Because pictures always highlight the interest of “Your Town and My Town,” your columnist makes an earnest endeavor to find one or more for each week’s issue. Hope is still not lost for the desired illustration when none comes to hand in time to print with the story, for some reader may have put the right picture among his or her mementos. And this reader may be willing to send in the picture for use in a later issue.
So it was with Devon Inn, a brief history of which was given in the series on large fires which have occurred in this vicinity in past years. In the early morning hours of January 18, 1929, this famous Main Line hostelry burned to the ground. The pictures illustrating today’s column show two views of the Inn as it appeared in its heyday. They were sent to your columnist by James L. Kercher, of Conestoga road, soon after the story of the fire appeared in “Your Town and My Town” in the spring of 1952. The reverse side of this picture postcard of the Devon Inn describes it as the “social center or the Main Line,” located in “beautiful Chester Valley” and “open from May to December.” A. Stanley Stanford was proprietor at the time the postcard was made and K. Rush was associate manager. Among its attractions they list the Devon Horse Show, polo matches, kennel show, Rose Tree Horse Show, Belmont trotting event, Chesterbrook races, Bryn Mawr Horse Show and Devon fancy cattle show. And these are not all, for the list continues with the Horse Show Ball, Spring flower show, golf and tennis, private theatricals, Bal Masque, Autumn flower show, auto exhibition, the County Ball and Devon Inn’s beautiful Japanese Floral Cafe. This cafe was evidently located on one of the Inn’s wide porches, as shown in the second of today’s pictures.
The history of this old inn is an interesting one. The original structure, called the Devon Park Hotel, had been built in 1876 to house the overflow of visitors to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Three years later, fire destroyed the first building, but it was replaced soon after by a larger and more ornate structure, erected on the same site. This is the one shown in today’s picture.
For some years there was great rivalry between the Devon Inn and the Bryn Mawr Hotel for the patronage of fashionable Philadelphia summer boarders. Located on the site of what is now the Baldwin School, the Bryn Mawr Hotel was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad. This rivalry ended in a complete victory for the Devon Inn, when the Devon Horse Show made its initial bow. The show immediately became a nationally famous event, with entries and visitors from all over the United States. The socially elite from New York and the Long Island Colony, from Boston, Chicago and many other cities throughout the country filled the Devon hostelry to capacity each horse show season.
When the Bryn Mawr Hotel burned to the ground, the Devon Inn lost its only serious rival. The popularity of the latter continued for some years. Then in 1924 the property was sold and the building converted into the Devon Manor School for Girls, but two years later the Devon Park Hotel Company had to resume possession of the property.
After another two years Major Milton G. Baker (now Major General Baker) acquired it for the Valley Forge Military Academy, which he was just organizing. After expenditures of more than $200,000 on renovations to the building, the school opened in September, 1928, with an enrollment of about 150, and many more were expected for the next year, since the building could easily house several hundred students. But the military academy was destined to remain in its original building only a few short months.
Early in the morning of January 8, 1929, a fire, starting as a small and apparently inconsequential blaze, in the fourth floor of the building soon swept through the entire structure, levelling it to the round. By dawn only the smoldering jagged sections of the brick walls remained.
These grim reminders of the fire pointed skyward for more than a year afterward when in April, 1930, they were shattered to the ground by the force of the Devon fireworks explosion. And thus ended the story of the most fabulous hotel the Main Line has ever known.