Ashmead’s History of Delaware County, part 3 – Louella Mansion, Wendell & Smith

Although the Louella Mansion was described in much detail in some of the very early articles of this column, it is interesting to repeat what the reporter on the Germantown “Telegraph” had to say about it in the July 2, 1884 issue of that paper. It is from his article that we have obtained much of our description of Wayne in 1884, as given recently in this column.

He calls the Louella Mansion “one of the great attractions” of the growing community, with its “magnificent surrounding grounds on the north side of Lancaster avenue”. By this time it had ceased to be the home of J. Henry Askin, who, in the middle eighties, was occupying a new and smaller home on the northwest corner of Wayne avenue and Lancaster pike. George Childs had become the owner of Louella Mansion, which he leased to Miss E. R. Boughter. A very popular summer resort, it had eighty rooms for guests who enjoyed its many privileges, including the spacious porch that looked on “as finely cultivated a lawn as can be found in the surrounding country”. The front lawn alone, facing as it did on Lancaster Pike, measured one thousand feet in length with “an abundance of shrubbery, shade trees and flower beds.”

East of Louella Mansion was the old Carpenter homestead, or “Maule Farm,” as it was sometimes called. Apparently between the latter and Louella Mansion there were large livery barns, where “the stabling arrangements were under the care of Charles R. Wetherell, the competent and experienced lessee”. These stables had stall-room for one hundred horses, with a commodious wagon-house nearby, as stated in our earlier article on Louella Mansion. They were apparently part of the Louella property, as were various other small buildings nearby.

Opposite Louella Mansion, but somewhat south of Lancaster avenue, stood the waterworks, containing a large retaining pond from which the water was pumped into the reservoir near the corner of Wayne avenue and Bloomingdale avenue, as described in last week’s column.

Next on his travels, our reporter visited Aberdeen avenue, where there were “several very superior brick cottages, with elegant terraced walks in front, and graveled foot-ways.” Although he does not say so, these houses must have been to the north of the Pike, as on the south side there are none facing on Aberdeen avenue until after it intersects St. Davids road. At any rate, all of the houses to which our chronicler refers were already finished and some of them occupied at the time of his visit. They were built on large lots and contained from “nine to twelve handsomely papered rooms, side vestibules, stained glass windows, broad porches, and spacious stairways.”

Particularly specific was our writer in his descriptions of these particular “cottages” even to the kitchen which, he said, had circular boilers, ranges and hot and cold water. Parlors had “low-down” grates and all the bedrooms had inside shutters. Also there were sliding doors between the parlors and dining rooms and between the vestibules and parlors. But most interesting of all to readers in this price-conscious age were the rental and sale prices of these houses. Dependent on size, they had a yearly rental of $360, $480 and $600. Sale prices ranged from $5,250 to $7,200 each. All could be had on easy terms.

But the particular bargain of the large building development in Wayne at that time seems to have been the small houses on North Wayne avenue which rented at $20 per month and sold for $3,000 each. Many of these are still standing and occupied although the years have brought many exterior and interior changes to almost all of them.

Before closing his article, our writer tells of “a charming piece of woodland” near St. Davids Station, which was to be “utilized for pleasure parties and picnics.” This must have been to the north of the station, as was an old stone country farm house which was then being converted into “a first class cottage” with the surrounding lot “being laid out in elegant style.”

In view of the comments made by present day newcomers to Wayne and St. Davids on the general uniformity in style of the houses built for Drexel and Childs by Wendell and Smith, the closing sentence of the Germantown “Telegraph” article seems a little surprising. “It may be mentioned here that no particular style of houses is required to be built at Wayne, and parties purchasing lots can erect any kind of building they choose, or make any disposition of their purchases they deem proper.” Apparently, however, “parties purchasing lots” must have liked the architectural plans already available as there are so many in both Wayne and St. Davids that were built alike.

The Germantown “Telegraph” was not the only newspaper to run a long feature article on Wayne’s development in the eighties. Under date of May 22, 1884, the Philadelphia “Record” had a somewhat less lengthy one which, however, brought out several points not touched on by the Germantown “Telegraph”. The former article has also been preserved in Ashmead’s “History of Delaware County”. According to the “Record”, Wayne had “perfected a drainage system which is said to be unequalled by any resort in the United States, the designs having been furnished by Colonel George F. Waring, the best posted man in the country on sanitary matters.” The use of the word “resort” is interesting in that it shows that Wayne was still considered more of a summer residential section than a permanent home one at that time.

In enlarging on Colonel Waring’s drainage system the “Record” stated that miles of distribution pipe had been laid, the water supply coming from springs at the source of Ithan Creek, while it clarified itself in the large reservoir on Bloomingdale avenue that was described in last week’s column. It seems, too, that a nursery was laid out for young sprigs, which according to the “Record” were “tenderly cared for in this little patch until they had acquired enough age to be transplanted along the banks of the creek in a pretty park”. In North Wayne, plans were under way to use the waters of Gulf Creek just as those of Ithan Creek were used in South Wayne.

