12 September 2015

Saturday Spotlight-- Circa 1937 Stone Colonial in Wyncote

Welcome to the Saturday Spotlight!

Post #6 and I'm already creating a recurring segment? Sure, why not? On the weekly Saturday Spotlight, I will highlight a house in the suburban Philadelphia area (probably will be heavily Montco-based to start) and will give a brief snapshot of it's history-- at least whatever history I can piece together in a relatively short amount of time.

I'll feature both large houses and small houses, and will showcase a wide array of architectural styles. I'll look at homes from the 20th century as well as those from as far back as the 18th century. I'm sure we'll hunt down some pre-1700 homes as well. (We'll see about 21st century, I'll never say never). The purpose of this segment (as with this blog) will be to show that every home has a history, and that that history can be found, assembled, and expanded with further details. And frankly, it's fun to take a spin around the area and take a look at what's out there. Consider this an historical Open House of sorts from the comfort of your couch.

Circa 1937 Stone Colonial Revival - Wyncote, PA

Our first feature house is one I fell in love with a little over two years ago, when my wife and I first began getting serious about the search for our first home. It absolutely became the object of our obsession for about 2-3 weeks, as we toured the house and fooled ourselves into thinking that we could somehow afford it, make it livable, and fix it up over time into our permanent dream house.

This is a Colonial Revival style home of nearly 2,100 square feet in Wyncote, PA near Cheltenham High School, and it is constructed of my absolute favorite building material on a home-- Wissahickon schist. This type of stone has a fantastic aesthetic, with varying layers of grey, beige, and brown, and most distinctively characterized by the flecks of mica that give it a touch of sparkle. It is also quintessentially a Philadelphia building material that is ubiquitous in the area. I can take some solace in the fact that the piers holding up the roof over my front porch are built from this stone, also known as Chestnut Hill stone.

Alright, alright, enough of that schist. Back to the spotlight house-- it comprises 2-1/2 stories, with a traditionally symmetrical form and floor plan typical of Colonial Revivals. Other typical features of this style are the accentuated front entry at center, the side-gabled roof with chimney at one end, and the multiple-pane double-hung windows. As a Colonial Revival of pre-WWII vintage, the proportions are more or less true to the early English colonial homes that inspired these generally more eclectic revival homes. Although the present roof is modern asphalt shingle, and not original, it almost certainly was originally roofed with slate shingles which still exist on the garage.


Although public records indicate a construction date of 1938, the house shows up on a map published in 1937, as one of the first few houses on new parcels carved away from the modest 17 acre farmland of the Fenton family. The Fenton family owned this land at least as far back as 1860, and possibly as far back as 1810 or earlier, spanning at least 3 generations. A branch line of the Philadelphia and Northern Railorad ran through the farm, near the location of our Stone Colonial, but was taken out of service prior to 1909.

John M Fenton passed away in 1886, bequeathing the farm to his adult son, Franklin K Fenton. By all indications, Frank retired to Hatboro prior to 1900, while still owning the property until his death in 1936. Franklin's death was likely the event that set into motion the eventual sale of the land and subdivision, as the 1937 map lists his son Clifford L Fenton as the owner of the remaining 14 acres of the farm. Clifford, however, had long ago created a life for himself as an electrical engineer out in western PA. It appears that by 1940 the old farm had been completely sold off and subdivided, leaving a new road called "Old Farm Road" in its wake, littered with new stone colonials that remain charming to this day.

1960s to Present

Although the original builder or owner of the Stone Colonial is not immediately apparent without further research, a couple named Gallagher purchased the house, likely in 1967. One hopes that this couple lived a happy life over many decades with their children in this beautiful house, right up until the years leading up to my introduction to it. Mr Gallagher passed away in 2011 (with his wife living on until 2014), and the house went up for sale in 2013 in as-is condition.

When we toured the house in the summer of 2013, it was not in terrible shape, although it did require much attention, especially on the interior. There were some moisture problems in the basement, the kitchen was perhaps barely in usable condition, and much electrical work was likely required. In general the interiors, while still retaining original character, were crying for refinishing. Despite our desires, it was not meant to be for us (nor would it have realistically been) and SJ4 Ventures came in with a cash offer, revitalized the home while maintaining the vintage charm, and placed it back on the market, re-selling the house in early 2014. Looking at the fantastic job they did, I think it is safe to say that their tasteful renovations will allow for a great family home for a long time to come.

Interior images courtesy of real estate listing and SJ4 Ventures LLC

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