It was in the sixties, according to Mr. Townsend’s book “The Old Main Line”, that Philadelphians, seeking to escape the heat of the city’s summer, began to come to that section west of the City Line that was later to be known as the “Main Line”. The Wildgoos Boarding House near Haverford College was one of the favorite resorts and one of which Mr. Townsend evidently knew a great deal personally. It was probably very much like Wayne’s Louella Mansion and the Bellevue Hotel, though these two did not reach the height of their popularity until a slightly later date.
“Wildgoos boarders were,” according to Mr. Townsend, “a jolly, good natured crowd, living all summer like one large happy family. Rooms could be engaged only for the entire summer, and were in such demand that there was always a waiting list”. However, to the modern youth, the pleasures of Main Line summer life would probably seem very dull with no automobiles, no movies and no sports as they know them today. Even in Philadelphia itself, there were only two or three theatres and these featured neither comic opera nor musical comedies. And even if they had, there were no evening trains by which to go into the city.
Most of the houses in the country had only coal oil and candles for illumination in the evening. Weather permitting, this part of the day was usually spent on the porch or the lawn. On stormy nights, summer boarders were crowded into the parlor from music or games. Among the latter was one of “Familiar Quotations” played like “Authors”. “It consisted”, according to our Main Line historian, “of cards having about 100 quotations from both ancient and modern authors and was a liberal education in itself to those who played it, making a lasting impression of the best thoughts of the best authors. It was issued and sold for the benefit of the great “Sanitary Fair”, held in Logan Square during the War . . . the selections were made by a well-known Philadelphia woman, Mrs. Lydia Hunn, the grandmother of Mrs. Charles Baily, of Strafford. “She must have read everything and remembered the best of it.”
Other favorite evening entertainment consisted of charades, rebuses and conundrums. The latter were most frequently derived from the Bible, as most people were familiar with it. Spirit mysteries were much in vogue then as witnessed by the popularity of “Planchette”, predecessor of the Ouija Board. It was “a small, thin, heart-shaped piece of wood standing on little revolving rollers and one leg was a short lead pencil. A large piece of paper was placed on a table, with the Planchette board on top of it . . . one or more participants placed the tips of their fingers on it. It soon began to more, and the pencil naturally traced on the paper the semblance of words that were in an operator’s mind.”
So much for indoor amusements. As for outdoors, there was driving in the little carriages built for tow designated as “buggies”. In our historian’s opinion “buggy driving was more sociable than modern motoring, as the horse did not require constant or undivided attention, having sense enough to turn when the road turns, which the motor car has not. The horse could also be guided with one hand, when the driver’s intentions were serious and reciprocated. On long drives, the horse had to be rested frequently and roadside berries, with which the Main Line then abounded, were an agreeable accompaniment.”
Picnics were sometimes organized, occasionally even as far as to Valley Forge, though that was a long, tiresome drive with horses. A popular picnic spot and a more nearby one was Morris’ Dam on Roberts road. Wildgoos boarders and neighbors joined in these, some coming from as far as Overbrook. Moonlight hay wagon rides were another form of amusement among the older people as well as the younger. However, all of these pastimes and amusements were for six days of the week only, for “Sunday in the Sixties was very different from that of today.” Church going, walking and visiting were the order of the day. Those who took long drives were often frowned upon by their more religious neighbors. Sunday evenings were mostly spent in hymn singing. There were, of course no Sunday newspapers. The Pennsylvania Railroad ran but one train and that was from Philadelphia at eight in the morning. None went into Philadelphia. Mr. Townsend tells of an early report of a committee of the railway company’s stockholders which devotes five pages to the “iniquity of the company’s doing nay business on Sunday.”
As to sports in the sixties, they were practically non-existent as known today. Football, basketball, hockey, golf, squash and rackets were still unknown. In the late sixties, “a so-called bicycle appeared . . . the rider sat on top of a wheel about five feet high with a little wheel behind to steady it. Woe to him if he struck a stone as he took a high header . . . a man was killed in this way on Lancaster Pike. . . when the present form of bicycle came in, ten years later, with low wheels and rubbr tires, they were called ‘safeties’”
Tennis did not appear until the late seventies and although baseball was played in some places it was little known in the suburbs. Cricket came into existence at about this time . . . the Merion Cricket Club had just been organized . . . quoits were played occasionally. But the universal game of the sixties for adults and children alike was croquet! Hours were devoted to it, and although “ there was little exercise in it, at least it kept people out of doors!” But on Sundays “even the gentle croquet mallets rested peacefully in their box.”
“Playing cards” were taboo among the Quakers and Presbyterians, who largely predominated in Philadelphia’s social life. Youngsters played parchesi, jack-straws and Lotto, while their elders joined in on checkers and backgammon. Billiards and chess were other popular games.
In the late seventies when Louella House, in Wayne, became a summer hotel for Philadelphians under the name of Louella Mansion, its owners issued a little booklet setting forth its many attractions. Its Casino contained “shuffle-boards, a pool table and gymnasium apparatus. The mansion itself contains library, smoking and music rooms, orchestral music every Saturday evening. Extensive room for dancing.” So even in a decade or two popular summer hotels of the Main Line began to offer more in the way of amusement than did the Wildgoos Boarding House of the sixties.
(To be continued)