Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: Winter/Spring 2007 Volume 44 Numbers 1&2, Page 83

Alexander Cassatt

Steve Dittmann

Page 83

Illustration from page 83

The connection between the railroad executive, A. J. Cassatt, and Tredyffrin Township comes by way of Chesterbrook Farm, the hackney horse and livestock breeding farm started in 1881 by Cassatt. This 632 acre farm, on which he also grew tobacco, served as his hobby while he worked in Philadelphia for the railroad and lived in Haverford. As a supervisor in Lower Merion Township, Cassatt was responsible for laying the macadam on Montgomery Avenue which facilitated his frequent trips to Chesterbrook Farm. In addition, the barn built in 1898 was designed by the great architect Frank Furness who also designed several railroad stations for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Alexander Cassatt (1839-1906) was the oldest of five children born to Robert Simpson Cassatt of Pittsburgh, PA, who moved to this area in 1860. Alexander had a younger brother, J. Gardner, who lived in Philadelphia, and who in 1908 built a summer home, which now serves as the Upper Main Line YMCA. His younger sister Mary became a well-known artist.

At the age of 25 Cassatt began his unusual railroad career path as a resident engineer in Altoona. He worked on the Philadelphia and Erie line, which prospered because of the demand for anthracite coal after the Civil War. He was promoted to Superintendent of Motive Power and Equipment and recommended changes at Altoona relating to standardization. In 1869 at age 30, he was named General Superintendent by the then railroad president J. Edgar Thomson and relocated to Philadelphia. Cassatt originally lived in Haverford in a home known as “Dolobran” with his wife Lois Buchanan whom he had married in 1868. He rose through the ranks of the Pennsylvania Railroad to vice president, but was passed over for president and resigned in 1882.

That retirement chapter of his life ended when he was asked by President Harrison to join a railroad commission. Subsequently he assumed the presidency of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1899, the position he held until his death. It was the largest rail line in the U.S. at the time. He was credited for bringing standardization to locomotive design, repair and maintenance, as well as braking systems.

He was a township road supervisor from 1882 - 1898 and actively promoted the road system in Lower Merion. A plaque in his honor remains on the corner of Montgomery Avenue and Grays Lane, Haverford. Nearby, a distinguished portrait of him hangs over the fireplace in the main room of the Merion Cricket Club, where he had been president in 1900.

Like most industrialists at the time, however, he moved to Philadelphia, living at 202 West Rittenhouse Square where he died in 1906 at age 67. The farm was passed on to his son, Captain Edward Cassatt, who continued to race horses and entertain in the main house until 1922.


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