“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)

“The Old Main Line” part 1: The area in the “60s” & “70s” – Lancaster Pike

A little book entitled “The Old ‘Main Line’” has come my way recently through the courtesy of Herbert S. Casey, whose interest in matters of a bygone day is evidenced by the fact that he is president of the Radnor Historical Society. Originally printed more than thirty years ago in pamphlet form, tis book was rewritten in 1922 by its author, J. W. Townsend, as the “meanderings of an old man’s memories jotted down for his amusement . . . they do not pretent to accuracy, in which memory often fails, but a wide margin will allow the reader to make corrections as desired”.

Mr. Townsend was a member of the large Joseph B. Townsend family who were among the first to own country places near “City Line.” Although the book has few specific references to Wayne as a community, it does contain much of general interest about the Main Line section of which this suburb is so integral a part.

A quaint picture of a locomotive of this sixties in the front of the book dates the contents, which are mostly of that decade and the following, the seventies. At that time this section was not even designated as the “Main Line” since the Lancaster and Columbia Railroad, predecessor of the Pennsylvania Railroad, had only one line then. By the first settlers of this part of Pennsylvania the section was known as “The Welsh Barony” which consisted of some 30,000 acres. Several railroad stations and many country estates have Welsh names derived from the names of the places from which these early settlers migrated to America. SOme of the early deeds signed by William Penn are still held by present land-owners.

Early Philadelphians “who craved country air and more room to breathe” settled north of the city first, however, “because the journey by horse or foot to the city from the West and back again involved the sun in the traveler’s eyes both ways”. (Many a commuter by automobile in these days notices this, too!). Although this was not the main factor, it could be one of the reasons why Germantown and Chestnut Hill had become favorite places for country residences of Philadelphia some time before the Main Line was settled.

Germantown, of course, dates back to the Revolution and Chestnut HIll has long been a popular residential section. It was in the late fifties, according to Mr. Townsend, that “a new migration began beyond the western ‘City-Line’ and a few city people began to locate along the ‘Pennsylvania Central Railroad’ soon after it took over the old Columbia State Road”. The first stop was “Mantua”, now almost in downtown Philadelphia, and the second was “Hestonville”. described as “a small village in the midst of a farming country”. This is our present 52nd Street Station! Next was “City Line Station”, where the tracks crossed a creek. When later a culvert was built for it, the new Station was appropriately called “Overbrook”. What remains of the stream site parallels the railroad near the Station, as the west bound commuter looking from his window can see. Mr. Townsend makes an interesting comment when he writes “It is curious to note that the railroad does not cross any sizable stream until far into Chester Valley, showing that it was laid out on a ridge, from which the waters flow in both directions.”

In the sixties there were only six trams a day each way on the railroad. After the six o’clock from Philadelphia in the evening there was nothing until “the Emigrant” at midnight which was a through train for arriving foreigners, stopping only at each destination for which these foreigners were booked. According to Mr. Townsend’s description, “the cars were lighted by oil lamps and in cold weather, red hot coal stoves stood at each end. A brakeman at each car turned a wheel such as those that the present freight cars have. The city terminal was a small square brick building near the present West Philadelphia Station.”

The “Old Lancaster Road” and “The Lancaster Turnpike” of course predated the railroad by many years. The former, later known as Conestoga Road, was originally an Indian trail from the Delaware River to the Susquehanna River. The latter, laid out late in the eighteenth century, had in the early sixties some 67 taverns on it between Philadelphia and Lancaster, or about one a mile! Among them were “The General Wayne”, near Merion; the “Red Lion” at Ardmore; the “Old Buck” at Haverford; “The Eagle” at Strafford; the “Old Ship”, near Exton, and many others.

These old Turnpike Taverns of Revolutionary days were utilized by some of the first Philadelphians to come out to the Main Line for two or three summer months in the sixties and seventies. But the largest aggregation of all, according ot our historian “summered” in “The White Hall Hotel,” the site of which is now occupied by a row of houses opposite the old Bryn Mawr Hospital building on Glenbrook avenue, formerly Railroad Avenue. When the last disreputable old ruins of White Hall were torn down more than thirty years ago “they did not look as if they had ever houses a gay crowd of Philadelphia’s elite”, Mr. Townsend writes, “but it was”, he continues, “the place for large dances for both city and country people. The railway then went by it, and the trains stopped at its door, though later a station was built a few years further west.” The original building of this old Lancaster and Columbia Railroad company now forms the nucleus of the building that houses the well-known Bryn Mawr “Thrift Shop”. A study of its quaint architecture is well wroth a few minutes of the passerby’s time.

