Opera House (Lyceum Hall) fire, Post Master Milton J. Porter, Welsh & Parks Hardware Store, more fires, The George Clay Fire Company

In the early morning hours of December 30, 1914, Wayne experienced its worst fire since the one that in March, 1900, burned the Bellevue Hotel to the ground. This time the conflagration was in another of Wayne’s early landmarks, the Opera House, built in the early 1870’s on ground donated by Henry Askin, one of the founders of this suburban community.

The building known as Lyceum Hall, when it was first erected, was originally used for lectures, debates and amateur theatricals. In 1889 the Wayne Estate enlarged the small stage, adding a new proscenium and scene shifts. At about this same time the third floor was renovated to serve as quarters for Wayne Lodge No. 581, F. and A. Masons, which was instituted there in 1890.

Then again in 1903 the building itself was remodeled and enlarged, provision being made at that time for the housing of the Wayne Post Office. Thereafter, it became the center of community activities for Wayne with the Euterpean concerts and other events of sociaJ and musical interest being given there. And not long before the time of the fire, the Messrs. Allen began to show their moving pictures at the Opera House, that being the flrst motion picture theater in Wayne.

The fire of December, 1914, started in the second story of the Gas Company’s office next door to the Opera House at about 1:30 in the morning. A call to the Radnor Police Department brought a quick response by the two engines of the Radnor Fire Company. Otis Hunsicker recalls that the first fire engine to be built by the Hale Company was in the shop, complete except for paint. So dire was the need for it that it was called into use just as it was, soon after the onset of the fire. In addition, a hurry call was sent to Berwyn, Devon, Bryn Mawr and Merion No. 1, aIthough the latter did not actually get into service.

At one time eight streams of water were playing on the fire, which soon worked its way up under the eaves of the Opera House, where it could not effectively be reached by the firemen because of the height of the building. Indeed, a number of firemen had a narrow escape from death on the top floor of the building when the “back draft” so much dreaded by all fire fighters, exploded. Dense clouds of smoke nearly asphyxiated these men before they could reach the steps.

Milton J. Porter, who was postmaster at that time, with the help of his employees and of volunteers, saved not only all the moveable furniture in the post office section of the Opera House, but also all mail, stamps and records. Miss H. Ada Detterline, of the post office force, had a miraculous escape from death when she was struck by a falling cornice and severely injured as she was assisting in the removal of these records. Temporary quarters were immediately set up in the Wayne Title and Trust building, and by 11:00 o’clock the following morning the outgoing mail was gotten off.

Practically the entire stock of the Welsh and Park Hardware Store was ruined by water. Less than two hours after the onset of the fire, Mr. Welsh had leased a vacant store in Union Hall and by noon had given an order to the Supplee-Biddle Company in Philadelphia for new stock, the first load of which was brought out by Herbert George in his truck that evening.

The Allens moved their motion pictures to St. Katharine’s Hall, where they were shown for some time thereafter. Their screen and piano were burned up in the fire, although the motion picture machine was saved. Andrew J. Martin, of the Wayne Plumbing and Heating Company, estimated their loss at about $3,000, with a large quantity of tools destroyed and the main office and cellar flooded by water. In the Gas Company’s office all the papers and records of John L. Mather were destroyed. These records covered his entire term of service with the Electric Light Company and the Wayne Steam Heat Company, as well as with the U. G. I. However, books of the company were in the fireproof safe.

Wendell and Treat estimated their loss at about $30,000, while the Wayne Lodge suffered a loss of some $2,000 in the way of furniture and fixtures. That the office of the Wayne Estate was saved was due to the good work of Charles R. Kennedy and of Otis Hunsicker.

According to the account of this spectacular fire as given in “The Suburban” of January 1, 1915, “nearly everyone in Wayne and St. Davids was there. . . all fire companies did fine service with especial credit due to the Hale Motor Company engine in charge of Charles J. Young.” The slate roof of the Presbyterian Church next door to the Opera House was probably the only thing that saved it from destruction since a continuous shower of sparks swept that way. Indeed, that anything in the general vicinity was saved seems miraculous in view of the limited fire fighting facilities of Wayne and its neighboring communities in 1914 as compared to those of the present.

