hospital (1893) in a strongly Romanesque vein, and the Bryn Mawr Hotel (1891), now the Baldwin School, in a heavily towered and chimneyed style. The firm of Furness and Evans did the Merion Cricket Club in Haverford (1895 and 1897), with the usual Furness-Victorian interest in contrasting interior and exterior surfaces.
In the 1920s country-style houses were popular in the township, as well as a number of revival styles, most notably the S. A. Love English Village in Wynnewood, based on English Cotswold cottages. Quite by itself is the uniquely Moorish Albrecht Flower Shop (1928), Meeting House Lane and Montgomery Avenue, a startling contrast to its Quaker plain-style neighbor, Merion Meetinghouse (1695).
After World War II new commercial building developed along City Line, badly planned from a parking and shopping viewpoint, and the designs, with only one or two exceptions, clichés.
The failure of planning and design in this important area, a business tax haven from Philadelphia, contrasts with the sensitive Art Deco style of Suburban Square in Ardmore by Dreher and Churchman (1928). Suburban Square was remodeled (1979-80) as a suburban mall with no loss of integrity.
Architect Robert Venturi has taught “the lesson of Las Vegas,” a new respect for strip architecture, and Lower Merion contains a magnificent example—Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, between Wynnewood and Haverford. Here is a rich visual succession of signs, a factory building, a new shopping area, an older Art Deco block (No. 60 West), an old movie facade outlined by light bulbs, a converted gallery, auto lots, and so forth.
Lower Merion has few examples of the Modern style. Unique are the Suntop Houses of Frank Lloyd Wright (1939) in Ardmore, four joined houses in a Prairie style. The WCAU Studios (1952) designed by George Howe on City Line are internationally respected. More controversial is modernist architecture such as Lankenau Hospital (1953) on Lancaster Avenue in Overbrook, designed by Vincent G. Kling, and the Temple Beth Hillel (1966), designed by Norman Rice, at Lancaster Avenue and Remington Road in Wynnewood. Erdman Hall (1965) at Bryn Mawr College, designed by Louis Kahn, is probably the best-known postmodern building on the Main Line, with its three linked squares, surfaced in panels of Quaker gray slate outlined by strips of irregular white concrete.
Since 1946 residential building in the township includes modern duplicates of the original Welsh farmhouses, many mansions or country-style houses in miniature, as well as small French-style houses scrunched together around a central lane in the manner of Love's English Village and Place Maison on Pennswood Road in Haverford. Lower Merion planners restrict such developments by zoning ordinances, confining commercial and multifamily buildings to Lancaster Avenue, City Line, centers near transportation, while devoting Montgomery Avenue west of Narberth to apartment houses and town houses.
In the 1970s an inexorable movement toward condominiums, both low- and high-rise, virtually wiped out the township's fine Victorian mansions, the most vulnerable and least understood architecture of the area. This trend will continue if the newly approved Blue Route is completed in 1985 or later with a consequent population increase. Lower Merion's treasures on the National Register of Historic Places are listed in the Local History section.
In 1869 returning Union Army bandsmen formed the Bryn Mawr Brass Band, dropping “brass” from its name as clarinets joined in the playing of schottisches, reels, and marches. The band survived well into the 1970s. Other township bands included Ardmore's Gray Cornet Band and Gladwyne's Barker Cornet Band. In 1978 the Merion Musical Society started a band.
The Main Line Orchestra was formed in 1922, and that spring participated at the opening of the Ardmore movie theater. It played music for the silent films and featured local talent for many years. The orchestra dissolved in the 1940s, but local instrumentalists missed it enough to establish the Main Line Community Orchestra, now called the Main Line Symphony. In 1977 the Merion Music Society Symphony Orchestra began; it performs at the Bala-Cynwyd Middle School.
Horace Alwyne joined the Bryn Mawr College faculty in 1921 and developed a complete musical curriculum for undergraduate and graduate degrees. The Friends of Music formed an association in 1957 to bring artists to students and subscribing members. Alfred Swann started music at Haverford College in 1926. Since 1929 the local elementary schools have had instrumental instruction.
