Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 38
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: January 2000 Volume 38 Number 1, Pages 3–14
Strafford Station Neighborhood Walk - 1999
Since Colonial days the area around the Strafford train station has been an important crossroads. In the eighteenth century, the Old Eagle School and the Spread Eagle Inn served the community and travelers on the Lancaster Turnpike. By the late nineteenth century, the Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line enabled office workers to commute to and from Center City from the elegant little station at Strafford. These executives and professionals commissioned Philadelphia's most notable architects to design their residences in the fashionable Colonial Revival style. Many of these houses remain, clustered about the station in their original settings.
A Short History
The Pennsylvania Railroad was founded in 1846, the assemblage of several lines including the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. It had been a portion of the of the Main Line of Public Works begun in 1828. The first Paoli Local ran on September 20, 1832 -- a horse drawn wagon on iron rails. The original roadbed was not as straight and level as the present, and the process of re-engineering the right of way has left us with several artifacts, and the legacies of new towns and town names.
Passenger business was a small part of the original mission of the railroad. Outside the city, which before the Civil War barely extended past Independence Square, the land was primarily agricultural. The resort business brought some of the first travelers westward. The White Hall Hotel in
Bryn Mawr was simply an enlarged version of the traditional roadside inn, gentrified for the summer tourist trade.
The earliest stations were typically farm structures near the tracks, modified for the new use. Often the original residents or residential use also remained. The romantic architectural revivals featured strong geometrical designs, with real or false timbering providing the opportunity for bold color designs. The Strafford Station was believed to have been a pavilion from the Centennial Exhibition, moved to its present location after the fair. In fact, the building was not likely built for the Exhibition, and has been repositioned at least once from a site slightly further east along the same tracks.
Until the automobile became the dominant form of commuter transportation after World War II, the classic image of the suburb was seen as a residential zone for upper middle class railroad commuters. Other types of suburbs existed that were served by streetcar lines or clustered around specific non-urban places of employment. The industrial revolution blossomed during the nineteenth century, due to the power of steam.
The train station, Spread Eagle Inn, and Old Eagle School were three of the most prominent landmarks at the onset of the transformation of Strafford from a farming community to railroad suburb. The Old Eagle School was founded in the tradition of early German settlers to set aside a piece of ground for the common good to provide a place for educational, religious, and other community activities. When the Common School Act was passed in Pennsylvania in 1836, Tredyffrin Township assumed control of the property for use as a public school, during which time the building was substantially enlarged. After a period of neglect following its abandonment by the school district in 1872, the property reverted to a community trust in 1895 as the result of a suit brought against the School District by the neighbors - its original owner, and in whose ownership it still remains. The suit was the result of both the real and sentimental attraction to the building and cemetery, the resting place of the ancestors of many of the residents.
A number of young architects were active in the promotion of the suburban lifestyle and less formal colonial revival. House and Garden magazine, founded in Philadelphia in 1901, provided another outlet, reaching a far wider audience than the architectural press. Ladies Home Journal, also from Philadelphia, featured a model home by Frank Lloyd Wright, but the "farmhouse" style promoted by Charles Barton Keen and other architects won far more converts in the area.
Dr. Edmund Evans of Haverford was a forward thinking individual when he purchased fifty acres of land near the Haverford College station on the Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line in the 1860s. His son Allen began as an unpaid apprentice with the architectural giant Frank Furness in 1871 at the age of sixteen. By 1881 he was a partner at the firm. Evans married Rebecca C. Lewis, the daughter of John T. Lewis, a Philadelphia industrialist from an old family. Rebecca was one of seven Lewis daughters, five of whom married successful local professionals and businessmen. The firm would design many houses and other structures for members of the Lewis family, their in-laws and acquaintances.
Rebecca's sister Maria married Edward F. Beale in 1877 as he was rising to prominence at her father's company. Active in the Radnor Hunt and the Devon Horse Show, Beale purchased a farmhouse in Strafford in the 1890s which he named "Deepdale." Deepdale was not an elaborate estate like many that were being established at the same time. Instead, it reflected Evans' Quaker heritage and the persistence of that tradition along the Main Line.