Among the smaller, but yet important fires of the period when Wayne had but the two fire engines, was that on the G. L. Warner place, a short distance from Martin’s Dam, when in March, 1913, the barn was completely destroyed although all the horses and cattle were saved. When the alarm was sounded Chief Wilkins with Guy Hallowell., E. J. Wendell and Otis Hunsicker made a quick run in Mr. Wendell’s automobile.

When they found the barn a complete mass of fiames on their arrival they immediately set to work to save the rest of the buildings. The first step in this direction was to build a dam across a small creek that ran near the barn, using fence ralls, stones and sod in its construction. When the rest of the firemen got there they found plenty of water for their pump. in this dam. For three hours Chief Wilkins with 15 of his men worked successfully to save the surrounding buildings.

The first big residential fire after the acquisition of the two automobile engines was that of the Edward A. Schmidt residence at Radnor in September, 1909. The nearest water was from a lily pond about 900 feet from the house. When the pumps had exhausted that supply their chemical apparatus was brought into play, putting the fire under control after two or three hours’ time.

On the way to the Isaac H. Clothier, Jr. estate in the bitter cold weather of November, 1917, both of the Radnor engines broke down. However, they eventually joined the Bryn Mawr Fire Company, the Merion Fire Company, and the George W. Clay Company from Conshohocken at the scene of the destruction of the old fashioned stable where the flames spread so quickly that a number of prize winning hunters and a pony belonging to the Clothier children perished in the flames.

A few months later, in May, 1918, I the Radnor Fire Company was called to the J. J Kearsley Mitchell place on Spring Mill road, where the garage, which also housed the chauffeur’s family, was already a mass of flames when they arrived. Despite their most valiant efforts the 16-months-old baby of the chauffeur was burned to death in sight of several of the Wayne firemen, who got ladders up to the I room in which the crib stood, only to be beaten back by the violence of the flames. Together the George Clay Fire Company and the Radnor Fire Company pieced out 2000 feet of hose to stretch to a pond from which they pumped water in relays in order to save several greenhouses and other buildings, since there was no other water on the hilltop on which these buildings were located.

(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.)

Wayne Opera House fire details

Something of the history of one of the oldest buildings in Wayne, the Opera House, has been given from time to time in this column. Recently some further information concerning it has come to the writer, particularly the details of the devastating fire that occurred there in 1914.

Located at the northeast corner of Lancaster Pike and North Wayne avenue, this structure was one of the landmarks of early Wayne. Built in the early sixties by Henry Askin, one of the founders of Wayne, it was originally known as Lyceum Hall. There debates, lectures and amateur theatricals were held. In 1889 the Wayne Estate enlarged and improved the stage which had been a very small one. New scene shrifts and a new proscenium were added. A few years later the third floor was renovated to furnish quarters for Wayne Lodge No. 581, F. and A. M. Still to be discerned on the northeast corner of the building at second floor height is a keystone with a masonic emblem set in the masonry.

In the early nineteen hundreds the Wayne Post Office moved into this building from its former location in what is now Frankenfield’s Fish Market. This was after extensive remodeling and enlargement had been made to the old Opera House. Thirty-five years ago this month, on December 30, 1914, an early morning blaze, the origin of which has never been definitely ascertained, practically destroyed the Opera House itself in addition to the office of the Wayne Plumbing and Heating Company and the Counties Gas and Electric Company located in what is now the Wayne Men’s Store. Welsh and Park Hardware store, predecessors of George W. Park and Son, Hardware, ahd its quarters in a large store on the Pike side of the Opera House. Charles M. Davis , real estate dealer, had his office on this side of the building, also. Both the store and the office were badly damaged by water, especially the large stock of hardware in Welsh and Park.

The fire was discovered about 1:30 o’clock in the morning on the second floor of the gas company office by Robert Tisdale, forman of the company’s power plant, who notified Sergeant Rahill of the Radnor Township Police Department. A general alarm brought out fire apparatus from Wayne, Devon and Bryn Mawr. The Hale Motor Company pump and Merion No. 1 firemen also responded. At one time eight streams of water were playing on the fire.

This was the most spectacular fire to strike Wayne since the old Bellevue Hotel, located on the Pike, near Bellevue avenue, went up in flames one bitter cold morning in January, 1900. A conservative estimate of the loss to all tenants was placed at about $50,000. However, there was but one casualty, that of Miss H. Ada Detterline, clerk in the postoffice, who was severely injured when struck by a falling cornice.

