Ashmead’s History of Delaware County, part 2 – Bellevue Mansion

In last week’s column we gave you a block-by-block description of Wayne as it appeared to the eyes of a reporter on the “Germantown Telegraph” in the summer of 1884. Henry Graham Ashmead has preserved for posterity in his “History of Delaware County”, the article as it appeared in that paper under date of July 2 of that year.

In this column’s resume of the reporter’s (or perhaps he was a special feature writer) description we had come as far as the corner of Lancaster Pike and Bellevue avenue last week. There was a well drawn word picture of the famous Bellevue Mansion of one hundred rooms located on the northeast corner of what is now Bellevue avenue and the Pike. And across the road were seven or eight new “cottages” under construction.

Evidently there was no Bellevue avenue at that time. For it was “adjoining Bellevue Mansion on the west” that Mr. Theodore Gugert of the firm of Bergner and Engel had purchased a lot one hundred feet by three hundred feet, on which he was erecting “an elegant cottage”. This cottage, which we of today consider a house of goodly proportions, still remains in excellent condition. Perhaps some of its original frontage has been sacrificed to make room for the large building which now houses Jackson Chevrolet’s show room and offices. However, that ground and that which is now taken up by Bellevue avenue itself, were probably originally part of the grounds of Bellevue Mansion.

Next to the Gugert residence was a lot on which “Dr. Egbert, a young physician of Radnor Township . . . is also building a fine stone cottage” according to our chronicler. This is the large white stucco house with the white pillars so different in type of architecture from many of its neighbors that it is difficult to associate it with that period of the middle eighties. Occupied for many years by Dr. Joseph Crawford Egbert, well known Wayne physician and a long time member of the Radnor Township School Board, it has seen many successive owners since that time. The house has now been converted into apartments.

By way of passing, our reporter states that Dr. Egbert at the time had medical charge of the young Indian girls at the Spread Eagle Inn, near his cottage. This old hostel built in the late 1700’s, had been purchased by Mr. Childs “to stop the sale of liquor near his bailiwick”, so it is said. The new owner had lent it for a country home for the young Indian wards of the Lincoln Institute. Mrs. Belanger Cox was in charge of these children who in the middle eighties were enjoying “plenty of comforts and conveniences, and every opportunity for outdoor exercise, without being interfered with by outsiders.”

After leaving the Spread Eagle Inn, our reporter went along Old Conestoga road to its intersection with Wayne avenue. Here in the vicinity of the old Baptist Church, Messrs. Childs and Drexel were ofering building lots of 150 feet frontage and “considerable depth” priced at $800 to $1500 each. They were near “the spacious and substantial reservoir” located at the corner of old Wayne road and Bloomingdale avenue. Built at a cost of $30,000, this reservoir had “a capacity for 300,000 gallons of pure spring water, of which there is an abundant supply on the estate”. It is described as standing 450 feet above tidewater, and supplied by “extensive and costly water works.” It was evidently not only of great use, but also of great ornament to the community as there was “an elegant promenade on top, provided with rustic seats”.

Along Wayne avenue from Bloomingdale to Audubon avenues, there were a number of new brick and stone cottages on either side. According to our chronicler they were “very superior and provided with all modern conveniences”, some having fronts of 85 feet by 250 feet depth. They were to be sold for $5500, “clear of all incumbrance” and our description continues, “each cottage is by itself, and there is plenty of privacy.” These houses still line both sides of West Wayne avenue. The Saturday Club, which stands in their midst, was not built until 1898.

Before commenting on what is now the “business block”, our reporter states that there were “several available building lots” as he looked up Windermere avenue to the right after crossing Audubon avenue. These are now occupied by such buildings as the Radnor Township Schools, Windermere Court Apartments and a number of private dwellings.

The site of the present Sun Ray Drug Store was occupied in 1884 by the “new and handsome” drug store of J. M. Fronefield, Jr., next door to which was the building still occupied by Lienhardt’s Bakery, as it was originally. Across the Pike and next to the Lyceum, was the “costly, well-built Presbyterian Church”, of which the Reverend William Kruse was the pastor. Across the street from the Church and to the east of Lienhardt’s Bakery were several “splendid cottages . . . built of brick with slate roofs, ten rooms, wide porches, fine lawns and luxuriously fitted up.” If the present day passerby looks across the Pike from the sidewalk in front of the Church, he may see in the second and third stories of the stores in the business block, what now remains of those “splendid cottages”. For obviously the upper stories of many of the stores like Lafferty’s, Wack’s, the Delaware Market House, and many others were originally part of homes, not business houses.

But in 1884, the Pike was a narrow, three shaded road. These houses stood well back from it on spacious, weel kept lawns, wehere the grass was green and the planting luxurious. Somehow it is hard to imagine . . . but it was all part of an era before that of the swift moving passenger automobile and the heavy lumbering trucks that go their way by day and by night along the Highway. Those were the “horse and buggy days”, still clear in the memories of a few.

And at the end of that block, where Louella avenue intersects Lancaster avenue, stood the spacious home of one of Wayne’s prominent citizens, James Pinkerton, an official of the Bank of North America, in Philadelphia. What now remains of the once handsome building may best be seen from Louella avenue as one looks up at the large brick dwelling which forms the back of the former Halligan Store and of LaFrance Cleaners, and overlooks the school field. Until recently used as an apartment house, it now stands condemned for present occupancy, many of its windows shattered and desolate in its emptiness.