Elizabeth Werbe
Victorian House and Suburb
Jeff Cohen
6 May 1997

Victorian Life in Haverford, Pennsylvania

Introduction

I have chosen to focus my research on the township of Haverford, Pennsylvania during the late nineteenth century. Using approximately ten pages from Hotchin's text as a basis for my work, I have attempted to gather information concerning the various houses and architects which appear in this section. In addition, I have referred to atlases and a variety of other sources in an effort to piece together the historical and urban development of the area. I have organized my web document into three main sections: history of the township, prominent citizens and their country-seats, and the architects responsible for these designs.


History of the Township

First visited by Europeans in 1642, Haverford township was not settled until several decades later, when William Penn received his charter to Pennsylvania in 1681. Wanting to surround himself with fellow countrymen, Penn interested his Welsh friends in a 40,000 acre tract of land on the lower Main Line. Thus, Haverford township was formed as a municipality in 1684. The area's rapid growth throughout the nineteenth century was due in large part to the development of the railroad. Connecting Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, the Columbia Railroad was opened in 1834. Acquired by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1857, the line began offering regular passenger service in the following decade. Following the Civil War, many prosperous farms and small towns appeared in the region, which at this time was undergoing a real estate boom in the form of land speculation. Haverford remained predominantly an agricultural community throughout the nineteenth century, despite the fact that many farmhouses were converted into estates as time progressed.

During the latter half of the century, the area which now comprises Haverford township began to be promoted as a fashionable summer resort and desirable location for country homes of the upper class. Several train stations were built, and the construction of "grand hotels" was encouraged. Members of Philadelphia's social elite were increasingly attracted by what they perceived to be the benefits of healthy, yet cultivated country living. Many such families acquired large estates and built country-seats in the architectural styles fashionable at the time. The majority of these Victorian houses were located just north of the Haverford railroad station, which was built in 1871 and provided residents with easy access to Philadelphia. As the century drew to a close, Haverford was already well on its way to becoming the pleasant and affluent suburban residential community that it is today.

As a result of the new and improved transit lines which were developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the population of Haverford township experienced massive growth. The increased number of inhabitants created the demand for moderately priced houses on smaller lots. Thus, many of the larger properties were subdivided in order to provide adequate housing. This phenomenon demonstrates the beginning of Haverford as a commuter suburb. Close examination of various atlases has proved particularly useful in documenting the transformation of land divisions during this time period.

An additional factor which may have influenced these demographic changes is the regulation of land use. Residents may have been drawn to suburban towns such as Haverford because of the zoning laws, which prohibited the establishment of businesses and industries within residential districts. Although the township is composed primarily of private dwellings, the rise in population density has nonetheless prompted the movement of many businesses, shops, schools, and clubs to the area.


Prominent Citizens and their Country Residences

Many townships along the Main Line attracted a wide range of prominent citizens during the Victorian Era, and Haverford is no exception. Although Hotchkin refers to several of these individuals in his text, he gives particular mention to Alexander Johnson Cassatt and Clement Acton Griscom, both of whom were actively involved in the transportation industry.

Alexander J. Cassatt

Born in 1839 in Pittsburgh, Cassatt was a leading civil engineer and railroad executive of his time. The son of a wealthy banker, he received much of his education in Europe prior to graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Known for being hardworking, arrogant, and somewhat reserved, Cassatt embodied the qualities of the Industrial Age, notably those of dignity, strength, and discipline. He was rather aristocratic in appearance and was a member of every prominent club, including the Farmer's Club, a social organization of some of Philadelphia's wealthiest men who met at one another's estates to discuss livestock breeding and horticultural practices. An avid sportsman who was particularly fond of thoroughbred horses, Cassatt was the proprietor of a 600-acre farm in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. In addition to owning an art gallery, the man of ample resources enjoyed cricket, hunting, yachting, and coaching. Cassatt was one of the original officers of the Merion Cricket Club, located next to Haverford station on Montgomery Avenue. His sister was the famous painter, Mary Cassatt, and his wife was the niece of former president James Buchanan. Although Cassatt's accomplishments are numerous, he is particularly known for having improved the operating conditions of the railroad, as well as having introduced the air brake and instigated the construction of Pennsylvania Station, one of the two principal rail terminals in New York. Having risen through the various ranks of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Cassatt was summoned from retirement to become the company's seventh president. He died in office at the age of sixty-seven.

