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Lower Merion owns and maintains three beautiful old buildings that span a period from the early 1700s to the late 1800s. Appleford, Ashbridge House and the Bryn Mawr Community Building are used for offices of various nonprofit groups in the Township and are available to rent for meetings, community events, and social occasions.
A beautiful 22-acre Villanova estate, Appleford (named for the surrounding apple orchards) started as a simple, one and-a-half story stone farmhouse, built in 1728. A two story section was added in 1780. In 1798 the next owner, prosperous Peter Pechin, increased the building further and located his tannery in a separate outbuilding.
In 1867, Moro Phillips, a Philadelphian in the chemical and fertilizer business, bought the property for $15,375. The family soon amassed over 800 acres in Villanova. This 113-acre estate was inherited by the son, Frederick Phillips, and then the ownership passed to Samuel G. Smyth in the early 1900s.
Subsequent owners, Anabel and Lewis Parsons, contracted an important colonial revival architect, R. Brognard Okie, to integrate and expand the estate in 1926-27. Earlier stone work was replicated; wood siding and partially stuccoed stone facade is characteristic of Okie’s "colonial" style.
In the 1930s an important landscape architect, Thomas Sears, worked with the Parsons to design the gardens and recapture the formal setting seen today. Upon Mrs. Parson’s death in 1973, she passed Appleford to Lower Merion Township as a perpetual trust.
Built of multi-colored field stones with Georgian period proportions, Ashbridge House was erected in 1769 by Rees Thomas III and his father, William. A datestone above the present front porch, marks the event with their names and their wives’ initials: "E" for William’s wife, Elizabeth and "P" for Rees’ wife, Priscilla. The house rested on part of an original land grant of 625 acres purchased by the grandfather, Rees Thomas after 1683.
By 1845, George Dunn had purchased the house and 155 acres. Five years later, Peter Pechin bought the property at "public venue." Pechin’s daughter, Rebecca Emily, inherited the farm and married Joshua Ashbridge. The Ashbridges subsequently purchased other nearby acres from the Thomas heirs.
Around 1863, Joshua gave land for a passenger station to the Pennsylvania Railroad to be named Rosemont. Through the generosity of their daughter, Emily Ashbridge, the house and grounds were left to Lower Merion Township in 1940. The grounds and specimen trees are a memorial to the soldiers of World Wars I and II who were from the community.
The story of Ashbridge House parallels the stages of growth in Lower Merion Township. From large holdings of Welsh Quaker settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries, the land has systematically been divided by subsequent generations. A few estates, such as Ashbridge, are now prized for their open space and their use by the whole community.
The Bryn Mawr Community Building was once the estate of Samuel Anderson Black (1820-1890), a major owner of farmland in this and surrounding counties. A prosperous lawyer, he was long associated with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Black himself designed the gracious stone home he called Upland, near the corner of Bryn Mawr and Lancaster Avenues. Much admired, it was hailed as one of the first "modern" residences in town.
A generous man, he gave both a new house and land to many of his relatives, a descendant reported. After his death, his estate (on four acres with two outbuildings and a springhouse) passed to his widow, Elizabeth C. Black. She and her family lived at Upland through the turn of the century.
The house was enlarged and drastically restyled c. 1908. It remained in the Black family through the mid-1920s. The property then passed to the township and by 1926 it was the Bryn Mawr Memorial Association War and Community House.
Today it sits beside Ludington Library and houses two vital nonprofit groups: ElderNet senior assistance services and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. The Montgomery County Office of Aging and Adult Services is housed in Upland’s old springhouse in the rear.
The facilities are available to the community for diverse uses: civic gatherings, AA meetings, chess and bridge matches, conferences, and nonprofit group get togethers.
Change at Warp Speed. Some say there was a trading post for exchange of goods between Swedish settlers and local Indians along a trail to the Susquehanna River that became the road to Lancaster (now Montgomery Avenue). Welsh Quakers and others began to arrive in 1682-3 and could buy venison and fowl from the Indians in their dooryards once they had house, door and yard. Taverns, the gathering places, began almost immediately, some even in the early "caves" in Philadelphia. But the yoemen farmer and his wife grew the raw material and processed it or trained a hired-hand to do the work...or did without.
Philadelpha Trades. Stores, as we know them, were slow to appear in Philadelphia because merchants and artisans were limited to selling in stalls in the city market at High (Market) and Front streets, and after 1693, at Second Street. Market days were Wednesdays and Sundays, though some vendors sold there all week long. Tailors, tanners, chandlers, pewterers, goldsmiths, weavers, coopers...on and on goes the list...made a living. Ready made shoes were evidently nonexistent, and the cordwainers (shoemakers), who had their favored customers, were early to organize but were tried at court for "conspiring to raise their wages." Gradually in colonial Philadelphia luxury goods came into the port and ladies flocked to milliners, glove makers, stylish fabric merchants...but still farm wives would not or could not show interest.
Farm Trades. There were not many wagons in use until the Revolution, and horses transported food and raw materials to town and carried items for farm wives...possibly coffee, tea, household items...back to the farms.
Most commerce was carried on near the wharves. Diarist Joseph Price, a carpenter and builder, but also a farmer with a scholarly bent, had to go into Philadelphia to buy boards, screws, window glass, nails, paint, glue, varnish, hardware. For the household, he purchased a coffee mill, sugar, salt...for the farm, a plow... and for his own education, books (and eyeglasses).
Cloverseed he was able to buy at the Buck Inn. Farmers hereabouts slaughtered their own hogs, bought produce from each other, brought flour from the local mills, and were fairly self-sufficient.
Country Progress. Fifty years later, toward the end of the 19th century, changes came thick and fast. Communities had coalesced, usually around a tavern, and blacksmiths picked locations on principal roads. With the advent of more wagon traffic, the wheelwright set up shop, sometimes side by side with the blacksmith. One hundred years ago, more or less, Lower Merion Township had two restaurants, one grocery, two confectionery shops, one provisioner, three flour and feed stores, three drug stores, 14 general stores, and a dozen assorted other emporia, two coalyards among them. We may smile at so few shopping opportunities, but in those days Lower Merion had nine hotels. Today? None.
Fare and Transport. Among businesses listed by William J. Buck in 1884, food and transportation with their adjunct services accounted for most of our commerce. Sometimes the two categories coincided.
For many years and into the post-World War II era, the well-to-do sent their butlers or maids to the railroad station in the morning to hand up a list of needs...principally groceries...to the conductor, and in the afternoon, came back to collect the bags and baskets of provisions at the station.
Savvy shopkeepers then stepped in to supply and deliver telephone orders; roving meat, butter and eggs, bread, and milk men made the rounds to homes. Such service ended by the 1960s, bowing to the inevitable...the supermarkets.
Modes of locomotion fascinated the first photographers as our collection of pictures show. And closely behind transportation came gastronomy. ‘Twas ever thus. ‘Tis ever so.
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