By Allison Hayes-Conroy (Cities major at Bryn Mawr College, Class of 2003) Cities 377 Project (?2001)
Original website URL (unavailable since late 2003):
Introduction and Overview of Site
During the late nineteenth century, Wallingford, Pennsylvania, in Delaware County, was distinctly an area of large Victorian mansions built for the wealthy. These mansions were tucked within the shade trees and flowering shrubs of the much larger parcels of land upon which they stood, agreeing with the Victorian era’s romantic ideals of nature. A commuter rail line, now the SEPTA R3 line, provided transportation for property owners to and from the city. “Linden Shade” and “Willington” both were Victorian estates located in Wallingford to the east of Providence Road. The estates were built originally as summertime or countryside getaways for wealthy Philadelphians: “Linden Shade” for Mr. Horace Howard Furness and “Willington” for Mrs. Edward Gratz, wife of the late Edward Gratz. However, examination of the now somewhat hidden history of these lands reveals over two centuries of change. The two properties have had many other definitions over the years distinct from those of Victorian “estates.” This web site delineates the changes in the landscape in the form of a chronology. There are a number of links to atlas maps and photographs scattered throughout the text.
Chronology of the Estates
Prior to 1848
The lands of and surrounding the Furness and Gratz properties lie in what is known as Nether Providence Township. Purchase of properties in this area began as early as the late seventeenth century. Although Providence Road was established as the main road through Nether Providence in 1683, early settlement was slow. The settlers were mostly Quakers who built first log houses and later stone dwellings, and who farmed their land. Names such as Sharpless and Vernon, families from Cheshire, England, began buying up land in large blocks of two to three hundred acres a piece. Often, they bought their land directly from William Penn. Penn sold the land mostly in long, narrow strips so that the owners could reap all the benefits of Nether Providence: the water, the steep slopes, and the fine soil.
The lands of the Furness and Gratz estates were once very near the property line between the working plantations of Thomas Vernon and John Sharpless (450 acres). This area was prime agricultural land because of its fertile soil and its proximity to two watersheds, the Crum Creek and the Ridley Creek. Both creeks had many smaller branches which were perfect for obtaining water for irrigation. Sharpless and Vernon cultivated many agricultural products including wheat, corn, barley, oats, root vegetables, and tobacco. These products were sold to both local and foreign markets for over a hundred years.
In the early eighteenth century, Brookhaven Road was created, crossing Providence Road and continuing in an north east/south west direction. This, too, was very near the Vernon and Sharpless property line. The corner of these two roads was perfect for establishing businesses and the immediate property was promptly bought up by a wheelwright by the name of Hinkson who came to the area in the late eighteenth century. Hinkson was running a smithy, shop, and store on the corners by 1799 and he converted a 1735 store into a residence for himself and his family. This was the beginning of the development of this area. Hinkson continued his business into the nineteenth century and the corners became a landmark, commonly known as Hinkson’s Corners. Hinkson’s corners businesses were important to later development including the Furness and Gratz properties of the late nineteenth century.
The early to mid nineteenth century property lines and owners of this area of Nether Providence are shown in the 1848 real estate atlas. The railroad and Possum Hollow Road which parallels the railroad, were not yet built. The lands which would later become the Furness property were now owned by a number of Nether Providence citizens. The Furness lands were at a meeting point of farms owned by Jonathon Esry , C.S. Williamson, and the Thomas family. The lands which would become the Gratz property, closer to Hinkson’s Corners, were owned by a W. Eves who also owned the area up to the Hinkson’s Corners shops.
Twenty two years later, as the 1870 atlas reveals, Horace Howard Furness had already begun to purchase land a few acres north of Hinkson’s Corners in Nether Providence. The commuter rail line, the “Media-West Chester Line,” had been laid in 1857 and since then the area had been attracting wealthy Philadelphians seeking to establish new estates in a more natural setting. Furness’s lot bordered the rail road on the south east side of the property. His property did not yet extend to Providence Road. This section of his later property was then owned in part by a Mrs. Thomas and in part by Mr. J. Price.