Joseph Barone founded the Bryn Mawr Conservatory of Music on Montgomery Avenue in 1934. Andor and Joy Kiszely started the Main Line Conservatory of Music in Ardmore in 1967.
The large homes of Lower Merion have been the scene of much music making. Maybrook, built in 1881 in Wynnewood, added an especially large music room in1902, with a ceiling 48 feet high. The room, l50 by 100 feet, accommodates several hundred people, and was once the scene of an opera. In 1924 pianist Josef Hofmann, director of the Curtis Institute of Music from 1926 until 1938, lived at 246 North Bowman Avenue (now the Buten Museum) in Merion. He added a music room.
Henry and Sophie Drinker's home in Merion was the scene of several distinctive musicales from 1930 to 1960. Many Sunday evenings they invited a hundred friends to sing Bach cantatas and other classical choral repertoire. The music started promptly at 5:30, and supper was served at 7:30, followed by an additional hour of music. The Drinkers befriended the Von Trapp family of singers when they first escaped to America from Austria, giving them opportunities to perform and to secure a house across the street from the Drinkers' home.
The Musical Coterie of Wayne, initiated in 1911 and drawing members from Lower Merion, and the Music Study Club, begun in Bryn Mawr in 1922, present afternoon chamber music in homes. The Bala-Cynwyd Library sponsors Friday morning concerts for senior citizens and a Sunday afternoon concert series.
The Theodore Presser Company moved its publishing activities to Bryn Mawr in 1950, and in the early 1970s acquired the Elkan-Vogel music publishing company. Presser publishes music for an international market and has a retail store to sell music to local musicians.
[The Theater and Dance sections are available in the archival copy of Lower Merion chapter at the Historical Society of Montgomery County.]
The Merion Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution was formed on February 16, 1895, by thirteen descendants of Welsh settlers who had arrived on the Lyon in 1682. The chapter held its inaugural meeting in the historic General Wayne Inn on April 17, 1895, meeting there regularly until 1939. The organizing regent was Dora Harvey Develin, author of Historic Lower Merion and Blockley (1922). The chapter placed a granite block in Merion on Montgomery Avenue near Meeting House Lane on September 14, 1895, to commemorate the encampment of Washington's army there and on adjacent ground in 1777.
The chapter erected another granite block in 1931 at the Lower Merion Baptist Church cemetery at Old and New Gulph Roads in Bryn Mawr memorializing the services of Charles Thomson, secretary to the Continental Congress, and soldiers from the township who served in the Revolutionary War. Steps leading to the memorial and representing the thirteen American colonies were dedicated to the memory of Margaret B. Harvey, a historian and botanist, and Louisa Harley Arnold, mother of Gen. Henry H. Arnold, both members of Merion Chapter.
The Dr. Benjamin Rush Chapter, DAR, was organized in Narberth in 1921, and the Jeptha Abbott Chapter, DAR, was founded in Ardmore in 1929.
The Rosemont-Villanova Civic Association built a Tribute Walk at Ashbridge Memorial Park, Montgomery Avenue and Airdale Road, to honor those who fought in World War II. Ashbridge Park itself memorializes the soldiers of World War I.
The Wynnewood Civic Association placed a stone and bronze marker beside a majestic oak tree on Wister Road near Aubrey Road in 1976, to record the recognition of the tree's existence in 1776 by the International Society of Arboriculture and the National Arborist Association.
The Lower Merion Historical Society, founded in1949, largely through the efforts of Edward Snow, principal of Ardmore Junior High School, and Dr. Douglas Macfarlan, has its headquarters at Ashbridge House, where there is a library, a collection of fine glass photographic plates, flags, and other memorabilia. The society has issued a number of publications, among them Carl Doebley's Lower Merion: A Portrait (1976) and a map of the historic Main Line by Dr. Macfarlan.