Built in 1872, Cassatt's Haverford estate was called Cheswold. Hotchkin describes the house as being situated on a "large, verdant, undulating lawn" (141). Although it has since been demolished, the structure was constructed on forty acres of land acquired from Edmund Evans, a prominent Philadlphian who later became a close friend of Cassatt. The country residence was originally intended as a summer retreat for Cassatt and his family, but a fire destroyed the dwelling in 1935. Designed in a late Victorian-Gothic style, the house contained approximately thirty rooms. In her biography on Cassatt, Patricia Davis includes some description of the interior of the dwelling. She states the vast entrance hall was accented by walnut paneling and stained glass windows (43). Each of the seven bedrooms contained a marble fireplace, and the study was enhanced by a copper chandelier, in addition to wall and ceiling paneling in mahogany (43). There was a stable attached to the house, where Cassatt kept his horses, but the gatehouse is the only trace of the residence which remains today. Although certain historians have attributed the building's design to Frank Furness and Allen Evans, recent research has disputed this claim. It is believed, however, that Furness was responsible for the alteration of Cassatt's Philadelphia residence, which he purchased in the late 1880s.

The photograph showing an exterior view of Cheswold dates from 1880.
The interior view shows the library in 1890.

Clement A. Griscom

Like Cassatt, Grisom was a prominent figure in the transportation industry. Born in Philadelphia in 1841, Griscom attended local schools until the age of sixteen, when he assumed the position of clerk in the established shipping house of Peter Wright and Sons. This line of business interested him, and he decided to pursue the shipping trade as a career. In 1862, at the age of twenty-two, Griscom became a partner in the business. It was under his influence that the firm purchased sailing vessels and profits increased. A decade later, Griscom was elected vice-president of the International Navigation Company, eventually becoming president in 1888. This enterprise operated a fleet of twenty-six ocean steamships, otherwise known as the Red Star Line. In association with the banking firm of J.P. Morgan and Co., Griscom converted his business into the International Mercantile Marine Company, which assumed responsibilty for 136 vessels, including five large transatlantic lines.

In addition to his interest in shipping, Griscom enjoyed yachting and farming, as well as attending events organized by the Farmer's Club. An eminent financier and shipowner, he possessed a remarkable capacity for work, often remaining in his office for extensive periods of time. The president of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, Griscom was especially known for his development of twin screws in steamships, transverse bulkheads, and water tight compartments. A member of the Society of Friends, he was one of the six founding officers of the Merion Cricket Club. Griscom married Frances Canby Biddle in 1862 and had six children. He died in 1912, at the age of seventy-one.

In 1879, Griscom acquired a large tract of land about half a mile northeast from Haverford Station. The original property was purchased from Edmund Evans, although more land was later obtained, drastically increasing the size of the estate to 146 acres. Remodeled from a farmhouse in 1881 by the firm of Furness, Evans and Co., Griscom's country-seat was named Dolobran after the family home of his ancestors. This vast residence was altered by Furness in 1894. Some of the changes made at this time include the addition of stone chimneys at the east end of the house, the construction of a ground gallery, and the darkening of the structure's exterior. Built in a combination of fieldstone and shingles, the building has a greenish trim. The rich interior is accented by Delft tiles, in addition to a front stairway in wood latticework that dominates the dark hall. Hotchkin provides numerous details of the dwelling's grounds, discussing the stream, lake, Japanese flower garden, stone quarries, ponds, and wide variety of native trees and plants. The rolling land is accentuated by rustic benches, greenhouses, cottages for Griscom's children, a stable, and several farm buildings. Facilities for swimming and boating were provided, as was land upon which Griscom's cattle and sheep were allowed to graze. Unlike Cheswold, Dolobran has not been demolished. Having been renovated in 1989, the mansion still serves a private residence.

This 1888 photograph of Dolobran shows the house in its original state.
This is an exterior view of Dolobran after the house was altered by Furness in 1894 .
Here is a contempory photograph of Dolobran that was taken in 1990, following its most recent renovation.
This is the main entry hall, showing the wood latticework of the front stairway.
This photograph was taken of an atlas dating from 1887. It shows the location of Dolobran and Cheswold, on either side of Gray's Lane.

Although I was not able to find extensive material on other Haverford landholders at this time, Hotchkin does provide a limited amount of relevant information concerning William Henry Sutton, Frederick Sylvester, and Clarkson Clothier, all of whom owned residences in Haverford. Sutton was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer who was born in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Having served as a representative in the State Senate, he was responsible for introducing useful law bills which influenced legislature. The son of a Methodist minister, Sutton held important offices in the General Societies of the Methodist Church. He was educated at Dickinson, Wesleyan, and Albany Law School before his marriage to Hannah C. Anderson. Situated on five acres across from Haverford College's Lancaster Avenue entrance, he named his country-seat Brightstone because its grey stone sparkled in the snow. The house was built in 1877 by James Charles Sidney on land purchased by Dr. James Anderson, the grandfather of Sutton's wife. Unfortunately, the residence no longer exists.