At that time the Lancaster Pike from Philadelphia to Paoli had recently been purchased by a corporation headed by A. J. Cassatt for what seems nowadays the very modest sum of $7,500. However, the corporation had immediately $70,000 worth of improvements on it. The “Record” pays its tribute to these improvements by stating that “Today there is not in America a driving road of equal length that compares with it.” At that time the new homes in Wayne and St. Davids stood forty feet back of the street line, showing how narrow even the improved highway was.

The closing paragraph of the “Record” article bears quoting in full. “Real estate men say that the tendency of purchasers of country homes along the Pennsylvania Railroad is beyond Bryn Mawr, and they attribute this to three facts, –the lower prices, higher elevation, and the extensive improvements at Wayne and other places near by. In six years the value of real estate fringing the Pennsylvania Railroad from the country line to a point near Paoli has appreciated nearly $30,000,000. All this started with the purchase of 600 acres near White Hall by the Pennsylvania Railroad 13 years ago (1871). Within three years the advance in price along the line has been very rapid. Properties that sold in 1880 for $500 an acre have been recently disposed of for $1200 and some pieces of ground have gone at $4200 an acre.”


(The writer of this column wishes to extend her thanks to Mr. Richard Barringer for the loan of his “History of Delaware County” over an extended period of time.)

“The Old Main Line” part 2: Life in the “60s” – Wildgoos Boarding House, sports,

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)

Hughs estate (cont.), William Wood house, “Caesar”

The old Cleaver farm house where Mr. and Mrs. William D. Hughs lived so happily with their young family after they purchased it from Mr. and Mrs. J. Henry Askin in 1878, remained very much as it was at the time of the purchase until about the year 1887. At that time several additions were made to the house, including a third floor and a large porch, which was open in summer and enclosed in winter with many growing plants to add to its cheerfulness.

A modern architect building onto a lovely old house such as the Cleaver one, would keep to the simplicity of the original structure. However, this particular architect was carried away by the more ornate tendencies of the eighties and the new third floor had the mansard-type roof! Mrs. Sausser tells me that this spoiled the charm of the old house to some extent, though its comfort still remained. With the third floor addition the house had twenty-five rooms in all.

While the remodeling of their own house was going on the Hughs family went to live with Mrs. Hughs’ father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. George J. Corrie, who resided at that time in the house on the northwest corner of Bloomingdale and Lenoir avenues, now occupied by Doctor and Mrs. Henry G. Fischer. For fifty years Mr. Corrie taught music at Villanova College. He was the organist at the Wayne Presbyterian Church and had a studio in the same building with the Wayne Estate offices. (This is where Wayne Frosted Foods, Inc., is now located).

In 1896 William Wood bought the Hugh’s home and lived there with his large family while his new home was being built on a site almost directly adjoining that of the original house. This handsome home, built in Elizabethan style by the well known firm of Hazelfurst and Huckle, though now unoccupied, still stands on the large piece of ground on Lancaster Pike directly west of the Fried Building. This entire plot of ground is soon to be converted to commercial purposes. In the destruction of the old Hughs home after the building of the new house, the corner stone with its markings of 1775 was unfortunately lost.

In 1894, two of Mrs. William Wood’s daughters were married in a double ceremony in the Wayne Presbyterian Church. This was the first wedding to be performed in the present church building, services up to that time having been held in what is now known as the Chapel, built in 1870.

Mr. Wood’s grounds were always beautifully planted and tended as Mr. Hughs’ had been. There were spreading oaks, giant ginko trees, Japanese maples, chestnut trees and much shrubbery, including many rhododendrons. The famous Bellevue Hotel adjoined his property toward the west, and when this burned down William W. Hearne built the house which still stands on the same site as the old hotel on the corner of the Pike and Bellevue avenue. In the early eighties J. Henry Askin built the house on the corner of North Wayne avenue and Lancaster avenue which has recently been converted into the Cobb and Lawless store. This house was occupied by Mr. Askin and his family after they moved from Louella House.

In the same year that Mr. Wood built his home, the Central Baptist Church, is it now stands, was completed. About this time Dr. Smedley built the very handsome house which still stands just ot the west of Albrecht’s Flower Shop. For some reason the Smedley family never occupied it and it later passed ito the possession of J. M. Fronefield, Jr. Between the Wood property and the Railroad station and leading to the Bellevue Hotel ran a boardwalk built on high stilts. This was for the accommodation of those who wished to keep out of the mud of North Wayne avenue and of Lancaster Pike!

