Image 1: Chetwynd
Image 2: Chetwynd, from Ashmead 1884
The Lower Merion Historical Society, LMHS, has a collection of real estate atlases that show properties on the Main Line. These atlases list the owner of a property, show what types of buildings stood on each property, and include the acreage of each. These atlases, then, reveal structural, geographical, and social changes through time. LMHS has a website where one can access these atlases, which one can find under "Sources" at the bottom of this page.
The first atlas that includes the property that Chetwynd was built on, published by G.M. Hopkins, dates to 1881. Image 3 shows a portion of the 1881 atlas. One finds that John H. Converse owned the property and had over eight acres of land. The yellow square with the "x" denotes a frame barn, whereas the other two yellow boxes depict frame houses. The one pink building shows a brick house towards the entrance of the estate on Lancaster Avenue.
Image 4 shows a portrait of John Converse and below the portrait is a citation of his various professions. One should note his connection to the railroad.
Image 3: 1881 Real Estate Map
Image 4: John H. Converse, from King 1902
In constructing the history of a plot of land, deeds often play an important role. With deeds one looks to create a "Chain of Title" for a property, which is essentially as chronological list of the property's owners. To construct a chain of title for these Radnor properties, one must go to the Media Court House and proceed to the Board of Assessments. Here one can describe a property's location and dimensions to an employee who will then locate the property's lot number on a map. The lot number then yields the deed book and page number of the most recent deed. Every deed opens with a recital clause, where a "grantor" passes the property to a "grantee". With such names in hand, one then consults the grantor/grantee index to trace the deeds back in time. Oftentimes a deed will cite the deed book and page number of the previous deeed, and one can trace deeds back with this method, too.
Deeds for Chetwynd extend back to May 3rd, 1912 (347-178). One section of this deed cites people who Converse originally purchased property from:
E.R. Ward, February 16th, 1881.
J. Howard Supplee, January 9th, 1883 and October 13th, 1883.
Joseph Tobias, November 15th, 1887.
George W. Anderson, April 29th, 1893.
A portion of the 1887 real estate atlas in Image 5 shows the property expand from eight to fifteen acres. The majority of these acres seem to come from Converse's engulfment of J.H. Supplee's property. Several new structures appear, but most significantly one can clearly see Chetwynd, which is the large blank figure above "Chetwynd". As photographs at the top of this page indicate, Chetwynd consisted of stone. Philadelphiabuildings.org notes that the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide (PRERBG) referenced Chetwynd's construction, but this reference did not appear until 1904; Chetwynd, as the maps evidence, appeared in the 1880s. Fortunately, PRERBG credits the Harris and Richards Wilson, the Wilson Brothers, as the architects of Chetwynd.
Images of Chetwynd appear in a book that the Wilson Brothers published in 1885. While the book does not cite the date that the building appeared, evidence from 1881 atlas suggests that the Wilson Brothers built Chetwynd between 1881 and 1885 (the representation of Converse's property in the 1881 atlas does not include a structure that resembles Chetwynd in the 1887 atlas). The Wilson Brothers book further cites the construction of a stable, cottage, and an alteration to a gate lodge at the Rosemont property.
Image 5: 1887 Real Estate Map
Image 6: Chetwynd, from the Wilson Brothers 1885
The 1896 atlas shown in Image 7 shows Converse's acquisition of a significant portion of property. Though it still bordered Garrett Ave. and Lancaster Turnpike (now Lancaster Ave.), the Converse property extended to Lancaster Road. Unfortunately, the atlas does not indicate the number of acres that Converse occupied. Three new buildings appear in the 1896 map: two small buildings by the Garrett Ave. entrance (blank figures) and a small building near Chetwynd. The black and white color scheme on the map does not allow for a proper interpretation of these buildings.
Reverend S.F. Hotchkin published a book called Rural Pennsylvania in 1897 in which he offers a detailed description of Chetwynd and John Converse. To read Hotchkin's piece, click here.