This is a photograph of Brightstone, the country-seat of William H. Sutton.

Another citizen to which Hotchkin refers is Frederick Sylvester, a broker who owned a country residence called By-the-Wood. This building was situated across from Dr. Evans property, in between Gray's and Booth Lanes on Glyn-Wynne Avenue. Sylvester purchased the land and house in 1886 from John Struthers, who constructed the dwelling. The residence was later altered, with stone and shingles forming the upper part of the structure. Although the property originally consisted of close to seven acres, the 1913 atlas shows that By-the-Wood was situated on only two and a half acres. This decrease in property size attests to the phenomenon of subdivisions to which I referred in the previous section on Haverford's history.

This is a photograph of By-the-Wood, Sylvestor's home at the corner of Booth Lane and Glyn-Wynne Avenue.
This photograph of a 1913 atlas shows the location of Brightstone in relation to the Merion Cricket Club and Haverford Station. Also visible in the photograph is Frederick Sylvester's residence, By-the-Wood.

The final landowner to recieve mention by Hotchkin is Clarkson Clothier, a relation of Isaac Hollowell Clothier, who along with Justus C. Strawbridge, founded the department store Strawbridge and Clothier in 1862. A member of the Society of Friends, Clarkson Clothier purchased Hickory Lodge in 1894 from Stephan Farrelly. This residence was located south of Haverford Station at the corner of Panmuir Avenue and Buck Lane. Although the house did not occupy a large site, additional land was later purchased from Edmund Lewis to increase the size of the property. The 1939 atlas shows that the estate was still possessed by Clothier forty years after the initial purchase.


Architects

A study of the historical, social, and urban development of Haverford township would not be complete without pertinent information concerning the architects respnsible for the Victorian edifices discussed in the preceding section. In my research, I was able to uncover material concerning three architects who were active at this time: James Charles Sidney, Frank Furness, and Allen Evans.

James Charles Sidney

Born in 1819 in England, James Charles Sidney was an architect, engineer, surveyor, and landscape designer by trade. The architect of Brightstone, Willaim Henry Sutton's Haverford residence, Sidney first moved to Philadelphia in the early 1840s to work as a cartographer in the firm of John J. Smith. His initial architectural works date from this decade. Entering into parnership with James P.W. Neff, and later Andrew Adams, Sidney published a book entitled American Cottage and Villa Architecture. After a brief period in New York, he returned to the Philadelphia region, where he designed schools and country-seats, many of which were located in Chesnut Hill. In addition, Sidney worked on public grounds and developed a master plan for Philadelphia's Fairmount Park in 1859. He died in 1881, at the age of sixty-two.

Frank Furness

Long ignored for the eccentricity of his designs, Frank Furness has received increased attention in recent years. A native Philadelphian who was born in 1839, Furness was the architect of many of the Victorian country-seats built in Haverford, as well as a wide variety of commercial and institutional works in the area. During his forty-five-year career, he built almost 400 structures, including several railroad stations, banks, churches, office buildings, libraries, hotels, and hospitals. Furness even designed the interiors of two luxury transatlantic liners for the American Lines, one of Griscom's holding companies. The son of a Unitarian minister from Boston, Furness was the youngest of four children. Although his family was not wealthy, he grew up in a highly intellectual and artistic atmosphere. Opting not to attend formal university, Furness learned draftsmanship from John Fraser prior to entering William Morris Hunt's studio in New York at the age of eighteen. Since there was no professional architecture school in the United States at this time, Furness received his principal training from Hunt. Having studied architecture in Europe, Hunt passed on his knowledge of eclectic medieval forms to his pupil. Leaving Hunt's studio to fight for the Union Army during the Civil War, Furness returned to New York in 1864 before marrying Fannie Fassitt and establishing his own practice in 1866.

