Old sports in the 1860s and ‘70s

Two recent columns of “Your Town and My Town” have been devoted to a review of a quaint old book, “The Old Main Line,” as written by J.W. Townsend 1919. This week’s column will deal with outdoor sports, although they were practically non-existent then as compared to their present day form.

Back in the 60’s, according to Mr. Townsend, football, basketball, hockey, golf, squash and tennis were still unknown. In the late 60’s, “a so-called bicycle appeared… the rider sat on top of a wheel about five feet high with a little wheel to steady it. Woe to him if he struck a stone, as he took ‘a high header’… a man was indeed killed in this way on Lancaster Pike. When the present form of bicycle came years later, with low wheels and rubber tires, they were called ‘safeties.’

“Tennis did not appear until the late 70’s, 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 60’s for adults and children was croquet. Hours were devoted to it, and although there was little exercise in it, at least it kept people out-of-doors… on Sundays the gentle croquet mallets rested peacefully in their box.”

“Playing cards were strictly taboo among the Quakers and Presbyterians, who largely predominated in Philadelphia’s social life. Youngsters played parchesi, jackstraws and lotto, while their elders joined in on checkers and backgammon. Billiards and chess were other popular games.

In the late 70’s, when Louella House, in Wayne, became a summer hotel for Philadelphians under the name of Louella Mansions, its owners issued a little booklet setting forth its attractions. Its Casino contained shuffle-boards, a pool table and gymnasium apparatus. The mansion itself contained library, smoking and music rooms, orchestral music every Saturday evening with 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 boarding house of the ’60’s.

“Country summering” was becoming increasingly popular with city folks, as indicated by a small prospectus issued by the railway company in 1874. It listed 54 boarding houses from Overbrook to Downingtown with accommodations for 1,330 “quiet guests,” exclusive of the Bryn Mawr Hotel, which held 250. “The Main Line showed the first symptoms of getting gay,” writes Mr. Townsend, “when the Summit Grove Hotel, in Bryn Mawr, got well under way in the summer of 1873. The Bryn Mawr assemblies were the events of the season, with about 500 people attending each of them.

“Other entertainments of the summer were a magic lantern exhibition by Will Struthers; a comic talk by Benjamin Franklin Duane, a mock trial and an Orpheus Club Concert… It is curious to consider that these functions continued through the whole of hot summers… Philadelphians had not yet acquired the expensive and unnatural habit of seeking distant climes for cold in summer as well as for heat in winter.”

Mr. Townsend’s account continues, “The hotel life was quite similar to that of the old boarding houses, only it was gayer and more formal… In the afternoons nearly everybody drove or rode. Cavalcades of perhaps 25 riders would go out together and explore the country roads for miles around. Women and girls used only sidesaddles… the Radnor Hunt had not started and little hunting or jumping was indulged in. The roads were all dirt roads except Lancaster Pike, which was very rough and ridgey, without any smooth surfacing. The dirt roads were fine for horseback, but became a foot deep in mud when it rained, and in winter were almost impassable. The old Haverford road that ran through the Whitehall district was then a “plank road,” that is, one half of it had boards laid close together, unpleasant to ride on but a great boon in muddy weather.”

When the Bryn Mawr tract was laid out, its avenues were covered with a coarse gravel, which made for very slow travel. These roads exasperated Mr. Cassatt, vice-president of the railroad who was fond of driving his four-in-hand coach. He accepted the position of Township Road Supervisor and was instrumental in obtaining macadamized roadbeds. He also got a company of his friends to buy Lancaster pike as far as Paoli and to make a macadamized road of it. Toll was charged to keep it in order and “it was a boon” to the driving public for many years. In later years the toll gates were abolished, when the State bought the Pike and maintained it by taxes.

Next week’s column continues with more excerpts from Mr. Townsend’s book, in particular concerning the dress of the Main Line men and women in the 60’s. Other matters to be described range from transportation to lightning rods.

Favorite local resorts, entertainment and amusements

The July 5 column of “Your Town and My Town” contained a partial review of an old book from the office library of the late J.M. Fronefield. Today’s column continues with the story of social life along the Main Line 80 years and more ago, as it has been described in “The Old Main Line,” written by Joseph W. Townsend in 1919.