Whitehall Hotel held about eighty people. Another popular summer place on the Main Line was the Wildgoss Boarding house near Haverford College, which was kept by an elderly lady of that name. In winter her daughters had a school for children in the house which had ten acres of woods in the rear to make a pleasant recreation spot for boarders in summer and the school pupils in winter. Life in Wildgoss Boarding House, as colorfully described by Mr. Townsend, was probably typical of the many summer hotels on the Main Line in the sixties and seventies, such as the old Bellevue Hotel and Louella Mansion in Wayne. A summary of this description will be given in the newest article of this series.

(to be continued)

In order to complete an extra scrap book of the “Your Town and My Town” series, Mrs. Patterson need a copy of the Suburban of July 15. Anyone who has such a copy to spare will please call Wayne 4569. Such a scrap book, when completed, will be lent to anyone who is interested in the series, or who may have missed some part of it.

Wayne Men’s Club Minstrels, part 6 – Anthony Wayne Theatre

Beginning in 1933, the Men’s Club Minstrels, and later the Merriemen gradually began to include outside talent in their shows rather than to make them exclusively the product of their own numbers. As stated in last week’s column, the Wayne Junior Drum and Bugle Corps participated in the performance given at the Anthony Wayne Theatre that year, while in January, 1934, James and Jean Blackstone were featured in a Winter Concert put on by the Merriemen at the Saturday Club.

Later in that same season Betty Ott, then a student in High School, was the partner of the interlocutor Joe Forrest in “The Easter Parade”. In 1935 the Delaware County L. W. D. Orchestra contributed several lively musical numbers to the program. A chorus from the Bala Cynwyd Junior Woman’s Club was one of the hits of the evening in 1936. That same year saw the introduction of an instrumental sextette from the High School.

On the 1937 program there was a tap dancing number by Betty Brooke, while a dancing chorus from Mrs. Renee P. HIll’s class put on a number entitled “The New Orleans Strut”. Peter Marcantonio played a cornet solo and Francis and Joey Lennon presented guitar and banjo novelties. And Alice Hart’s singing was the big hit of the after-piece of that evening’s show.

In 1938 the “Sauer Kraut Band”, a small group of German musicians, played “Wienerschnitzel”. It was in February of either ‘37 or ‘38 that an “Amateur Night” for “any one who could do anything” was staged in the High School by the Merriemen. The public was invited and during the fifteen or more acts and stunts merriment and entertainment was about equally divided between those behind the footlights and those in front of them!

The ‘37 and ‘38 Merriemen shows were the last ones to be put on by that group. Both were for the benefit of the Radnor High School Scholarship Fund and both were pretentious affairs with full programs of music, dancing and acting. Ben James, old time favorite, was interlocutor of the former, while Charlie Smith, of the high school was the surprise hit in that capacity in the latter. Charles Mintzer was the musical director of both shows, while Paul Teel and Walter Howson were at the piano.

Many of the high school faculty, students and maintenance force assisted back stage in the 1937 show, which was a particularly elaborate one, with the scenario of Part II written by R. Rhodes Stabley, of the English department of the school. This was of the 1865 period with the scene laid on “a southern plantation, untouched by the War . . . a tried and true gentleman of the Old South . . . his daughter . . . a Yankee captain, wounded, brought in by the slaves”. Sentimental songs, many of them old timers like “Darling Nellie Gray”, were sung by the chorus and others, among them Alice Hart with the appealing “Lover, Come Back to Me”. With Hal Reese and the chorus she also sang “Your Land and My Land”, from “My Maryland”. Jules Prevost as “Jemima”, Ted Park as “Sam” and Bub Park as “Rainbow” united in a rendition of “Alabama Barbecue”. “A Medley of HIts From Former Shows” as arranged by Paul Teel and sung by “Two Parks, Art Stilwell and Two Brookes” was one of the most amusing numbers of the first part of the show.

