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.)

Vintage train fares, S. Wayne houses

The Wayne Estate booklets from which the writer of this column has been quoting so freely, abound in glowing descriptions of this entire neighborhood in which these houses were being located in the late eighties and early nineties.

George W. Childs and the firm of Wendell and Smith were obviously proud of what they were doing. “The handsomest suburb, perhaps, in the country is Wayne,” they announce in what might be termed a rather sweeping statement since “this country” obviously means the entire United States. The description continues by stating that Wayne is “on the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, a pleasant twenty-five-minute ride from Broad Street Station, through a district of unexceptional rural beauty, and reached by sixty-four daily trains at convenient hours (Time Table in back of book).” The territory of this charming town embraces an area of about six hundred acres of plateau (four hundred feet above the level of Philadelphia) environed by woodlands; its population, 1500. Wayne is a town far superior to the usual unestablished places in the suburbs of Philadelphia. It has every general improvement in perfect working order.”

The train schedule in the back of the book shows the following fares to Philadelphia. Two-day excursion ticket was seventy-three cents, while a monthly ticket was $7.05 and a monthly school ticket was $4.70. Fifty-trip book for family use was $14.70 and a three months ticket was $19.00, which figured out to ten and a quarter cents per ride. An interesting note was attached to the schedule indicating that “Market baskets, bicycles and baby coaches are entitled to free transportation!”

The writer, note-book in hand, took a leisurely walk through St. Davids recently, in an effort to identify one or two houses of each of the types not already described in last week’s column. A phrase from one of the booklets came into her mind immediately since its truth was so evident. “There is no crowding; we have left a vacant lot between each house, and sell it on easy terms, should more ground be needed.” Some of the early owners evidently took advantage of this opportunity to enlarge their real estate holdings. But in many instances “this vacant lot between each house” is now occupied by a house of a later date to break the sometimes monotonous effect of block after block of Wayne Estate architecture. The 200 block of Windermere avenue on the south side is solid with these houses. They abound also in the 300 and 400 blocks of Midland avenue as they do along the same section of Lancaster pike, especially on the South side.

Houses like those at 210 and again at 226 Windermere avenue were very popular apparently. They were priced at $8,250 “and upwards” and had “a very picturesque exterior. Large porch across the front of the house. First floor – vestibule, spacious hallway, dining room, reception room, library with open grate, mantel and tile work, pantry, kitchen, out-kitchen and back staircase. Hall and stairways connected by archways for curtains. Second floor – Five chambers of good size, three of them across the front, en suite. Bath room and nine closets. Third floor – two servants rooms, a large hall and store room. Special features, open grate in lower hall, dining room, removed from kitchen odors, library has a private entrance to front staircase.”

All of the houses built in South Wayne and St. Davids at this particular time were of about the same size, particularly in the matter of the “five chambers” on the second floor. More of them will be described in next week’s column.

Descriptions from real estate booklets – Edison Electrical Light Plant

Those who read our column last week know that no householder among those purchasing Wayne Estate homes in the late eighties and early nineties needed to “fear a dark or lonely walk, or a gloomy house.” This was because of the “Edison Electrical Light” plant which was one of the prides of Wayne of the time, and well it might be, since parts of Philadelphia were still lighted by gas. And, indeed, Wayne was one of the first towns in the country to have electric light! Of it another advertisement, in addition to the one quoted last week, states: “The Edison incandescent light is generally used on the avenues and in the houses. The service is entirely satisfactory, and removes the fear of loneliness and makes the night time as pleasant as the day. This modern light has now become as safe and economical as gas for domestic use, while from a health standpoint it is far superior, for it cannot vitiate the air.” This particular advantage may be as novel to many of our readers as it was to the writer!

Of Wayne’s “clean wholesome water” our pamphlet states, “Generally speaking, rain water which falls in remote country-districts is the purest. It is this pure water that finds its way to the springs that abundantly supply the unrivaled water system of Wayne. This water is carefully protected from all local contaminations, and is pumped into the 250,000 gallon brick-lined reservoir, and distributed by gravity to the houses. The water supply of Wayne is absolutely free from deleterious mineral or organic matter; is clear and sparkling to the eye, and cool and pleasant to the taste.”

It must have been shortly after this was written that the original reservoir was enlarged – for a caption on the later one gives the capacity as 1,500,000 gallons. This picture is a most attractive one, showing the large body of water, “clear and sparkling,” entirely surrounded by a white picket fence and bordered by trees. The description reads “The quality of the water furnished to the inhabitants cannot be excelled. The growth of the town necessitating an increased supply, it was procured by means of artesian wells, remote from the built-up portion, and a new reservoir of large capacity was constructed upon a point so high that houses upon the highest hills in Wayne are supplied from it by gravity. The supply of water is ample, and its source being entirely in the control of the Wayne Estate, the amount can be increased as exigency arises, and its purity assured.”

It is not so many years since this reservoir located on the west side of Radnor road on the property now owned by Valley Forge Military Academy, went out of existence.

