Avondale (the Thomas Leiper Estate) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Photos: Historic American Buildings Survey.
Avondale (Thomas Leiper Estate)
The Thomas Leiper Estate is a rare and important example of a small and almost completely intact eighteenth century community which developed around the varied industrial and manufacturing activities of Thomas Leiper an ardent patriot, an ingenious inventor and a highly successful merchant.
Thomas Leiper was born in Strathaven, Lanark, Scotland in 1745. He came to America in 1764 where he made a fortune in the tobacco and snuff business. In 1776 he bought his first land in Nether Providence Township and established two snuff mills. Four years later he bought the adjoining stone quarries. In 1809 he built the railroad which carried the stone down to Ridley Creek, the first permanent railroad in the United States. When he died at his Nether Providence estate in 1825, the Aurora wrote in its obituary notice of July 8, 1825, "Few men ever lived a more patriotic, useful, and honorable life than he; for singleness of heart, integrity of purpose and conduct, devotion to the cause of liberty and of his country, he was unsurpassed."
The estate is important not only for its contribution to industrial history, but for the relatively unchanged character of this beautiful Crum Creek site with its complex of workmen's cottages, dam, mill, quarry, barn, mansion house and outbuildings, and the architectural significance of the design of the house and grounds.
The three story yellow stuccoed mansion house of 1785 occupies a dramatic position on the side of a hill overlooking Crum Creek Valley. A long avenue paved with granite rails leads up to the pedimented main entrance with its delicately carved frieze and transom. The most outstanding characteristic of the mansion site is the integration of the plan. In contrast to the contemporary farmhouses of the area, the builder of this mansion made an obvious effort to design it, in both floor plan and in its ambiance with the natural surroundings and outbuildings. An outside door on the first floor leads to the basement, making a continuous progression from mill, drive, office (in the basement of the house), to the money in the vault in the "Fireproof" outbuilding. Further evidence of the builder's freedom of imagination can be seen in the unified conception of the first floor rooms, the chimney behind a false window and windows which can also be opened into doors.
Few changes have been made to the house. The west porch with its fret-work railing was added in 1786. The original French windows of the dining room (now a kitchen) have been replaced, and the paneling of the entrance hall was changed in the 1880's.