Records of the postoffice, stamps and other valuable matter were saved by Postmaster Milton J. Porter with the help of employes of the office and of volunteers. Temporary quarters were established in the Wayne Title and Trust Company building for a week or so, after which the Post Office was returned to the fire damaged building.

Welsh and Park found quarters in Union Hall (now Masonic Hall) for the time being while the Wayne Plumbing and Heating Company opened up in the second floor of the Wayne Estate Building just north of the Opera House. Mr. Davis moved his real estate office to Philip Di Marse’s barber shop on Lancaster avenue while Counties Gas and Electric Company located temporarily in the Pinkerton house at the corner of Lancaster and Louella avenue. All of the private papers of John L. Mather, then superintendent of the company, were lost in the fire.

The silent movies which had been conducted by George C. and Lawrence Allen on the second floor of the Opera House were discontinued until they could find new quarters in St. Katharine’s Hall. The Allens lost their silver screen and a piano, though the projection machine was saved.

The old Opera House, not too much changed in outward appearance still stands at the corner of the Pike and North Wayne avenue. The large corner first floor is occupied by “My Country Store” while a number of smaller shops are on the Pike side of the building. Above are a few apartments.

”Wayne Times”, period descriptions, population, Radnor Panther

Last week I wrote of the “Town Fathers” of early Wayne and of one “Town Mother”, Mrs. Helena Lienhardt. The bakery the latter established here in 1885 is still actively engaged in business in the same Pike location in which it was founded. Several other businesses established at about that time are still in existence, among them Adelberger’s nurseries; L. K. Burket and Brother, coal and feed; R. H. Johnson Company, contractors, and the Joseph Thomas nurseries near Martin’s Dam.

In 1885 the “Wayne Times” was founded by W. Chandler Stewart, W. W. Pinkerton, and F. O. Pinkerton. At a later date its name was changed to the one with which we are all familiar, “The Suburban and Wayne Times.” Among notes of one Wayne historian I find the following: “Fired with ambition to write, W. W. Pinkerton, F. O. Pinkerton, and W. Chandler Stewart started the “Wayne Times”. That was in 1885. Little did they think that small acorn would become the great oak under whose branches the whole population of this day would sit and read.”

In an 1882 issue of the old “Public Ledger”, Wayne had a very prominent place when the paper brought out a full page picture of North Wayne. The photographer climbed to the cupola of Louella House to take the picture. This was a tremendous novelty in the newspaper fashions of that time; indeed, the Ledger’s first venture in that line. The newspaper at that time was owned in part by George W. Childs, who had much to do with real estate development in Wayne in the eighties and nineties. It is said that when his building operation here was pretty well under way, he brought Mr. Harjes, the French member of the Ledger corporation, out to see the houses and the latter was very much impressed.

In 1881 the town of Louella (as Wayne was then called) was listed as having a population of one hundred inhabitants. But is was not long thereafter that it began to expand and to develop from the farming section as it was then. As the development took place, of course it was the obvious thing to have as constable “a strong and valiant man to safeguard the growing town . . . and one Charlie Cressman was impounded for that arduous duty. He had a flea-bitten, rangy mare and a gig. No one ever recalls seeing him walk. He always held the reins up high and jerked them constantly. Charlie had one dominant characteristic-he always chewed! As he jerked the reins and the mare speeded up or slowed down to a walk-so Charlie chewed!

“One night, we are told, when life was very dull in the hamlet and no murders, robberies or kidnappings were taking place, Charlie got desperate and pulled out his pistol. He fired several vicious shots into the the air-but only echo answered.

“When the Lyceum became the Wayne Opera House and we gave ‘The Mikado’ and ‘Patience’ and the famous Euterpean Concerts were held there, Charlie was the janitor and curtain-raiser. And many a timid actor had a hearty slap of encouragement on the back before the curtain was jerked up.”

From another source comes an amusing story of Charlie and the “Radnor Panther.” It seems that there was a rumor that a wild beast had escaped from a circus and was roaming in the dense woods of North Wayne. People were terrified at night by roars and loud screams, but nobody had actually seen the supposed mountain lion. Francis Fenimore and Robert Martin; who lived close to these woods, contributed theories about the animal in amusing chits in the Wayne Times. And then one Saturday when Wayne was bustling with business, Charlie Cressman was seen slowly driving up the Pike holding a long rifle in one hand, while on his lap was the “panther” with claws hanging down, blood dripping from its jaws.