The lands which would eventually become the Gratz estate was now part of a large farm owned by Matthew Kershaw which extended east and south approximately 200 acres. This large farm was not an exception, but rather the norm of the area. The average farm size in Nether Providence remained approximately 100 acres even until the early twentieth century. Hinkson’s corners fell within the Kershaw property but the actual store was now a General Store owned for a while by William G. Vernon.
By 1875, H.H. Furness had purchased the lots owned in 1870 by Mrs. Thomas and Mr. J. Price. His property now extended all the way to Providence Road. Although the 1875 atlas labels this property as sixty five acres, the plot is identical to the Furness plots shown in later atlases as 80 acres. Construction on the mansions and other outbuildings of his estate had begun, though “Linden Shade” was not yet completed in full.
Matthew Kershaw, at this point, still owned his 200 acre farm within which lay the future Gratz lands. While Furness continued construction on the houses in his extraordinary Victorian estate, many areas remained farmland. Nether Providence was at this time slower in development and perhaps (relatively) more conservative in terms of architecture during the Victorian era in general compared with other townships. Nevertheless, the area was more than desirable and over the next forty years it would prove to be so by establishing its strength as a formidable rival to the “main line” in prestige and spaciousness. During this time farmers, such as Kershaw, began to “board” visitors vacationing from the hectic, crowded urban life. This would further the increasing perception of the area as a lovely, healthy countryside resort.
According to the 1882 property atlas, Furness’s “Linden Shade” estate was at this time fairly complete with the exception of a few outbuildings which would be added later. The two largest buildings on Furness’s 80 acres were known as “Linden Shade” (also the name of the entire estate) and “Subrosa.” Twelve other buildings peppered the property including stables and barns. Most were frame buildings, but there were three half stone and two pure stone buildings which sat on the parcel. (The stone was most likely obtained from a nearby quarry in Swarthmore.) H.H. Furness used the estate as a countryside getaway where he entertained international scholars and kept a large collection of books in a wonderfully Victorian library.
The Gratz family had not yet purchased the land in 1882. However, it had changed hands. The future Gratz lands were now owned by Mr. John C. Brenner as part of a small estate, probably less that eight acres. “Linden Shade” was the next property to the north. To the west of the Brenner estate, “Norland,” another Victorian mansion owned by A.K. McClure, was near completion. Next to that, was Rufus Shapley’s “Hildawold,” still in the process of being built. This Shapley estate incorporated the Hinkson’s corners stores which Shapley took over. One of the old stone store buildings he converted to a dwelling, while another was converted a few years later to a summer resort hotel. This move was typical of the area’s then current trend. The area continued its move from a cozy, contained agricultural (and manufacturing) town to a “resort” area focusing on the lands natural and pastoral features as assets for a getaway setting.
A decade later, besides a few new buildings and the extension of the drive all the way to Dick’s Run Creek,, the Furness property had remained unchanged. At this point, changes in power technology and mechanization rendered the family farm relatively uncompetitive and the properties surrounding the “Linden Shade” estate had been broken up into smaller units, many of which still produced small crops of vegetables or fragile produce.
Next door, the properties experienced yet another split and shift in owners. The Wilson family bought a portion of the Brenner property; the McClures to the west bought a small section; and the Gratz family bought the largest section upon which “Willington” was built. The Gratz family used their estate, north of Hinkson’s corners, as a summer artistic and cultural center. As prominent wealthy Philadelphians, much like that of their neighbors the Furnesses, the estate was perfect as a place to entertain important figures and as a countryside getaway. But the Gratzes had other connections to the area. Over the past decade, the Gratz daughters had married, each to a prominent man, and had new summer houses built in the immediate vicinity of Hinkson’s Corners. The Gillettes built “Hermitage;” A.J. McClure built “Norland;” and Felix de Cranos built a villa on E. Brookhaven Road. A road leading to the McClure’s “Norland” ran through the Gratz estate at this time, attesting to the close connection of the two families. The buying of properties in the immediate vicinity of Hinkson’s Corners by wealthy Philadelphians such as those mentioned above, caused a rapid increase in land value there. People with names like Furness, Shapley, McClure, Gillette, Mercer, and others would cause the land value to increase from 200 dollars per acre to nearly 1500 dollars an acre.
