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Narbrook Park

Living History With Ted Goldsborough

Dr. Elaine Reed and Mrs. Louise Slama, Narbrook Park residents, discuss this unique community, begun in 1915-16, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Recorded 2014.

Narbrook Park, Part 1

Narbrook Park, Part 2

Jump to content:
0:30 Alexander Shand
2:33 The first house
3:47 Raising money
5:56 The 1918 Patriotic Fête
7:53 Anton Wohlert’s cherry trees
9:16 The Park stream and bridge

Ted Goldsborough Hello and welcome back to Living History with Ted Goldsborough and today’s guests Mrs. Slama and Dr. Reed. We’re talking about Narbrook Park the development of Narbrook Park in Narberth. And we had left off, we’re talking about a man named Alexander Shand.

Elaine Reed Right, in talking about Shand, it bears saying that it was a very short time frame between the inception of the idea and its carrying out, within about a year they had the park plans laid out. And Pope, who had originated that, was leaving the project and Shand took it over and was given the task of grading and laying out the roads and sidewalks and given a short timeline, he had only 70 days to complete the whole project and or that whole portion of the project, which I believe he met.

Louise Slama I think he did. He did.

TG Now Mrs. Slama, you were going to tell us about a horse?

LS I was going to tell you! When Shand was 102 he was interviewed and he talks about starting Narbrook Park and talks about the horse that he had. He found the heaviest, biggest horse he could so that it could a lift and move most of the heavy swampy stuff he had to clear out in order to get Narbrook Park started. I thought that was kind of neat.

TG I think that, I don’t know much about clearing swamps, but I think one thing that they had to do is dig a channel, so that the water drains into that channel and if you’ve got a horse and you’re trying to pull, I don’t know, shovels or whatever, it’s got to have good hoofs so they can get into that marsh.

LS And it did!

TG And it did! And I’ve said to you that I think it’s remarkable that in my 74 years of being associated with Narbrook Park, the depth of the stream, the depth of the embankments seem to be very good, because in those hundred years it’s seldom the stream has overflowed above those embankments. So Mr. Shand did a good job of planning with that.

ER I think he did! So and it was very quick that the first house went up in ’15, I think TG Yeah, I think ’15. LS and that was the one that actually faces, the only one that actually doesn’t face towards the park, it faces Windsor Avenue. I was given to believe that that’s because then the view from the railroad tracks would show this wonderful development and a house of the sort that you might have, you could be home now if you lived here. And do you know the picture that you’re showing of it is a lovely example where it has the gabled roof, I think it’s called the gambrel roof the Dutch Colonial type they all had porches for outdoor time, because in the summer before air conditioning, that was where you wanted to be.

And several other houses went up very quickly, in fact they petitioned the borough to install sewers before the houses were in, which I guess at the time was uncommon, with the argument that the success of this venture was so paramount to Narberth that it was in Narberth’s interest to install the sewers. And they agreed to on the condition that 12 houses would be built by the time the sewers were in, a condition that we didn’t meet, but twelve houses were eventually in, within about a year and a half.

TG I had remarked that considering that you started with no money and you had a swamp and the mayor of Narberth, the Burgess, whose name was ER George Henry TG George Henry was interested in trying to improve the community by getting rid of the swamp and putting in these nice houses. And to think that 20-some or 30-some people were willing to put up a thousand to 16 hundred, 11 hundred to $1,600 to put their name and a hat and that generated $50,000 to buy the land I guess from Toland. probably. it’s pretty remarkable, it’s a civic…

ER And it didn’t stop there, they had deed restrictions they had to commit to building a house of quality, which in that time meant spending $5,000 on your house and have them designed, I think by architects. Some of them came from pattern books but which I believe would also have been architect design.

TG Okay, so chronologically then in, say, 1915 about, this one on Windsor and Narbrook Park would have been built, but it’s number 2 Narbrook Park, and then a family named Abel, Mr. Abel, and he was an architect and he built his house around 1916 and number 9 was built around 1916, because when we look at those early pictures with the swamp we can see a few houses in there.

