Historical Markers
The Baldwin School Historical Marker
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The Baldwin School

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
701 Montgomery Ave., Bryn Mawr

Dedication Date:
April 11, 2000

Behind the Marker

To the American public, the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) was a showcase transportation company. Behind the scenes, the PRR controlled a vast empire of more than 600 separate corporations, including companies engaged in supplying or dealing in steel, coal, water, lake and ocean navigation, telegraph lines, real estate, and hotels. The PRR's ability to decide where its tracks went, and where its stations would be located, also gave it the power to decide which properties would be valuable and which would not. One of its most enduring real estate ventures was the development of a string of upscale suburban towns west of Philadelphia that is still known as the Main Line.
Stockton Hotel, Cape May
Stockton Hotel, Cape May

Until 1857, PRR entered Philadelphia on the markerPhiladelphia and Columbia Railroad (P&C), which was part of the state-owned Main Line of Public Works. After PRR purchased the floundering state transportation system at auction, it bought land along either side of the P and C tracks, both to ease the sharp curves, smooth the path of travel, and for speculative purposes. In 1871, the railroad built an entirely new alignment in the 6.4 miles between Haverford and Strafford, eliminating nine curves. This project relocated the tracks away from the old P&C Whitehall station, which PRR abandoned for a new station in the country town of Humphreysville, which it renamed Bryn Mawr. In the same year, PRR built a spacious hotel a few blocks north of its new station, which it named the Bryn Mawr Hotel.

By operating hotels, PRR both catered to and profited from its travelers. In the past, the company had built other hotels near its stations, most notably the markerLogan House in Altoona in the 1850s. Decades later, when the railroad burrowed tunnels under the Hudson River to plant its $112 million Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, it was no accident that the PRR-owned Hotel Pennsylvania stood right across the street when the station opened in 1910.

The railroad created several subsidiaries to hold its real estate, including the Manor Real Estate and Trust Co., which bought property along the Main Line and elsewhere along PRR's tracks. As a result, much of the prime property in some Main Line towns - especially those near the rail stations - was owned by PRR, Manor, or the railroad's officials.

Old Bryn Mawr Hotel
The Bryn Mawr area was a good example. Just a block from the station, at the corner of Morris and Montgomery avenues, stood property owned by Samuel Rea, a onetime surveyor who became a vice president and board member in 1899 and served as the president of PRR from 1913 to 1925. Lying two blocks farther north and situated just across Morris Avenue from the Bryn Mawr Hotel was property owned by Theodore N. Ely, who had been appointed PRR's superintendent of motive power in 1874. A short distance away, N. Parker Shortridge held property near the Narberth station. A director of PRR from 1874 to 1915, he was also a partner in Shortridge and Borden Co., cotton and wool merchants.

By 1875, PRR had begun to cultivate the Main Line as a suburb of the city. Toward that goal, it gave the old towns new Welsh place names–Humphreysville, as mentioned above, became Bryn Mawr–and operated six "accommodation" or local passenger, trains a day just between Philadelphia and Paoli, twenty miles west (it was no coincidence that in 1914, PRR's first commuter line to be electrified was the Paoli Local).

Bryn Mawr was a planned community from the start. Most of the land near the railroad was subdivided into plots and zoned for residential use only, with stipulations that housing on Montgomery Avenue be worth a minimum of $8,000. Residences on side streets had to cost at least $5,000. Under this setup, PRR promoted the area's attributes as a summer resort–hence, the hotel. The railroad hoped that those who vacationed in Bryn Mawr would buy houses in Bryn Mawr.
New Bryn Mawr Hotel, Flower Beds, 1891, by William Rau. Photograph of the magnificent hotel, with turret a large, roofed, arched openings porch above the entrance.
New Bryn Mawr Hotel, Flower Beds, 1891, by William Rau.

After the Bryn Mawr Hotel burned to the ground in 1887, it was replaced the next year by a five-story, chateau-style building. It was designed by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Furness, Evans and Company, whose lead architect, Frank Furness, had previously designed stations for PRR's Philadelphia rival, the Reading Company. But by then, Bryn Mawr was losing its attraction as a summer resort.

In 1888, Florence Baldwin had founded "Miss Baldwin's School for Girls, Preparatory for Bryn Mawr College," with thirteen students, directly across Montgomery Avenue from Samuel Rea's house. Baldwin leased the hotel during the winter and by 1912, the overnight hotel trade had declined to the point that PRR began to lease the building to the school year-round. Ten years later, the school bought the hotel and twenty-five acres from PRR for $240,000.

The sale of the Bryn Mawr Hotel reflected changing times. The railroad no longer wanted to juggle so many support enterprises, which drained the company of valuable energy and resources, and made it even more vulnerable to accusations of corruption. In the 1920s, PRR looked to simplify its corporate structure as auto and truck competition, and government regulation, forced it to cut costs and concentrate on its core business–running trains. It demolished the Logan House in 1931, and gradually sold off parcels of real estate.

For decades afterward, railroad executives continued to live in the ivy-shaded neighborhoods of the Main Line, right up until PRR successor Conrail was merged into the Virginia-based Norfolk Southern Corporation on June 1, 1999. With that acquisition, Philadelphia for the first time in more than 150 years lost its standing as the headquarters of a major American railroad, and so lost its last railroad executives, too.
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