The ‘38 show opened with a chorus number appropriately entitled “We’re Singing Again”, the words written by Jules Prevost. Other chorus songs were “A Little Close Harmony” “Harrigan”, “Song of the Jolly Roger”, “Just A-Wearying For You”, “Who’s That Tapping At My Door”. But the real hit of the show was a take-off on “Show White and the Seven Dwarfs” entitled “Pitch Black and the Seven Giants!” Bob Morrison was “Pitch Black” who, sweetly sleeping, was carried on the stage by her “seven giants”. Once there “she” awoke and brought down the house!

At this time Harry Creutzburg was president of the Merriemen; William Holloway was treasurer and Albert Ware, secretary. The executive committee was composed of J. Arthur Standen, L. W. Garratt, Benjamin F. James, Carl Wetzel, Ralph Aman and F. Ashby Wallace. These men and many others had worked hard with the Minstrel Shows, most of them from its very beginning. Many of the older group would have been glad to continue the brilliant successes of the last shows. For some, however, this had been enough, and it was not easy to recruit new members.

Ashy Wallace has told the writer of one encouraging renewal of interest just before the War, when some thirty voices were training under Charlie Mintzer and Paul Teel. These promising recruits soon dwindled in number to twenty, then to twelve . . . And with that they disbanded . . . the War would have put a temporary stop to the activities of the group, anyway. Hal Reese, who served in both World War I and World War II, was killed in action . . . many of the young voices recruited for the last few shows were stilled forever.

Before concluding this series on the Men’s Club Minstrels and The Merriemen, the writer has talked to four of the “old-timers” Al Ware, Grif Roberts, Harry Creutzburg and Ashby Wallace. From them she has obtained some of the material for this last piece, for they love to talk of the fun – and the work – of those days that are over, over unless indeed there can be a renewal of interest sufficient to start again, and to carry on. The older men would be glad to give their support to such an undertaking, providing there is a sufficient group of the younger element to do their share, too. Few Wayne organizations have given their community as much pleasure and entertainment as the Merriemen have, while at the same time they were enjoying the pleasure of that companionship that comes from working and playing together.

But the Wayne Minstrel Show that started all Minstrel Shows in the community was given in the old Opera House before the Men’s Club Minstrels and the Merriemen were ever thought of, according to Grif Roberts. Just how long before he doesn’s quite know. But according to him it was the original minstrel show! Jay Canizares and George Allen were the end men. Among those who sang in the show and took part in the “after-piece” were Gene Bonniwell, Matthew Randall, Bill Beatty, Sr., Sam Jaquette, Charlie Tatnall, Bob Lynch, Frank Muller, Walt Whetstone, Sr., Fred Ristine, John Rogan, Ashby Wallace and Grif Roberts. (There were probably others, but this was as far as Mr. Roberts’ memory took him at the first try!)

Part I consisted of the usual minstrel show of songs and jokes as passed around in “the circle”. The “after-piece” was a take-off on a courtroom scene with Eugene Bonniwell, a judge in real life, acting as “the Judge” in the play. Grif Roberts as the “dizzy blond” was suing Johnny Rogan for breach of promise. Doc Standen was “the new woman”, so commonly satirized in that day. The jury, much confounded by the evidence, got into an argument, which was highlighted by the talk of three of the members. One stuttered, one lisped, and one spoke with a German accent! In the end, “the dizzy blond”, Grif Roberts, fell into the arms of the man she was suing, John Rogan! Both took a tumble, as the writer understands it!

This was the original Wayne Minstrel Show!


Wayne Men’s Club Minstrels, part 5 – “Merriemen of Wayne” Del.Cty. LWD

It was in 1933 that the famous Men’s Club Minstrels changed their name to the “Merriemen of Wayne”. After a twenty year career the Wayne Men’s Club had gone out of existence, but its greatest activity, the Minstrel Show, continued on its way. However, without its founds, the former name seemed rather pointless. Therefore the new one was adopted. Ben James, who had sought to resign as president of the organization for several years, was now succeeded by Harry C. Creutzburg, who held the office until 1938, when he was succeeded by T. Griffiths Roberts.

All this, however, was after the 1933 show which took place in the Anthony Wayne Theatre in a combination of minstrelsy and moving pictures. The early days of 1933, with the Bank Holiday, the change in administration and the beginnings of the New Deal made the Minstrel Men, like everyone else, autious in formulating plans that involved any outlay of money. Therefore, the arrangement with the Anthony Wayne Theatre, whereby there was an hour of songs and wise-cracks between the first and second showings of the picture. Expenses were thus held to a minimum.

