Early Main Line train commuter anecdotes – George Schultz

From time to time the author of this column receives, either by letter or by work of mouth, some interesting bit of history about Wayne and its residents of a by-gone generation. This type of contribution to the column is always welcome, aud will always be used as the proper opportunity presents itself. This week’s column is, for the most part, founded on “Anecdotes of an Old Commuter”, as given the writer by George Schultz, of Reading.

His commuting was done, of course, on our well-known Main Line, on that section now covered by the famous Paoli Local. From another source the writer learns that “the new Main Line, which later became the route of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was opened for traffic October 14, 1850.” Nearly on hundred years ago! According to Mr. Schultz, the suburbs of the Main Line began to develop importance around 1880. He writes “probably the beginning of the subsequent exodus of well-to-do families of Philadelphia was due to liberal immigration. The country was rapidly expanding and prosperity – of industry – created a demand for manual labor. So about this time, many Greeks arrived to open small restaurants, and there was a large influx of Negroes from the South who filled the lower city wards. Many Irish arrived, who became members of the police force, firemen, etc.”

And so it was that “the fashionable people South of Market Street and around Rittenhouse Square, finding their seclusion, peace and quiet invaded, gradually adopted the plan of closing their city houses all summer and betook themselves to the country with their horses and carriages.” Later on these same families in many instances sold their city homes and became all-year-round residents of the Main Line. The men of the family thus became daily commuters, since greatly improved Main Line service enabled them to reach their offices in short order. Most of the offices of that period were “down town”, that is, near the river front.

Mr. Schultz writes that Alexander Cassatt and other Pennsylvania Railroad officials were responsible for planning the attractive appearance of the Main Line stations, which were cottage-like structures surrounded by grass lawns and flower beds. Here the agents, who were ticket sellers and telegraph operators, lived with their families.

The names of the villages and stations were changed as the building of country houses increased in the Main Line section. Ardmore was originally known as “Athensvillie”; Radnor was “Morgan’s Corners”; St. Davids was “Fisher’s Hill”; Bryn Mawr was “Whitehall” (from an old plastered station house) and Devon was “Reeseville”. Old Lancaster Pike toll road, which was about parallel to the railroad, was a popular dive with old inns providing stopping places for rest and refreshment. Among these inns were the Red Lion at Ardmore and the Sorrel Horse at Radnor.

Two anecdotes of the commuters of the period are related by Mr. Schultz, who writes: “Occasionally the daily Main Line commuters would encounter or even participate in some amusing happenings on the train. One dark winter evening the gas light of a car gave out and the conductor came in and lit candles which were encased in bronze fixtures, fastened to the sides of the car. Francis Fenimore, of St. Davids, was sitting with John Galloway, of Bryn Mawr, (descendent of the Galloway who owned Durham Iron Furnace in Revolutionary days). Fenimore remarked that the candle was so short it would soon burn down, but Galloway proceeded to explain that it was pushed up by a spring in the lower cylinder. He got up from his seat and unscrewed it, saying: “See? It works like this.” As he turned a ferrule the candle shot out of its place and his squarely on the nose of a gentleman facing them in the far seat of the car! “Who threw that – who hit me?”, he angrily asked. Mr. Fenimore had a hard time preventing a fight. Imagine anything like that today disturbing the Main Line Local!

“On another occasion in summer, a prominent gentleman from Haverford, after carefully placing a paper bag in the rack over heard, seated himself beside his dignified elderly friend. As the train stopped at their destination, he reached for the bag, accidentally punching the bottom of it. The result was that both gentlemen were cascaded by a quart of two of huckleberries on their spotless Panama hats! Efforts to stop the flow only increased it, until finally the owner of the bag dashed it to the floor as he and his friend hurriedly left the train ‘midst the smiles and laughter of those who saw the fun.”