North Wayne Historic District
The North Wayne Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
North Wayne is an exclusively residential area of approximately 13 blocks located 13 miles west of Philadelphia, immediately to the north of the town of Wayne and the east-west transportation corridor formed by the "Main Line" of the Pennsylvania Railroad and U S route 30, Lancaster Ave. The district was built, beginning about 1881, as a major component of a larger, planned, railroad commuter suburb in the vicinity of the Wayne station, called the "Wayne Estate." The original 600-acre parcel is divided into two distinct parts by the transportation corridor. North Wayne, the smaller of the two sections, was built up more rapidly than the larger south side, and is more homogeneous in both date and the character of its buildings.
The Wayne station sits atop the south side of the elevated, four track railroad right of way, about 25 feet higher than the district, which is immediately adjacent to the north. The topography of the district itself is quite flat with a small rise in elevation towards the northern boundary along, Eagle Road. The current development plan with the addition of Woodland Court to the north of Eagle Road in a 1920's subdivision. There are wide streets with stone curbs, sidewalks and many shade trees, some which predate the development. The lots range in size from about 1/3 to 1 acre, with most of them closer to the lower figure. The houses are placed with a uniform setback of about 50 feet providing an open, parklike setting. The district contains 316 structures of which 126 are detached garages or auxiliary buildings. Of 190 dwellings, 172 (90.5%) are contributing and 18 (9.5%) are non contributing. Almost all the houses were originally constructed as single family dwellings (there are 6 twin houses and two apartment buildings within the district) and most remain so; only about six have been converted for multiple occupancy.
Houses in the district generally fall into three groups roughly distinguished by their date of construction and location. The first group consists of about 100 houses, all contributing, constructed between 1881 and 1895. The majority of them are 2-1/2 story, single family, stone, shingle, and wood frame houses executed in the Shingle Style, with the Queen Anne and Stick Styles also represented. Of these, about 75 are known to have been built by Wendell and Smith from plans provided by a number of noteworthy Philadelphia architects, primarily Frank and William L. Price, but also including Horace Trumbauer, J.C. Worthington, and Brown and Day. This group of houses is concentrated in the 300 and 400 blocks of North Wayne Avenue, Walnut and Woodland Avenues, and East Beechtree, Oak, and Chestnut Lanes. The second group, about 70 contributing houses, were constructed between 1895 and 1925 in a number of eclectic, early 20th century styles. Various expressions of the Colonial Revival are the most common, but the Tudor and Craftsman styles are also present. All of the twin houses in the district fall in this category. These houses are located in the 100 and 200 blocks of North Wayne Avenue, Poplar Avenue, Radnor Street Road and Woodland Court. The third group consists of all 18 non contributing dwellings. They are all one and two story single family houses whose date of construction (post 1935) makes them intrusions. They are concentrated at the east end of the district where, after World War II, there were parcels of land large enough for subdivision.
One of the most unusual features of North Wayne is the stylistic coherence of groups of buildings. On most blocks, the houses on both sides of the street were constructed during the same decade and are similar in style, materials and size. This is quite unusual for 19th century suburban communities with detached houses. All too often, their fragile spatial continuity is broken up by later construction on unsold lots or subdivisions of larger parcels. North Wayne is fortunate that its rapid success as a development resulted in a small number of unsold lots and that the lots themselves were usually narrow enough (typically 75 feet) to discourage later subdivision.
Most of the houses built between 1881-1895 can be classified as Shingle Style. They feature locally quarried, rusticated stone construction for exposed foundations, porch walls and column bases, and at least the lower half of the first story. The upper stories are usually wood shingles laid in a variety of patterns continuously over the wall surfaces with no delineation at corners or between stories. Porches are especially important to the overall designs, usually contained within the main roofline. These houses feature all kinds of architectural devices which add variety. Three and four story towers, multi light window sash with decorative clear and colored glazing, eyebrow, wall, hipped and peaked roof dormers and asymmetrical crossed gambrel and peaked gables are typical.
The house at 413 Chestnut Lane, a Price design called the "Flemish House" by the builders, shows many of these features. It has two prominent front facing gables, the one to the front extending out over a full width porch supported by both stone and wood columns. The front gables are crossed with a major side gabled section which has raised ends at the roof peak. The house is sided with wood shingles throughout. Another good example is 417 Woodland Ave. which features a massive tower overhanging the front entrance supported by both stone and Ionic wood columns in addition to a number of secondary crossed gables, all shingled. The conical tower roof has both an eyebrow and a front gabled dormer. There is also decorative diamond paned glazing in the windows. The house at 304 Radnor Street Rd. was the home of Herman Wendell, one of the builders of the North Wayne development. It is based on one of the most popular Price designs dubbed the "Pillar House." It is one of twenty houses in the district based on this design although it has had the principal facade extended horizontally with two single story wings and a port cochere. The detailing of the house features clear, diamond paned, leaded glazing in most windows, multicolor brickwork in the first story and shingled upper stories.