McKim, Mead and White, architects of Daniel Newhall's residence next door, had established the prototype of the large national architectural practice. Charles Follen McKim was uniquely positioned to introduce a more rigorous version of the Colonial Revival to Philadelphia. He was born in Chester County, and grew up in Germantown. After attending the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and working in the office of America's pre-eminent architect H. H. Richardson, he began his own practice with partners William Mead and William Bigelow. After his divorce from Annie Bigelow (William's sister), the firm was re-structured with Stanford White, a former associate from Richardson's office, becoming the most celebrated partner. The Daniel Newhall residence (now the Goddard School) is a very important example of the early Colonial Revival. From the front it is basically symmetrical with a small portico flanked by box bays. In the rear, the overlapping gables recall some of the firm's other contemporary houses, as is the use of the large arched window with colonial fanlight muntins. It is likely that the house was not originally painted white, but maybe a combination of ochres and dark greens.
At this end of the Main Line many of the largest estates were located some distance from the railroad, either in the rolling hills south of the tracks and the built up areas of Wayne and Devon, or down in the Great Valley. Alexander J. Cassatt had his 800-acre "Chesterbrook Farm" in the Valley to complement his 50-acre Haverford estate and city townhouse.
One of the things that characterized most of these properties was the large number, and variety, of buildings. In addition to the main house, there might be a gate lodge, a carriage house, greenhouses, and often an old barn and a number of tenant farmhouses and housing for a full complement of servants.
Several farms in the immediate area of the Strafford Station were broken up for house lots rather than transformed to large estates. Robert Smith owned most of the land that is the present neighborhood of Deepdale. He began selling in the 1890s, and development occurred in several waves finishing in the late 1950s. Similarly, the 200-acre Wentworth farm "Strafford" was sold and broken up in 1906. In both cases however, the original farm buildings still remain.
(#1) Strafford Train Station -- mid-1870s
There is no convincing evidence that the Strafford Station was in any way connected to the 1876 Centenninal Exhibition. Rather, it shares many traits in common with other contemporary stations along the Main Line. It is one of the smaller one-room-with-ticket-office plans, in contrast to some of the larger two-room stations. The stick style exposed timbering is very typical of a particular type of residential and resort architecture derived from northern European prototypes. The style is characterized by framing with extra ornamental work that emphasizes the geometry of the roofiines and window openings. The decoration also included very rich colors in the walls and often in the roofing materials.
Part of the history of the Main Line railroad right of way is the constant improvement and re-alignment of the tracks to reduce grades and ease curves. Originally known as Eagle, the station is located on a large fill where an embankment was raised to level the tracks. Early maps show that the current station building was relocated at least once, being moved westward along the right of way from near what is today Wayne. Its light wood construction made this possible in lieu of demolition and replacement. It is one of the older station buildings; only Overbrook is older. Most of the other original stations still in use date from the 1890s.Top
(#2) Daniel S. Newhall Residence -- 1886
The Newhall residence (now the Goddard School) is one of the most important late nineteenth-century houses in Strafford. It is one of only two McKim, Mead and White residences in the Philadelphia area. One of their other significant buildings is the former Girard Trust Company bank at Broad and Chestnut Streets, a collaboration with Furness, Evans and Company, who were the architects of the neighboring house Deepdale.
Like McKim, Newhall was from Germantown, and was known as a great cricket player. The Germantown Cricket Club (1889-91) is also by McKim, Mead and White, and is probably a related commission. Daniel Newhall was the general freight agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad for over thirty years until his death in 1913 at the age of sixty-four.
This house shows the classicizing influence of McKim in its entrance portico and modillion cornice. The rear elevation, with its overlapping gables,
is more reminiscent of their shingle style work, but the great arched window is an emphatic Colonial Revival statement. The carriage house at the rear was substantially altered in the early twentieth century, then further changed when converted to a full residence.Top
(#3) Richard Hecksher House -- mid-1890s
The house is located well back from the street just east of the Newhall residence. It is very similar in detailing to another house at Sugartown and Dorset Roads, showing an irregular massing more Victorian than Classical or Colonial Revival. The use of details inspired by colonial examples, but not literally copied, marks it an early example of the revival style. The house has an unusual gambre! roof that is hipped at the corners. The basic rectangular block of the house is enlivened by a central projecting block, flanked by box bays of varying heights with gabled tops. The irregularity of this house is a great contrast to the Newhall residence next door. The contrast exemplifies the gap between McKim, Mead and White, and the local architect or builder who designed this house almost ten years later.Top
(#4) George Horwitz Residence -- before 1908
By the turn of the century the Georgian Revival had reach a high level of refinement, as this house demonstrates. Its elongated horizontal proportions, repetition of large window openings and porches mark it as a twentieth-century revival example rather than a true eighteenth- or early nineteenth- century original. The expansiveness is a hallmark of the era. Even buildings that were more closely based on original prototypes exhibit this trend. One of the reasons was the need for large interior spaces for entertaining. The landscaping and site planing also supported such use.