The National Register of Historic Places includes these in Lower Merion: the Baldwin School (1891); ten buildings in the Bryn Mawr College Historic District (beginning in 1885); the Harriton Historic District (1704); Merion Friends Meetinghouse (1695); Rathalla (1889), Rosemont College's administration building; the General Wayne Inn (1704, 1746); the Mill Creek Historic District, which includes the 1690 home of John Roberts, miller; and the Gladwyne (Merion Square) Historic District. In addition these sites are registered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission: Appleford (1705?, date stone 1728), donated to the township in 1973; Fairview Union Sunday School (1826), now Penn Valley Women's Club; Ashbridge House (1769); Lower Merion Baptist Church (1810); the Old Dutch School House (1789), West Wynnewood and Argyle Roads; Robindale (c. 1875) now The Owl at Bryn Mawr; and the Owen House (1695), also known as Penn's Cottage.
Researchers in township history can find a wealth of material at Gladwyne Library's Pennsylvania Room; at Haverford College Library, where the Friends' Historical Association papers and the college's records from 1833 are kept; at Bryn Mawr College Library, where college records date from 1885; and at Villanova University Library, where records since 1848 are maintained.
Local historians who have contributed richly to the knowledge of the township's past, and are included in the Literature chapter are: Dora Harvey Develin, Carl Doebley, Phyllis Maier, Thomas A. Glenn, David Loth, Barbara Alyce Farrow, and J. W. Townsend. John M. Nugent and Bernard Kramer, newspapermen, wrote colorful local history. After Kramer's death in 1980, Gerry Snow Mason, former president of the Lower Merion Historical Society and daughter of one of its founders, capably continued his page of township history. The “Early Recollections of Ardmore” of Josiah S. Pearce (1841-1915) twice appeared in a series of articles in the Ardmore Chronicle and are reprinted in the Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania in volume 4 (1944-45). In addition forty-six local experts have contributed to the research and writing of this chapter, as well as another fifty whose help has been much appreciated.
The 1980 Memorial Day parade was a tribute to Gen. Henry H. Arnold of World War II fame. Bands from the Leon Spencer Reid American Legion Post 547 and Lower Merion High School provided music for the march to Arnold Field, named in his honor, where services included placing a wreath on a monument dedicated to Americans who lost their lives in World War II. Veterans wore the uniforms of soldiers from all the country's past wars, while a six-man firing squad of Vietnam veterans from Main Line Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 843 saluted deceased veterans of all wars.
Veterans' groups in Lower Merion in the past century have included the Colonel Owen Jones Camp 591, GAR (active until 1921 and memorialized by a stone marker on Bryn Mawr Community Center grounds), the Society of the Army of the Philippines, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion.
Colonel Franklin D'Olier of Wynnewood was the first national commander of the American Legion. He was among the delegates who assembled in the “Cirque de Paris” in March 1919 to form the American Legion, and was elected the first commander at the Minneapolis convention. In private life Colonel D'Olier was the head of the Prudential Insurance Company of America.
A number of American Legion posts were established immediately after World War I. Bullock-Sanderson Post 136 was founded in Ardmore in 1919 with forty-three charter members. Named in honor of Pvt. Joseph Sanderson and Lt. Benjamin Bullock, the post elected Frederick C. Peters as commander. They met in various places in Ardmore before their present quarters at 145 East Lancaster Avenue, shared with VFW Post 843. On Memorial Day, 1923, Bullock-Sanderson Post 136, American Legion, unveiled a bronze tablet, bearing the names of Ardmore's war dead, that had been placed on the Merion Title Building, now the First Pennsylvania Company.
Also in 1919, the Leon Spencer Reid American Legion Post 574 was organized by Black veterans with William Williams as commander. Its home is at 233 Simpson Road. The post has a band, color guard, drill team, and marching unit.
