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)

Dedication of the Wayne Lyceum Hall, 1871 – Opera House


A long and informative article in last week’s Suburban concerning the refusal by the building inspector of Radnor Township for the remodeling of the old “Opera House” sets forth a number of points of view. Probably there are many in the township who belong in the group “of individuals (who) are in favor of the alterations, both from the aspect of improving the center of the community, and from the viewpoint of preserving it, because of its value as an historical landmark.”

And with its cornerstone laid seventy-nine years ago on the afternoon of July 4, 1871, and with its dedication on Tuesday evening, October 24, of the same year, it may well be called “an historical landmark” of Wayne! That first small square building as pictured in this article is very different from the present edifice with its rambling additions made by the Wayne Estate in 1903 to provide quarters for the post office and with the alterations that followed the disastrous fire of 1914.

Located at the northeast corner of Lancaster Pike and North Wayne avenue, this building, known originally as Wayne Lyceum Hall, was built on ground given by J. Henry Askin, one of the founders of Wayne. Mr. Askin resided in Louella House, the beautiful home on Lancaster PIke which is today known as Louella Court Apartments.

The picture which we are using in this column was taken probably in the early eighties, from a position near the middle of the business block on the south side of the Lancaster Pike. The mansard roof with the figure of “Charity” in the niche between the two chimneys has since been removed and the addition to the west has been added. The scaffolding to the left of the picture is for the large porch then being built to face south and east onto the residence which belonged at that time to Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Fallon. Later it was purchased by Lizzie Pugh Fronefield. The front part of the building was a residence while the back part facing on North Wayne avenue housed the Post Office.

At a later period the wide porch facing east was removed and the part of the porch facing south was incorporated into the building itself. After some years the post-office was moved from this location and the former residence was remodeled into two stores, one on Wayne avenue and the other on the corner. After some modernization done about a year ago the corner property is now occupied by Cobb and Lawless while to the north is the fish market, now operated by Robert Resester.

J.M. Fronefield, III, has identified the figure on the steps of the corner store in the picture of the old “Opera House” as that of his father, Joseph M. Fronefield, Jr., who came to Wayne in 1881 to establish this small country drug store. Under microscopic examination the sign under the window of the store shows that it is one advertising:

Arctic Soda
with choice fruit syrups and
The smaller sign states that it is:
Wayne Pharmacy
Jos. M. Fronefield, Jr.

(It would be interesting to identify other figures in the picture, particularly that of the man and the child. If any one can do so, the information will be given in later issues of this column.)

About a year ago extracts from some memoirs of Mr. Fronefield were published in “Your Town and My Town”. In these memoirs Mr. Fronefield described the Lyceum Hall just as it must have been when this picture was taken. It was, he says, “a plastered mansard-roof house of a dull-grayish brown color, occupied on the first floor by a general country store which sold dry goods, groceries, hardware and farming implements, under the proprietorship of J. Harry Brooke, who many years afterwards was real estate officer of the Merion Title & Trust Company. Mr. Brooke, his clerk, and the writer occupied the green room and stage wings of the auditorium on the second floor for sleeping quarters. More than once my cot and rug were used for stage decorations at the time of concerts.

“The building was piped for gas and had a spring feed gas machine which was under my charge. A barrel of gasoline poured into the outside tank, plus the strength of six mules to wind up the machine, made sufficient lights for months and months.”

On the shelves of our Wayne Memorial Library there is a bound volume of old numbers of the Weekly Wayne Gazette of the years 1871-72. Editors of this paper were John Campbell, Miss Sallie B. Martin and Miss Seba B. Bittle. In the October 28 copy of this Gazette there is a complete description of the “Programme of the Dedication Exercises of Wayne Lyceum Hall, on Tuesday evening, October 24, 1871.”

This dedication was evidently a great occasion in the community. The opening paragraph states that “We certainly must not be considered egotistical in saying the dedication of Wayne Lyceum Hall was most successful. We doubt if an audience larger in numbers or one so highly intelligent has assembled in any public hall in Delaware or Chester county on any occasion. The hall will seat comfortably five hundred persons, including the gallery, and as many oft he audience were standing and others sitting very closely, we can safely say there were over five hundred present.”

