Ashmead’s History of Delaware County, part 1 – Wendell, Childs, Drexel,

In the Spring and Summer of 1949, when this column was just getting under way for a reading public that has since shown its consistent interest in the history of Radnor township, the writer described from time to time the appearance of Wayne in its early days. She wrote of the first roads and of the farms which bordered on them, and of Louella House, completed in 1867, which with the Presbyterian Church and the old Lyceum formed the nucleus of the little hamlet, first known as Cleaver’s Landing. She told, too, of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which succeed the old Lancaster & Columbia Railroad Company, and of the double tracks laid in 1860 by the former. And then she wrote at length of the Wayne Estate houses, built by Wendell and Treat on 600 acres of land, purchased by George W. Childs and A. J. Drexel, of Philadelphia.

But it was not until recently, when a copy of Henry Graham Ashmead’s “History of Delaware County” came into her possession through the courtesy of its owner, Richard W. Barringer, that this same writer could clearly visualize for herself the appearance of Wayne in the middle eighties, when “the little hamlet” had grown into a Main Line suburb. The “History” contains a concise description as given in the “Germantown Telegraph,” under date of July 2, 1884. According to this newspaper article, “a new town, or rather an aggregation of delightful suburban residences, is rapidly springing up within easy travelling distance of the city of Philadelphia, either by rail or Pike.” At that time not less than fifty “elegant residences” had been completed and occupied with about $600,000 invested in them, and others were under way by the owners, Drexel and Childs.

Writing in the first person, the author of the “Germantown Telegraph” article says that he proposed to describe a visit he recently made there, and state just what he saw. At the end of the half-hour ride from Broad Street Station he emerged from the railroad car and started along Wayne avenue. This was evidently to the South since he soon came into sight of Wayne Lyceum Hall (now the old Opera House, the future of which has recently been the cause of much discussion). On either side of Wayne avenue were “several beautiful cottages,” although “cottages” certainly seems a misnomer for three story homes. What remains of them may still be seen in several of the stores on this street.

Wayne Lyceum Hall is described as three stories high, built of brick and plaster, and costing $30,000. It contained at that time a general store, a drug store, the post office and the superintendent’s office, in addition to the larger auditorium above. On the corner now occupied by the Cobb and Lawless store was “the cottage” of J. Henry Askin, former owner of the land sold to Drexel and Childs. The Askin “cottage” is described as built of brick with a “spacious porch and a neat lawn.”

Near Mr. Askin’s home was the cottage belonging to a Mrs. Patterson, “a fine brick building.” North of Mrs. Patterson’s was “the large and substantial cottage” of Mr. Israel Solomon, of the Bingham House. Immediately adjoining Mr. Askin’s home to the west was a cottage occupied by Mr. William J. Phillips, “ex-superintendent of the Police and Fire Alarm Telegraph.” Next to Mr. Phillips’ place was the beautiful old home, surrounded by several acres of land, belonging to Mr. William D. Hughes. This estate has already been described in detail in this column.

Next to the Hughes property was the famous Bellevue Hotel, a good description of which the writer has not found until now, although she has made numerous references to the hotel. To quote from the description of the roving reporter of 1884:

“We now come to the beautifully situated Bellevue Mansion on Lancaster avenue. The mansion has been leased by Mr. Childs to Miss Mary Simmons and her sister, and is a charming summer resort. It has one hundred rooms, and each room has a private porch. Four porches run entirely around the mansion, and the building and surroundings cost over eighty thousand dollars. The mansion stands in the centre of a beautiful lawn, and is approached by a fine macademized road. The parlors present a most luxurious appearance, and the large and elegant dining room is where the ‘Aztec Club’ took their annual dinner before the death of General Robert Patterson. A handsome billiard-room or hall is near the mansion, and there are ice-houses, servants’ quarters, stables, gas-house, etc. The mansion is well supplied with fire-escapes, and the heating arrangements are excellent. There are a smoking room, card room, private parlors, etc.”

This fine old hotel, so popular over the years with summer visitors from Philadelphia, was burned to the ground on a bitter cold night in the winter of 1900. It was located on what is now the intersection of Lancaster Pike and Bellevue avenue (named for the hotel) on the property now occupied by the A&P store and the Anthony Wayne Service Station.

The “Germantown Telegraph” reporter in his wanderings found out about seven cottages just opposite the Bellevue Hotel, some of which were already under construction. They were described by him as “elegant” and “would contain twelve rooms, open hallways, parlor, dining room, library and kitchen on the first floor; four chambers and bathroom on the second floor, and the same on the third floor, and elegant wide porches . . . they are finished in imitation of hard wood, and built of brick and stone, with slate roofs, have hot and cold water, and are papered in the latest style.” Lots were one hundred feet front and three hundred feet deep.

These houses are still standing and in constant occupancy. In addition to the seven described, Mr. Abbott of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company built “a fine cottage” in this same development, and according to our reporter, who seems to have known something of the personal affairs of Wayne’s residents, Mr. Abbott planned to spend his honeymoon there.

(To be continued)