The Vandiver-Moylan American Legion Post 355 also began in 1919. A few years later it built a log cabin on Gulley Run, Conshohocken State Road, Cynwyd, an attractive site for social events. Named originally for Thomas D. Vandiver, who died in World War I the post added the name “Moylan” to honor a young soldier who died in Vietnam, the son of Post Commander Lawrence Moylan. The post provided a war memorial plaque in 1956, erected by the township, at Montgomery Avenue and Conshohocken State Road.
John Winthrop Post 118 of Bryn Mawr, chartered in 1919, is on the American Legion War Memorial grounds behind the Community Center on Bryn Mawr Avenue.
Merion Post 545, American Legion, chartered in 1920, occupies the Merion War Tribute House on Hazelhurst Avenue. In 1922 Merion residents and the post raised a sum of money matched by Mr. and Mrs. Eldridge Reeves Johnson, who also gave the community the eight-acre site.
In 1932 some Spanish-American War veterans who were not eligible to join the American Legion, members of the Society of the Army of the Philippines, and other veterans formed the Main Line Post 843, VFW. After World War II Ardmore VFW Post 5943 was organized at the Merion Fire Company in Ardmore. Later this group joined with Main Line Post 843, using their name and number.
Gladwyne Post 6956, VFW, was founded after World War II, as was West Manayunk (Belmont Hills) Post 857, American Legion. The Gladwyne Post met first in the Odd Fellows Hall, later erecting a building along the Schuylkill River at Waverly Road that has survived three severe floods. The West Manayunk Post built its home in Belmont Hills. Members erected a community war memorial in front of the grade school.
A veterans' organization leader who has served in many capacities locally and statewide, Michael J. Boucher of Ardmore, has been commander of Main Line Post 843, VFW; adjutant of Bullock-Sanderson Post 136, American Legion; a commander of Montgomery Council VFW, Sixteenth District of Pennsylvania; and state judge advocate of VFW of the United States.
Rear Admiral F. Julian Becton of Wynnewood, once commander of the battleship Iowa, retired in 1966 and wrote The Ship That Would Not Die. General “Hap” Arnold, born in Gladwyne, became a five-star general in the air force in World War II. Alexander M. Haig, Jr., a four-star general, lived on Bryn Mawr Avenue in Cynwyd and graduated from Lower Merion High School. He served as North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander-in-chief and was, in the early 1980s, the Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan. Julius W. Becton, Jr., advanced from private to become one of the country's first black generals. Born in 1926, he served in combat in three wars.
Outdoor activities in back yards and public parks increase year by year for growing numbers of people who play tennis, swim, jog, practice karate, or bicycle, in addition to participating in team sports, all without the need for membership in any organization. Private sports, unrecorded here, are of utmost importance to more Lower Merion residents each year.
Cricket was introduced at Haverford College in 1834. Between 1850 and 1920, 160 cricket clubs were active in the area, but these had dwindled to three by 1980: the Philadelphia, Germantown, and Merion cricket clubs. Fifteen young men met on December 16, 1865, at Glenays, home of Richard R. Montgomery in Bryn Mawr, where they elected Archibald R. Montgomery the first president of the Merion Cricket Club. Teams played matches at first on property of Colonel Owen Jones in Wynnewood, then on club property on Cricket Road in Ardmore. In 1891 club members bought land on Montgomery Avenue in Haverford and built a clubhouse in 1892. It burned down in 1895 and a second clubhouse burned in 1896. The present building was designed by Furness, Evans and Company in 1897. Christopher Morris, one of the greatest Merion cricketeers locally and nationally, is memorialized in the Christopher Morris Cricket Library and Collection of the Haverford College Library.
Soon after its founding the Merion Cricket Club provided facilities for lawn tennis and squash. The Pennsylvania State Tennis Championships were held on the grass courts at Merion from 1894 until 1974. The Women's Pennsylvania and Eastern States Tennis Championships began in 1901. The National Intercollegiate Championships for men were held there from 1900 until 1934, and in 1937 the Davis Cup challenge round was held there. More than a dozen men and women members have been national squash champions; among them Charles M. P. Brinton, G. Diehl Mateer, Jr., and Ann Page Homer.
