The Tulpehocken Station 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.
In the age of industrialization, life in American cities became more sophisticated as machines were introduced into every phase of activity. But at the same time these radical changes made life more hectic, fraught with the problems of crowding, dirt and what was described as general moral decline. In this climate of change, the upwardly mobile middle class discovered they could easily escape the problems of the city, reside in elegant splendor, yet remain within easy commute of the city, all aided by the city's newly created rail lines. The rise in popularity of the garden suburb, as indicated by its title, was predicated on a harmonious relationship between the built and natural environments. The Tulpehocken Station Historic District, characterized by a rich tapestry of architectural styles and surrounding's of wide, tree lined streets, houses set back from the street offering both front and back lawns, and wrought iron and stone fences, provides a unique case study on the rise of the American suburb.
Architecturally, the neighborhood chronicles 70 years of suburban residential design. The work of some five builder-developers and 15 architects, many prominent members of Philadelphia's design community, are represented in this 13 block area. Carpenter Gothic and Queen Anne cottages, both grand and simple, Colonial and Georgian Revival mansions and country houses, Gothic and Jacobethan castles, along with Italianate villas and Dutch-Flemish chalets form a complex and colorful patchwork. The physical development of the area can be linked to two major architectural trends — the Picturesque or Romantic Movement, popular in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century and the "Age of Elegance" which brought high style, architect-designed structures into vogue.
Beginning in the 1820's, America's architectural flights of fancy turned from the symmetrical, formal configuration of the Federal style to a new "romantic spirit" of building design. Inspired by the peace and tranquility of the country villages and estates of our Anglo-Saxon heritage, and jarred by the rapidly developing urban areas, Americans sought to recapture that gentler period of time. As a result, the Picturesque or Romantic Movement in architecture was born. Created exclusively as a suburban residential form, this architectural style attracted the eye of those seeking escape from the hard edges of urban life.
Andrew Jackson Downing, America's first landscape architect, became the major spokesman for the movement. Long a proponent of landscape design, Downing sought to create a style of architecture which would compliment the natural surroundings he found so civilized. Looking back in history, Downing conjured up the images of quaint cottages, nestled among giant shade trees surrounded by lush lawns framed by graceful wrought iron fences, all safely removed from the unpleasantness of nineteenth century urban life. Downing's "cottages" utilized a variety of designs including Gothic, Italianate, Bracketed and "Rustic," effectively shaping the appearance and demeanor of the American suburb. The publication of his treatises on cottage residences in 1842 and the subsequent pattern books, offering plans and designs for the various styles brought the Picturesque Movement into the forefront of nineteenth century architectural community development.
The Tulpehocken Station Historic District is perhaps the first suburb in the country to put Downing's theories and designs into practice. The earliest period of development is marked by individual carpenters and house builders acting as real estate entrepreneurs, constructing elegant residences to attract former city dwellers. The Gothic style was among the most popular of the Picturesque Movement owing to its successful translation into cottage or castle. Beginning in the 1850's, developer-builders such as John C. Fallon, Henry Atherton and Phineas Ham brought the Carpenter Gothic style to life. So titled because the carpenter selected the building plans and details from the pattern books, these residences, characterized by stucco and stone construction, steeply pitched roofs with cross gabling, round, Gothic and triangular arched windows, with gingerbread on the porches and bargeboards, painted in earth tones, became the hallmarks of the American Gothic style. The unit block of Tulpehocken Street (bounded by Germantown Avenue and McCullum Street) is where development began within the Tulpehocken Station Historic District. Among the earliest examples are the Queen's house (#9), built in 1851 for Maria Christine, Queen of Spain. John Fallon directed the construction of this Gothic Revival structure in the event the Queen had to seek refuge in another country. Maria Christine never came to Germantown, but this residence is significant to the development of the neighborhood since it was the first structure built on Tulpehocken Street with Gothic cottages, including #53 and #55, constructed by Henry Atherton.
