Lower Merion Historical Society

The Lower Merion Historical Society

« David J. Schmidt Collection

WPA The American Guide Project: Part 3

By David Schmidt
Main Line Life Correspondent
originally published October 2, 2002

When the WPA Guide to Philadelphia was published in 1937 a part of what they provided was a series of tours of the area, upon which the knowledge from the 700-page book could be applied to the actual sites – and sights. During the past weeks we have come through the Main Line suburbs of 1937 to Valley Forge Park and toured the park. Now we return through the “prosperous suburbs” that run along Lancaster Ave and Route 30.

From this point the route follows the Main Line through a continuous chain of prosperous suburbs.

Devon 31.8 miles (536 altitude; 125 population), on a gently rising crest, is famous for its annual horse show.

At 40 miles is a junction with Dorset Road.

On Dorset Road is St. David’s Protestant Episcopal Church (26) 1.8 miles, erected in 1715 by Welsh settlers. It is a small, ivy-clad, native gray stone structure, with white-painted wood trim, low arched door, and shuttered windows. St. David’s first congregation, dating before 1700, worshiped in a log building on the site of the present church. There was no rector until the fall of 1714 when, on petition of the congregation, Rev. Mr. Clubb was sent by the London Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.

The building was used as a hospital during the Revolutionary War.

Hard pressed for ammunition, Washington’s army, while facing Howe’s well-equipped troops, used the lead sashes of the church windows to melt into bullets.

In the vestry room are a number of interesting relics, including books sent out in 1714 by the London Society, an ancient pewter communion service and the old base viola used in the choir before the days of organs.

In the churchyard is the tomb of Gen. Anthony Wayne, who was a vestryman. Amonument to his memory was erected there by the Society of the Cincinnati in 1809.

Each October sees a revival of a century- old legend that clings to the church and its graveyard as tenaciously as the climbing ivy clings to the church walls. According to this legend, General Wayne rises from his grave, mounts his waiting steed, “Nancy,” and rides up and down the highway, brandishing his sword as though he were stilt leading his military command in combat. So vividly has this legend played on the imagination of inhabitants that police have frequently been called to guard the cemetery. As recently as 1933, highway police spent several nights on duty here.

Wayne, 33.8 miles (494 altitude; 3,000 population) was named for General Wayne.

At 34.8 miles is the Radnor Open Golf Course (27) on both sides of the road. This was formerly the St. Davids Golf Club, the second-oldest golf course in the vicinity of Philadelphia and the seventh-oldest in the United States. When it opened in 1894 each of the 18 holes had a name, as was the custom in Scotland. In 1927, when St. Davids Golf Club moved to a new course at Aronomink, these links were converted into a public course.

Villanova, 36 miles (421 altitude; 1,000 population) is the seat of Villanova College, founded in 1842 by Augustinians of the Roman Catholic Church and named after St. Thomas of Villanova, bishop of Valencia. The college has about 2,000 students. Alibrary of 25,000 books in the east wing of Austin Hall contains rare manuscripts of the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, on parchment and white vellum, illuminated in colors and gold; and incunabula or “cradle books,” including a Bible and a Latin grammar printed by Anthony Koburger, in 1482.

A century ago a taproom stood near the site of the college. At 11 o’clock each night, when a gong sounded behind the oaken bar, service ceased, and patrons were requested to leave immediately or join the host and hostess in prayer. The latter were ex-slaves, Billy and Mary Moulton, who had been freed by the widow of John Randolph. After the arrival of the Augustinians, the Moultons were converted to Catholicism.

Rosemont, 36.8 miles (360 altitude; 2,600 population) is another suburban development.

Left from Rosemont on County Line Road, right on Airdale Road under the railroad tracks, and left on Montgomery Avenue. Rosemont College for Women was founded and incorporated in 1922 by the nuns of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. The 40-acre campus, on which are erected the six gray stone buildings of English Gothic design which comprise the college group, contains rare trees of interest to arboriculturists. Degrees in art, science, and letters are conferred by the college.

Bryn Mawr (Welsh, great hill) 37.9 miles (420 altitude., 20,200 population) is internationally known as the seat of Bryn Mawr College, one of America’s great colleges for women.

Left at traffic light on Bryn Mawr Ave., right in a half circle under Pennsylvania R.R., tracks at Bryn Mawr station into Morris Ave.