During the early 1870s, Furness received a commission for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, a Philadelphia building which he designed with his first partner, George Hewitt. Once the art academy had been completed, the pair achieved national recognition and decided to admit John Fraser to their partnership. At this time, Louis Sullivan worked for a few months as an apprentice in the firm of Fraser, Furness, and Hewitt. By 1881, Fraser and Hewitt had left the company, and Furness established a new partership with Allen Evans, his chief draftsman. Hailing from a prominent Philadelphia family, Evans was a member of the social elite and brought an aura of respectability to the firm . His social connections provided Furness with a large number of wealthy clients, many of whom wished to build country estates on the Main Line. Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, the two men collaborated on major commissions, including the Bryn Mawr Hotel in 1890, the Merion Cricket Club in 1892, and the Haverford School in 1902. Enlarging the firm in 1866, they changed the name to Furness, Evans and Company. In 1869, Furness founded the Pennsylvania Institute of Architects. Although only a few of his buildings survive today, officical records document his manifold architectural commissions.

In describing the architectural style of Furness, it is important to situate his work within the larger context of the Victorian Era. The Furness family was very involved in the transcendental tradition of Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, and Whitman. These authors wrote about the spiritual connection between man and nature, a literary theory which carried over into architecture and landscape design, as well. Architects sought to create picturesque designs that were integrated into their natural surroundings. During this time period, the simple rural cottage was viewed as the ideal expression of the American character. Furness was undoubtedly influenced by these underlying ideas, as well as the religious beliefs of his father, who encouraged him to cultivate his own individualism.

In regard to the numerous residential designs of the architect, these may be described as having a sense of solidity and permanence. They were often characterized by thick, stone walls, massive chimneys, dormer windows, overhangs, and wraparound porches. In addition, the structures are recognizable by steeply pitched roofs and projecting entrances. Furness commonly marked the stairs by a diagonal line of windows. Based upon the concept of "naturalism," these residences were frequently intended to be viewed from one specific vantage point. The distinct volumes of each room were readily apparent to the observer. Furness is known to have worked with a variety of materials, including brick, wood, slate, and stone. Several of his designs were a variant of what Vincent Scully defined as the "stick style," a motif earlier developed by Hunt. Attempting to blend his buildings into the landscape by utilizing natural forms and polychromatic surfaces, the architect based his designs on the theories of John Ruskin and Violet-le-Duc.

The countless country-seats designed by Furness were often characterized as rough, assertive, and dynamic, much like many of the architect's clients. It was not uncommon that corporate work for the railroad lead to residential commissions for company officers who were part of the industrial, merchant class. Like Furness himself, these men were strong, self-determined individualists who epitomized the heroic spirit of the age. Several of the architect's clients were members of the Merion Cricket Club, an association dedicated to the increasingly popular English sport brought to the United States by the Reverend James Gilborne Lyon.

Allen Evans

Allen Evans is the final architect whom Hotchkin mentions in his description of Haverford township. Born in 1849 in Paoli, Evans was a descendant of Rowland Ellis, one of the original settlers of the Welsh tract. His father, Edmund C. Evans, was a physician and states' rights activist.

Evans came to Philadelphia in 1866 to attend the Philadelphia Polytechnic College. After spending two years at the institution, he worked as a draftsman in the office of veteran designer, Samuel Sloane. In 1872, the architect moved to the office of Furness and Hewitt, where he remained until 1923. Attaining full partership with Furness in 1881, Evans was influential in increasing the firm's acceptance into the corporate business community. He was a founding officer and president of the Merion Cricket Club.

Asked to construct a family house on his father's large piece of property off Montgomery Avenue, Evans complied in 1874. He built another house, Penrhyn-y-Coed, for his brother, Rowland Evans, in 1881. Although this structure no longer exists, Evans rebuilt the residence in a colonial revival style after it was destroyed by fire in 1898. Both Evans sons resided with their father on the estate.

This photograph shows Penrhyn-y-Coed, as it appears in 1890.
This 1920 view shows the same house, after having been rebuilt in a colonial revival style.


Conclusion

Given the difficulty of finding sources which document the various residents and architects who lived during the Victorian Era, I attempted to focus my research on materials that were readily available to me. In addition to numerous atlases, I relied heavily on general historical information, biographic sources, directories, and texts discussing the architectural styles prevalent at the time. It is clear from these materials that a combination of social, architectural economic, and urban factors have influenced the development of Haverford township. These patterns have had a marked effect on the physical environment of the region. On a larger scale, the suburban development along the Main Line reflected a national transformation of urban spaces and their peripheries. Many U.S. cities experienced drastic spatial reorganization as a result of improved methods of transportation, increased industrial capitalism, massive population growth, and the development of Evangelical domestic ideology. Philadelphia was no exception to the suburbanization trend sweeping the country at the end of the nineteenth century.

Works Consulted