This house was based on generic details from the brick architecture found throughout the original thirteen colonies and early republic. The upstairs porches likely would have been used as sleeping porches the year round. At the time, this was thought by some to be a great aid to healthfulness. George Horwitz was a son-in-law of Daniel Newhall, and an early trustee of the Old Eagle School.Top
(#5) Old Eagle School - 1 788, 1842. 1896. 1930
The present building is an enlargement of the 1788 stone building that replaced an earlier log structure on the same site. The northern two
thirds of the building is the 1788 portion, and the extension dates from around 1840. At the time of the extension, the pattern of wall openings was substantially altered, although the infill in the previous openings makes the original locations obvious. The 1788 datestone was relocated to the south wall in the 1897 work. The stone is a mixture of brownish fieldstone and local serpentine, all laid with wide mortar joints. The woodshingled roof has pole gutters and a simple box cornice designed by R. B. Okie in the late 1920s, during his tenure as a trustee of the school.
The interior of the main floor consists of one large room with finish materials primarily dating from the 1897 work. Paneled wainscot extends from the floor to the windowsills on three sides, while a stone fireplace with a wood mantel and flanking shelves completes the north wall. The ceiling consists of natural finished wood bead board in panel sections following the roof slope to a flat portion over the center third.
The building is set back in the southeast corner of the one-acre site, In addition to the building, the site contains a graveyard with many large trees covering almost half of the northern portion of the property. The majority of the headstones date from the nineteenth century, while three are eighteenth century. Other features of the site include the front walk composed of sleeper blocks from the original Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, and a sign designed in 1908 by the noted Philadelphia architectural firm of Duhring, Okie and Ziegler. In 1905 a plaque honoring the unknown soldiers from Valley Forge buried in the cemetery was placed on a large boulder near the front wall.Top
(#6) L. L Smith Residence -- before 1908
This large Colonial Revival residence has had a number of major additions throughout its life, yet retains much of its original character. Smith was one of the early trustees of the Old Eagle School along with several of his neighbors. His son, L. M. C. Smith, also served as a trustee for over forty years. The younger Smith was an attorney in Philadelphia and Washington, and also owned the classical music radio station WFLN. The transmitters were located in Roxborough on land held by his wife's family, the Houstons. Henry Houston had also been an officer in the Pennsylvania Railroad and was the principal developer of Chestnut Hill. The house is a center hall colonial plan with minimal ornament. The entrance canopy is a notable exception, with its compound curves and Tuscan columns. The rear (garden facade) is more open, with larger windows and a colonnaded flat roofed porch.Top
(#7) Speculative Residences -- late 1920s
These were some of the first houses buiit in the subdivision of the Robert Smith farm that occupied most of the land between Deepdale Road (then called North Strafford Avenue) and Upper Gulph Road. They are in an English vernacular style with embellishments in a classical mode. They are patterned after the type seen in the popular English journal Country Life. A favorite architect of the publisher was Sir Edwin Lutyens, who was fond of combining classical details with traditional forms.
The houses follow a typical early suburban plan showing the short side to the street, and using a paired drive. The mirror matched details at the drive are an unusual touch. In many early developments, house lots were sold by street frontage, making the narrow, deep lots more economical. Walnut, Chestnut (now Yale), Hillside, and a piece of Croton Road were all laid out at this time. The development had started at the western edge of the subdivision near Old Eagle School Road and progressed eastward until halted by the Depression.Top
(#8) Edward F. Beale Residence -- 1902
Edward Beale, the brother-in-law of Allen Evan's wife, occupied this house for almost fifty years. Allen Evans was the partner of Frank Furness, and probably played some role in the design of this house. By 1902 Furness was not as active in the firm as he had been in the preceding decade. There are some stylistic references to the earlier work of the firm in the detailing of the large dormers, the chimneys, and the unusual bracketed gable end facing the street with the small arched windows underneath. The large brackets were found on many of the residences and train stations designed by the firm in the 1880s.