The Belmont Driving Park Association opened a handsome clubhouse and a course for harness racing in 1876 on Meeting House Lane in Merion. When harness racing subsided in popularity, auto races were held on the track in 1923. A year later the park was sold to be divided into house lots.
The Philadelphia Country Club, located on Spring Mill Road in Gladwyne, was founded in 1890. Originally located at Ford and Monument roads on the Philadelphia side of City Line, it opened a new golf course in 1927, using an existing building on Lafayette Road for summer club and locker rooms. In 1957 a large clubhouse was built on Spring Mill Road in Gladwyne on the north side of the 294-acre site. Facilities include tennis, golf, swimming, bowling, shooting, squash, and platform tennis.
Merion Cricket Club laid out a nine-hole golf course, enlarging it to eighteen holes in 1900 when member Clement A. Griscom gave additional land. In 1910 the course was moved to Haverford, Delaware County. In 1942 the Merion Cricket Club members formed two clubs: the Merion Cricket Club and the Merion Golf Club, still separate entities in 1980.
An English woman, Constance M. K. Applebee, always known as “The Apple,” introduced field hockey to her Bryn Mawr students about 1900. Its popularity spread rapidly through colleges and clubs. Anne B. Townsend of the Merion Cricket Club was selected for the U.S. Women's Field Hockey team sixteen times, frequently chosen captain, and was elected to the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1964.
The Main Line Baseball League, founded February 1, 1904, by Albert Beyler and friends, is one of the oldest semipro leagues in the country. By 1910 the league reorganized and adopted a constitution to ensure that “baseball of a purely amateur sort” would be played. From the league came such baseball notables as Herb Pennock, Eddie Collins, Amos Shrunk, and Jimmy Dykes.
The Cynwyd Club on Trevor Lane built a clubhouse and tennis courts in 1913, later adding squash courts, bowling alleys, and a dining room.
In the mid-1920s an empty lot in Rudolph's Row, near the west end of the Belmont Avenue bridge, was used as an outdoor boxing arena. Some who started boxing careers there, or appeared on a card during the pre-Depression years, were Benny Leonard, Lew Tendler, Benny Bass, Battling Levinsky, and Jack Sharkey. The most famous fighter was Tommy Loughran of Belmont Hills, who won a place in Pennsylvania's “Boxing Hall of Fame” in 1960. He was a Lower Merion policeman from 1922 to 1952.
The Main Line Basketball League was organized in October, 1932 by Herb Good, sports editor of the Main Line Daily Times. Original franchises were granted to eight teams. During the war years, 1942-45, the league suspended its schedule, and it finally disbanded in 1953.
The Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society, founded in 1849 “for the instruction and improvement in the art of skating, the cultivation of a friendly feeling in all who participate in the amusement, and the efficient use of proper apparatus for the rescue of persons breaking through the ice,” moved to Ardmore in 1938 at Holland Avenue and County Line Road.
Lower Merion has three arboretums and bird sanctuaries—Kenealy, Appleford Estate, and Catherine H. Dixon Sharpe—boat launching and ramp docks, bicycle paths, bridle trails, campgrounds, and twelve playgrounds. Three historic sites, six meeting places, seven picnic areas, and three senior citizens' buildings provide additional facilities. In 1981 the Parks and Recreation Department listed adult tennis clinics, women's softball leagues, men's soccer, slimnastics, yoga, and two swimming pools. Supervised summer programs for children are available at a dozen playgrounds; and for handicapped children, a recreational day camp.
SERVICE, CIVIC AND BUSINESS ORGANIZATIONS
In 1981 township residents participated in seventeen civic associations, a federation comprising all the civic associations, nine business associations, and at least thirty-two service organizations, which include branches of larger or national groups, varying from the Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions clubs to the Red Cross, NAACP, political committees, the League of Women Voters, and the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP).