By the 1860's, architectural variations on the Gothic theme were introduced, including Italianate and Elizabethan castles. The Mitchell House, located at 200 West Walnut Lane, built circa 1856, represents an idealized image of country living. The design of this large stone English castle is attributed to Samuel Sloan, although it may only be an imitation of his style. The asymmetrical plan and massing, wood battlement tower and Gothic arched entrance and steeply pitched gable roof line recall the medieval days of knights and damsels in distress. Its companion structure, the VanDyke Residence, built circa 1861, located at 1550 West Walnut Lane, carries the castle theme through the Italian Villa mode. Also attributed to the design work of Samuel Sloan, the building is more likely a Joseph Hoxie design. As seen in this building, the tower is interpreted in the Italianate style with pedimented gable. Handsomely situated on a corner lot, both the Villa and Gothic styles adapt well for suburban residential design owing to the flexibility of design allowed by the rambling plan and massing. One block north, at the corner of Tulpehocken and Greene Streets is the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, a Norman Gothic style castle. As development headed into the high Victorian period building became grander in scale and decoration, although never losing the picturesque character. Towards the end of this phase of development, Phineas Hamm constructed several impressive, Italianate residences marked by their stucco and Wissahickon schist facades, segmentally arched window openings and projecting eaves with decorative brackets.
The 1860's and early 1870's marked a transition period from the Picturesque to the "Age of Elegance." During this period Italianate styling continued to be popular and the Second Empire style was introduced into the neighborhood. West Walnut Lane, marked by its later period of development has the lion's share of these buildings, particularly on the unit and 100 blocks. Thomas Millineaux, local builder, constructed a row of Wissahickon schist, Second Empire twins in 1872 and 1878. These structures are, however, simpler in design, offering no hint of the spectacular architecture to come. McCallum Street also has some worker housing, built for the mills located east of Germantown Avenue, and smaller vernacular style housing, also built during this period.
The physical pattern of development of this area is quite interesting and explains clustering of period buildings on certain blocks. Development began on the unit block of Tulpehocken Street and was concentrated there for the first ten years of growth. Continuing on, Tulpehocken remained the major focus for building, primarily because the Johnson farm had been parceled off, while the Haines tract remained an active concern. Development did not begin on Walnut Lane until the early 1870's. This interestingly enough was not elegant housing. Rather, the first houses were smaller rows and twins. The elegant houses would find their way to Walnut Lane in the 1870's, 80's, and 90's. McCallum Streets is the only strip where there are no larger residences. Possibly its proximity to Germantown Avenue and the mills on the east side of the avenue marked it for simpler structures. As one travels further west from Germantown Avenue, closer to Fairmount Park and the train station, the residences become larger and more sophisticated in design. For the most part, these are the architect built buildings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Perhaps the opening of the railroad station in 1884 influenced the suburban dweller to live within a short walking distance or carriage ride distance of their transportation to town. Those blocks of Tulpehocken Street closest to Germantown Avenue offer the purest example of Downingesque suburban development, while those blocks of West Walnut Lane, closest to Wayne Avenue, provide an excellent summary of later nineteenth century suburban residential growth.
The Conyers Button House — Gladstone, represents the first major post Civil War structure possessing all of the sophistication and styling of the later architect built buildings. Constructed circa 1876, in the Queen Anne style, the building is highlighted by its decorative, pressed brick trim and porte cochere. It is interesting to note that the Queen Anne style also drew its influences from English roots and was picturesque in feeling, although the romance and fantasy of the earlier period was replaced by a more polished, studied product. In the shift from simple country cottages to elegant mansion the relationship between the built and natural environment was never lost. These later buildings are as carefully sited as their earlier counterparts.
It is interesting to note that the Queen Anne style also drew its influences from English roots and was picturesque in feeling, although the romance and fantasy of the earlier period was replaced by a more polished, studied product. In the shift from simple country cottages to elegant mansions the relationship between the built and natural environment was never lost. These later buildings are as carefully sited as their earlier counterparts.
Queen Anne design like the Gothic style dominated this later period of development with many fanciful residences constructed of local Wissahickon schist. The works of G.W. Hewitt for Henry Houston are stellar examples of this stylistic time period. Houston's early speculative development interests focused on the blocks of Tulpehocken Street, Walnut Lane and Wayne Avenue, closest to the train station. Aware of the social and financial status of the targeted buyers, Hewitt designed magnificent stone mansions which showed fluid grace in conjunction with the landscape, highlighted at selected points with Hewitt's now famous shingling, varied window treatment and roof lines. The three Queen Anne "cottages," as they were described in a Germantown Independent Gazette article are truly beautiful. Hewitt's design for the Listar Townsend House is breathtaking. Commissioned by Henry Listar Townsend in 1887, Hewitt designed a scaled down version of Drum Moir, Henry Houston's Chestnut Hill estate, at 6015 Wayne Avenue. This structure successfully bridged the two periods of development, offering a Picturesque Eclectic castle designed by a locally prominent architect.
