When the Pennsylvania built its line to Reading through Lower Merion in the 1880s, it continued to name stations after Welsh locations. Sarah Brinton Roberts, wife of the railroad’s president, is credited with choosing the names Bala and Cynwyd for the two main stops.
The Bryn Mawr Hotel
At the heart of Bryn Mawr was the genteel Bryn Mawr Hotel (or Keystone Hotel, as it was first called), a grand summer resort constructed and operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Conveniently located in the rural countryside only half a mile from the Bryn Mawr train station, the picturesque resort provided summer fun and social activities to the well heeled from Philadelphia and other cities beyond.
A Careful Plan. The creation of a resort locale, just outside of Philadelphia, was a deliberate move by the railroad’s management to entice riders to use their Main Line passenger service. Toward this end, they purchased an adjoining 25-acre tract in the late 1860s and built an elaborate train station and the resort hotel. The remaining land was subdivided into lots and sold to those desiring to escape the overcrowded, hot, noisy city in favor of the healthier bucolic countryside of Bryn Mawr.
Designed by the Pennsylvania Railroad-favored architect Joseph Miller Wilson, the four story, stone masonry Keystone Hotel building boasted 350 rooms, a very fashionable polychromed slate mansard roof, and a verandah to rival any other resort hotel verandah.
The Keystone first opened its doors for the summer season of 1872. Healthy profits enabled management to construct additions and improvements to the hotel after only its first year. The first few summers were so successful that, after the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, the management determined to keep the hotel open into the winter. Failed attempts to draw enough reservations after September, however, proved that Philadelphia society preferred to winter in the city.
Hotel High Living. Equipped with every convenience and luxury for its guests’ comfort and delight, the Keystone’s amenities included gas light, bathtubs, the first elevator on the Main Line, a “ten pin alley,” first-quality mattresses, and the location of one bathroom on every floor! No expense was spared with the interiors either…the furniture was valued at $75,000 in 1887.
Social life of all Bryn Mawr centered around activities at the Keystone. Both locals and hotel guests eagerly awaited the event of the season, the Bryn Mawr Assemblies, which would draw more than 500 people. Equestrian activities were popular as well as carriage riding and horseback riding. Baseball, tennis, and cricket were also favorites.
The Keystone Hotel would not stand forever. Amidst (and probably because of) declining popularity and a decrease in net profits, the building was suddenly destroyed by fire in October, 1887.
The Resort Rebuilds. Apparently still a promising resort location, Bryn Mawr would soon see another hotel on the same site. The Bryn Mawr Hotel Company, whose board of directors included Philadelphia industry and railroad leaders of the day, was incorporated in 1890 for the sole purpose of constructing a first class hotel. The group commissioned the well connected Philadelphia architectural firm of Furness, Evans and Company to design its new building. Not to be outdone by the fanciful, picturesque architecture of other resorts, the hotel was reportedly inspired by the restored 16th century Chateau de Pierrefonds in France.
The impressive, four story granite structure was built with the latest conveniences, including a hydraulic elevator, the latest in plumbing fixtures, extensive ventilation and drainage systems, a steam heating system, and electric light.
Croquet and golf were popular activities and were played on the expansive front lawn. The first hole of the nine hole golf course was located right in front of the main entrance. Clay tennis courts were located in the rear, directly below the verandah. Balls, dances, fundraisers, and nightly card games provided indoor amusements for the hotel guests in this flambouyant hostelry.
Miss Baldwin’s School. Florence Baldwin brought her Preparatory School for Girls to the Bryn Mawr Hotel in 1896 when she leased the building and one third of the grounds during the fall and winter months to conduct her classes. The hotel continued to operate during the summer months until finally, in 1913, the owners signed a year-round lease with Miss Baldwin for her boarding school. In 1922, the Baldwin School purchased the 25 acre lot. The building still stands today …an architectural treasure from another era.
The Automobile Revolution
The early part of the twentieth century produced a prodigious number of automotive ventures. Many of these early pioneers did not make it past the prototype stage before disappearing forever. Of the three automobile makers within the Lower Merion borders, one continues today, one achieved great fame in the 1920s before closing virtually forgetten in 1971, and the other disappeared after just a brief four year period.
The first manufacturer of motorized conveyances in the area was Autocar, founded in April 1900. The first year of production, 1901, saw 27 one cylinder vehicles roll from their shops. In 1902, they introduced a two cylinder model, believed to be the first produced in the United States. They also pioneered the modern spark plug, shaft drive (replacing chain drive) and engine timing controls for the steering wheel. In 1907, they introduced their first truck, and found their niche among manufacturers. So popular were their heavy trucks, that in 1912, they ceased manufacture of passenger cars entirely.
During World War I, they supplied personnel carriers, ambulances and heavy trucks for the war effort. In 1920, they introduced a 4-cylinder model producing 29.6 horsepower and capable of operating their heaviest capacity truck, which sported a payload of 6,700 pounds. In 1921, they introduced an even larger 12,000 pound payload truck painted in your choice of color, so long as it was “Autocar red.”
Between 1923 and 1927, they offered an electric vehicle in addition to their gasoline powered units, but top speed was limited to 12 mph and only found buyers in major cities.
1928 brought a 6-cylinder engine with 46 horsepower for their ever larger vehicles. 1930 brought the famous “Blue Streak” engine, which was to be used for the next 20 years in various sizes. During the depression, they introduced tractor-trailers which could haul up to 73,000 pounds.
For World War II, they built over 10,000 military vehicles, armored halftracks and trucks for the war effort. One market niche they achieved was the development of a tractor to transport airplanes and tanks.
Postwar interstate road construction proved to be a boon to Autocar, with ever increasing sales. With the new 1952 V8 engine, Autocar trucks became the choice for construction, mining, refuse and specialized heavy hauling industries.
In 1953, White Motor Company purchased Autocar, and in 1954, the Autocar plant was moved to a new, much larger facility in Exton. On July 31, 1956 the now vacant factory was being torn down by Cleveland Wrecking when a workman’s torch caused an oil line to explode, igniting the oil soaked floors and turning the entire factory into an inferno which burned fiercely for 12 hours. Bringing the fire under control required the service of 44 firetrucks, 300 firefighters and over 6 million gallons of water. An interesting side note is that many firetrucks used to fight this fire were built upon Autocar chassis.
White/Autocar was purchased by Volvo in 1981. Autocar expanded under the new owners to produce construction and heavy trucks with modern styling to attract owner-operators, a successful venture. Today, production of Autocar trucks continues in Volvo’s Dublin, Virginia plant. The next time you see a big construction dump truck, look for the Autocar “bow tie” on the front fender and remember its origin in Ardmore.