A 1980 Perspective
The township has long been recognized as a high quality, primarily residential community along the famed Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad with easy access to Philadelphia.
Demographic studies indicate that the phenomenon of greatly reduced family size, first noticed in the 1970 census, continues. Couples wait longer to have children, and then have fewer than their counterparts twenty years earlier. Five neighborhood schools have been closed in recent years. School officials will probably offer greater use of school facilities to adults, thereby increasing efficient use of classrooms, shops, gymnasiums, and playing fields. Statistics prove that people live longer than formerly, and therefore both public and private recreational facilities provide leisure-time activities for a growing number of older people. Adults spend more time in pursuit of physical conditioning than ever before.
Less time and money to spend on maintenance of property forecasts a decline in the traditional single-family dwellings, and an increase in townhouses, cluster developments, planned residential communities, and apartments, leased or privately owned. The large house surrounded by spacious lawns will give way to the clustered-homes concept, which is a feasible alternative as the township attempts to retain the amenities inherent in the open character of its development. The cost of real estate and the unprecedented high interest rates for borrowed money place home ownership out of the financial reach of many. Shared living and shared costs provide an acceptable alternative. Expensive heating fuels necessitate more efficient building construction, which also increases the popularity of clustered dwelling units. A major problem facing Lower Merion in the future will be the ultimate fate of large mansions located throughout the township. A neighborhood may retain its character if these large structures are converted into condominiums or rental apartments. Neighborhood opposition has prevented such conversion in many places in the past with the result that magnificent houses have been razed.
Neighborhood retail commercial centers and streets of shops once again became popular for family shopping when gasoline costs rose. Distant malls are losing their appeal. Increased shopping close to home, the completion of the Blue Route, and improvements to the Schuylkill Expressway should bring about a reduction in the number of vehicles traversing the township.
Proximity to Philadelphia and its diverse population continues to provide both benefits and problems. Metropolitan advantages are found in the sports arenas, medical centers, and cultural institutions of the city; on the other hand, crime spilling over city boundaries continues to force suburban residents to increase participation in community patrols in cooperation with the police.
The township continues to be made up of many neighborhoods, and the descendants of immigrants of various nationalities provide a stimulating ethnic mixture.
Attractive homes and estates, exclusive shops and department stores, luxurious apartment complexes, stately churches, excellent public, private, and parochial schools and colleges all combine to form the cultural fabric of Lower Merion. The township boasts an interested, well-educated citizenry and dedicated, intelligent elected and appointed municipal officials. It retains quiet woods and stream valleys relatively close to retail commercial centers.
Phyllis C. Maier
Local Historian and Author
- CABINET established 2/2/1853, PM Joseph T. Pearce; changed 3/11/1874 to ARDMORE.
- ARDMORE (19003) established 3/11/1874, changed from CABINET, PM George H. Baker.
- GENERAL WAYNE established 2/5/1830, PM John Castner; discontinued 7/10/1830; re-established 2/8/1850, PM David Young; changed and moved 4/26/1882 to ACADEMY.
- PENCOYD established 4/21/1880, PM Samuel A. Regan; discontinued 5/31/1933, patrons served by Bala-Cynwyd.
- ACADEMY applied 1882 to become a PO under the name Merionville. On 4/26/1882 the GENERAL WAYNE PO was changed and moved to establish ACADEMY, PM Millard F. Harley; discontinued 3/31/1911, patrons served by Cynwyd.
- BALA STATION established 5/21/1884, PM Mary A. Riddle; changed 11/9/1886 to BALA.
- BALA established 11/9/1886, changed from BALA STATION, PM Mary A. Riddle, discontinued 3/30/1921, patrons served by BALA-CYNWYD.
- CYNWYD established 9/6/1890, PM Emma B. Riddle; changed 3/31/1921 to BALA- CYNWYD.
- BALA-CYNWYD (19004) Est. 3/21/1921, changed from CYNWYD, PM Charles J. Hansell.