It is possible that the central cubic mass was a pre-existing house, but the large size of the windows suggests that they, like the center bay, are ail new work. The pent eave over the main entrance is a literal re-creation of a traditional local detail. The 1881 railroad atlas does not show a building on the site (probably an omission), but the 1887 atlas shows a small building and the barn near the road. The detailing on the outbuildings is similar to the main house, and suggests that they were remodeled at the same time.Top
(#9) Speculative Houses - mid-1890s
The three houses on the west side of Old Eagle School Road at the intersection with West Valley were built on land subdivided from the large farm owned by Robert Smith. The houses bear a strong resemblance to the second phase of the Wendell and Smith development houses in South Wayne. Wendell and Smith employed a number of notable and up and coming architects for their houses. Will Price, Horace Trumbauer, the Boyd brothers, and Charles Barton Keen were all architects who began their careers designing for Wendell and Smith in Wayne, Germantown and Overbrook.
The houses are of no particular historical style, yet were spacious, picturesque structures, whose very lack of style made them distinctive and innovative. Unlike many of the other speculative houses from the 1880s through 1920s, these have a strong street presence. It is defined by the prominent porches, high roof peaks, and other ornamental features facing the main street. Even then, Old Eagle School Road was a major thoroughfare, and these houses at the top of the hill displayed the prestige of the owners, in this upscale development.Top
(#10) Charles Barton Keen Residence and Neighbors -- before 1912
The three houses on West Valley Road at the intersection with Old Eagle School Road form a carefully planned ensemble that have the unique "through-block sites." The entrances are on West Valley, but in a sense, these are the rear facades of the houses. They were built with freestanding garages, and the less formal gardens and service yards are on this side. The West Valley Road street rhythm is set by the service buildings, an arbor on the first house, and the "T" shaped plan of the center house.
Woodland Road was originally planned to continue from Homestead to Upper Gulph through a little valley defined by a stream and ponds. For a number of reasons the street did not make it through, but these three houses have very different facades on this side. The first has a roof that sweeps down to large stubby columns without ornamentation, in an evocation of the Arts and Crafts movement. The center house, the most irregular from the street, has a symmetrical five-bay facade to the rear, with an applied trellis referring to Wyck, an historic house in Germantown. Keen's own house has many windows in contrast to the relatively closed street facade. It is enlivened by a large bay and five dormers.Top
(#11) Edward A. White Residence - 1915
The White residence also has two very different facades, a chaste Colonial Revival facing West Vailey, and an Arts and Crafts facing Woodland. Architect J. Fletcher Street was well-versed in both styles, having worked for Will Price in Rose Valley, Frank Miles Day, and Cope & Stewardson. In the rear the roof continues down to round stone piers, while a full-width shed dormer above expands the second floor space. There may have also been a sleeping porch in the center of this dormer. The small stone corner buttresses are an interesting detail carried from the medieval style work that Will Price was designing in the 1890s. The front also shows the increasing liberties designers were taking with the Colonial Revival style. The classically-inspired entrance porch is flanked by paired windows under wide relieving arches with asymmetrically-placed chimneys on the gable ends.Top
(#12) Speculative Residences -- early 1920s
The Arts and Crafts movement in England and the United States inspired a closer look at the simpler architecture of the English countryside. The Anglophilia in this country spread to many facets of life in the upper and middle classes. Fox hunting, cricket, social customs, and architecture provided a link to the established gentility of England. The two houses at Woodland Road and Upper Gulph Road are based on an idealized view of rural houses in England. The small casement windows, irregular forms hugging the ground, and use of stone and slate are perfectly consistent with the latest houses published in the popular English journal Country Life. This rustic English style was a fixture of suburban architecture from Chicago to New York, second only to the Colonial Revival in popularity.Top
(#13) Maria Watson Residence -- c. 1910