Though the atlases do not make changes to the buildings clear, Hotchkin's description tells of several changes that occurred between 1885/7 images and atlas and the 1896 atlas and 1897 images (Images 8 and 9 below).
Image 9 shows the one-story wing, on the read, which connected to the library. Images 8 and 9 show the "turret" that Hotchkin references, while Image 10 shows the "Indian Room". Furthermore, regarding Converse's music room, J.W. Townsend, in "The Old 'Main Line'", writes, "Among the young men were Henry Pettit, a talented musician, who helped much in entertaining, as did John Converse, who was a ring leader in the escapades of the young set. He was then only a private secretary of Mr. Williams, of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, and his old violin was his chief amusement" (Townsend 25). This passage not only accounts for Converse's taste for music, but also directly links Converse with Edward Williams of Wentworth. Converse's work as a secretary likely came early in his career in Philadelphia. Interestingly, both he and Williams hailed from Vermont.
Image 7: 1896 Real Estate Map
Image 8: Chetwynd, from Hotchkin 1897
Image 9: Chetwynd, from Wilson Brothers 1897
Image 10: Indian Room, Chetwynd, from Wilson Brothers 1897
Image 11: Interior view, Chetwynd, from Wilson Brothers 1897
Images 12 and 13 depict a cottage on Converse's property, though the atlases do not allow one to decide which building it is. As the Wilson brothers include the cottage in their 1885 book, this cottage likely appeared around the same time as Chetwynd. An appearance in the 1897 Wilson book suggests an addition or alteration.
Philadelphia City Directories, printed every year since the close of the eighteenth century, list people who live and work in Philadelphia. John Converse appears in the 1895 Gopsill City Directory as living at 1610 Locust St., shown in Image 14. In addition, the "Gopsill" cites Converse as working for Burnham, Williams, & Co., the company of Edward Williams. While Converse had a second home on Locust St. in 1895, a citation in the 1885 Wilson book suggests that Converse moved during that ten year span. The citation notes an alteration/addition to a "Dwelling for John H. Converse, Esq., No. 241 N 18th St., Philadelphia." Thus, Converse maintained a home both in Rosemont and in the city during his time at Chetwynd.
Image 12: A cottage on Converse's property, from Wilson Brothers 1885
Image 13: A cottage on Converse's property, from Wilson Brothers 1897
Image 14: John Converse's house in the city, from Wilson Brothers 1897
Image 15 shows a real estate atlas from 1900. The color on the map tells one the materials used to construct each building on the property, whereas previous maps could not do so effectively. No new buildings appear, nor does the property change boundaries, but the atlas does indicates that Chetwynd sits on sixty acres of land.
The National Archives in Philadelphia has a collection of the nation's censuses. While they have the census records on microfilm, the National Archives also allows one to research census records on a computer on ancestry.com. This site has complied all the census records for the United States on the internet, thus allowing one to easily search the records. A search for John H. Converse in Delaware County, PA yields data that begins in 1900. Censuses are conducted every ten years, thus he should appear in the 1890 census. This census, however, was destroyed, and little records still exist from it. The deed dated May 3rd, 1912 shows that Converse first purchased property from E.R. Ward on February 16th, 1881, thus Converse does not appear in the 1880 census. The 1890 census was destroyed in fire and only a portion of it still exists. The 1900 census records tell that John was born in 1840 in Vermont. The data lists his wife as Elizabeth, born 1845. Two daughters are listed, Mary E. and Helen P., who are born in 1887 and 1880, respectively. John H. also had a son, John W., who was born in 1879 and a student at the time of the census. Converse has four servants in 1900, three women who served domestically, and one male gardener.
Image 15: 1900 Real Estate Map
A real estate atlas from 1908, Image 16, shows two significant changes in John Converse's property. First, he lost eighteen acres of land to a railroad, built by Philadelphia and Western Railway Co., which was established in 1907. Second, a large building appeared on the property near Garrettville. Chetwynd, however, appears unchanged.
