Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: April 1997 Volume 35 Number 2, Pages 67–75

A Personal History of Strafford (Reflecting the Many Years I've Lived Here)

Anne Kirkpatrick

Page 67

The start of development building in Strafford occurred in the 1920s. A pretty group of houses was built on the west side of Old Eagle School Road to the station, and then north to Upper Gulph Road. They joined the older, larger houses already there, among them two old log cabins, one on the west side of, and one on the corner of, Old Eagle School and Upper Gulph.

Francis McAdams started to build houses on Deepdale and Hillside Roads. They were sold in the late '20s, and in the '30s he got many of them back in mortgage defaults. They were rented until after World War II, when many of them were sold to returning veterans with G.I. mortgages.

J. Howard Mecke, a realtor and well known developer, built Colonial Village in 1928 over the line in Upper Merion Township, and he also bought the farms formerly owned by Thomas Brown and H. C. Evans in Strafford, totaling 95 acres between Croton and Old Eagle School Roads.

Included were two pre-revolutionary farm houses on Croton Road, south of the "Brookfern" manor house, at the corner of Upper Gulph. Mecke's houses were enhanced by the addition of garages and rooms above. My parents bought the one on the corner of Knox and Croton Roads in 1929, adding a "new wing" to it. My grandmother also bought a lot from Mr. Mecke on Knox Road, and had a "colonial" frame house built there in 1929.

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At that time, only a dirt road ran through the large farm earlier owned by Robert Smith which connected Croton Road (from where it began in the Francis McAdams development) to the older Croton Road running north of Upper Gulph. To this day, there is a jog between these sections of Croton Road at Upper Gulph.

At the corner of Upper Gulph and Croton, on the west side, were three pleasant older homes owned as of 1908 by the Owen, Lewis, and Henry families. The manor house already mentioned was on the east corner, and proceeding to the east on Upper Gulph was first, on the right side, what was called the "Bride's" house -- a very small colonial owned by the Wilds family. Beyond was the Jacquette's, and then a frame house on the corner of North Wayne Avenue.

If you proceeded east, on the north side, there was first a cozy small house whose spring supplied water for the brook running parallel to Croton Road; then another stone-plastered house; followed by the frame house that stands at the entrance to "Ivycroft" where the old Cox house stands. Beyond was "Breezy Knoll," the house of E. F. Rogers, which faces the end of North Wayne Avenue.

Although Tredyffrin Township continues on eastward into the "panhandle," Strafford stops at Radnor Street Road. Mt. Pleasant, which lies beyond, has always been thought of as Wayne, and Radnor Post Office supplied those living further east. The little stream along Radnor Street Road began as a spring in the woods of Mt. Pleasant, and it joined the stream running along Croton Road at Mr. Mecke's Colonial Village Swimming Pool.

Among other pleasant features, the stream along Croton Road had been en­hanced by little pools and waterfalls after it left "Brookfern." Across from my parents' house, on the corner of Knox Road, was an old spring house which gave a fresh supply of cool water into the pond beside it. The spring house was help­ful in keeping watermelons and such at the most delectable temperature. Also, on very hot evenings, there were occasional pool parties - everyone sitting happily in the soft muddy little pool - a great way to cool off.

Just over the county line on Radnor Street Road was the "stepping stone quarry." It had provided the handsome walls and foundation for the wing Mr. Mecke added to our old farm house.

The great depression started in 1929 with the market crash, and on into 1930­1931, with banks and businesses failing. This stopped further development by Mr. Mecke. Our house had been a farm house, and the back yard had been a potato field. Mr. Mecke kept the stone foundation of the old barn, putting large beams across the foundation, on which vines and roses could be trained.

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We, of course, had a garden (all that ground), and grew corn and other vegetables, helped by Tom Thompson of Mt. Pleasant and other experienced gardners.

At one point my mother buried a goodly supply of brandied peaches in the back yard, supposedly the best way to mellow them - it did! In the new cellar we experimented with wine and root beer - the root beer tended to explode.