Among the other architects keeping company with Hewitt, were the firms of Frank Miles Day and Brother, Cope and Stewardson, Hazelhurst and Huckel, Mantle Fielding and George T. Pearson, the latter two also residing in this area. Pearson's work in the neighborhood expressed his architectural flexibility and the varied architectural tastes being expressed. Initially hired by Calvin Pardee to redesign a residence for him on the 200 block of West Walnut Lane, he obviously became enchanted with the neighborhood, because some six years later he purchased a house further up on Walnut Lane, on which he worked his own brand of magic. The Pardee House, designed in the Spanish Jacobethan style with distinctive Richardsonian Romanesque overtones is a sophisticated structure which took advantage of the freedom offered in the highly eclectic Victorian period. His design for his own residence is, however, significantly different. Having purchased a traditional Victorian style villa, Pearson proceeded to turn 125 West Walnut Lane into a Flemish Dutch chalet which is alive with texture, color and movement. Mantle Fielding, Pearson's neighbor, chose to stick to more conventional designs, altering many of the residences of Walnut Lane into Queen Anne, Italianate and Tudor splendor. His design for Comawaben (1899) located at 50 West Walnut Lane is an elegant Georgian Revival mansion interpreted in Wissahickon schist. By contrast, Rankin and Kellogg also designed a Georgian Revival residence for William Shelmerdine in 1899. Unlike Fielding's design, this structure is a reverential interpretation of the Georgian style down to its cedar shake shingles. The only marked difference between the original style and the Revival building is the outrageous scale. Frank Miles Day and Brother designed a near perfect replication of an Italianate Pallazzi for Henry Cumins at 240 West Tulpehocken Street, Cope and Stewardson designed an elegant Tudor residence for Edmund Crenshaw on the 400 block of Walnut Lane and Hazelhurst and Huckel created a Spanish Revival residence for John Keator in 1894.
By the close of the century and the beginning of the twentieth century, architectural design became a bit more pedestrian, relying heavily on the popular Colonial and Georgian Revival styles for their character. These structures, particularly on Greene Street are no less grand and imposing than the earlier buildings, but clearly some of the magic had disappeared from the architecture of the neighborhood. These blocks look remarkably like other twentieth century suburban developments such as Overbrook Farms.
The years have been kind to this neighborhood and the quality and character which first attracted those suburban pioneers to this neighborhood remain intact, continuing to draw city dwellers out to the country. The rich green foliage seductively envelopes the cottages and castles, continuing to offer a clear image of Downing's vision for American suburban residential living.
Significant structures within the Tulpehocken Station Historic District number 37 strong; there are 118 contributing houses and 13 buildings are intrusions. Of the intrusions, nearly all are apartment buildings built in the teens or in one case, the Curtellan Apartment, in 1949. A row of small brick homes on McCallum Street are 1022 intrusions. One intrusion, Alvin Drugs at 6120-22 Greene Street, is a commercial structure built in 1929. Only one nineteenth century building is listed as an intrusion, 133 West Tulpehocken Street, because it has been unsympathetically altered with changed windows, door and porch as well as nearly all the exterior wood sided with aluminum.
The Tulpehocken Station Historic District, located in west-central Germantown, represents the first major effort within the city to develop a permanent residential enclave away from the downtown area. Aided by the advent of commuter railroad lines, Philadelphia's upwardly mobile middle class was, for the first time, offered the opportunity of living in idyllic country surroundings while remaining within an easy commute of their downtown businesses. However, the creation of the city's first garden suburb was not simply a manifestation of improved transportation access; much of the fervor for the adoption of a suburban lifestyle sprang from the teachings of Andrew Jackson Downing, America's first landscape architect and noted nineteenth century tastemaker. One of Downing's major principles, the "harmonious correspondence" between the residences and their garden surroundings, is significantly represented in the physical character of the Tulpehocken Station Historic District. While architectural tastes changed over seventy odd years of the neighborhood's development, Downings' philosophy continued to play a major role in the creation of the community's physical identity. Furthermore, besides Downing's plans drawn for use by skilled carpenters, a number of prominent architects worked in the district, including George W. Hewitt, Hazelhurst and Huckel, Frank Miles Day, Cope and Stewardson, Rankin and Kellogg, and two architects in residence, Mantle Fielding and George T. Pearson. The Tulpehocken Station Historic District stood as an example emulated many times over in late nineteenth and early twentieth century suburban development, never however with such vivid results.