By 1909, as shown by the 1909 property atlas, “Subrosa” the second large residence on the “Linden Shade” estate, was now the residence of Horace H. Jayne, a grandson of H.H. Furness. [“Built 1896?”—note on Nether Providence Historical Society copy] The estate now had a total of twenty five buildings. “Linden Shade” now was unique in that it was, by a long shot, the largest (and one of only a few large properties) left immediately surrounding the commuter train line. The Wallingford Train Station, as it stands today, was built around this time. More and more tightly packed residential clusters grew based on commuting by rail. The houses built during this time were mostly built with no fixed pattern of architecture. Many were revivals including Queen Anne and tutor styles.
The Gratz estate by now had split. Mrs. J.H. Little owned “Willington” while the other acres to the southeast had been purchased by or deeded to the McClure family. This perhaps was another sign of the close ties between the two families. Though the name “Gratz” does not appear on the property atlas, much of the family was still in the Hinkson’s corners area and were still very important figures there. In fact, the Philadelphia Orphanage, which joined the ranks of the many families and institutions that were, during this time, relocating along the suburban train lines, was founded by a Gratz in 1905 just south down Providence Road from Hinkson’s Corners.
A great demand to develop which stemmed from new industrial growth in Philadelphia, since 1910, took stronger control on the area. Many of the great Victorian estates, not to mention the left-over farms, were subdivided again and again. Nether Providence, in relation to other townships, felt these pressures early in the century and the township became the first of its kind in the state to formulate local zoning ordinances. The 1925 atlas reveals best the result of the continued migration from the city. The Furness estate was broken up into many small suburban plots with roads such as Blackthorn Road, Furness Lane, Barley Mill Road, and Green Valley Road, leading through the properties. On the southwestern side of the lot, bordering Providence Road, there stood the Penna Co. property, an approximately two acre property owned by Fairman Furness, and the Furness Free Library. An eastern portion of the estate was left relatively unchanged. At the end of Furness Lane began a private road which lead to both “Subrosa” and “Linden Shade.” “Linden Shade” was now owned by Horace Howard Jayne, while the second residence was owned by a Mrs. E. Over. [“Duer”—acc. note on copy in Nether Providence Historical Society]
“Willington” was now part of a small two acre estate owned by Mr. W. Godley on Kershaw Lane. Surprisingly, it is not this property, but the property behind it, “Norland,” once owned by the McClures, that still mentioned ties to the Gratz family on the atlas.
By 1950, the estates to the north of Hinkson’s corners had experienced the effects of the automobile. Development no longer had to conform to train tracks and schedules. However, the 1950’s atlas map does not reveal much change since 1925. Many of the 86 house lots on the former Furness property had already existed since the twenties. The atlas still mentions the Godleys as the owners of the house once known as “Willington,” however, the current resident, a man by the name of Vogel claims to have bought the property in 1942. There is some confusion as to when and what exact properties were purchased and by whom. The Mr. Vogel was certain the Gratz house was destroyed in the early to mid 1900’s. However, the “Gratz” estate to which he refers to could very well be the former McClure residence which still had, in the mid twentieth century, ties to the Gratz name. The antique photograph of “Willington” on the Places in Time web site is, with the exception of a few minor details, identical to the Vogel house as it stands today on 13 Kershaw Lane.
1980 to present day
The 1981 road planning map of Nether Providence delineates the extent to which the area has been subdivided. All major buildings of the “Linden Shade” estate have been demolished with the exception of a brick building that once functioned as the estate’s library. Lindenshade Lane has been put in where a portion of the private road once lay. The Library still exists and is known as the Helen Kate Furness Free Library after H.H. Furness’s wife. All other areas have been filled in with suburban residential development. The older buildings where markets once stood across Providence Road from the Furness property, still exist. The Gratz’s “Willington”structure still remains, although the property surrounding it is quite a bit smaller than it was even in the 1950’s. It is owned, as mentioned above, by a Mr. Vogel (senior). Hinkson’s Corners are no longer commercial. All earlier buildings now have residential functions.