The Philadelphia Main Line Real Estate Agency
We specialize in
home buying, financing and relocation. Bryn Mawr is located on the Philadelphia Main Line.
|The community of Bryn
Mawr, nine miles west of Philadelphia, serves residents
of at least two counties and three townships. More than half its three square miles lie in
Lower Merion, the rest in Delaware County's Radnor and Haverford townships. Its many
specialty shops and services draw customers from a distance; its hospital tends patients
from a wide area; its private schools attract pupils from both city and suburbs.
Known nationally as the home of Bryn Mawr College and locally as an attractive and convenient place to live, the Lower Merion portion, consisting of the old wards of East and West Bryn Mawr, had a population of 5,280 in 1980 compared with 1,800 a century ago. The inclusion of the women residents at Bryn Mawr and Harcum colleges and the two boarding schools distorted official demographic figures in r970, when Lower Merion's Bryn Mawr contained 80 percent more women than men. The local post office disregards municipal bounds and serves seven hundred businesses and seven thousand dwellings.
About 1869 the Pennsylvania Railroad Company established a new community, supplanting a hamlet called Humphreysville, on land that once belonged to the Thomas and Humphreys families. An earlier generation of railroad men had designed a sinuous track to avoid the hills, but new equipment and more powerful locomotives enabled engineers to straighten the route. To overcome local opposition to the proposed location of the new tracks, the directors bought full properties rather than mere rights of way. Between April 1, 1868, and March 18, 1869, William H. Wilson, the railroad company's agent, acquired 283 acres of land with more to be added later. Not only was the railroad built, but under Wilson's guidance the company improved existing streets, opened new roads, planted trees, subdivided properties, and offered land for sale. Although deed restrictions controlled the density, use, placement, and value of potential buildings, these plots found buyers.
In his book Reminiscences of a Railroad Engineer, written in 1896, Wilson claimed credit for choosing the new name, Bryn Mawr, for the former Humphreysville. He had discovered the name in the property records of Rowland Ellis, one of the original Welsh settlers, who called his early-eighteenth century house Bryn Mawr, meaning "high hill." Although the new railroad tracks bypassed the White Hall Station on the county line, the White Hall Hotel, dating from early railroad days, continued to attract visitors as did old and new summer boardinghouses. The railroad built its own hotel near Bryn Mawr Station in 1871, the same year the nearest post office dropped the name West Haverford in favor of Bryn Mawr. By 1881 three hundred new dwellings, many of them fine country seats, had joined the original twenty-one houses of old Humphreysville. The local population swelled by some two thousand persons every summer, the season when the Presbyterians took care to collect their annual missionary contributions. Boyd's Blue Book, Season of 1884-1885 lists 183 families in Bryn Mawr, 55 of them having "summer residence only" in the hotel.
The conductors of the twenty-seven daily trains accepted, in the morning, the empty shopping baskets of the new suburbanites and returned them filled in the evening.
In the nineteenth century the Bryn Mawr Citizens' Association provided police protection. The Temperance Hall (ca. 1840-1902) on the Old Lancaster Road was the first meeting place for several area churches and groups.
The Home News (1876) and the News (1881) kept residents informed. The Bryn Mawr Trust Company (1889) and the Bryn Mawr National Bank (1887), originally located side by side in one building, answered financial needs. The Bryn Mawr Water Company (1892), the Bryn Mawr Hospital (1893), the Bryn Mawr Ice Company, and the Bryn Mawr Fire Company (1903) provided basic services.
Some people joined the Merion Cricket Club (1865), the Radnor Hunt (1887), and the Bryn Mawr Polo Club (1898). Many attended the Union Sunday School, the frequent church outings, and the balls and celebrations at local hotels. Members attended meetings of the Lower Merion Society for the Detection and Prosecution of Horse Thieves (actually an insurance company) and the Bryn Mawr District Number Ten of the Sons of Temperance. Some visited the Bryn Mawr Reading Room in a small building near the station. All heard the concerts of the Bryn Mawr Brass Band (1869), which flourished for over a century. Herman Giersch directed the band for sixty years (1912-74). (His son with the same name has led music groups with the Lower Merion School District since 1938.) The pond that had powered the Morris Grist Mill on the Old Gulph Road since before 1851 offered skating and swimming in season.
In the 1890s, like other new settlements, Bryn Mawr considered seceding from the township to incorporate as a borough. After Lower Merion took advantage of new legislation to become a first class township the movement subsided.
The Bryn Mawr public school was built on Lancaster Avenue after the railroad moved its tracks. In 1916 what is now Ludington Library began in two rooms of the old public school. Private schools included the discontinued Kirk School for Girls (1899-1934) and Miss Wright's School (now the Bryn Mawr College dormitory for graduate students). The Shipley School(1894) and the Baldwin School(1888) continue. Bryn Mawr College, created under Dr. Joseph W. Taylor's will (1880), now owns some eighty acres of the first railroad property.
Grocery stores, ice cream parlors, bakeries, millinery shops, shoe stores, and livery stables provided necessities and luxuries. Gane and Snyder (1903), once the source of delicacies transported by liveried coachmen and consumed by affluent households, continued until 1977. The clock-making firm of J. Fish and Son (1888) continues under the direction of the founder's grandson. The Connelly Flower Shop was in business from 1891 to 1980, and the Philip Harrison Department Store has continued since 1891. Yerkes Associates incorporated (the current name) have been surveyors since 1874.
The Philadelphia and Western Railroad, now part of SEPTA's Red Arrow system, opened its Bryn Mawr Station in Delaware County in 1906.
Harriton House, which has stood since 1704 on the tract Rowland Ellis called Bryn Mawr, and which became the home of Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, became a museum in the 1970s. Wyndham House (1796), owned until 1830 by the Morgan and Elliott descendants of Thomas and Patience Morgan who built it, now belongs to Mawr College. The Lower Merion Baptist Church, founded in 1808, built in 1809 (and rebuilt in 1875), still stands on ground given by Charles Thomson. In its burying ground lie veterans of the country's wars, and sixteen descendants of William Penn.
The White Hall Station, long used as the contagious ward of the Bryn Mawr Hospital, now houses the Bryn Mawr Hospital Thrift Shop. The Church of the Redeemer, opened on Lancaster Avenue in 1851, occupies the building it erected on New Gulph Road in 1879. Railroad Avenue and Glenbrook Road run on the former railroad right of way.
The railroad hotel was designed by Furness, Evans and Company and built in 1889 for summer visitors after its predecessor burned. Since 1896 the Baldwin School has occupied it. Bryn Mawr College, the Shipley School, Harcum Junior College (1915), and the Bryn Mawr Conservatory of Music also occupy land William Wilson bought for the railroad. In all, nine-tenths of this acreage holds educational institutions, which preserve and use stately residences designed for the affluent by the leading architects of the last century. Joining are new school and college structures as well as apartment houses and condominiums.
Property now adjacent to the railroad holds new shops. The square between the station and Lancaster Avenue is no longer a park, but parking lot. The Bryn Mawr Trust Company, merged with the Bryn Mawr National Bank, has presided over a major corner since 1928. Across Lancaster Avenue, on municipal property, stand the Ludington Library, the Bryn Mawr Community Center and War Memorial, the Spring House Senior Center, and the John Winthrop Post #118 of the American Legion, all well used. In 1980 fifty-two daily express and local trains to town offered transportation. The community built by the railroad survives in the age of the automobile.
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