Of particular note is the prominent use of wood carvings in the detailing of some of the designs. Some of the best examples are found in a group of 6 contiguous houses, 408 through 418 Oak Lane. Here, exposed beam ends are carved with the images of exotic animals: winged rams, gargoyles, griffins and elephants. The house at 201 Walnut Ave. has four dragons carved in exposed beam ends while the wood lintel over the entrance of 210 Walnut Ave. is carved with the house's name: "Cozy Nook," flanked by the faces of two children.
Colonial Revival styles predominate for those houses constructed between 1895 and 1925. They tend to be somewhat smaller than their predecessors; there are both 2 and 2-1/2 story examples. Those built during the early part of this period show much freer design and use of materials than the later ones. Surface qualities are varied using stone, brick, wood shingles, and rough stucco. Large porches are used to add a degree of spatial variety to their otherwise formal, symmetrical facades. Later examples are most often the typical two story, side gabled stucco or stone houses with a small, centrally placed entrance porch. The house at 202 Poplar Ave. is typical of the earlier period. It has a symmetrical principal facade with a massive second story front gable extending out over a full width front porch, supported by rough faced stone columns. In the later period, 511 Woodland Ct. is an excellent example.
Today, North Wayne district maintains a very high degree of integrity with few intrusions. The original development plan, spatial relations, street furniture, lot sizes, land and dwelling uses have been preserved. The primary structures are well maintained and retain their original design and materials. Most changes are results of unsympathetic covering or replacement of exterior wall surfaces with gypsum/asbestos shingles, metal/vinyl siding or stucco. Fortunately, more serious alterations such as removal of porches are relatively uncommon and there are only two or three seriously compromised with major structural alterations to the exterior facade.
The development of the Wayne area was tied closely to that of the major westward expansion from Philadelphia in the 18th and 19th centuries. The beginnings of the town followed the construction of the Conestoga Road along the route of an Indian trail in 1741, and then the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike in 1792-1794. A small settlement grew up around the intersection of these two roads, near the Spread Eagle and Unicorn Inns. Called Eagle, this area now lies about a mile to the west of the North Wayne District along Lancaster Avenue.
Throughout the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, the land was used primarily for small, family owned farms. This pattern began to change with the construction of the "main Line Public Works" a system which combined a railroad running west from Philadelphia to Columbia, near Lancaster, with canals, rivers, and inclined plane portage railroads to provide transport over the Alleghenies to Pittsburgh. Begun in the 1830s in response to the construction of the Erie Canal, the system met with only limited success. The Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad was purchased from the state in the early 1850's by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and was combined with other sections to form a complete rail link with Pittsburgh by 1860.
The stops along the railroad right of way near Philadelphia spurred development nearby as the coming of the roads had a half century earlier. However, this time, the small family farm did not provide the model for this development. Instead, these farms were consolidated into large tracts and developed into country estates for the wealthy. Throughout the major urban areas of the United States, the estate areas and country seats followed the railroads. In Philadelphia, these were along the Reading Lines north to Cheltenham, Abington, Jenkintown and Chestnut Hill in the 1860's and at about the same time, west along the Pennsylvania's "Main Line" to Humphreysville (now Bryn Mawr), Whitehall (later Rosemont), Cleaver's Landing, Eagle (now Strafford), and Paoli.
In keeping with this pattern, Philadelphia financier James Henry Askin chose the area near the Cleaver's Landing stop, later renamed Wayne to honor local hero, "Mad Anthony" Wayne, as the site for his estate "Louella." Begun on a 91 acre parcel in 1864, Louella reached 300 acres by 1870. The main house, a towered, Second Empire design, was built immediately to the south of the railroad right of way, and is still in use today as the Louella Apartments. With the construction of a town hall, a church and other houses in the early 1870's, the town of Wayne began to take shape.
