Searching For the Main Line

Will the real Main Liners please stand up? And who are they, anyway?

Illustration by Dewey Saunders

I lived my first two decades in the Marilyn Park section of Havertown, which is a very nice place to grow up. The neighborhood is hilly and treelined, its houses mostly ’60s split-levels.

In a similar neighborhood along Ellis Road, just across from Marilyn Park and adjacent to the prestigious Merion Golf Club, lived Robin Collier, who always made it a point to tell me where she resided.

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“I live in Haverford, too,” I’d say.

“No, you don’t. You’re in Haverford Township, but you’re not in the 19041 zip code. Yours is 19083. This means you live in HaverTOWN (the last syllable was pronounced with a sneer of superiority).”

“I live on the Main Line, and you don’t!” she’d gloat in a singsong mantra.

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Why was she on the Main Line and I was on the sideline? It was my first inkling of a special demarcation in our midst. I’d soon discover this nearby land of prosperity, where 19th-century mansions sprawl across huge, wooded tracts; where girls still attend debutante balls; where one doesn’t need a yacht to go sans socks in deck shoes.

I became fascinated with the Main Line’s physical and imagined boundaries. Through my teens, I spent time at Bryn Mawr’s Ludington Library, pouring through maps and history books dedicated to the area’s “Greene Country” heritage. I learned the saying, “Old Maids Never Wed And Have Babies”—a mnemonic device for the famed communities along the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line: Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr. I’d steer my dented Datsun past the aging magnificence of La Ronda in Bryn Mawr, the flying buttresses and countless gables of the former Allgates Estate in Haverford, and the chalet-like beauty of Wrenfield in Villanova. Maybe, I rationalized, the true Main Line was more than just town names and zip codes.

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These days, what constitutes the Main Line? Surely, all the towns along Route 30 from City Line to Paoli are a given—as are the nearby communities of Gladwyne, Bala Cynwyd and Penn Valley. But what about Malvern, Glen Mills, Unionville/Chadds Ford and parts of West Chester, which are about as “Greene Country” as it gets?

“Having bragging rights to a Main Line address creates value,” says Alison Faga, a friend and local real estate agent.

I own a home in Chester Springs. I wonder if Robin Collier would consider me a Main Liner. As Faga can attest, many of the properties out here are listed as such.

The correct answer: It doesn’t matter. Now more than ever, living on the Main Line is really just a state of mind.

Ken Alan is a well-known expert in the local hospitality industry and the former author of the popular blog, Ask the Concierge.

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