There were “introductory remarks” by the president of the Lyceum, J. Henry Askin; a prayer by the Rev. J. H. Watkins; singing of a song “Sunny Hours of Childhood”; a congratulatory address by Miss Lizzie Heysharn and again a song, “Our Meeting.” The dedication of Lyceum Hall was made by Miss Mary C. Everman, secretary of the Lyceum, followed by a dedication prayer by the Rev. C. B. Oakley.

“Popular Education” was the topic of a talk by Miss Sallie B. Martin, who directed the Wayne Lyceum School which was held daily. Then a thirty minute intermission refreshed the audience for two more songs, “Minute Gun at Seat” and “Sleighride Song,” which was followed by the closing address made by the Rev. A. L. Wilson.

All of the addresses, quaint in their wording to present readers and at times pompous as well, are yet full of real feeling occasioned by the completion of a great project carried out by a generous donor, J. Henry Askin. “We comprehend and appreciate this gift of love” according to Miss Everman, in her dedication, “when we contemplate the pleasant gatherings, the intellectual strength attained. Here will the cultivation and development of the mind be produced, which shall not only affect and benefit those who are permitted to congregate within these walls, but its influence shall be felt in generations hence, when scattered here and there upon life’s tempestuous sea.

“The object of the erection of this building has been for the –tension and development of knowledge; and we dedicate it sacred to the promotion of morality, purity and mental development . . . Let that which is just, virtuous and righteous be tolerated within this Lyceum – vice of every kind obliterated.”

The building is described as “built of brick, rough cast in imitation of granite, three stories high, forty by eight feet in dimensions. The first floor contains two large stores, each 20 by 40 feet, and an office the same size. the other room on the same floor (the reading and library room of the Lyceum) is 15 by 40 feet.

“The second floor of the Lyceum Hall is 55 by 40 feet. It has a gallery and a stage with rooms for the president and secretary. A beautiful painted curtain representing “Wayne Hall” of blessed memory and the spring house to the south of it was painted by Mr. Chase, scene painter of the city. The Hall is well lighted with gas, and painted in oak and walnut. The back and side of the stage and the rooms are handsomely papered. Beyond any doubt it is the best arranged and the handsmest Hall in the County.

“The third floor is being finished as a Masonic Hall and is intended to be used for a new Masonic Lodge. It is rather larger than the Hall on the 2nd floor on account of having no stage, and will seat, if fully occupied, at least six hundred people. It is at present receiving the last coat of plaster.

“On the eastern outside front of the Hall, a niche about the 3rd floor, is a beautiful statue representing ‘Charity’.”

Almost eighty years later the list of those who did work on Lyceum Hall or who furnished materials for its construction is a nostalgic one. David S. Gendale, Esq., was the architect; Duncan and Richardson were the carpenters; Capt. O’Byran, the master platerer; John Campbell, the bricklayer; Mahlon H. Rossiter, the stone mason; William Anderson, the marble mason; Thomas Wolf, the painter and glazier; James Mayhood, the tinsmith and roofer; W. Walter, the slater; W. Edwood Rowan, the paperhanger; Mr. Rusi, the upholsterer. Bricks were furnished by Messrs. Gygar and Carroll; marble by Adam and Don; stone by the Wayne Quarries; carpets by the Messrs. McCollum, Sloan and Company; furniture by Mr. Buckley; iron work by Samuel J. Creswell, Jr.

(To be continued)

(To Mrs. Malcolm Sausser, the writer acknowledges her indebtedness in obtaining much of the material for this article. Mrs. Charles T. Mather has kindly lent the original of the picture of the Old Lyceum as herewith reproduced from a copy made by John H. Ansley.)