It was in the 80’s, according to Mr. Townsend, that Philadelphians, seeking to escape the heat of the city’s summer, began to come out west of city 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 modern youth, the pleasure of that kind of Main Line summer life would probably seem very dull, with no automobiles, no movies and no sports as young people know them today. Even in Philadelphia itself there were only two or three theatres and these featured neither comic opera nor musical comedies.

Most of the houses in the country had only coal oil lamps and candles for illumination in the evening. Weather permitting, this part of the day was usually spent on the porch or on the lawn. On stormy nights, summer boarders were crowded into the parlor for music or games. Among the latter was one of “Familiar Quotations,” played like “Author.” According to our Main Line historian, “the game consisted 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. Proceeds from the sale of the game went to the “Sanitary Fair,” held in Logan Square during the war… selections were made by a well-known Philadelphian woman, Mrs. Lydia Hunn, the grandmother of Mrs. Charles Baily, of Strafford. Mr. Townsend comments in his book that “Mrs. Hunn must have read everything and remembered the best of it.”

One 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 very 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 with one leg in the form of a short lead pencil. A large piece of paper was placed on a table, with the Planchette board on top of it. As one or more participants in the game placed the tips of their fingers on the board, it soon began to move.” The skeptical Mr. Townsend adds, “and the pencil naturally traced on the paper the semblance of the words that were in the operator’s mind!”

So much for indoor amusements. As for outdoors, there was driving in the little carriages built for two and designated as “buggies.” In Mr. Townsend’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 turned, which the motor car has not. The horse could also be guided with one hand, when the drivers’ intentions were serious and reciprocated. On long drives, the horses 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 in those days. A popular picnic spot and a more nearby one was the 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 the six days of the week only, for “Sunday in the 60’s was very different from that of today,” according to Mr. Townsend. (This columnist might add that in the 30 years since this book was printed, Sunday pastimes have changed still more!)

On Sundays in the 60’s, “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 o’clock in the morning. None went into Philadelphia from the suburbs.” Mr. Townsend tells of an early report of a committee of the railway company’s stockholders which devoted five pages to the iniquity of the company’s doing any business on Sunday.

(Sports in the 60’s, including a reference to “the gentle croquet mallets” will be described in next week’s column.)

Old American Flags

04_image01An editorial in “The Suburban” of June 28 once again called the attention of its readers to the fact that “it is only good citizenship to display the flag on our most important national holidays,” and made a plea for a more noteworthy display in our business area on July 4 than had been shown on Memorial Day and Flag Day.

Shown in this week’s column is a picture of the great American flag, hung between two old trees in front of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore B. Brooks, on Windermere avenue. Mr. Brooks, with John Brooke, of North Wayne avenue, had put up the 90-year-old flag. Its 34 stars indicate that it was made between 1861 and 1863, since it was in 1861 that Kansas was admitted into the Union as the 34th state, and West Virginia in 1863.

This Flag, with its dimensions of 25 by 13 feet, has been borrowed more than once by John Brooke from his aunt, Mrs. Nathan Pechin. It had been one of the cherished possessions of her husband, “Nate,” one of Wayne’s most widely-known citizens up to the time of his death a few years ago.

The old flag had come to Mr. Pechin from his uncle, Frank Hoy, who many years ago operated the old King of Prussia Hotel. During most of the years that the family owned the old hostelry, this large flag was displayed from the wide front porch on all national holidays.

As the writer watched the old Flag blowing in the breezes on this Fourth, she felt a sense of pleasure that they were gentle ones, for the stars and stripes are frail with age. There are some small holes here and there in the still bright bunting, and it is so transparent that one can see the leaves of the tree beyond it.

The excellent photograph shown above was taken by Bruce Redfield, formerly of Wayne. Of the other two flags, the one farther away from the camera is another interesting one, since it displays but 45 stars. That dates it as between July 4, 1896, and November 4, 1908, the date when Utah and Oklahoma were admitted as the 45th and 46th states. The third flag is a modern one.