At the intersection of Morris and Montgomery avenues, on the far right corner, set back on spacious grounds behind a high wrought-iron fence, stands the Baldwin School, a girls’ preparatory school, founded in 1883. It has an enrollment of 300, and many of its graduates enter Bryn Mawr College. It was among the first experimental schools chosen by the Progressive Education Commission on the Relation of School and College.

Left from Morris Ave., on Yarrow St., to its junction with Merion Ave. Opposite lies the 52-acre campus of Bryn Mawr College (31), its dignified gray stone buildings of Tudor Gothic architecture mellowed by vine-covered walls, old shade trees, and banks and clumps of shrubbery. The college was founded in 1880 by Dr. Joseph W. Taylor, of Burlington, N. J. It was originally affiliated with the Society of Friends, but is now non-sectarian.

The library (open weekdays 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.) contains 150,000 bound volumes and 10,000 pamphlets, and was built in 1907 by the gifts of friends, students, and alumni.

Each spring Elizabethan plays are presented. The students’ Maypole fete was revived at Bryn Mawr about 20 years ago and continues to attract considerable interest.

The late John D. Rockefeller, Sr., donated money for a power house, and a dormitory.

At Old Buck Lane 45.2 miles is Old Buck Inn (32). The inn is now used as an apartment house and is partly hidden by a tall hedge. Two of the three simple, gable-roofed units, of fieldstone plastered over, were erected in 1730. After the defeat at Brandywine in September 1777, Washington stopped here for a night, and his army bivouacked nearby.

Haverford, 47.3 miles (410 altitude; 4,000 population), a Quaker residential community, is the seat of Haverford College (33), founded in 1833 by the Society of Friends. The college consists of several buildings of Colonial Georgian inspiration in gray stone with white trim. Founder’s Hall is a threestory building of buff plaster over stone. The student body is restricted to 300. The original campus, 198 acres, cost $17,865. This and an additional 17 acres are now valued at $1,700,000. The income from a $4,000,000 trust fund enables the college to maintain a large faculty and to furnish board and lodging to students at less than cost.

Ardmore, 48.1 miles (376 altitude; 18,000 population) is a naturally beautiful locality, with close-cropped slopes studded with luxurious estates and a small business section through which the tour passes. It was formerly entirely residential, the well-kept countryside resembling Surrey in England. With the advent of the automobile, Ardmore grudgingly accepted a small amount of commercial enterprise.

Left on Ardmore Avenue. At 1-mile right on Montgomery Avenue. At 4 miles on Montgomery Avenue (left) is the Old Merion Meetinghouse, built in 1682. It is a two-storied gabled structure of early Colonial type, with slate roof and brick chimneys and stands on a spacious lot among old shade trees. Its absence of detail befits the austere Quaker faith. It is one of two buildings still standing wherein William Penn preached, and Friends still assemble for service. In the house is the peg on which Penn hung his broadbrimmed hat. One of the founders of the meetinghouse was Dr. Thomas Wynne, Penn’s intimate friend and physician, who came over with him on the Welcome. Descendants of Wynne still preside at meetings.

Adjoining the Old Merion Meetinghouse, is the historic General Wayne Inn, erected in 1704. The hotel was a meeting place for Washington, Lafayette, Wayne, and other famous men. Edgar Allan Poe, when a resident of Philadelphia in the 1840’s, was a frequent patron. It is a low structure of plastered stone, fronted by open galleries, with large chimneys at the ends of the low-pitched roof.

At 4.5 miles bear right on Old Lancaster Road at its intersection with Montgomery Avenue. Turn right on City Line Avenue, right on Lapsley Road to the Art Museum of the Barnes Foundation.

In 1922, Albert Barnes, of Merion, established an endowment of $10,000,000 for an art museum. Agreat legal battle was fought in Philadelphia courts over a municipal tax of $756 upon a small office property in that city owned by the foundation.

Meanwhile, the foundation had constructed the Merion museum – a onestory building in Italian Renaissance style, built of light imported stone with tile roof. It houses Egyptian, Greek, and Negro sculpture; Persian, Chinese, Florentine, and Dutch primitives; canvases by Giorgione, Tintoretto, El Greco, Claude Lorrain. Daumier, Delacroix. Courbet, Corot, Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Degas, and others. The grounds include a 12- acre park and arboretum.

And we return from there to the city of Philadelphia, 2002.