Louella Mansion and early Wayne – Cleaver’s Landing, Lyceum

Over a cup of tea in the pleasant living room of Miss Josephine Scott’s home in Louella Court Apartments, one afternoon recently, we fell to discussing the old building which housed us. It was built more than eighty years ago, Mrs. Scott said, by J. Henry Askin, as a home for his family and was called Louella House, thus combining the names of two of his daughters, Louise and Ella.

It was a truly beautiful estate with its mansion house and its various cottages. Only the main part of the building as we now see it was built originally, the east and west wings having been added at a later date. Around the south, west and north sides of the mansion, the wide porch extended continuously. Miss Scott visualizes the parlor in the front part of the house as a very elegant and formal room with its heavy hangings, its massive furniture, its steel engravings on the walls and probably its wax flowers under glass on its pier glass tables!

Louella House, with the old Presbyterian Church and the Lyceum formed the nucleus then of the little hamlet first known as Cleaver’s Landing, later as Louella and now as Wayne. The Lyceum, later called the Opera House, is the large old building on the northeast corner of Lancaster avenue and North Wayne avenue which now houses several stores and apartments. Back in 1867, when Louella House was completed, there was no North Wayne avenue. West from the Lyceum on the turnpike was the Cleaver farm and past that the Tom Jones estate.

As Mr. Askin stood on his wide front porch and looked up the hill to the south he saw the Mifflin farm located in what is now the Upland way section. Almost across the turnpike from Louella House Fr. Askin could see the pumping station, while slightly to the southwest up the hill was the reservoir which supplied Louella House and all of its buildings with water. On the former site St. Mary’s Church was built in 1889 and slightly to the east of the latter site Windermere Court apartments now stand.

As Mr. Askin looked east from his porch following the line of the turnpike he saw the Louella stables, a barn and various other small buildings. Beyond that was open country as far as the Presbyterian Manse, later bought for a home by Mr. Lofland. The original Presbyterian Manse still stands facing south in the block between Pembroke avenue and St. Davids road. The gracious old house set well back from the highway now belongs to Walter Lister, managing editor of the Evening Bulletin.

Later on in its existence Louella House became Louella Mansion, advertising itself in an attractive little brochure of which Miss Scott has a copy, as “A Care-Free Summer Home for You.” It was open from June first to October first, but guests were urged to come early as “a steam heating system with radiators in each room insures comfort on chilly days.” The “premises” were described as “four hundred feet above sea level, and fourteen miles from Broad Street Station, Philadelphia, on the Main LIne of the Pennsylvania Railroad. More than ten acres of beautiful grounds, old trees, shrubbery, rose garden, walks, drives and tennis courts, surrounding Louella Mansion, a three-story massive stone building; a three-story stone and brick cottage and a two-story frame casino. The shaded boardwalk extends directly (six hundred feet) between the P. R. R. Station and the main building. The porch extends continuously along the south, west and north sides of the main building.”

“Table” is described as “plenty of the best grade brands, an experienced chef and staff, and proper service, while under “house-keeping” the brochure states “there are white maids and waitresses enough to keep the house clean and in order.” There was “an abundant supply of sparkling spring water of guaranteed purity, furnished by pipes in all the buildings, and there is no restriction or limitation as to its use by guests.” While both electric and gas lights were provided, lamps and candles were furnished upon request.

There is a very cheery note in the paragraph on children which states: “A hearty welcome for the little ones; play rooms away from the grown folks, and an experienced kindergarten teacher to direct the play.” And harking back to a day long past, there were “accommodations and special rates for children’s nurses, lady’s maids, coachmen, etc.”

There was certainly no lack of amusement at Louella Mansion as the Casino contained “shuffleboards, a pool table and gymnasium apparatus. The mansion itself contains library, smoking and music rooms, orchestral music every Saturday evening. Extensive room for dancing.” then there was ample provision for “equipages” in the way of “a public livery stable, and accommodations for private horses on adjoining premises, subject to telephone orders.”

Later still the original Louella House became the Armitage School for Girls. Now known as Louella Court Apartments, it contains a number of apartments, all with the high ceilinged rooms reminiscent of the gracious living of a past era.