- BRYN MAWR (19010) established 11/21/1871, changed and moved from West Haverford, Delaware Co., PM William H. Ramsey.
- MILLER established 6/24/1836, changed and moved from Buck Tavern, Delaware County, PM Jacob Castner; changed and moved to West Haverford, Delaware County, on 6/30/1837
- HAVERFORD COLLEGE established 9/5/1871, PM Isaac Hunter; changed 3/17/1892 to HAVERFORD.
- HAVERFORD (19041) established 3/17/1892, changed from HAVERFORD COLLEGE, PM Ralph W. Warner, Jr.
- MERION established 1/18/1820, PM James Robinson; discontinued September,1822.
- LOWER MERION established 2/8/1830, PM Griffith Young; changed 6/5/1890 to GLADWYNE.
- GLADWYNE (19035) established 6/5/1890, changed from LOWER MERION, PM John Breen. In 1894 the PM reported that another name for Gladwyne was Merion Square.
- MERION STATION (19066) established 12/13/1880, PM Solomon S. Ketcham; changed 7/26/1881 to a station in Philadelphia; changed back to an independent PO on 6/1/1887, PM William R. Dederick.
- ROSEGLEN established 4/14/1884, PM Robert Chadwick; discontinued 9/1/1888, patrons served by LOWER MERION.
- ROSEMONT (19010) established 8/29/1881, PM Ida M. Hunter; changed 4/1/1958 to branch of BRYN MAWR.
- WYNNEWOOD (19096) established 5/17/1882, PM Frank P. Hunter.
- OVERBROOK established 7/25/1867, PM Jesse W. Crouse; discontinued 3/18/1881, patrons served by Philadelphia; re-established 4/11/1881 as a station of Philadelphia; changed 4/28/1887 to an independent PO, PM Solomon S. Ketcham; changed 8/26/1908 to Philadelphia County. There is doubt that the Overbrook PO ever was located in Montgomery County; after an investigation in 1908, a PO inspector said it was always located in Philadelphia County.
- WEST MANAYUNK established 6/4/1912, PM Elizabeth A. Lentz; discontinued 5/15/1918, patrons served by Manayunk, Philadelphia County.
Gertrude Asam, Bala-Cynwyd
John Ashmead, art, architecture, literature, theater, historical commemoration and preservation
Marie Bartlett, Catholic churches, editorial consultant
Gloria O. Becker, Gladwyne, assistant editor
Rabbi Martin Berkowitz, Judaism
Michael J. Boucher, military commemoration and history
Elizabeth Brady, Catholic churches
Annette Brenner, banking
Betty Brinton, Wynnewood
Margaret Hill Collins, social services
Phebe Evans Cooke, Haverford
Elise Copeland, Penn Wynne
Katharine Hewitt Cummin, Bryn Mawr
Warren S. Davis, Wynnewood
Ronald DeGraw, transportation
Henrietta M. Deubler, Penn Valley
Robert Diskant, Wynnewood
Cecilia Gray Draffin, Methodism
Elizabeth A. Fletcher, assistant editor, land development and population
Marjorie A. Fletcher, insurance, libraries
The Reverend Louis P. Giorgi, Belmont Hills
Susan Glazer, dance
Eleanor Hammonds, sports, communications, assistant editor
Rabbi Max Hausen, Judaism
Myrl Herman, music
The Reverend George E. Hollingshead, Jr., Presbyterian churches
Robert L. Keane, Penn Wynne
Mary L. Keim, land development and population; taverns, inns, and restaurants; Baptist churches; historical commemoration and preservation; fire departments; and co-editor
Norma E. Koenig, education
Rabbi Abraham A. Levene, Judaism
Laura Lloyd Longstreth, Gladwyne churches
George Magee, Jr., businesses and industry, co-editor
Phyllis C. Maier, editor, communications, libraries, Armenian church, Lutheran church, Peace Mission Movement, introduction to towns, Rosemont, Villanova
Celeste Maschmeyer, social services
Gerry Snow Mason, overview
George M. Myers, sports
Margaret North, government and politics
John M. Nugent, journalism
William G. Pinkstone, government and politics
Samuel X. Radbill, M.D, medical history
F. Karl Schauffele, 1980 perspective
Inez Scheele, land development and population; taverns, inns, and restaurants; Episcopal churches
Allen Sommers, communications
W. Robert Swartz, Ardmore, photographs
Della Tate, education
Dolores Williamson, Penn Wynne
Mary M. Wood, co-editor, business and industry, education, Merion Friends Meeting, Belmont Hills, Merion
