Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: April, 1966 Volume 14 Number 1, Pages 2–4

The Strafford Railroad Station

Cordelia Weller

Page 2

The Strafford Station has had a varied and interesting history. Its history in America began in 1876 as the Japanese Pavilion at the Centennial Exposition in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. Some interesting questions about the building remain unanswered. Early books written about the building do not agree in their report about it.

Why did the Pennsylvania Railroad Company buy the building from the Centennial Exposition in 1885 for a Main Line Station? Other stations built at this time were brick or stone and large enough for the station master to live in it. Why did the Japanese, who have almost no lumber, build the building in Japan, then take it apart and ship it to Philadelphia, wrapped in paper and matting, and put it together again in the Centennial Exposition?

The Centennial lasted only from May tenth to November tenth 1876, yet this building so carefully constructed and brought from Japan was used as the Illinois building in the latter part of the exposition. The authorities also differ in so simple a question as to whether nails were used in the construction of the building.

This was the era of international expositions. London had one in 1851, New York in 1853, Paris in 1855 and 1857, Vienna in 1873. The Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia was patterned after these. The committee at first planned to have a single building covering forty-four acres. This plan was abandoned and in the end there were nearly 200 buildings of many shapes and sizes. Because of the patriotic nature of the exposition many of the buildings were star shaped. The Centennial Exposition did not have an easy time getting started. The South, so soon after the Civil War, was cool to the idea. The New York Fair in 1853 was not a success either in attendance or financially. New York looked at Philadelphia with some jealousy. The West was unwilling to appropriate money for an eastern fair. The Pennsylvania Legislature and the City Council, then called the Select Council, the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Fine Arts kept pushing for the fair and raising money. Finally Congress backed the exposition and it opened only a month late.

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The Japanese Pagoda was not finished on the opening day. Early fair-goers were entertained by the Japanese carpenters speaking Nipponese and dressed in their native dress. Their ways of working seemed odd and slow to the American visitors to the fair. Their tools were very different from the other workmen, but they worked like true craftsmen. No nails were used. Wooden pegs of various sizes were hammered into holes to hold the two-story structure together. Each piece of wood was rubbed until it shone. The joints fit perfectly. The building was made like a fine piece of furniture.

The pagoda has been described in various ways. The descriptions do not seem to fit the same building, nor do the old pictures of the pagoda resemble Strafford Station today. John Nugent, in the Main Line Times of March 29, 1956, wrote "A contemporary description called it an odd-looking hen coop. The roof was pointed up with white cement all around the edge and this made it look like a picture frame. The "History of Philadelphia" by Schraf and Wescott, printed in 1884, stated "This was one of the most attractive buildings on the fair grounds." There were beautifully carved wooden dragons, birds, and flowers over the doorways of the porch. These told old Japanese legends.

In 1876 J. S. Ingram wrote "The Centennial Exposition Described and Illustrated." It was published by Hubbard Brothers the same year. Printed in gold on the cover is the inscription, "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All The Land Unto The Inhabitants Thereof - 1776. Its Blessings We Celebrate-1876." This detailed account of the Centennial states that Japan had a large exhibition of porcelain, bronze, silk fabrics, and colored embroideries in the Main Building. In addition to this exhibition of fine costly art, Japan had two smaller two-story buildings, one to house the exhibitors and one containing a bazaar stocked with trinkets and small pieces of bronze, porcelain and tortoise shell, and wooden toys. The two buildings were similar in construction. This book states "The popular idea that no nails were used in the construction of these buildings is a fallacy. They were used in large quantities, but they were so covered and hidden as not to be seen without careful examination."

In his "Centennial Portfolio" Thompson Wescott expresses regret that in a few months all the buildings that sprang up as if by magic would in the same fashion disappear, leaving only Memorial Hall and Horticulture Hall to tell of the greatness of the exposition to succeeding generations. Wescott was not entirely right. The Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain still stands to mark the spot near where the Japanese Pavilion stood, on a road running from George's Hill to Belmont Avenue. Until recently the Wisconsin Building stood, a big private home near the Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center. Other buildings were moved to Atlantic City, Cape May, and other near-by resorts.

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Before the exhibition closed, the Japanese Building had changed owners and was the Illinois State Building. This building was purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad and taken down and moved to Louella, now Wayne, where it was used as a station for two years, 1885 and 1886. George W. Childs, a real estate developer in Louella, demanded a bigger and more ornate station. So the building was again dismantled and moved up the railroad to Eagle Station. In 1887 the Eagle Station was changed to Strafford, the name of a nearby estate.

In 1857 John Landon Wentworth bought a mansion and 138 acres from the White family. Shortly afterwards he visited a relative in England, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford. On his return home John Langdon Wentworth named his newly acquired estate Strafford.

About this time the Eagle Station was moved to its present site and the name was changed to Strafford. The original Eagle Station was a few hundred feet west of the present Strafford Station. The region around the present Strafford Station was known as the Spread Eagle, taking its name from the Spread Eagle Conestoga Tavern. Around 1800 it was known as Litersville, taking its name from John Liter, then owner of the tavern.

The Eagle Station was a two-story brick building just east of the home mow owned by Dr. Rosato where Old Lancaster or Conestoga Road crossed the railroad. Dr. Rosato's home was then a summer boarding house kept by Mrs. Mufflin Lewis and her daughters. There was an uncovered bridge connecting the second floors of the two buildings. The first floor of the station consisted of a waiting room, baggage room, and the Spread Eagle Post Office. The postmistress then was Annie Bloomer.

Much of this material was gotten together by Mr. William Armstrong, long the station master at Strafford Station. References taken from old history books are from books in Mr. Howard Okie's library.


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