RHS Map and Atlas Collection Now Online

This map of "Louella," ca. 1870, is one of the oldest and most important maps of the area that would become Wayne. It is among the maps now available to view.

The Radnor Historical Society has an extensive collection of local maps and atlases dating back to the late 19th century. From the birth of Wayne as the tiny hamlet of Louella to the emergence of Radnor Township as a full-fledged suburb, the growth of our township can easily be read through these fascinating visual records.

Thanks to the Athenaeum of Philadelphia’s Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network, the Society’s collection of maps and atlases has been digitized and is available to view on their website. For a complete list of maps and atlases available to view, click here.

Presentation on the Downtown Wayne Historic District Nomination

1870 Chapel, Wayne Presbyterian Church

Monday April 23. 7:30-8:30
Wayne Presbyterian Church chapel

Please join us on Monday, April 23 at the historic 1870 chapel of the Wayne Presbyterian Church for a special public meeting about the potential designation of Downtown Wayne as a National Historic District. The meeting is being co-sponsored by the Radnor Historical Society and the Suburban Building who have been working to earn this designation for the district. If the district is listed as a National Historic District, such a designation will not restrict the uses of any property therein, but it will open up the possibility for incentives for property owners looking to rehabilitate and restore their buildings. This meeting is intended to present facts about the nomination and to answer any questions.

RHS Helps in New Effort to Restore St. Davids Train Station

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Although the 1890 Pennsylvania Railroad station at St. Davids was demolished in 1966, the station’s historic platform roof canopies that shelter waiting passengers still remain. These historic structures are standard PRR-designed canopies that are maintained by SEPTA. Despite their longevity, the canopies are showing signs of wear and deterioration.

A coalition of neighbors has been formed, including South Wayne resident Cheryl Tumola and RHS board member Greg Prichard, to coordinate with SEPTA to restore some of the station canopies’ historic elements, and to make sure they are done consistently with their history.

The restoration will include fixing woodwork, painting, and the re-creation of PRR-era red and gold keystone-shaped signs. St. Davids Station may be gone, but its historic remnants can still be preserved. For more information and to learn how to contribute, please visit www.stdavidsstation.org.

(This article appeared in the September, 2011 Radnor Historical Society Newsletter. To receive the newsletter in the mail, consider becoming a member!)

The Historical Society’s Historic House Marker Program Begins

screen-shot-2011-09-06-at-43239-pmThis fall, twelve Radnor Township buildings will display handsome bronze plaques that honor their history. Their owners are the first participants in the new RHS initiative that has been created to recognize good examples of preservation that contribute in a positive way to the appreciation of the Township’s architectural heritage. The twelve buildings are:

•  The Radnor Historical Society’s Finley House, 113 W. Beechtree Lane, Wayne, built 1789.

•  Thornhedge house and carriage house, 260 Chamounix Road, Wayne, built 1903, owned by Kathleen Papa.

•  142 West Wayne Avenue, Wayne, built c. 1881-1887, owners Bruce and Sandy Gilbert.

•  Isle Field, renamed Almondbury House, built 1911 in Rosemont and designed by Horace Trumbauer. It is now

the headquarters of the American Missionary Fellowship.

•  Bon Air, 425 Chestnut Lane, Wayne, built 1889-1890, owners Chris and Jill Stavrakos.

•  Nathan Matlack House, 425 Darby Paoli Road, St. Davids, built c. 1762-1783, owners Jamie and Hollie Holt.

•  124 West Wayne Avenue, Wayne, built c. 1881-1884, owned by Bruce Norcini.

•  221 Lenoir Avenue, Wayne, built c. 1921-1922, owners John and Martha Dale.

•  200 South Aberdeen Avenue, built c. 1890-1893, owners Stephen and Suzanne Shuut.

•  134 Poplar Avenue, Wayne, built c. 1904-1906, owner Amy Marren.