Linn Seiler, of Haverford College, was again the musical director, working this time under the difficulties of unfamiliar surroundings and inadequate acoustics. A new end man in the person of Ernie Davidson made a most successful debut. The program included many solos, among them a rousing rendition of “Give Me a Roll on a Drum”, by Bill Dowdell.

His answer came when the Wayne Junior Drum and Bugle Corps marched in from the wings and gave the proper flourish to this stirring tune! Although lacking all the pretentiousness of early shows, this was still quite a creditable performance.

In 1934 the Merriemen really put on two shows, the first a Winter Concert given in January and the second a regular MInstrel Show presented in the Spring. At the concert, which was given in the Saturday Club, they were assisted by the brilliant pianist, Jean Blackstone, a baritone. Charles W. Mintzer was the conductor and Paul D. Teel the accompanist. The affair was a great artistic success which was perhaps of more importance than the fact that it was not a financial one.

Although the end of the depression was definitely in sight, economy was still the watchword in both the 1934 and 1935 shows. The Radnor High School band, being adequately uniformed and equipped, proceeds of the latter show went to the High School Scholarship Fund.

The performances of both years were limited to the traditional circle with an intermission in the middle. Mr. Seiler was succeeded by Charles Mintzer as a very able musical director who had already demonstrated his abilities with the Radnor High School Glee Club.

As Ben James was in the midst of a political campaign his place as interlocutor was taken by Joe Forrest, of the High School faculty. In fact, it is said that “the hit of the show came when the debonair Joe strolled out with the charming Betty Ott in “The Easter Parade”, to be met at the other side of the stage by the Harlem Paraders, Bob Morrison and Doc Standen!” Outstanding among the chorus numbers were such songs as “Duna”, “To Arms”, “The Buccaneers”, “Old Man Noah” and “The Battle of Jericho”.

In the 1935 show there were six end men, an unprecedented number. The four veterans of the year before, Bill Shuster, Doc Standen, Ted Park and Hal Reese were joined at this time by Bub Park and Theo Morris. Ben James was again the interlocutor. The Merriemen were now attracting many of the younger generation, some still in High School, others not long graduated. Ray Kruse was assisting Paul Teel at the pianos, while among the songsters were Scudder Boles, Bob Crane, Tommy Casper, Ralph Colflesh, Horace Fraim and Dick Newbold, Jr.

In the musical numbers the chorus had the assistance of the Delaware Country L. W. D. Orchestra, which opened the show with “Plantation Melodies” and closed it with “Semper Fidelis” as the exit march. In the intermission they played a number of Victor Herbert favorites.

Among the chorus numbers which met with especial applause were “Lassie of Mine’” “Gypsy Melody and “Song of Songs”, in which Addis Jacobs had the solo part. The latter also sang “Kashmir Song,” while Hal Reese did “Dancing with My Shadow,” “Six Gentlemen of Color”, with Bob Morrison as the “Ebony Lady”, sang “Strolling Thru the Park”. And to highlight the whole evening’s performances, Jules Prevost and Bub Park brought back “Fond Memories” with their “Bubble Dance”, which by now had become a local classic and which once again “Laid them in the aisles!”

Then 1936 brought to Radnor High School Auditorium another of the “Gorgeous Era” shows! One glance at the format of the program is enough to indicate that! In addition to elaborate programs there was new scenery and once again the traditional “after piece” with its many specialty numbers! An innovation came with the addition of ‘the ladies’ in a dance number, when a group from the Bala – Cynwyd Junior Woman’s Club put on “High Yaller from the Gay Nineties”, which made a great hit with those on both sides of the footlights! Charlie Smith of the HIgh School faculty was the new interlocutor and the old reliables, Doc Standen, Hal Reese and Bub Park were joined by a new end man, Al Whetstone. An instrumental sextet from the High School band consisting of Ray Kruse, “Bud” and “Hap” Howell, William Tobin, Arnold Morrow and Franklin Kelton played “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and Honeysuckle Rose”.

Among the chorus numbers were “Kentucky Babe”, “Cap’n Mae”. “Liza Lady” and “Little David, Play on Yo’ Harp”. Opening Part II of the program was Rhodes Stabley and the chorus in an arrangement of “Moon Over Miami”, as made by Paul Teel and Charley Mintzer, while the entire company closed the show with a grand “Finale” the words of which had been written by Joe Flagler and Jules Prevost!

(to be concluded