Image 16: 1908 Real Estate Map
Image 17, a real estate atlas from 1913, denotes a six-acre decrease in size of the property, though a close comparison with the 1908 shows that property boundaries did not change. The estate, in all likelihood, was reassessed due to the change in owner; while difficult to recognize at first, John W. Converse, not John H., owned the property in 1913. The deed dated May 3rd, 1912, cites John H. Converse's death on May 3rd, 1910. The deed also includes a section in John H's will where he wishes for John W. to accept Chetwynd as his home. Furthermore it values the estate at $250,000.
The census records for 1910 reveal some change in the household. John H. had not yet died, though Elizabeth had. Mary and Helen lived at Chetwynd, though John W. does not appear in the record. The Converses still kept four servants.
Image 17: 1913 Real Estate Map
Image 18 shows a portion of a real estate atlas from 1920. The property size decreased four acres between 1913 and 1920 and resulted from Mary E. Converse's acquisition of about four acres on the corner of Lancaster Turnpike and Garret Ave. A likely reason for Mary's move comes from the marriage of John W. to Bertha P., who was a year older than John. John gained two stepchildren through this marriage, Katherine C. and Charles R. (Jr.) Snowden. Katherine and Charles were thirteen and eleven, respectively. John, now forty, had become a banker. He and Bertha kept seven servants, mostly foreign. Helen P., John's other sister, does not appear in the records.
The 1930 census lists the value of Chetwynd and it's surrounding thirty-one acres as 250,000. It also shows that Katherine had moved out of the house, though Bertha and Charles, who was then a twenty-one year old student, remained. John W. and Bertha gave birth to a son, John H. II, who was nine at the time of the census (and also is listed as a "student"). The Converses kept nine servants in 1930, among which they had a butler, a footman, a cook, a nurse, and five maids.
Image 18: 1920 Real Estate Map
Image 19 shows a real estate atlas depiction of the Converse property in 1948. While maps do not show any change in the 1926 or 1937 atlases, the 1948 atlas shows a substantial addition to Chetwynd. The building appears as if a wing had been added to one side. Other than this change, however, the only other alteration to the property came through the loss of one acre. This loss likely comes from a mild extension of Mary E. property boundaries.
Image 19: 1948 Real Estate Map
Image 20 shows the former Converse property in 1961. Though the acreage remains about the same, one can clearly see that Chetwynd was demolished in favor of the Chetwynd Apartments. A deed dated January 8th, 1953 (1572-349) cites the transfer of the Chetwynd property from John H. Converse to the MACRO Company for $135,000. This amount of money seems minimal for the property; however, now owned by a company, Chetwynd was likely demolished soon after the 1953 deed.
Image 20: 1961 Real Estate Map
Ashmead, Graham. History of Delaware County. Philadelphia: L.H. Evans & Co., 1884.
Above book found online at http://www.delcohistory.org/
Hotchkin, Rev. S.F. Rural Pennsylvania: In the Vicinity of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: George Jacobs & Co., 1897.
King, Moses. Philadelphia and Notable Philadelphians. New York: Moses King, Publisher, 1902.
Townsend, J.W. The Old "Main Line". 1922.
Wilson Brothers & Co.: Civil Engineers, Architects, and Consulting Engineers. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1885.
Architectural Work of Wilson Bros. & Co. Philadelphia: Drexel Building, 1897.
Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide , v. 19, n. 19, p. 291, 5/11/1904
Above citation taken from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project
Real Estate Atlases taken from Lower Merion Historical Society
Delaware County Deeds found at Media Courthouse
Census data found at Mid Atlantic Regional Archives
Places in Time
Philadelphia City Directories are available at Haverford College Special Collections
Image 1: http://www.brynmawr.edu/iconog/wh/ml/conj.jpg
Image 2: http://www.brynmawr.edu/iconog/hotchkin/rp/hk057.jpg, taken from Hotchkin
Additional Real Estate Atlases available at http://www.andysantiqueatlases.com/pa-pages/pennsylvania_main_line.htm
Last revised on 16 December 2005, MG Feedback