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The Main Line: Then & Now

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Seven pairs of images that capture the area’s stunning growth and, in some cases, its staunch resistance to it.

 

 

 

 

Downtown Bryn Mawr
Until 1869, the southwest corner of Lower Merion was a dusty, rural place named Humphreyville after the family who owned it. Then the Pennsylvania Railroad bought out the Humphreys, built a station and renamed it Bryn Mawr. A women’s college opened in 1885, and a brick fire station in 1906. By 1910, Lancaster Avenue (seen here looking west) was arranged pretty much as it is now. But look closely at the unpaved street and the idle buggies, and you can just make out a bit of Humphreyville.

 

 


Hanging Rock
efeated at Brandywine, George Washington’s army was thumped again at Paoli, Germantown, Whitemarsh and—on Dec. 11, 1777—near Harriton House, where 3,000 British captured the sheep and cattle that were to be the Americans’ winter food supply. The mostly provision-less rebels retreated toward Valley Forge under Gulph Mills’ Hanging Rock, which, to this day, PennDOT would prefer to dynamite. Watching them pass, Washington asked a colonel, “How comes it, sir, that I have tracked the march of your troops by the bloodstains of their feet on the frozen ground?”

 

 

 


Jackson Chevrolet
(now Anthropologie)
When New York Times writer David Brooks grew up in Wayne in the 1950s, the Readers Forum was a pharmacy, the Gryphon cafe was a real estate office and Anthropologie was a Chevy dealership. Then boomers took over, and the town got hip. The G.I. generation would’ve solved the problem of an obsolete auto showroom with a bulldozer, noted Brooks. But today’s entrepreneurs saw the ornamental 1920s brickwork and terra-cotta plaques and thought Jackson Chevrolet ideal for a clothing and décor store named for an academic discipline.

 

 

 


Paoli Station
To encourage development, the Pennsylvania Railroad hired photographer William H. Rau in 1893 to make pretty pictures of its Main Line stations—including the immaculately kept Paoli depot, seen here looking east. By 1953, those running the line had a more brutal utilitarian view, replacing the attractive, comfortable station with the brick box commuters have hated ever since. Revitalization plans call for replacing it with a station more closely
resembling what Rau photographed.

 

 

 


Spread Eagle Inn
When yellow fever struck early Philadelphia, many fled to the “salubrious” country air of places like the Spread Eagle Inn. The inn, which stood from 1769 to 1887 at the site of Spread Eagle Village in Wayne, mainly served travelers between Philadelphia and Lancaster. But it was also the center of Siterville, a busy community of stables, barns, a carriage shop and other businesses. (The frame building was replaced in 1796 by a 3 1/2-story stone structure.) Blue-nose developers bought the tavern in 1884 to stop liquor sales,
later tearing it down.

 

 

 


Bryn Mawr Hotel
(now the Baldwin School)
Amazingly, Bryn Mawr was once a resort. And architect Frank Furness’ 1892 stone-and-timber Bryn Mawr Hotel—seen below during an equestrian event circa 1905—satisfied a desire for classy accommodations. But by the early 1900s, vacationers were choosing more exotic destinations. The hotel fell on hard times and, in 1922, Miss Baldwin’s School for Girls took over. Unlike the resort, however, the school’s mission was widely criticized by those who
saw female education as a “preposterous extravagance.”

 

 

 


Ardmore Toll House
In 1909, when Main Liners were petitioning to abolish tolls on Lancaster Pike, a Tin Lizzie just happened to crash through the front of the Ardmore tollhouse at Lancaster and Church roads. (Coincidence? We wonder.) Thought to hinder growth, the tolls were abolished in 1917. Fittingly, a Saab dealership
now occupies the spot.