On the old Dr. Wells’ property, where Mrs. Sausser, Mrs. Jiggens and Mrs. Scott now make their home, there is a happy reminder of the days when they were the three little Hughs girls playing on their father’s farm and swinging in the big swing near the old spring house. It is “Caesar” the iron dog, whose first home was Louella House, as shown in an old picture now in the possession of Herman P. Lengel. Mr. Askin later gave “Caesar” to Mr. Hughs to be placed on his lawn. Within the past four years he has been transferred to the yard of the former Wells home. There are many amusing tales told in connection with old “Caesar,” notable that of the time when Mary Hughs, now Mrs. Jiggens, hid the key to her father’s ice house in the dog’s hollow interior, and for some time refused to reveal the hiding place! He is still an object of much interest to all passerby, including children and real dogs, who actually bark at him!

(For information in this article supplementary to that given me by Mrs. Malcolm G. Sausser, I am indebted to Miss Josephine W. Scott.)

Louella Mansion and early Wayne – Cleaver’s Landing, Lyceum

Over a cup of tea in the pleasant living room of Miss Josephine Scott’s home in Louella Court Apartments, one afternoon recently, we fell to discussing the old building which housed us. It was built more than eighty years ago, Mrs. Scott said, by J. Henry Askin, as a home for his family and was called Louella House, thus combining the names of two of his daughters, Louise and Ella.

It was a truly beautiful estate with its mansion house and its various cottages. Only the main part of the building as we now see it was built originally, the east and west wings having been added at a later date. Around the south, west and north sides of the mansion, the wide porch extended continuously. Miss Scott visualizes the parlor in the front part of the house as a very elegant and formal room with its heavy hangings, its massive furniture, its steel engravings on the walls and probably its wax flowers under glass on its pier glass tables!

Louella House, with the old Presbyterian Church and the Lyceum formed the nucleus then of the little hamlet first known as Cleaver’s Landing, later as Louella and now as Wayne. The Lyceum, later called the Opera House, is the large old building on the northeast corner of Lancaster avenue and North Wayne avenue which now houses several stores and apartments. Back in 1867, when Louella House was completed, there was no North Wayne avenue. West from the Lyceum on the turnpike was the Cleaver farm and past that the Tom Jones estate.

As Mr. Askin stood on his wide front porch and looked up the hill to the south he saw the Mifflin farm located in what is now the Upland way section. Almost across the turnpike from Louella House Fr. Askin could see the pumping station, while slightly to the southwest up the hill was the reservoir which supplied Louella House and all of its buildings with water. On the former site St. Mary’s Church was built in 1889 and slightly to the east of the latter site Windermere Court apartments now stand.

As Mr. Askin looked east from his porch following the line of the turnpike he saw the Louella stables, a barn and various other small buildings. Beyond that was open country as far as the Presbyterian Manse, later bought for a home by Mr. Lofland. The original Presbyterian Manse still stands facing south in the block between Pembroke avenue and St. Davids road. The gracious old house set well back from the highway now belongs to Walter Lister, managing editor of the Evening Bulletin.

Later on in its existence Louella House became Louella Mansion, advertising itself in an attractive little brochure of which Miss Scott has a copy, as “A Care-Free Summer Home for You.” It was open from June first to October first, but guests were urged to come early as “a steam heating system with radiators in each room insures comfort on chilly days.” The “premises” were described as “four hundred feet above sea level, and fourteen miles from Broad Street Station, Philadelphia, on the Main LIne of the Pennsylvania Railroad. More than ten acres of beautiful grounds, old trees, shrubbery, rose garden, walks, drives and tennis courts, surrounding Louella Mansion, a three-story massive stone building; a three-story stone and brick cottage and a two-story frame casino. The shaded boardwalk extends directly (six hundred feet) between the P. R. R. Station and the main building. The porch extends continuously along the south, west and north sides of the main building.”

“Table” is described as “plenty of the best grade brands, an experienced chef and staff, and proper service, while under “house-keeping” the brochure states “there are white maids and waitresses enough to keep the house clean and in order.” There was “an abundant supply of sparkling spring water of guaranteed purity, furnished by pipes in all the buildings, and there is no restriction or limitation as to its use by guests.” While both electric and gas lights were provided, lamps and candles were furnished upon request.

There is a very cheery note in the paragraph on children which states: “A hearty welcome for the little ones; play rooms away from the grown folks, and an experienced kindergarten teacher to direct the play.” And harking back to a day long past, there were “accommodations and special rates for children’s nurses, lady’s maids, coachmen, etc.”

There was certainly no lack of amusement at Louella Mansion as the Casino contained “shuffleboards, a pool table and gymnasium apparatus. The mansion itself contains library, smoking and music rooms, orchestral music every Saturday evening. Extensive room for dancing.” then there was ample provision for “equipages” in the way of “a public livery stable, and accommodations for private horses on adjoining premises, subject to telephone orders.”

Later still the original Louella House became the Armitage School for Girls. Now known as Louella Court Apartments, it contains a number of apartments, all with the high ceilinged rooms reminiscent of the gracious living of a past era.