Among the “Town Conveniences” listed in the pamphlets and not already enumerated in our column are “a well-organized and equipped Fire Department and uniformed Police Patrol – which add to the safety of the town – “ And since these were the days before the advent of the automobile it was important that there was a “Good Livery Stable and Station Conveyances when they are needed. – These advantages, go to every purchaser, and the prices are less than elsewhere, where these conveniences cannot be obtained. – Wayne is thoroughly homelike, without the usual deprivations of country life, and its homes show a practical housekeeping wit in their planning – at no point near Philadelphia is there such activity in real estate, most of the purchases being made before the houses were finished. Business and professional people have made Wayne their permanent home, which demonstrates that its worth has met with suitable recognition. The wisdom of locating here has been demonstrated to the most conservative investors.”

The enterprise of Wendell and Smith, “Home Builders,” is witnessed by the fact that they had offices at both stations, Wayne and St. Davids, that were open all day. Houses could be inspected not only on week-days, but on Sundays as well. All of them were “within five minutes walk of the station.” And to these prospective purchasers these enterprising realtors stated, “Arrangement can be made to build any kind of a house you prefer, but a selection of one of the following plans will be to the advantage of the buyer, in that we will share with you the profit of wholesale building” – And many must have taken advantage of this “wholesale building,” judging by the vast duplication of houses which puzzles newcomers to our town of Wayne!

Old photos, “Town Fathers” – early businessmen, Mrs. Lienhardt

In a large envelope of pictures of old Wayne, lent to me recently by Miss Beatrice Tees, there are some real treasures, including a booklet published by Wendell and Smith, Home Builders, showing all the different types of houses which we now know as the “Wayne Estate Houses.” Later descriptions from this booklet will answer some of the many questions asked me in regard to the history of these homes.

However, there are three pictures in the lot that are of a time before the Wendell and Smith homes. One is entitled “Commuting in 1870”, and shows the first Wayne station on the Pennsylvania Railroad. It is the building now standing slightly to the west of the Wayne Hotel, and used as sleeping quarters for the hotel workers. The caption of the picture says, “During the summer of 1870 residents of Wayne swished through a cornfield to catch the eight-fifteen to Philadelphia. The smaller building in the picture . . . is the waiting room of the Wayne station of the Pennsylvania Railroad. But J. Henry Askin, one of the founders of Wayne, was not so slow or democratic either for he had a private waiting room for his family in the big house adjoining. The station was located to the rear of the Wayne Presbyterian Church and the picture was taken from the cornfield that is now part of the Wayne Hotel property. Although the cottage still stands, the waiting room building was transported to Strafford.”

The second picture of this lot is called “Hitching Post Days”, and shows the large double building of which the Lienhardt store is still a part. Its caption reads: “The Fronefield building ion the southeast corner of what is now Lancaster Pike and Wayne Avenue, in 1890 had ties in its hitching post to accommodate any number of buggies. The vacant half of the store was occupied by Lienhardt’s Bakery, and this part of the building is still standing . . . For a time the Wayne Post Office was housed there.”

The third picture shows that part of the present business block to the east of the Fronefield building as it originally looked. It is called “Business in the Eighties”, and its caption reads: “Where shoppers park their cars nowadays in the Wayne business section . . . there were trees, grass and shrubbery in the eighties. This picture was taken of the south side of Lancaster Pike, east of the Fronefield building. By the aid of a magnifying glass you can read the curb market sign “Christmas Tress for Sale’. In those days merchants and residents were not troubled seriously by the sidewalk problem. A narrow roadway was all that the horses and wagon traffic demanded. Business had no need of a street canopy to keep the sun out because buyers shopped in comfort beneath ample shade trees.”

Of the “Town Fathers”, one Wayne historian, whose notes have been made available to me, mentions first J. Henry Askin, “the Pioneer of 1865”, who built Louella House, the Bloomingdale Avenue houses, and gave property for the Wayne Presbyterian Church. This same historian describes Joseph M. Fronefield as the “First business man”, opening his drug store in the east end of the Lyceum building in 1882 and later moving across the Pike. James C. Pinkerton was the first president of the Electric Light Company, started in 1886. Incidentally, Wayne was the second town in the country to have electricity. Many office buildings in Philadelphia were still using gas at the time.

Fred C. Hallowell was instrumental in starting the Wayne Title and Trust Company. T. Stewart Wood and Joseph C. Egbert, members of the early school board, were responsible for the high school in Wayne Henry Pleasants “saved the name of Wayne for the town when there was a strong idea of changing it.” He was also the historian of this section. The name of Herman Wendell, who came here with the Childs-Drexel operation, will always be associated with the improvement and beauty of the town.

R. H. Johnson built most of the local roads and did most of the landscaping which enhanced the charm of Wayne. Theodore Ramsey had a general store in the Lyceum where everything “from a plough to a hairpin” could be purchased.

There must have been many others who deserved the title of “Town Father”, but here the historian’s list ended. She did pay high tribute to “our Town Mother”, however, when she described Mrs. Helena Lienhardt’s place in Wayne history. Mrs. Lienhardt came to Wayne in 1885 and opened a bakery in the same location in which the present one of the same name still operates. “Mrs. Lienhardt”, our historian comments, “was a splendid business woman and an outstanding person of those days, and as long as she lived held a warm place in the hearts of Wayne people. And what a Mecca that store was for children!”

(to be continued)