Inside the Famed Ardrossan Estate

PLUS: Community banking’s formula for success on the Main Line.

Photo by Jared CastaldiSometimes, it’s simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Like so many others before him, David Nelson Wren first came to know Ardrossan as a guest at one of the iconic Villanova estate’s many parties. Wren had moved to Philadelphia from Dallas in 1988. A year later, he was sharing cocktails with Ardrossan’s esteemed hostess, Helen Hope Montgomery Scott.

At the 2005 funeral of Ardrossan’s last full-time resident, Robert Montgomery Scott, Wren found a family champion in Joan Mackie, who saved a room full of family archives from a dumpster. She trusted Wren with unlimited access to it all.

“It sounds corny, but the more I read, the more I began to love these people,”

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David Nelson Wren with Joan Mackie.Wren told senior writer J.F. Pirro during interviews for our cover story, “Mansion Mythology.” “They were all deceased, but it all painted so vivid a picture. It was like a chain of emails today, and it took me on an amazing journey.” Wren’s relationship with the Montgomery-Scott-Wheeler family has led to a manuscript for a monograph on the place he’s come to love. Initially, it was to be “a picture book” done in collaboration with Bryn Mawr photographer Tom Crane, whose shots are featured in this issue. It has since become a social history, as well—one that, alas, is still in search of a publisher. “It had to be a social history,” Wren confided to Pirro. “I couldn’t just write about the staircase, but rather who went up and down it, too.”

Consider our cover story a preview of the great book to come.

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Also in this issue: Longtime MLT contributor Scott Pruden had his work cut out for him with “Survive (and Thrive),” his heavily researched piece on the struggles and successes of local community banks. “It’s easy to get caught up in the It’s a Wonderful Life paradigm of George Bailey and his family-run bank-and-loan versus the evil and conniving Mr. Potter and his usurious rates designed to keep Bedford Falls’ working folks paying high rent in his slums,” Pruden admits. “They are a bit of a throwback in this day and age of international mega-banks dipping into every aspect of the financial world and seemingly every economy on the planet.” 

Yet, where would some of us be without them? “They’re where the Villanova fashion designer who wants to start her own dress shop goes to get financing,” says Pruden, “even though the numbers she presents might get rejected by the formulas and algorithms used by mega-banks to calculate small-business-loan risk and viability.” 

And that, in fact, makes the little guys even more of a necessity in these bumpy economic times.

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