For the nineteen years my parents lived at "Skerragay Hill" (as it was called), they saved their pennies for trees and bushes. A great friend of theirs was Harold Eberlein, an Englishman and a landscape designer. He suggested a mixed hedge to mark the boundary of the rose garden, and to outline a pathway to the "new terrace" built of stepping stones - which had an outdoor fireplace and was our picnic spot.

Growing up on Croton Road was to experience solitude. When I came home from school, there were no other children but my siblings nearby. Above Granny's house, Knox Road ended and a dirt track led up the hill past meadows bordering the young woods and a great patch of sweet fern. Partridge in the fall would fly up ahead of you, and you would hear the very special cry of pheasants. There were no deer then in our little valley. At the top of the hill Dr. Spaeth had built a small log cabin, and he sometimes brought students there for seminars. From the cabin you looked over the next little stream valley parallel to Old Eagle School Road, and you could see the monument at Valley Forge.

The young woods were overrun with fox grapes and honeysuckle, which made a bouncy hammock when you wanted to sit back and dream those wonderful dreams of your early teens.

The track went down and up to Old Eagle School Road, and also around the edge of the woods north of our property's fence line. Sometimes cadets from Valley Forge Military Academy rode along the track to its end, at what we called the "fifty-mile" view, because down below Mr. Mecke had named it the forty-mile view, on the little hill where he built two houses overlooking the Chester Valley. From our fifty-mile view I remember we could see Graterford Prison - now we would see the nuclear station at Limerick.

By 1932, my grandmother had rented her house and we had a series of new neighbors. The small farm house up Croton Road was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Hunt, who were very nice neighbors. Although their sons Jim and Albert (later my children's pediatrician) were probably college-age by then, I remember that Mrs. Hunt let me read all their boys' story books, especially about Roy Blakely,

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Boy Scout, and his friend Pee Wee Harris, who turned detective, in one great volume - a fitting rival for Nancy Drew. Actually, realizing I couldn't be a Boy Scout, I could never get interested in being a Girl Scout.

In the 1930s, a log cabin was built in the wooded lot next to the Hunts. Rumor was that a Philadelphia gangster was to make this his hideaway. However, a nice boy and his family were the ones I remember living there.

There were no great changes or much building in Strafford until after the Second World War. In 1947, when my husband Miles and I bought one of McAdams' houses on Hillside Road, the road was still only one block long with nice big substantial houses on one side only, but it was complete with sidewalks. Beyond our block was a farm, and farm lands extended east to North Wayne Avenue and south to Deepdale Road.

The stream, which started at Mrs. Kendrick's spring to the north, came into our area running alongside Yale Road and under Deepdale, continuing through the property earlier owned by Edward F. Beale, who named it Deepdale because of the way the stream had cut a little valley below his house.

The stream, unnamed, continued through Strafford Village, eventually crossing into Wayne where you will find it still going on its way at Eagle Road and North Wayne Avenue. Strafford Village expanded along Crestline Road, and the roads between it and Deepdale.

In the 1950s, development also started in the field between Hillside and Croton where a number of split level homes were built. Then all the land of the old farm was developed, and soon there were enough residents to form our own Deepdale Civic Association.

Below the railroad station, smaller houses were built on Strafford, Forrest and Fairfield Avenues.

The Covered Wagon Inn thrived, Campbell's Greenhouses and Nursery south of Lancaster Avenue provided local employment, and west on the pike was our Strafford Hardware store and Strafford Beverage company -- and suddenly you were in Devon.

West of Old Eagle School Road, the acres once the estate of the Wentworth's, bounded now by Homestead Road, added Woodland, Rosedale, Hillcrest, Wentworth and Sunset Roads, all filled with houses.

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Knox Road was finally built beyond my grandmother's house - now belonging to my parents. The stepping stone curbing on the old part of the road was replaced later, and gave us stone to build a terrace. Knox circled around almost to the fifty­mile view, and Valley View Lane was built as a cul-de-sac off Knox, looking north­west towards Valley Forge. Laurel Lane connected Knox to Old Eagle School Road. It starts on a hill, runs down into a little valley and up again. Our children always called it the "whee" road because going up and down was like a swing, and we always said whee.