•  Kinterra, 706 Church Road, Villanova, built c. 1808-1814, enlarged 1994, owners William and Andrea Pilling.

Applications for markers can be found on the RHS website, www.radnorhistory.org/marker, or may be picked up at the Finley House. The cost is $200. Having a marker does not carry with it any regulations or limitations on your property but is simply a recognition of your architectural stewardship.

(This article appeared in the September, 2011 Radnor Historical Society Newsletter. To receive the newsletter in the mail, consider becoming a member!)

An Update on Current RHS Volunteer Projects

Historic Markers

In June, volunteers went to Media to meet with Rachelle Green, a planner in the Delaware County Historic Preservation Office in order to learn how to research deeds for the historic markers that will soon appear on some Radnor buildings. Beverlee Barnes, manager in the Historic Preservation Office, greeted Andrea Pilling, Jim Corrodi, Sandy Gilbert, Suzanne Shuut, Pat Hartel, Jeanne Murray, Meg Tharp, Lynn Ellis and Susan Ayers.

Glass Slides

RHS board member Lynn Ellis has been labeling, indexing and archiving hundreds of glass photographic negatives from about 1870-on, containing many Radnor landmarks that are no longer there. The McKnight, Wendell and Heilner collections have been archived, as well as a collection from Capt. John W. Morrison, who lived at 425 Chestnut Lane. Morrison served in the Union Army during the Civil War and was later Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Radnor Baptist Church Cemetery Cleanup

RHS has taken the lead to clean up and maintain the cemetery, which once was connected to the Baptist church established in 1842 at the corner of Conestoga Road and West Wayne Avenue as a result of a schism over abolition at the Baptist Church in the Great Valley. After the Civil War and the demise of the abolitionist movement the church slowly declined and closed its doors; the building was demolished in 1951. Many of the original families have continued to use its burial grounds, with the last burial in 2010 for John Nash, a Radnor High School teacher. The trust fund for the cemetery’s upkeep was exhausted in 2008, at which point the Radnor Historical Society took over as temporary caretaker.

A Works Progress Administration project to list all grave markings in the United States included this site in 1936-1937 and a copy of that project is now on file at the Historical Society. All interred who could be identified by their grave markings were listed with their positions noted on a grid. The graves may also be found at www.FindAGrave.com. A future project will be to photograph each gravestone to be posted to the site.

Volunteers have cleared brush, pulled ivy, raked leaves and hauled away a great deal of trash that has been dumped on the site over the years. They have come from such varied groups as the Troop 219 Boy Scouts, Villanova University students, the Wayne Bateman-Gallagher American Legion Post 668, the Italian-American Club, Friends of the Baptist Cemetery and neighbors. Several local tree companies have removed trees. An Eagle Scout project was proposed to list Civil War veterans, but the Scouts became so excited about their project that they decided to list all veterans, identify their graves, set markers on the proper graves, and determine the necessity of any grave restoration. Ground-penetrating radar has recently been used to identify burials with no visible headstones; so far one buried headstone has been found and raised.

Much remains to be done to clean up the site and to identify graves. If you are interested in participating, please call RHS or write to president@radnorhistory.org.

Volunteers are always needed! If you would like to help, please visit www.radnorhistory.org/volunteer.

(This article appeared in the September, 2011 Radnor Historical Society Newsletter. To receive the newsletter in the mail, consider becoming a member!)

Two New Radnor Trail Interpretive Signs Installed

West Wayne Station signIn 2008, the Radnor Historical Society and the Radnor Township Department of Parks and Recreation partnered to create two interpretive signs for the Radnor Trail. The signs, installed at Conestoga Road and Brooke Road, told the story of the Philadelphia & Western Railway, an interurban rail line that operated on the current trail between 1907 and 1956.

This spring, two new signs were installed at the sites of two former P&W stations, at West Wayne Avenue (pictured) and Sugartown Road. These panels display historic photographs of the long-gone stations and tell their stories.