In 1880, partners Anthony J. Drexel of Drexel and Company and George W. Childs, editor of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, purchased Louella and a number of adjacent parcels totalling over 500 acres and began development of "The Wayne Estate." Their development goal was not the establishment of country seats for an upper class constituency, but rather one which had a distinctly middle class flavor as described in this passage from Ashmead's 1884 History of Delaware County:
Furnishing country homes to city men and surrounding them with all the advantages to be secured in a well-ordered village in which should be combined all the measures for the preservation of health that scientific experiment has during late years suggested. The plan could only be carried out by the employment of large capital and by organized effort. This will secure to a large number of men, dependant upon their incomes from professional or business toil, with precisely those surroundings that only the man of wealth could obtain through individual enterprise.
Wayne was not unique in being a development directed to the middle class professional buyer. However, it was executed on a scale which was a first for the Philadelphia region and a very early example nationally. Prior to this, a typical subdivision might ultimately consist of one or two streets even though the original plan might have been considerably larger on paper. Developers normally provided the lot and some modest improvements. Individual buyers were left to fend for themselves for financing, design and construction. In contrast, Drexel and Childs maintained an interest in their project from start to finish. In addition to the usual provision of the land and subdivision plan, they provided financing and a remarkably complete set of utilities: water, sewer, telephone, electricity and central steam heat. They hired the builders Herman J. Wendell and Walter Bassett Smith to see to the construction and completion of houses. Wendell and Smith, in turn, retained a number of Philadelphia architects to provide them with designs for the houses. The continuity of planning contributed much to the success of the venture and the Wayne Estate was built much according to its original plan.
This plan reflects closely the intended use of the development and the market to which it was directed. To provide rapid access to the central urban business district, the individual properties had to be within walking distance of the railroad station, a fact which set upper limits on the scale of the lots and the homes. On the other hand, the houses had to be the correct price, size, quality and style to appeal to the affluent but not the wealthy buyers. Drexel and Childs found an approach for balancing these competing forces. The Wayne Estate demonstrated a pattern of successful suburban development which was repeated hundreds of times in the decades which followed. The number of house styles was limited, but large enough to avoid oppressive uniformity. Variation was introduced into specific styles using devices such as mirror plans, optional exterior wall materials and differing details for porches, doors and windows. Using architect's designs gave some assurance that the houses would be well designed and stylish and at the same time would keep the Victorian penchant for architectural extremes in check. The result was a unique combination of a large scale suburban plan with an equally ambitious and successful program of construction and sales. Hence, North Wayne developed with a high level of physical coherence which has remained intact for over a century.
In North Wayne, construction began in the spring of 1881 along North Wayne Avenue and proceeded slowly until about 1887 when the rest of the district was laid out. About 100 houses were built in the 5 year period ending in 1892. At this point, the pace of construction dropped abruptly as Drexel and Company began other developments at Overbrook Farms and Pelham, again with Wendell and Smith as their builders. The plan and execution of these developments followed the pattern set at Wayne fairly closely. Another 50 houses, mostly along Poplar Avenue were built by 1905 by the builder J. D. Lengle. At this point, the development of North Wayne was, for the most part complete.
The significance of North Wayne is further enhanced by the architecture of the houses which built there. As a group, they strongly demonstrate the evolution of American late and post Victorian architecture. Buildings from the decade 1882-1892 show Queen Anne and Shingle Style in full flower, while the work of the next decade is representative of the shift to more academic revival styles. The architectural variety is complemented by the similar plan, size and material of the houses and the uniform scale of the streets and lots. These elements work together to form a unified, pleasing residential environment.
The design of 77 of the Victorian era houses can be attributed to specific architects or firms: 53 houses in 7 different styles, to Frank and William L. Price; 15 houses in a single style to J. C. Worthington, 2 houses in a single style to Horace Trumbauer, and 7 houses in a single style to Brown and Day. These attributions come from Wendell and Smith's advertising literature which featured the architect's signed drawings and plans or from Herman Wendell's log books.
The designs of Frank and William L. Price are especially significant, not only because they provide a large number of well designed Shingle Style houses but also because they represent the first large scale commissions their firm received and helped form the cornerstone of the career of William Price, architect of the Traymore and Blenheim Hotels in Atlantic City and the Chicago Freight Terminal, whose later work is already represented in the National Register.
In conclusion, the North Wayne District is significant because it is an early, large and remarkable well preserved example of an American railroad commuter suburb and contains numerous well designed examples of late and post Victorian domestic architecture within its boundaries. The houses, plantings, streetscapes and usage remain much the same today as when the Wayne Estate was first constructed and continues to be a "place of homes" where "home life is felt, seen and enjoyed in actuality."
School District: Radnor Township