22 October 2015

The Origins of Ferguson's North Glenside

In one of the blog's early posts, I explained the process of discovering the subdivision of land on which my house currently sits-- Ferguson's North Glenside. It constitutes what is today known as the neighborhood of Ardsley. Today we will take a look at the origins of the subdivision, which occurred in three successive phases around 1920.

On October 5, 1917, in the later years of her life, Emma L. Spear officially conveyed, to Reginald T. Ferguson, the 217-acre farmland tract which had been owned by her family for the last 50+ years. Reginald Ferguson, born in 1869, was a native Philadelphian, who by this time had become a very successful jeweler in the city. He and his wife, Katherine, had no children, and by all indications Reginald was an astute businessman. Setting his sights on land speculation in the burgeoning suburb of Glenside, he acquired the Spear tract, as well as the neighboring 68-acre land of the late William Unruh shortly thereafter.

Clip of a 1916 map of the Spear and Zoller (formerly Unruh) tracts of land acquired by Reginald T. Ferguson a few years later. Location of my house circle. Base map courtesy of Franklin Maps.
The Spear land stretched from roughly 480 feet southwest of the main artery Jenkintown Rd, all the way to Susquehanna Rd near present-day Roslyn. It was bounded on the west by the border between Abington and Upper Dublin Townships, and on the east by the estate of F.W. Zoller (formerly held by long-time owner William Unruh) as well as by the grounds of the Hillside Cemetery. The 68-acre Unruh tract later expanded the subdivision east to present-day Jackson Ave at the edge of the Ardsley Burial Cemetery. This tract extends half the length of the Spear tract, from Jenkintown Rd to about 400 feet northeast of present-day Spear Ave.

Overlay of Ferguson subdivisions over a current aerial map.
Surveys commissioned by Ferguson after acquiring this land from the former landowners officially subdivided the land into individual home-sized lots, which Ferguson largely sold off with a few exceptions, starting with about 3/4 of the Spear tract, followed shortly thereafter by the Unruh property. The remainder of the former Spear land was less desirable and more difficult to subdivide, due to the Sandy Run creek running through a portion of it. However, the apparent success of the first two splits led Ferguson to divide this remaining Spear land in 1921, with a 10-1/2 acre portion of this area sold to Abington Township in 1935 to became Ardsley Park. 

Ferguson's North Glenside subdivisions also established the street grid we see today. Emma Spear's name survives physically in the form of the NW-SE oriented Spear Ave which roughly bisects her former land. While Ferguson continued the existing street names of Maple Ave, Cricket Ave, Central Ave, Tennis Ave, and Penn Ave from the neighborhood to the southwest (originally labeled Avenues "A" through "E") in the SW-NE direction, he applied the names of former U.S. Presidents to all of the new streets he created: Garfield Ave, Madison Ave, Cleveland Ave, Jefferson Ave, Lincoln Ave, Adams Ave, Monroe Ave, Harrison Ave, Jackson Ave, and Woodrow Ave (after president at-the-time Woodrow Wilson). A few of these streets were later re-named: Adams Ave was changed to Hamel Ave since it closely aligned with the existing Hamel Ave to the southwest. Cleveland Ave was later renamed Meyer Ave.

Ferguson's North Glenside as it existed in 1937, pieced together from different map sections courtesy of Franklin Maps. In the 17-18 years after subdivision, the area is maybe 15% or so developed.
Since being a jeweler was his true profession, and he was not a land developer or builder, his purpose in creating these subdivisions was to profit on the sale of the individual lots, which he did throughout the early 1920's as the population of Abington Township rapidly expanded. Thus, development did not occur immediately with homogeneous architecture throughout, as with many subdivisions of the post-WWII. Comparatively, the paving of streets, extension of public utilities, and construction of homes occurred gradually over the next few decades. There are many homes in Ardsley which date to the 1940's and 1950's.

Reginald T. Ferguson sold off the individual lots as he could (although it is quite likely he employed some sort of an agent to aid him)-- a future research task of mine will be to determine how long he specifically dealt with the selling of thse lots, and if possible, determine approximately how much he may have profited. He died in 1924, so I will be curious to see if he continued to deal in these properties up until his death, as well as how much of the subdivision remained unsold at that time. He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd (Montgomery County), however his estate was settled in Bucks County in 1931. The 7-year period it took to settle his estate may mean he died still holding quite a bit of real property to sort out, and/or had numerous debts to settle, either or both of which requiring several years to administer. He may have even dealt in land speculation in other nearby areas-- I will need to search more property records and that estate file to determine more.

In our next non-Saturday Spotlight post, we will take a stroll through Ferguson's North Glenside as it exists today as the Ardsley section of Glenside, examining various homes, their differing architecture over time, and some of the existing landmarks.

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