I must note that as development proceeded a variety of architectural styles were utilized, and, of course, there were no sidewalks. I always felt that Miles and I were fortunate in living and raising our children on Hillside Road, with sidewalks to be used to learn to ride a tricycle and bike, to roller skate, for hopscotch and marbles and especially to feel they could safely walk to school.

Our neighborhood blossomed with families and children. After fathers had gone to work, and most of them commuted by train to Philadelphia, we, the mothers, could open our doors, and our children went out to find their special playmates. There were even some mothers who met for coffee in the mornings. We gave time and effort to our church and community.

I must not forget to mention that, from October 1911 until March 1956, the termi­nus of the Philadelphia & Western trolley was located on the west side of Old Eagle School Road, alongside the Strafford Railroad Station. The trolley made a big loop after leaving its Sugartown station, and crossed over a bridge at Sugartown Road and also over one at Lancaster Pike. In time there was a flag stop at the Pike, just east of its intersection with Conestoga Road.

The P & W was built to high standards. The double track from 69th Street in Upper Darby to Strafford was laid with 55 pound rails, and the right-of-way and all bridges were planned for eventual four-track operation to accomodate both local and express trains.

The line was equipped with automatic semaphore block signals. There were no grade crossings, and the station platforms were at car floor level for easy entrance and exit. Electric power was supplied through a third rail, protected from rain and snow by a wooden hood that also prevented anyone from coming in contact with the charged rail.

In 1912, a connecting line was built to Norristown, branching off at the Villanova Junction. For many years a trolley called the Liberty Bell Limited ran on beyond Norristown to Allentown. During World War II, with gas rationing, over five million passengers a year used the P & W, and a bus subsidiary extended service from Stratford to West Chester and also to Coatesville.

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After the war, the P & W became part of the suburban Red Arrow Lines, but traffic declined and in the mid-'50s, the Red Arrow shut it down claiming there were only 500 daily riders to and from Strafford. March 23, 1956 was the last ride from Strafford, and now one caught a bus for 69th Street.

One of the special adventures our children enjoyed was their trip to town to see where Daddy worked when they were age four. We would take the P & W in with all the added excitement of the elevated train and the tunnel, then walk to the office and ride up 23 floors for one's first elevator ride, see the room where he worked, and go with Daddy for lunch at the Princeton Club, and the little one's first "Shirley Temple" movie. Then a visit to Woolworth's on Chestnut Street to buy presents for those left at home, and the return trip on the Paoli Local.

On Hillside Road we always had great parties, sometimes with progressive dinners. We often went sledding down Hillside Road after the children were tucked in bed, and I remember the fun of carol singing - out in the frosty air -­singing to our children safely inside. As our Deepdale community grew, we had our own 4th of July Parade by the children followed by a neighborhood cook out. What fun it was - how strong those ties of friendship remain - although we all have moved from Hillside Road.

I represented the Strafford Garden Club in 1953, when we offered the Trustees of the Old Eagle School our help in maintaining the graveyard. Lawrence M. C. Smith, their secretary, and Mrs. Selfridge, who lived on Private Way just beyond the school, were two of the Trustees who were most delighted to have our help. Monies raised by the Trustees, when the school was refurbished at the beginning of this century, were used to create a trust which would pay for repairs and care of the property. By mid-century this trust was no longer adequate. The Garden Club asked the three neighboring civic associations to share in the project, which they did.

As community interest grew, local people were appointed Trustees. Mary Reed from our Garden Club was appointed in 1956. I was appointed in 1974 to replace Milton G. Baker. In 1975 the number of Trustees was increased from eight to nine, and Roger Whiteman, Anne Osterholm, Edward Medford, Don Krombolz, Barbara Howson, and Albert Doering joined Mrs. Selfridge, Dr. Horowitz and myself on the Board.

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In 1978 the Trustees requested that they be elected for set terms - no longer life appointments - and this was approved. I served as President of the Board three times and went on and off as required. One of the interesting studies undertaken by the Board was to determine if R. Brognard Okie, the famous architect, who was a Trustee from 1924 to 1946, had played a part in the renovation of the schoolhouse. The Trustees had so stated on the Historic Resource Form for the Old Eagle School, sent to the Bureau of Historic Preservation in 1989.