The importance of Germantown as a residential center predates this garden suburb. Beginning in about 1750, affluent colonist built summer residences along Germantown Avenue, seeking relief from Philadelphia's humid summers. Examples are Mount Airy (no longer standing), Cliveden, Upsala, and Stenton. The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 furthered the area's importance as the municipal government and those financially able fled to the healthy country surroundings of Germantown. Despite this popularity, Gemantown remained physically separate from the rest of Philadelphia, developing as a community insulated from the activities of the downtown area.
Without the railroad this area would have remained a summer community for those able to afford the luxury of both in town and country residences. Before the age of mechanized transportation, usually it was the wealthy who did not have to work, and those who made a living farming who lived away from the city's core. Workers, even prosperous entrepreneurs, had to be within walking distance of their work or provide stables for their horses at either end of the day's commutation. The opening of the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown (PG&N) train line, in 1832, running between 9th and Green Streets in center city, and Germantown and Price Streets, forged the crucial link between the downtown business district and the residential enclave forming on the outskirts of the city. Initially serving the existing community located along Germantown Avenue, within twenty years the line became a major catalyst for suburban residential development, carrying inner city dwellers to their new country residences.
Initial development interest involving this prospering middle class was drawn towards surrounding farm land, most notably to the Johnson and Haines farmsteads which spread in a linear fashion, west of Germantown Avenue. These tracts would become Tulpehocken Street and Walnut Lane, respectively, The dedication of Walnut Lane as a public access road, in 1848, marked the beginning of an intense period of development, altering farm land into Victorian splendor. Unlike late-nineteenth and early twentieth century planned suburban development, such as Overbrook Farms and Pelham, Tulpehocken Station did not follow an organized plan for development spearheaded by a single developer. Rather, growth occurred as a direct result of individual interest and small- scale speculative activity, as evidenced by the variety of architecture.
Early development focused on those blocks closest to Germantown Avenue, undertaken in large measures by John C. Fallon, Phineas Hamm and Ebenezer Maxwell. John C. Fallon, married to one of the Johnson daughters, is recognized as the first major developer in this area. Having purchased much of the farm land owned by Justus Johnson, he divided the farmstead down the middle, creating Tulpehocken Street with half and one acre lots on each side. Acting as an agent for the Regent Queen of Spain, Maria Christine de Borbon and her husband, Duke Rianzares, Fallon and his brother were responsible for the construction of the first properties along Tulpehocken Street. Beginning in 1851, Fallon constructed seven properties, including two cottages for the Queen and her retinue (#'s 9 and 20) should they need to flee Spain, and held the property rights to much of the other land on Tulpehocken Street. By 1858, development spread west to the 100 block of Tulpehocken Street where Phineas Hamm was constructing commodious Italianate abodes, and in 1859, Ebenezer Maxwell constructed his Norman Gothic villa at the corner of Tulpehocken and Greene Streets. Although a large residence, Maxwell built this as a speculative venture, indicated by the short period of time in which he resided there.
Development along Walnut Lane followed a slightly different pattern, with the earliest buildings located along the 100 block, beginning with the VanDyke House (c.1861) and the Mitchell House (c.1856), both large speculative structures. By 1878, development had moved closer to the unit block with Enoch Taylor's speculative twins constructed by Thomas Mullineaux. Most probably the divergent directions taken reflect varied farming priorities established by the Haines and Johnson farms.
