Ardrossan: Still Threatened?

ardrossan-planAt the August 5, 2013 meeting of the Radnor Township Planning Commission (YouTube video), the public saw its first glimpse of a proposed development of the Ardrossan site. The proposal would have up to 76 new homes on the 311 acre site, with the remaining undeveloped space reserved either for open space or “investment property” that can be purchased by homeowners with the hopes that they keep these spaces open.

A question was raised by a public commenter about the Radnor Historical Society’s 2011 Preservation Watch List, which listed the 1912 mansion and its acreage as the #1 threatened resource in Radnor. Though the division of the land is at this point an inevitability, it was made clear at the meeting that the Montgomery/Scott/Wheeler family manor home at the center of the property will remain, and will stay in the family. It also appeared on the plans presented at the meeting that most, if not all, of the many historic structures on the estate will remain, new development being built around them.

In terms of existing and historic structures on Ardrossan, there is much more than the magnificent 1912 manor house designed by Horace Trumbauer. The Holly Tree House, for example, likely the oldest house in Radnor Township (dating from the early 18th century), a remarkable 19th century stone public schoolhouse, and a springhouse that marks the site of the birthplace of the mother of General Anthony Wayne.

Despite the apparent intentions of the would-be developers of the site, it is important to realize that, given the current state of Radnor’s ordinances, no historic structures outside of Radnor’s three historic districts (North Wayne, South Wayne, Louella Court) are protected simply because they are historically significant. There are no ordinances to protect any building elsewhere in Radnor, even if, like the Holly Tree House, it is approaching its 300th birthday.

The story would be different if, for example, Ardrossan were located in Lower Merion. In our neighboring township to the east, any property deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is considered a “Class I” historic property (the entire Ardrossan estate, including all structures on the property, was deemed eligible for the National Register in 1997). Lower Merion’s Board of Commissioners has the ability to delay the demolition of a Class I resource by 90 days, and works with owners of such properties to find solutions where possible. The Lower Merion system is not perfect, as evidenced by the La Ronda escapade of 2009, but it is an official acknowledgement by the township that their local historic resources are worth preserving, and that such preservation is beneficial to the entire community.

Once the development shown to the Planning Commission on August 5 begins, Ardrossan will never be the same. Yet it seems there is a concerted effort to keep many historic features intact. It is remarkable that such a large expanse of open space has remained unbuilt as long as it has; it will be the hope of many that those who purchase the investment parcels do so to keep them open, and that they will enact conservation easements to ensure that they remain open space in perpetuity.

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.

Historic Building Markers Now Available for Commercial Buildings

An example of one of our recently produced residential building markers.
An example of one of our recently produced residential building markers.

The Radnor Historical Society is thrilled to announce that it is expanding its popular Historic Building Marker Program to commercial buildings. The purpose of the commercial marker program is to make the public aware of Radnor’s magnificent historic buildings, to foster pride of ownership and to help the commercial district attract visitors to the downtown area. These markers will serve to identify buildings of historical and architectural significance and to encourage the continuing care and preservation of individual buildings.

There are many buildings in Downtown Wayne that qualify for markers. Before a marker application can be accepted, RHS must determine if enough information is known about the resource to warrant a marker, and if it meets our general guidelines. However, even if no information is in our records, the property owner can submit their own research (with citations) which can include information such as construction date, building name, architect, builder and/or the name of a prominent former tenant.

Marker eligibility will be solely based on the building’s exterior, will not restrict paint color, will not require any additional township historical review and is completely unrelated to property taxes. This is a strictly voluntary program and is not related to township ordinances or the Historic & Architectural Review Board (HARB).

The markers will be cast bronze and will include the building’s date and when known, historical information such as, but not limited to, its name, original or significant owner/tenant, builder and architect. A typical marker’s dimensions will be 11″x7″, though the dimensions may vary if required by the building’s architecture. Applications should be initiated by the property owner who will bear the cost and maintenance of the marker.

We are currently accepting applications for markers. They will be reviewed by a committee established by the RHS that will also do building research for the plaque. Custom fabricated markers with the RHS logo will be distributed to the property owner upon the successful completion of the application, research and paid fee of $200.00 per plaque. Forms and further information are available on our marker page. Email questions to marker@radnorhistory.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

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!)

Louella Changes Discussed Thoroughly at 6/20 Board of Commissioners Meeting

For the past four months, the discussion of a new garage on the east lawn of the Louella mansion in Wayne has dominated many township meetings. The would-be developers of the property, C.F. Holloway III & Co., would like to turn the mansion into 12 condominiums (from 25 apartments), replace historic features such as the windows and dormers, and build a 24-car garage on the east lawn. The Commissioners meeting of June 20 followed up the June 1 Historic and Architectural Review Board (HARB) meeting, during which the HARB approved of an underground garage for the east lawn.

Since then, both the residents of Louella Court and the developer have stated their opinions on the matter in Main Line Suburban Life. The Louella Court article is found here, the developers’ here.

One Louella Court resident pointed out that the approved garage will link with the historic structure, and thus some demolition will be necessary. The HARB ruled on the garage, but did not consider its link with the mansion because a discussion about changes to the mansion as a whole was to be addressed at a future meeting. Dave Falcone, lawyer for C.F. Holloway III & Co., refuted this claim, saying that changes to the east side of the building were part of the discussion on the table and were shown on the plans submitted. South Wayne resident Baron Gemmer testified that changes to the main building were not discussed at the HARB meeting by either side. While referencing a drawing from the architect, Gemmer stated, “these windows and these stairs are all being demolished. What’s more important is not that they should have to come back, it’s that they can’t build the garage without demolishing this… to me the application is incomplete.” A drawing of the proposed changes shows that basement windows would be covered by the garage, which would be built above the current grade.

2011-6-23
Left: the current conditions of the east façade. Right: the proposed changes.

The implication was that the discussion of the garage and changes to the east façade of the mansion go hand in hand, and the HARB had not adequately addressed the mansion or clarified that any changes to the mansion be voted on separately. Mr. Falcone stated his belief that those changes were shown in the plans submitted to the HARB, and that the approved garage construction could not be possible without the demolition. Mr. Holloway then spoke, stating that the connection of the garage to the building was discussed at all of the HARB meetings. “There was no question on HARB’s part as to where the building was going to be connected,” Holloway stated. “I find it interesting that there are certain people that are trying to delay this application when the connection of the underground garage was thoroughly discussed and approved by the HARB.” No members of the HARB were present at the Board of Commissioners meeting to clarify how they interpreted the plans.

Regarding the value of the windows set to be removed for the garage connection, Ward 4 Commissioner Elaine Shaeffer stated, “that’s what our HARB is there to protect; when there is a demolition of assets on a historic building that has been designated historic there needs to be that discussion.”

Mr. Holloway stated that he was “flabbergasted” by the process, at the prospect of having to go before the HARB for a fourth time. The confusion stemmed from whether the HARB approved the idea of the underground garage, or the full plans which imply that basement windows would be demolished. In the end, the Commissioners voted 3-2 (with one recusal) to table the approval and send it back to HARB, with the condition that the HARB come back to the Commissioners at their very next meeting to clarify their position. The HARB’s next meeting is July 6.

The discussion, which lasted over an hour, can be viewed below.

Video posted on YouTube by John Haines

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.