Gladwyne, Lower Merion’s first town, evolved at the intersection of the roads now called Youngsford and Righters Mill. It is still a quiet, walkable country village, until 1890 known as Merion Square. Mill Creek flows through Gladwyne; most of the many mills have vanished or are in ruins. By 1880, the village had 35 houses, a few stores, and 207 inhabitants. Area residents depended on a stage that operated from Gladwyne to Ardmore, or on the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad which had a station, Rose Glen, near the banks of the Schuylkill River. The Merion Square Hotel (now the Old Guard House Inn) was built on land that was once part of a 250-acre tract of Welshman Richard Walter. It was built in three stages, the earliest dates from about 1810-1817, completely surrounded by farm land. Although there is no evidence that the building was in existence earlier, there is a legend that during the Revolution colonial troops stopped there to quench their thirst.
The hotel’s next proprietor was Thomas Haley, Johnson’s son-in-law, who ran the establishment for some years.
The Merion Square settlement, in early years, became known as War Office because John Rawlins, a captain of a volunteer rifle company, recruited soldiers there for the War of 1812. Years before, John Young, a prominent landowner, was appointed by the Pennsylvania War Office to confiscate flour and other supplies in the area during the Revolution. Later, as the hamlet grew, a new owner, David N. Egbert, changed the village name to the less bellicose Merion Square. Egbert’s store later became Cornman’s, then a hardware store. Gladwyne is a contrived name and was probably first used by the Reading Railroad for its stop at Mill Creek to avoid confusion with other Merions in the township.
Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold
“Hap” Arnold (1886-1950) was born on a farm in Gladwyne in 1886. His parents were Mennonites, stern authority figures, who imbued their children with “hard work, no play.” A serious child, “Hap” had a permanent grin…hence, “Hap.” Shortly after the boy was born, his family moved to Ardmore. Dr. Arnold sold the family home to the Barkers.
Educated locally, he participated in sports and graduated from Lower Merion High School in 1903.
When brother Tom refused his father’s edict to attend West Point, “Hap” took the order and found life delightfully liberating there and gained a major reputation as a prankster.
Since his high school days, “Hap” was interested in the experimental flights of the Wright Brothers. His ambition was to be in the cavalry, but he was assigned to the infantry. There were several mapping assignments in the Phillipines. On one trip he was billeted next to George Marshall, which proved important to both men during World War II.
Deciding that flying was the way out of the infantry, “Hap” enrolled in an exciting new flight training program offered by the Army Signal Corps. The instructors: Wilbur and Orville Wright! In 1912, he was almost killed in a dangerous tail spin which so shattered his nerves that he did not fly again for four years. Major Billy Mitchell, the aviation visionary, encouraged “Hap” back into flying.
When home on a leave, his sister introduced him to a local girl, Eleanor (Bea) Pool. He shyly pursued her, as did dozens of other Ardmore boys. Bea and “Hap” wed on September 10, 1912.
When the United States joined the war in 1917, “Hap,” to his chagrin, was assigned to Washington, D.C. Though unhappy at not being on combat duty, he made great contacts, learned about mobilization…all of which served him well later in his celebrated career.
By 1938, he was Chief of the Air Corps and struggled to bring that branch into the first rank. He lobbied for increased aircraft production, more air bases and improved pilot training. After the U.S. entered the war in 1941, “Hap’s” vision led to victories in Europe (he insisted on daylight bombings to hit German supply depots) and Japan (initiating fire storms across that country). He foresaw the future of rockets in conflicts and worked with the scientific community and industry in their early explorations.
Victory took its toll…three heart attacks. “Hap” retired in 1946, wrote three books, (including his 1949 autobiography, Global Mission) and visited Lower Merion in 1947. He died a few years later. One of only nine men ever to achieve 5-star rank, “Hap” was a hero here…and a hero to his nation.
“My father moved to Gladwyne in 1900 and worked for the Reading Railroad as a station agent down by the river. It was called Rose Glen. Later, he bought a coal yard right back of the station from a man named Wightman. My brother, Elmer, and I used to haul the coal by wagon and a team of horses. We could put a ton and a half of coal in a wagon, and had to shovel all the anthracite coal …either that or bag it. In the wintertime, we had to hitch four horses to that same wagon to pull the coal to Ardmore. Three trips a day.
- They tell me that years ago there used to be shad in the river as far as Norristown and the river was beautiful and blue. In the wintertime it would freeze over…I walked down it. One winter it was so cold it froze over and Mr. Claypool went across the river with a team of horses to one of the mills over there and got a load of cinders to cinder the roads here in Gladwyne. The ice was anywhere from 12 to 14 inches thick. Mr. Claypool used to run a stagecoach into Ardmore. He would haul people to Ardmore for 15¢. Then he had horse cabs that would cost you 25¢. He would try to get two or three people in a cab before he would start.
- He lived at the corner of Rose Glen and Youngsford. There was a show there at Claypool’s being filmed …moving picture people…no one knows for sure whether it was Mary Pickford in that show, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm I think it was called. Mrs. Harvey remembers seeing smoke coming out of the windows at Claypool’s on her way home from school. My brother broke horses for the moving picture people. Headquarters were up at Betzwood. Oh, I guess I was eight or nine years old at the time they were making movies. My brother used to ride for Buffalo Bill, later on in the Buffalo Bill Show.”
Warren B. Althouse
[Lubin Studios, the motion picture firm in Betzwood, made many films locally in the early years of the 20th century. One was about a young woman in distress in a simulated burning building, the Claypool House. The town’s children watched the filming and the rumor started (and persisted!) that the blonde actress was Mary Pickford, one of Hollywood‘s most famous stars. The movie, said to be one of her best known, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), was actually filmed in California…and the setting had nothing to do with Gladwyne.]