(The second installment of a brief review of “The Old Main Line” will be presented in next week’s issue.)

History of 1860s and ‘70s, The Welsh Barony, historical book suggestions

More than eight years ago, when “Your Town and My Town” became a regular weekly feature of “The Suburban,” several of its early columns were based on information assembled by Joseph M. Fronefield, on Wayne as it appeared in the early ’80’s.

Mr. Fronefield first came to Wayne in 1881, and established a small drug store in the old Lyceum building, now remodelled into the Colonial building. After his death, the notes were lent to the writer by his son, Joseph M. Fronefield, 3d, as material for this column.

Mr. Fronefield also left a large number of books of historic interest and value. Among them are “The Wayside Inns on the Lancaster Roadside between Philadelphia and Lancaster,” written in the early 1900’s by Julius F. Sachse; “In old Pennsylvania,” by Anne Hollingsworth Wharton in 1920, and “Old Trails and Roads in Penn’s Land,” by John Faris, 1927.

The book of the greatest local interest is “The Old Main Line,” written by Joseph W. Townsend in 1919, and lent to your columnist in 1950 by Herbert S. Casey, then president of the Radnor Historical Society.

Now that seven years have passed since material from this book was used in this column, it seems timely some of the information concerning the now famous Main Line be repeated, particularly since so many new residents have come to this area in recent years. Many questions asked this columnist by newcomers may be answered in this way.

In the 60’s and 70’s, according to Mr. Townsend, the section from Overbrook to Paoli was not even designated as the “Main Line,” since the Lancaster and Columbia Railroad, predecessor of the Pennsylvania Railroad, had only one line then. The first settlers of this part of Pennsylvania knew the section, then consisting of some 30,000 acres, as “The Welsh Barony.”

Before the Main Line was settled, the Germantown and Chestnut Hill areas had already become favorite places for country residences. Early Philadelphians “who craved country air and more room to breathe” settled north of the city “because the journey by horse or foot to the City from the West and back again involved the sun in the travellers’ eyes both ways.” Indeed it was in the late ’50’s, 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, while the second was Hestonville, described as a “small village in the midst of farming country.” This was our present 52d street station! Then came City Line Station where the tracks crossed a creek. When a culvert was built for it, the new station was appropriately called “Overbrook.” What remains of the site of the stream parallels the railroad near the station, as the westbound commuter can see.

Mr. Townsend writes, “It is curious to note that the railroad does not cross any sizeable 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 60’s, there were only six trains a day each way on the railroad. After 6 P.M., there was nothing from Philadelphia until “The Emigrant” at midnight which stopped only at destinations for which passengers were booked. The cars were “lighted by oil lamps and in cold weather red hot coal stoves stood at each end. A brakeman on 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” pre-date 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. Conestoga road, laid out in the 18th century, had in the early 60’s some 67 taverns on it between Philadelphia and Lancaster, or about one a mile. Among these were “The General Wayne” near Merion; the “Red Lion” at Ardmore; the “Old Buck” at Haverford; “The Eagle” at Strafford, and the “Old Ship” near Exton.

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 60’s and 70’s. But the largest aggregation of all, according to our historian “summered in the Whitehall Hotel,” the site of which is now occupied by the row of houses opposite the old Bryn Mawr Hospital building on Glenbrook avenue. When the late disreputable old ruins of Whitehall were torn down some years ago “they did not look as if they ever housed a gay crowd of Philadelphia elite.” However, it was “the place for large dances for both city and country people. The railway went by it, and the trains stopped at its door, though later a station was built a few yards further west.”

The original building of this old Lancaster and Columbia Railroad Company now houses the well-known Bryn Mawr Hospital “Thrift Shop.”

Whitehall Hotel held about 80 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. Life in that boarding house, as colorfully described by Mr. Townsend, was probably typical of the many summer hotels in the 60’s and 70’s, such as the old Bellevue Hotel and Louella Mansion in Wayne.

Next week’s column will be largely devoted to a description of the amusements enjoyed by the young people of the Main Line 80 years and more ago.