ER Right, you’re referring to a picture that’s taken probably from Conway Avenue, from a house that’s probably already existing, looking at this development happening where you can see some debris in a swamp in the foreground and number 9, the house that you eventually lived in, in the background.

TG Of course, why can’t I find that one we’re looking for in here?

ER All in good time!

TG Yeah, now in, so we had a few houses that we can even see the swamp and then in 1918 something interesting happened, and what was that?

LS Well, we had a, Narberth had a parade in, well they came down Windsor Avenue and went into Narbrook Park and it was a Patriotic Fête. They, it was a program of events of historic kinds of things that went on in Narberth and here we have some pictures. Now, this is not in Narbrook Park.

ER This particular one is. Most of them are.

TG These are, they’re on on Windsor or something.

LS Is this one? Yes, this one is in Narbrook Park, I recognize the house, yeah, and it was, I think it helped drum up some interest in buying houses in Narbrook Park and investing money there.

ER In fact, in one of these pictures you can see a model airplane, that just looks like a joy to ride, but it’s labeled “Our Town”, which is also the name of the Civic Association’s newspaper publication, which makes me think they sort of sponsored it and of course the Civic Association having been the inspiration for the park lends to the desire to build up interest.

TG Yes, and sometimes Narbrook Park has had events, the maypole, I’m reminiscent of Bryn Mawr College often has that event.

LS We even had a maypole dance, I’ll call it, a couple of years ago at our annual park picnic and we had a maypole set up and had a lot of fun doing a maypole.

ER Yeah over the years. Go ahead…

LS I was just going to say that, I think we ought to, if we’re going to talk about people who built houses in the park, I think we should talk about Anton Wohlert.

TG All right, all right let’s do that. There was a Danish man named Wohlert, w-o-h-l-e-r-t, Anton Wohlert, and he was on the Civic Association and he was their board of directors and what did he do, ladies, to help with Narbrook Park?

LS Well, he was a nurseryman and of course he built it, he had his own house built. But he was also was responsible for some of the trees that were planted in the park. And was known at that time for the Japanese cherry trees that he planted. And I’m trying to think, there was a time when Japan made a gift of cherry trees, I forget to whom, but Mr. Wohlert was the one who supplied those, they didn’t come from yeah they came from Wohlert’s Nursery.

TG Many people, many people say that those trees in the Tidal Basin of Washington came from Japan, but really they came from Wohlert’s nursery.

ER Yeah, Japan made the offer and Wohlert […] the trees.

TG The stream has a lot of appeal to Narbrook Parkers. It pretty much runs down through, almost, the center of the park.

LS All the children who have ever lived in the park have played in the stream and got their shoes wet, done all sorts of things, and I would think that would include you, too.

TG Oh, yeah, it does. And there was a bridge, is a bridge.

ER Yes, there’s a bridge in the center and you may have shown the original outline of the part that showed sort of a loop-de-loop road which never actually came to pass, it was actually a single crossing across the stream and originally the bridge was built of cedar and of course that required occasional maintenance and replacement of parts. In about 1960 its fourth duration became cement and it has stood since. /span>

TG Okay, and I think one of the Narbrook Park architects, Clarence Woolmington, he was responsible for that concrete bridge and it does save a lot of effort, because I remember on Park clean-up days and they would often go out and try to repair the old wooden bridge.

LS Right, I remember that, too.

TG Now we’re getting down and we only have about a minute before we take another break but I wanted to mention that the Library of Congress has a website on Historic American Building Survey. And there are many pictures of Narbrook Park in the Historic American Building Survey pictures, so anyone who anybody who wants to go online and go to Habs h-a-b-s, you can see these images of Narbrook Park.

We’ve used up our time and we’re very grateful that Dr. Reed and Mrs. Slama are with us. This is Ted Goldsborough with Living History and we will continue about Narbrook Park in another show.

Narbrook Park, Part 3

Narbrook Park, Part 4