James M. Anders
J. Conrad Barker
Donald R. Beever
Joseph F. Collingwood
Dr. Henry Comman
The Reverend Russell Doherty
Joan M. Doroba
Ann Eggert Githens
Rabbi Theodore H. Gordon
Josephine DeN. Henry
Philip U. Koopman
Edward D. Lewis
F. May MacFarland
D. Roger Mower, Jr.
Alfred O. Mueller
William J. Phillips
E. Rotan Sargent
Dorothy L. Saunders
Sara E. Shupert
J. Clinton Stirk
Theodora Linn Wilbur
Thomas Elliott Wynne
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Akiba Hebrew Academy. Merion.
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Annals. St. Matthias Convent. n.d.
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Ardmore Centennial 1873-1973. Ardmore: Ardmore Centennial Corp., 1973.
Bala-Cynwyd File, Ludington Library. Bryn Mawr.
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Bala-Cynwyd Post Office, records and files.
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—————-. “Old Mills of Mill Creek.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 50 (1926): 1.
Becker, Gloria O. Architectural Survey. Ardmore: Lower Merion Township Planning Department, 1980.
—————-. Gladwyne Historic Preservation Study. Ardmore: Lower Merion Township Planning Department, 1980.
Berry, Theodore J. The Bryn Mawr Hospital 1893-1968. Bryn Mawr, 1969.
Bi-Centennial Anniversary of the Friends Meeting House at Merion, Pennsylvania, 1695- 1895. Philadelphia: Friends' Book Association, 1895.
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Branca, Sally. “Historic Local Inn.” Main Line Times, 29 July 1976, p. 19.
Bryn Mawr Home News. 12 February 1904.
Bunting, Samuel J., Jr. Merion Meeting House 1695-1945: A Study of Evidence Relating to the Date. Pamphlet.
Burgess, George H., and Kennedy, Miles C. “Centennial History of the Pennsylvania. Railroad.” Published by the Pennsylvania Railroad, 1949.
Buten Museum of Wedgwood. Pamphlet. Merion, n.d.
Cantor, Gilbert M. The Barnes Foundation: Reality vs. Myth. Philadelphia: Chilton Books, 1963.
Chasins, Abram. Leopold Stokowski, A Profile. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1979.
Claghorn, George S. Mount up with Wings, the History of Eastern Baptist College. St. Davids, Pa.: Eastern Baptist College, 1962.
Coates, E. Osborne. Historical Sketch of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, Pa. 1869-1934.
Comprehensive Plan Report for Lower Merion Township. Vol. 1. Norristown: Montgomery County Planning Commission, 1979.
Connelly, Sister Mary Henrietta. “History of the Sisters of Mercy of Philadelphia, 1861-1916.” MS, Villanova University.
Cook, Chester P. “Washington in Lower Merion.” Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County 1(October 1936): 74-80.
Cynwyd-Bala Directory—1909. The Neighborhood Club.
d'Apery, Tello J. Overbrook Farms, Its Historical Background, Growth and Community Life. Philadelphia: The Magee Press, 1936.
Davis, Patricia T. The End of the Line: Alexander J. Cassatt and the Pennsylvania Railroad. New York: Neale Watson Academic Publications, 1978.
—————. A Family Tapestry: Five Generations of the Curwens of Walnut Hill and Their Various Relatives. Wynnewood: Livingston Publishing Company, 1972.
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