Wyncote consists primarily of detached, single family homes with twins (semi-attached). Median age is circa 1940. Median interior living space is approximately 2,300 sq. ft. Median lot size is approximately one-third of an acre.
The Wyncote Historic District was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Text, below, was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © The Gombach Group.
The Wyncote Historic District is a 108 acre area located in Cheltenham Township ten miles north of downtown Philadelphia. It is a residential district that developed between 1865 and 1934. The majority of dwellings in the district are stone and wood, two and one half story buildings sitting back from wide, tree-lined streets. They were constructed in architectural styles popular during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly the Queene Anne style. The houses and the overall district retain much of their original appearance and integrity. The district includes 178 contributing buildings and only 14 non-contributing.
Wyncote Historic District is significant as an example of a wealthy turn of the century Philadelphia suburb. Developed by several individuals, Wyncote was settled primarily by businessmen and professionals who found new wealth in Philadelphia's burgeoning economy. These developers and residents ensured that Wyncote remained an exclusive suburb through the use of deed requirements for minimum building costs and lot sizes and through the formation of the Wyncote Improvement Association. These wealthy people created a collection of houses that are excellent examples of late nineteenth and early twentieth century architectural styles. In addition, many of the houses in this district were designed by prominent Philadelphia architects.
Wyncote was mostly farm land until the 1880s even as surrounding areas in Cheltenham Township were developed. Most of Cheltenham Township was farm land until the North Pennsylvania Railroad line was constructed through the municipality in 1855. The railroad line enabled wealthy Philadelphians to build country homes in Cheltenham Township and commute back to work in the city. By the late 1850s wealthy Philadelphians began acquiring large tracts of land for country homes. Such magnates as the traction kings Peter A.B. Widener and William Elkins, financiers Jay Cooke and Abraham Barker, and merchant John Wanamaker built country estates in idyllic settings around Wyncote. Construction of such estates encouraged other businessmen to build residential developments in Wyncote.
Development of Wyncote began in 1885. Unlike the planned, mass developments which occurred in the 1880s and 1890s in North Wayne, Overbrook Farms and Pelham, development of Wyncote was done on a piecemeal basis. Six individual developers, including four who already lived in Wyncote, developed the district for wealthy residents. Between 1885 and 1888 three individuals bought tracts of farm land in the Wyncote Village section of the district and began selling lots to prospective residents. Bradley Redfield purchased the area known as the Redfield development in 1891 and then sold larger lots of land to fellow wealthy Philadelphians. In the early 1890s Henry K. Walt bought a tract near the middle of the district for use as his own private residential park. Local merchant Edward Tyson acquired the last tract remaining in the district about 1900 and also began selling plots to prospective residents. By 1915 the great majority of lots were sold and most of the extant houses were constructed.
Although Wyncote was developed piecemeal by separate individuals, a clear pattern of development and settlement emerged between 1885 and 1915. In the late 1880s and 1890s developers constructed substantial homes that were frequently quite expensive and often individually designed by architects. Wealthy Philadelphians bought the first homes in Wyncote both for their own use and for summer rentals. As homes were rented out in the late 1880s and 1890s, Wyncote became an attractive place for summer visitors. Renters came by the day, week or month to escape the heat and congestion of the nearby city. By the early twentieth century many of these summer visitors also began to buy expensive year-round residences in Wyncote. Indeed, many of these summer renters tested their social acceptance in this new community before investing in home ownership. Woodland Road, where many houses were offered for summer rental, became known as "Probationary Hill." By 1915 this pattern of development and settlement was largely complete. Houses in Wyncote became solely year-round residences for wealthy families. Summer rentals in the district ended as Philadelphians moved farther out from the city to find summer retreats.
From its beginning developers and residents ensured that Wyncote would remain an exclusive community. They often made deed requirements with minimum building costs and lot sizes that restricted home ownership to wealthier individuals. For instance, in the Redfield development, deeds put building costs at a minimum $7,500 and required setbacks of at least 100 feet. Residents also created the Wyncote Improvement Association in the 1890s in order to beautify and maintain their community. This Association placed contracts for improvement projects and oversaw the projects until they were completed.
By 1915 when most development and settlement ended, Wyncote had earned a reputation as an exclusive community of wealthy residents. People from the managerial and professional elite of Philadelphia settled in Wyncote. Occupations represented in the district in 1900 included owners and managers of Philadelphia steel, coal, textile, insurance, stock broker, advertising and real estate firms, as well as lawyers, doctors, dentists, educators and financiers. Some of the managers and owners who lived in Wyncote were the Proctor family (Proctor-Silex Electrical Company), Charles D. and Herbert C. Cramp (William Cramp and Son Ship and Engine Building Company), and Cyrus H.K. Curtis and the Lippincott family (publishing). The district's beauty also attracted a coterie of artists, including Benton Spruance and Frank Whiteside, and writers such as Christopher Morley who satirized Wyncote's foibles and Thackerian airs in his collection of essays in Mince Pie.
Wyncote's pattern of development and settlement was unique in the local area. Jenkintown, located directly to the east, developed over the space of two centuries and was one of several agricultural villages that preceded Wyncote near Cheltenham Township. Jenkintown had a wide economic range of residents and never developed a reputation as an exclusive suburban community. To the south and west in Cheltenham Township, large estates were still in place at the end of the nineteenth century, precluding development on small lots as occurred in Wyncote. Several other fairly wealthy suburban communities did develop on the North Pennsylvania Railroad line during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, these communities did not have the extensive use of summer rentals and similarly lacked the "Probationary Hill" found in Wyncote. For example, Glenside was developed as a wealthier suburban community beginning in 1898. Houses in Glenside were sold to new residents as year-round homes rather than rented out during summers.
Wyncote's architecture is also exceptional. Wyncote contains a significant collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings designed by outstanding Philadelphia architects. Frank Furness is one of the most important Philadelphia architects represented in the district. It was during his 1881-1912 partnership with Allen Evans that Furness designed All Hallows Episcopal Church in Wyncote in 1898. Horace Trumbauer designed a number of Queen Anne houses in the district, including homes at 301-305, 322 and 343 Bent Road and the southeast corner of Accomac and Church Roads. These homes represent an early phase in Trumbauer's illustrious career when he designed Victorian revival buildings and before he turned to classically inspired mansions and public buildings. Angus Wade designed six houses in Wyncote while he worked in the office of Willis G. Hale. Although Wade is associated with the ornate style of Hale's designs in North Wayne, Overbrook Farms and Pelham developments, two of Wade's designs in Wyncote are less ornate Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival homes. These two houses at 146 and 150 Fernbrook Avenue are illustrated in the March, 1894 Builder's Edition of Scientific American.
The architecture of Wyncote also illustrates the increasing role of important university-trained architects in the design of turn-of-the century, upper-income houses in suburban Philadelphia. The majority of architects working in Wyncote received their professional training in the new School of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Graduates of the School of Architecture were also connected to Wyncote through social ties. During the 1890s the School of Architecture played soccer matches with residents of Wyncote. University of Pennsylvania graduates active in Wyncote included J. Linden Heacock. His single and semi-detached houses in the district represented transition from the picturesque Queen Anne style to the more formal Colonial Revival style. In 1899 Heacock was joined by his University of Pennsylvania classmate Oscar Mons Hokanson to form the firm of Heacock and Hokanson, which executed over 1,500 commissions.
Thus the Wyncote Historic District includes an outstanding collection of buildings designed by prominent Philadelphia architects. This district is also important as an example of a wealthy late nineteenth and early twentieth century Philadelphia suburb.