This house in a colonial style has several features that differentiate it from a typical residence of the time. It is a basic rectangular block yet is elongated and thinner than would be expected. The centered gable end chimneys accentuate the proportions, and may represent some knowledge and reference to Welsh prototypes. This house was built on one of the lots subdivided from the Wentworth farm, known as "Strafford." The area around the station and the station stop became known as Strafford in the 1880s when the railroad anglicized many of the station names along the Main Line, choosing Welsh and English names that often related to a prominent resident or feature in the locality.Top
(#14) G. B. Crothers Residence -- c. 1910
This distinctive Colonial Revival residence has several features that identify it as a building inspired by rather than copying prototypes. It retains the Victorian idea of the full-width porch, but here it is classically detailed with columns and an entablature. The three-bay front has first floor window openings all the way to the porch floor, emphasizing the connection between the indoors and outdoors that was possible in suburban residences. The end wall has a feature derived from the later federal and Greek Revival styles, the massive, paired-gable-end chimney. A conceit that was popular then, and re-created here, is the large window in the middle of the chimney, a seeming contradiction.Top
(#15) A. M. Wilson Residence -- c.1910
Mrs. Arthur Morton Wilson was a daughter of Edward Beale of Deepdale. Her house is sometimes listed under her father's name on building lists of the work of the prominent Philadelphia architectural firm of Mellor and Meigs. Walter Mellor and Arthur Meigs were well connected in society, and both had worked in the office of Theophilus Chandler, a founder of the architectural program at Penn. Their firm was very prolific in residential work, usually in an English style -- Tudor, vernacular, or renaissance/ baroque. They were masters of these types and widely published. When George Howe joined the firm in 1916, their work became even more interesting, sometimes incorporating references to the Modern Movement. Howe left in 1928 and went on to design the Philadelphia landmark PSFS tower in 1930 with William Lescaze.
The Wilson house is an interesting departure from the Mellor and Meigs norm with its cubic shape and simple hip roof. The delicate ornamental features are more typical of their work. They had a close working relationship with the noted Philadelphia artisan Samuel Yellin, who was internationally known for his ironwork.Top
(#16) Charles Baily Residence -- mid-1890s with later alterations
The large estate between the train tracks and Homestead Road just west of Old Eagle School Road is an example of a residence that grew to accommodate its owner. This building first appears in the railroad atlases as "Clonmel," for Thomas Morton in the 1890s. It was purchased and enlarged to include a baronial hall by Charles Baily sometime before 1908.
Charles Baily was the son of Joshua Baily, founder of a successful dry goods firm in town. Like his Quaker compatriots Isaac Ciothier and Justis Strawbridge, he was active in civic affairs. The 1928 Encyclopedia of Biography lists all of his club memberships and states, "As a member of a family socially prominent in Philadelphia for several generations, he ably maintained its prestige, having been endowed with essential qualifications of birth, position, rare tact and genial nature."
This house, which Baily renamed "Rosslevyn" was known for its hospitality, as the large baronial hall attests. The encyclopedia states that he often hosted 100 to 150 persons for musical and dramatic productions. His Christmas parties were especially noteworthy, with roast boar, musicians in medieval garb, and lavish decorations. During World War I he entertained sailors stationed on ships at the Naval base.
The alterations were by Baily and Basset. William Lloyd Baily was the brother of the owner and a very prolific architect who also had an active interest in ornithology. Both of the brothers attended Haverford College. In addition to his architectural practice, William was Inspector of Birds and Mammals at the Port of Philadelphia for almost fifty years. The firm was known for its residential work, primarily in the half-timbered Tudor style. Baily's use of the half timbering was for purely ornamental effect. His buildings do not rely on specific precedents as did the work of William Price or Horace Trumbauer. The result is a certain thinness and relative plainness when contrasted to the more archaeologically correct work of others. Most of their structures are in Lower Merion and Overbrook.
The two out buildings are an interesting pair. They are greatly different from each other and the main house, but all date from the same time. Functionally they were different, one being a stable/carriage house, the other a gate lodge. Their positioning to the main house is also unusual, and they may have been built on foundations or incorporate parts of earlier buildings.
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