Ashmead’s History of Delaware County, part 3 – Louella Mansion, Wendell & Smith

Although the Louella Mansion was described in much detail in some of the very early articles of this column, it is interesting to repeat what the reporter on the Germantown “Telegraph” had to say about it in the July 2, 1884 issue of that paper. It is from his article that we have obtained much of our description of Wayne in 1884, as given recently in this column.

He calls the Louella Mansion “one of the great attractions” of the growing community, with its “magnificent surrounding grounds on the north side of Lancaster avenue”. By this time it had ceased to be the home of J. Henry Askin, who, in the middle eighties, was occupying a new and smaller home on the northwest corner of Wayne avenue and Lancaster pike. George Childs had become the owner of Louella Mansion, which he leased to Miss E. R. Boughter. A very popular summer resort, it had eighty rooms for guests who enjoyed its many privileges, including the spacious porch that looked on “as finely cultivated a lawn as can be found in the surrounding country”. The front lawn alone, facing as it did on Lancaster Pike, measured one thousand feet in length with “an abundance of shrubbery, shade trees and flower beds.”

East of Louella Mansion was the old Carpenter homestead, or “Maule Farm,” as it was sometimes called. Apparently between the latter and Louella Mansion there were large livery barns, where “the stabling arrangements were under the care of Charles R. Wetherell, the competent and experienced lessee”. These stables had stall-room for one hundred horses, with a commodious wagon-house nearby, as stated in our earlier article on Louella Mansion. They were apparently part of the Louella property, as were various other small buildings nearby.

Opposite Louella Mansion, but somewhat south of Lancaster avenue, stood the waterworks, containing a large retaining pond from which the water was pumped into the reservoir near the corner of Wayne avenue and Bloomingdale avenue, as described in last week’s column.

Next on his travels, our reporter visited Aberdeen avenue, where there were “several very superior brick cottages, with elegant terraced walks in front, and graveled foot-ways.” Although he does not say so, these houses must have been to the north of the Pike, as on the south side there are none facing on Aberdeen avenue until after it intersects St. Davids road. At any rate, all of the houses to which our chronicler refers were already finished and some of them occupied at the time of his visit. They were built on large lots and contained from “nine to twelve handsomely papered rooms, side vestibules, stained glass windows, broad porches, and spacious stairways.”

Particularly specific was our writer in his descriptions of these particular “cottages” even to the kitchen which, he said, had circular boilers, ranges and hot and cold water. Parlors had “low-down” grates and all the bedrooms had inside shutters. Also there were sliding doors between the parlors and dining rooms and between the vestibules and parlors. But most interesting of all to readers in this price-conscious age were the rental and sale prices of these houses. Dependent on size, they had a yearly rental of $360, $480 and $600. Sale prices ranged from $5,250 to $7,200 each. All could be had on easy terms.

But the particular bargain of the large building development in Wayne at that time seems to have been the small houses on North Wayne avenue which rented at $20 per month and sold for $3,000 each. Many of these are still standing and occupied although the years have brought many exterior and interior changes to almost all of them.

Before closing his article, our writer tells of “a charming piece of woodland” near St. Davids Station, which was to be “utilized for pleasure parties and picnics.” This must have been to the north of the station, as was an old stone country farm house which was then being converted into “a first class cottage” with the surrounding lot “being laid out in elegant style.”

In view of the comments made by present day newcomers to Wayne and St. Davids on the general uniformity in style of the houses built for Drexel and Childs by Wendell and Smith, the closing sentence of the Germantown “Telegraph” article seems a little surprising. “It may be mentioned here that no particular style of houses is required to be built at Wayne, and parties purchasing lots can erect any kind of building they choose, or make any disposition of their purchases they deem proper.” Apparently, however, “parties purchasing lots” must have liked the architectural plans already available as there are so many in both Wayne and St. Davids that were built alike.

The Germantown “Telegraph” was not the only newspaper to run a long feature article on Wayne’s development in the eighties. Under date of May 22, 1884, the Philadelphia “Record” had a somewhat less lengthy one which, however, brought out several points not touched on by the Germantown “Telegraph”. The former article has also been preserved in Ashmead’s “History of Delaware County”. According to the “Record”, Wayne had “perfected a drainage system which is said to be unequalled by any resort in the United States, the designs having been furnished by Colonel George F. Waring, the best posted man in the country on sanitary matters.” The use of the word “resort” is interesting in that it shows that Wayne was still considered more of a summer residential section than a permanent home one at that time.

In enlarging on Colonel Waring’s drainage system the “Record” stated that miles of distribution pipe had been laid, the water supply coming from springs at the source of Ithan Creek, while it clarified itself in the large reservoir on Bloomingdale avenue that was described in last week’s column. It seems, too, that a nursery was laid out for young sprigs, which according to the “Record” were “tenderly cared for in this little patch until they had acquired enough age to be transplanted along the banks of the creek in a pretty park”. In North Wayne, plans were under way to use the waters of Gulf Creek just as those of Ithan Creek were used in South Wayne.

At that time the Lancaster Pike from Philadelphia to Paoli had recently been purchased by a corporation headed by A. J. Cassatt for what seems nowadays the very modest sum of $7,500. However, the corporation had immediately $70,000 worth of improvements on it. The “Record” pays its tribute to these improvements by stating that “Today there is not in America a driving road of equal length that compares with it.” At that time the new homes in Wayne and St. Davids stood forty feet back of the street line, showing how narrow even the improved highway was.

The closing paragraph of the “Record” article bears quoting in full. “Real estate men say that the tendency of purchasers of country homes along the Pennsylvania Railroad is beyond Bryn Mawr, and they attribute this to three facts, –the lower prices, higher elevation, and the extensive improvements at Wayne and other places near by. In six years the value of real estate fringing the Pennsylvania Railroad from the country line to a point near Paoli has appreciated nearly $30,000,000. All this started with the purchase of 600 acres near White Hall by the Pennsylvania Railroad 13 years ago (1871). Within three years the advance in price along the line has been very rapid. Properties that sold in 1880 for $500 an acre have been recently disposed of for $1200 and some pieces of ground have gone at $4200 an acre.”


(The writer of this column wishes to extend her thanks to Mr. Richard Barringer for the loan of his “History of Delaware County” over an extended period of time.)