In 1980, William Woys Weaver of Paoli had written that, from his inspection of the school, it appeared that Okie was largely responsible for what was done on the exterior stone work - the way it was repointed with stucco to create a pebbled effect from a distance. Mr. Weaver felt this was a motif borrowed from the Herr House (1719) in Lancaster County, and the rationale was to make the building look more like a Pennsylvania German structure.

The date 1908 is significant in the history of the Old Eagle School House because the firm of Duhring, Okie and Ziegler designed and installed the sign board still standing at the edge of the property.

The design of the building's cornice "in accordance to the detail of Mr. Okie," was completed in 1929. Notes to this effect are part of the Trustees' file, and Mr. Weaver had also mentioned the cornice as one that bore the Okie mark.

The Trustees continued to receive generous support from Mr. Smith and his wife, and from Mrs. Selfridge, during their lifetimes. A larger bequest was also received under the will of J. Brooks Parker of Strafford Avenue, who served as a Trustee from 1942 to 1952.

Mr. Parker's house is still standing on Strafford Avenue, on the right hand side as you go from the station towards Eagle Road, and there is a great Victorian house on that corner. Continuing across Eagle Road, in the early 1900s, there was a home on the left where office buildings now stand which belonged to William S. Fox. Across the road, to the west, the land was owned by Barnett Binswanger. Today, on Mr. Binswanger's land, we have the office buildings along Strafford Avenue and then the bank [CoreStates], and shops facing Lancaster Avenue, and the Farmers' Market. At this end of Strafford Avenue, on the east side just past Eagle Road, was the property of Thomas B. Jones. Windsor Avenue came through to Strafford, and the Jones' thirty-five acres went east to Francis Avenue past Bloomingdale.

The Villa Strafford Restaurant at the end of Strafford Avenue is in the house built in 1909 by Percy Colket for his daughter. Lee Wilson told me years ago that she had grown up there, so she may have been a Colket granddaughter. It is reported that an identical house was built for the other Colket daughter in Bryn Mawr.

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When we turned southwest on Eagle Road from Strafford Avenue, we used to find the house of Lecian Von Bernuth just before Spread Eagle Village. Lecian had grown up in Wayne and was a fine artist and a delightful raconteur. Many of you may remember the stories of her childhood that appeared in The Suburban. She was very fond of cats and pigeons. Her home always had flocks of pigeons on its roof, making it somewhat of a feat to reach her front door undecorated. Her cats were legion. Besides the house cats, who were really dearly loved companions when she became bedridden, there were the outside cats that knew to appear at feeding time at the kitchen door. Some had cellar privileges when it was cold outdoors. Lecian's 1840 house had a large barn which she used as a studio. Her ceramics created there were lovely. She also had two cottages, one a former toll booth. Many young couples lived in them as their first homes.

Beyond Lecian's house had been the remnants of the old Spread Eagle Inn. Some small houses were clustered to the left as you entered, but these were gone by the time it started to be developed. L'Auberge, Country Cousin Dress Shop and, in time, Lussier's, plus a few others, were the start. Today it is a fascinating mixture of shops. We can be grateful that the Hamiltons, whose property starts with the Parkers and now includes Lecian's land and Spread Eagle, have expanded the development of Spread Eagle Village, because although it is in Delaware County, we still include it under the name of Strafford.

Miles and I moved from Hillside Road to Knox Road, still faithful to Strafford, in 1979-1980. My parents' house, where their fifteen grandchildren had spent each Thanksgiving and Christmas growing up, has continued to be a center for family reunions - a place that has always been able to accommodate the family members' need for a place to visit or a place to stay.

We are pleased to be residing in Strafford. It is interesting to note that the house occupied by the Hunts in the 1930s was later occupied by the Sykes and now the Goins. My parents' house was owned next by the Apples, now by the Parkers, and we too are number three following my grandmother and my parents.

We are also developing a community in Knox, Valley View and Laurel. Starting with a yearly get-together of neighbors in the spring, there are now other neigh­borhood parties including a carol sing at Christmas time. It makes a cheerful circle of happy Strafford times.


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