These signs are costly to produce, and were made possible thanks to contributions from the Radnor Conservancy and private donors. We would like to complete this project by installing signs at the sites of the remaining stations: Strafford, South Devon Avenue, Maplewood Avenue, Ithan, and Radnor-Chester Road. We can’t achieve this goal without you! To learn more and find out how you can help, please visit www.radnorhistory.org/trailsigns.

(This article appeared in the September, 2011 Radnor Historical Society Newsletter. To receive the newsletter in the mail, consider becoming a member!)

Local News Roundup: June 15, 2011

This post is the first in our series linking to stories of interest to local history, as found in our local media sources.

Main Line Suburban Life – Louella Court neighbors feel a way of life threatened
The recent proposals to convert the historic Louella mansion into high-end condominiums and build a garage on its lawn has put the surrounding Louella Court community into focus. The homes encircling the mansion were built in the 1920s, and comprise one of Radnor’s three historic districts. The article includes several insightful interviews with Louella Court residents.

Radnor Patch – Viewfinder: Radnor Meeting House
Bill Ecklund, photographer for Radnor Patch, took many outstanding photographs of the 1717 Radnor Friends Meeting House. The meeting is one of Radnor’s oldest and most historic buildings, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Main Line Suburban Life – Using Radar to Find War Veterans’ Graves in Wayne
One of the Radnor Historical Society’s long-running projects has been the restoration of the First Baptist Church cemetery on West Wayne Avenue. This article details how radar techniques are being used to find graves in the cemetery.

Radnor Patch – Time Capsule with Ed O’Brien
Patch’s series of brief oral histories continues with retired teacher Ed O’Brien of Wayne.

Preserve Louella’s Historic Character

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(This column appeared in the April 14, 2011 issue of Main Line Suburban Life.)

 

The Louella Mansion is the most important building in downtown Wayne.

 

Whomever takes ownership of Louella inherits both a unique privilege and a great responsibility. A local developer has put forth a plan to convert the building into a 12-unit condominium complex, with an attached garage structure consisting of 24 bays. These plans have been presented at two Radnor Township Historic and Architectural Review Board (HARB) meetings, the most recent of which was on April 6. The residents of Louella Court, whose homes orbit the mansion’s east and north sides, have spoken out strongly regarding how the garage will alter their community. While they are rightfully focused on this single aspect, we cannot lose sight of possible changes to the mansion itself.

Built ca. 1865 by J. Henry Askin, the founder of the town, Louella was the largest and most prominent home in the area. Mr. Askin wanted to build a utopian community in Wayne, with a Presbyterian Church on Lancaster Pike (still standing) and a row of houses on Bloomingdale Avenue that looked similar to his own (most of which still stand). In the 1880s, Louella was expanded for re-use as a summer hotel, and a girl’s school used it during winter months. After this, it became a multi-unit residence, which it remains.

Unfortunately, Louella is not in the best condition today. When viewed up close, there are some obvious cosmetic flaws that need to be addressed. However, for a building of its age, Louella remains remarkably intact. One of its greatest original features are its windows, some of which reach to the floor, typical of the Second Empire style of the 1860s and ’70s. The windows are all the more remarkable when one considers that it was from these that Mr. Askin watched his town grow 140 years ago.

Windows are a major character-defining feature of any historic building, as outlined by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and even local groups: the Lower Merion Conservancy has just listed historic windows as their township’s #1 most threatened historic resource. Many do not realize the historic and environmental benefits of preserving windows, especially in light of incentives that falsely pronounce replacement windows as more environmentally conscious. The studies are in: replacing windows is far more wasteful than restoring them, and replacement detracts from a building’s historic character in a way that can never be regained.

Neither the developer nor his architects have indicated that they have even explored the option of restoring Louella’s existing windows, and possibly adding interior storm windows for increased efficiency. Instead, they have gone to great lengths to reproduce the “look” of what’s already there, having a window fabricator create a sample of a modern window that creates an appearance that is “virtually identical” to what already exists. “Virtually identical” doesn’t cut it. The very idea of respecting an old building is recognizing and appreciating its historic features, not by trying to make it look “new” again.

