Philadelphia Main Line

Monday, 19 February 2024 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
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Ashbridge House in Ashbridge Memorial Park in Bryn Mawr © MainlyTwelve/cc-by-sa-4.0

Ashbridge House in Ashbridge Memorial Park in Bryn Mawr © MainlyTwelve/cc-by-sa-4.0

The Philadelphia Main Line, known simply as the Main Line, is an informally delineated historical and social region of suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Lying along the former Pennsylvania Railroad‘s once prestigious Main Line, it runs northwest from Center City Philadelphia parallel to Lancaster Avenue, also known as U.S. Route 30.

The railroad first connected the Main Line towns in the 19th century. They became home to sprawling country estates belonging to Philadelphia’s wealthiest families, and over the decades became a bastion of “old money“. The Main Line includes some of the wealthiest communities in the country, including Gladwyne, Villanova, Radnor, Haverford, Merion. Today, the railroad is Amtrak‘s Keystone Corridor, along which SEPTA‘s Paoli/Thorndale Line operates.

The Pennsylvania Railroad built its main line during the early 19th century as part of the Main Line of Public Works that spanned Pennsylvania. Later in the century, the railroad, which owned much of the land surrounding the tracks, encouraged the development of this picturesque environment by building way stations along the portion of its track closest to Philadelphia. The benefits of what was touted as “healthy yet cultivated country living” attracted Philadelphia’s social elite, many of whom had one house in the city and another larger “country home” on the Main Line.

In the 20th century, many wealthy Philadelphia families moved to the Main Line suburbs. Part of the national trend of suburbanization, this drove rapid investment, prosperity, and growth that turned the area into greater Philadelphia’s most affluent and fashionable region. Estates with sweeping lawns and towering maples, the débutante balls and the Merion Cricket Club, which drew crowds of 25,000 spectators to its matches in the early 1900s, were the setting for the 1940 Grant/Hepburn/Stewart motion picture The Philadelphia Story. The railroad placed stops about two minutes apart, starting with Overbrook. The surrounding communities became known by the railroad station names which started at Broad Street Station in Center City Philadelphia and went on to 32nd Street Station (replaced by 30th Street Station in 1933), the 52nd Street Station (decommissioned), and then the Main Line stations: Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, Villanova, Radnor, St. Davids, Wayne, Strafford, Devon, Berwyn, Daylesford, Paoli, and Malvern. At least five of these station buildings, along with the first Bryn Mawr Hotel, were designed by Wilson Brothers & Company. A branch line of the Main Line (currently known as SEPTA’s Cynwyd Line) extended to the communities now known as Bala and Cynwyd (via Wynnefield Station in Philadelphia), then proceeded to the West Laurel Hill Cemetery (where there was once a station, as well,) and crossed back into Philadelphia over the Schuylkill River via the famous Manayunk Bridge. Broad Street Station was replaced with Suburban Station in 1930, and 30th Street Station replaced 32nd Street three years later. Suburban service now extends west of the Main Line to the communities of Exton, Whitford, Downingtown, and Thorndale. The railroad line then continued on to Chicago, with major stations at Lancaster, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. The railroad, since taken over by Amtrak, is still in service, although its route is slightly different from the original. It also serves the Paoli/Thorndale Line of the SEPTA Regional Rail system.

The Trading Post in Paoli © panoramio.com - Joe Zlomek/cc-by-sa-3.0 White Horse Tavern in Malvern © Topshelver Whitehall Apartments in Haverford © Smallbones Maybrook Mansion in Wynnewood © Kamelotauctions/cc-by-sa-4.0 Ardmore Post Office © Ii2nmd/cc-by-sa-4.0 Ashbridge House in Ashbridge Memorial Park in Bryn Mawr © MainlyTwelve/cc-by-sa-4.0 House in the South Wayne Historic District in Wayne © Smallbones Lower Merion Academy in Bala Cynwyd © Smallbones Merion Tribute House © Morris Levin/cc-by-sa-4.0 Narbrook Park Historic District in Narberth © Smallbones Overbrook Farms in Overbrook © Smallbones
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Ashbridge House in Ashbridge Memorial Park in Bryn Mawr © MainlyTwelve/cc-by-sa-4.0
It was not only extremely wealthy people on the Main Line in the period 1880-1920 (Gilded Age). Wealthy households required large numbers of servants in order to maintain their lifestyle. Often these servants were Black migrants from the South and recent immigrants from Europe. For example, in the 1900 census, Tredyffrin Township was 13.5% Black; another 15% had been born in Europe. The two largest countries of origin were Italy and Ireland. The corresponding figures for Lower Merion Township were 6% Black and 15% born in Europe; almost 11% were from Ireland. Another dimension of this story is illustrated by the community of Mount Pleasant, in Tredyffrin Township just north of Wayne. This is a community that became predominantly Black in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As shown in the census for 1920, most of the Black residents of this neighborhood or their parents had come from the South. Many of the men in this neighborhood (along Henry Avenue and Mount Pleasant Avenue) were employed by the railroad, as quarry workers, or as chauffeurs and gardeners by private families. The occupations often given for women were cook and laundress. This remains a predominantly Black community to the present day.

Today, the Main Line is another name for the western suburbs of Philadelphia along Lancaster Avenue (U.S. Route 30) and the former main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad and extending from the city limits to, traditionally, Bryn Mawr and ultimately Paoli, an area of about 200 square miles (520 km²). The upper- and upper middle-class enclave has historically been one of the bastions of “old money” in the Northeast, along with places like Long Island’s North Shore (AKA: “Gold Coast”); Westchester County, New York; Middlesex County, Massachusetts; and Fairfield County, Connecticut. Neighborhoods along the Main Line include nineteenth and early twentieth-century railroad suburbs and post-war subdivisions, as well as a few surviving buildings from before the suburban development era. The area today is known primarily for several educational institutions as well as robust suburban life.

The original Main Line towns are widely considered to follow the acronym “Old Maids Never Wed And Have Babies.” From Philadelphia, they are: Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford and Bryn Mawr. These seven towns are characterized as one of the primary bastions of old money in Southeastern Pennsylvania. They are comparably more dense than other suburbs and have lively, walkable downtowns. All of these communities were established along Lancaster Avenue prior to the railroad’s construction. Further, as early as 1887, Bala and Cynwyd were also included in atlases of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Lower Merion Township and Montgomery County. By 1908, one of the first atlases to refer specifically to the “Main Line” as a socio-cultural entity includes: Bala and Cynwyd. Additionally, the following towns are often grouped with the core Main Line: Wayne, Paoli and Malvern.

Read more on mainlinehaven.com – Main Line Towns, mainlinetoday.com – Your Comprehensive Guide to the Main Line Region’s Towns, mainlinetoday.com – Get to Know the Main Line Area and Wikipedia Philadelphia Main Line (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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