The early appearance of this area strongly reflected the philosophical bent of Andrew Jackson Downing. Through his publications, Victorian Cottage Residences (1842) and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850), Downing created a new architectural approach for non-urban housing. The main concept of suburban, or what was then known as country living, emphasized the relationship between the built and natural environment. Downing's publications served as pattern books for every aspect of residential construction, all of which could be copied by local carpenters. Further, it allowed real estate speculators to build attractive housing at economical rates. Downing's designs covered a range of styles and building types from the Gothic cottage to the Italian villa, all represented within the blocks of the Tulpehocken Station Historic District. But more than simply a tastemaker, Downing served as a spokesman for the upwardly mobile middle class, espousing a philosophy which created a suitable living environment, which in turn promoted order and culture to the community at large. In addition to these aesthetic considerations, technological advances served to make the dream of elegant Picturesque houses a reality. Mass production made affordable many house details previously handmade. The handsaw greatly speeded the hand carpentry still required and made it less expensive; thus, thinner and larger pieces of veneering and fine-cut decorative scrolling or gingerbreading were now possible at relatively low cost. Foundries flourished, so that ornamental cast iron work was readily available at economic prices, making the imitation of the Gothic style mansions amazingly accurate and inexpensive.
Gradually, as the houses sold, amenities were added which further enhanced the desirability of the neighborhood. Using the Queen of Spain's capital, John Fallon built the Germantown Water Company to serve the community at large. But more importantly, the spiritual needs of the community were served through the creation of Christ Church in 1852, following the donation of property and construction capital by members of the community. By 1859, local street car lines were established, cementing the idea that Germantown was a readily accessible community for the prospering middle class.
The second major phase of development within the community again focused on improved rail services as the PG&N line was leased to the Reading Company in 1870. Henry H. Houston, perhaps best known for his development of Chestnut Hill, began his speculative career within the Tulpehocken Station Historic District, significantly influencing the community's development in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Residing on Tulpehocken Street, Houston held a great deal of property along the western boundary of the community, near Fairmount Park. As was common practice for speculators, Houston donated land for St. Peter's Church (1873) on Wayne Avenue, additionally providing substantial capital for the construction of the church, from the designs of George Hewitt. Further, with the opening of the Pennsylvania Railroad Chestnut Hill line in 1882, Houston was one of the moving forces for the establishment of the Tulpehocken train station, which provided commuter rail access for those living west of Germantown Avenue.
By the 1880's and 90's every luxury imaginable was available for suburban residential living, including indoor plumbing, central heating and gas lighting. The opportunity to live in idyllic country surroundings, removed from the dirt and decadence of the city attracted industrialists, financiers, stockbrokers, lawyers, doctors and real estate entrepreneurs to this garden suburb. Among those residing in the neighborhood were Calvin Pardee, William Shelmirdine, Walter Pearce Douglas, George Strawbridge, Henry Cummings, Conyers Button and John Keator, representing the spectrum of the aforementioned professions.
George W. Hewitt, who later received recognition for his architectural work in Chestnut Hill, established a new building precedent within the community — the architect-designed structure. Although Hewitt's work was designed as speculative housing, it was grand and elaborate. In addition to Hewitt, a Who's Who of locally prominent nineteenth century architects designed suburban residences, representing the latest in architectural tastes. Hazelhurst and Huckel, Frank Miles Day, Cope and Stewardson, Rankin and Kellogg and two architects in residence — Mantle Fielding and George T. Pearson — designed Queen Anne, Shingle, Tudor Revival and Spanish style mansions and villas. These buildings, representing the most popular architectural styles of the time, also accurately reflected the lifestyles, social positions and aspirations of their occupants.
Remarkably in the 1980's, a very large number of original houses, from both periods of development remain intact. Although some of the largest ones have been converted for apartment use, the Tulpehocken Station Historic District looks much as it did at the turn of the century — large houses with detached outbuildings, cobblestone alleyways and expansive yards with varied plantings can be found throughout the District. There has been little new construction within the core area, and the wide, tree-lined streets generally still exist. In several instances, such as the unit blocks of Tulpehocken Street, and West Walnut Lane and the 6000 block of Greene Street, whole blocks look very much as they did 100 years ago.
The Tulpehocken Station Historic District stands as a significant example of suburban residential development, the first in Philadelphia and possibly in the country. It served as a prototype for later development throughout the city, but nowhere else is the individual character of a neighborhood so clearly defined as here in Germantown. Built as a haven for the upwardly mobile middle class and nouveau riche upper class, this neighborhood offered an elegant and tranquil alternative to this distractions of nineteenth century city living, a characteristic which has endured for 130 years.
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Historical Society of Pennsylvania records: Blue Books (Society Register); Red Books (Society Register); Campbell and Perkins Scrapbooks
Wyck Historic House Museum Papers. Philadelphia, Pa.