Another idea that was presented at the April 6 HARB meeting was of replacing the building’s slate mansard roof with asphalt shingles that are designed with fake shadow lines to mimic the appearance of slate. The developer mentioned that the shingles’ 40 year lifespan will be of benefit to the future homeowners. The mansion’s present slate roof has been in use for approximately 130 years (possibly more in some places). A new (or repaired) slate roof would require periodic maintenance, but in terms of the long-term durability and historic appropriateness, slate wins.

Louella is Wayne’s “Founder’s House,” a distinction that many towns uphold as their single most important historic building. And yet, the would-be developer of Louella has not gone as far as to hire an architect or consultant with any preservation experience. As far as their website would indicate, the architects chosen for the renovation of Louella have very little experience in working with existing buildings. If Louella does not deserve the careful and experienced attention of a preservation architect, then what does? (Preservation also makes good business sense: following the correct guidelines and restoring historic windows could lead the developer to significant historic preservation tax credits.)

As the HARB is only an advisory board, the township Board of Commissioners will have the final say on the proposal during their March 25 meeting. All Wayne residents need to realize the impact of this plan. Mr. Askin would probably be proud with the success of his town more than a century after he started it, but today we need to remember how it began, and respect the historic fabric that remains. If preservation is of importance to the new owners of Louella, the Radnor Historical Society graciously offers its support and guidance in planning for Louella’s future.

Above: At the April 6 HARB meeting, architects of the Louella "renovation" show a sample of a Pella replacement window that they plan to use in the mansion. The bottom sash represents the planned replacement.
Above: At the April 6 HARB meeting, architects of the Louella “renovation” show a sample of a Pella replacement window that they plan to use in the mansion. The bottom sash represents the planned replacement.

Radnor’s New Historic Asset Inventory Takes Shape

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The Radnor Historical Society is pleased to announce that a new Historic Asset Inventory for Radnor Township is now underway. This follows up on previous inventories from the 1980s and 2004, using the data gathered from those surveys, expanding it with information from other documents, and including many newly identified resources. Currently, over 1,600 individual resources have been identified.

The purpose of the inventory is to promote preservation throughout Radnor by identifying historic assets throughout the Township, especially those that are obscure and overlooked. This new survey examines not only large houses and prominent public buildings, but also gateposts, stone walls, ruins, and even architectural icons of the 20th century, such as the building that was once the national headquarters of TV Guide magazine. Our hope is that property owners and the Township government will use the inventory as a guide to evaluating the importance of Radnor’s historic assets, as well as to deter modifications and demolitions to historically important structures.

The inventory was made possible by the Radnor Historical Society’s extensive archives, and it is publicly accessible thanks to hosting provided by the society. It was put together in the summer of 2010 by Greg Prichard as a project for the Delaware County Planning Department’s office of Historic Preservation, which is led by RHS board member Beverlee Barnes.

The inventory’s findings are represented online by a series of maps, as well as a list. Each item in the inventory has an additional survey form, which is also accessible through an online database. Many forms are complete, but many more still need to be finished. The Radnor Historical Society needs your help to finish the project! If you are interested in writing architectural descriptions or taking photographs, please write to us.

Wayne Natatorium Marker Ceremony October 17

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We are excited to announce that on Sunday, October 17, a state historical marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission will be unveiled in Wayne. The marker, located at Willow Avenue and Radnor Street Rd. near Cowan Field, will commemorate the Wayne Natatorium. This man-made swimming pool was one of the largest in the country, and was an attraction in Wayne between 1895 and 1903. The marker was sponsored by the Radnor Historical Society, and was made possible thanks to the research and efforts of Carla Zambelli.

The event will take place at 2pm October 17, and will be attended by distinguished guests. We will post video of the ceremony here on the website.