The truth, as it came to light later, was that a couple of local wags had secured an animal rug and stuffed it with straw, with tomato ketchup to simulate blood. The crowds of men and boys who followed the wagon were completely fooled by the practical joke, according to my informant, wo adds, “Those were the days when small things like this afforded the people fun and amusement for days.”

For the information in this article I am indebted to several sources, among them Miss Josephine W. Scott, W. W. Schultz, and the 1948 Historical Record and Business Guide of Wayne.

J.M. Fronefield’s account of early 1880’s Wayne

Among Wayne’s outstanding citizen’s of an earlier day, Joseph M. Fronefield, Jr., who came here in 1881 to establish a small country drug store, contributed greatly to the growth and development of the community during nearly 60 years of residence here.

After his death, in August, 1940, his son, Joseph M. Fronefield, 3d, found in his desk an old stenographic notebook in which is father had written in longhand a vivid description of Wayne as he knew it in the early 80’s. The notebook was tucked away among some books on local history, in which the elder mr. Fronefield had always taken a deep interest. Though a few of the first pages of this account were missing, there is still page after page of facts that are invaluable in re-creating a picture of the Wayne of many years ago.

Old landmarks are listed, forgotten roads and lanes are retraced, old churches, business buildings and houses are described and dated in the pages of a chronicle written by a man who remembered them all vividly. “The little drugstore which brought the writer to Wayne,” Mr. Fronefield notes, “occupied the pike side of a small road on the eastern end of Lyceum Hall. The Childs and Drexel office was in the rear. The second floor was a public auditorium and the third floor a lodge room.”

This was Wayne’s Lyceum Hall before the addition at the western end was constructed. The building on the northeast corner of Lancaster avenue and North Wayne avenue, now occupied by “My Country Store” and several other shops on the pike side, was added later. At one time the building was known as the Wayne Opera House.

This early Wayne Lyceum Hall is described by Mr. Fronefield as “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 afterward, was real estate officer of the Merion Title and 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 a 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. This building was later greatly enlarged and its name changed to the Wayne Opera House.”

In describing the immediate vicinity of Wayne Lyceum Hall in the 80’s, Mr. Fronefield continues: “The surrounding country was farm land. I could look out the drugstore door (it had no window on the pike) and see cattle grazing in the meadow where the business block, fire house and school houses now stand. This was part of what was known as the Siter Farm. Its buildings stood on Conestoga road, about where the residence of the late F. A. Canizares now stands. The old Siter home burned in later years when owned and occupied by R. H. Johnson. the spring house was near the rear of what is now the Wayne Apartment house at the corner of West Wayne and Bloomingdale avenues.

“The Izzacki Fritz farm adjoined it and had its buildings near where the Presbyterian parsonage now stands on Audubon avenue. the buildings included some sort of an old stone mill. The Mifflin property lay south of the Siter and Fritz properties and faced on Conestoga road. The buildings were where he home of Mr. Forsythe now stands on Upland Way. It had an entrance lane from Lancaster pike which left the pike at the big tree where St. Mary’s Church now stands.

“The Wilds farm had its building east of where Midland and Pembroke avenues intersect. The old apple trees on the property of Mr. Helms are the last of the family orchard. The spring house was in the rear of the home of Mrs. W. A. Nichols.

“The George farm had its buildings on the north side of Lancaster pike west of St. Davids road, now the home of Mr. Rollin H. Wilbur. The Thomas B. Jones farm on West Lancaster pike near Bloomingdale, was the last to feel the imprint of development, it having been bought from the Jones Estate in recent years by Mr. H. R. Harris, who is developing it.”

The years that have passed since Mr. Fronefield wrote these notes have brought changes in ownership of properties which it may be well to insert here in order to identify locations mentioned.

The F. A. Canizares house on Conestoga road, is now the property of Cornwall Miller. D. C. Mills is the owner of the Forsythe home on Upland Way; the Helms house on Midland avenue is occupied by A. W. Moseley and family. Dr. G. W. Huggler owns and occupies the former Nichols home and the Wilbur residence, long known as “Old Stone House,” is owned by Dr. R. J. W. Kimble.

(I wish to acknowledge my deep gratitude to Joseph M. Fronefield, 3d, for the use of his father’s notes for this and for several other articles which will follow.)

(To be continued)

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.