13 February 2016

Saturday Spotlight- Circa 1915 Eclectic Home in Mount Airy

This week's Saturday Spotlight takes us across the city limits into Philadelphia for the first time, with an eclectically styled home on Lincoln Drive in the West Mount Airy neighborhood.

Image via Google Street View

Ever since I moved to Glenside, one thing I have very much enjoyed is that I no longer am forced to drive the hellish interstate that is the Schuylkill Expressway when I want to drive to Center City Philadelphia. Instead, I am treated to the meandering thoroughfares of the Cresheim Valley Road and Lincoln Drive. Any day of the week I'll trade the chance at a speedy trip downtown for these pleasant routes through some of Philadelphia's most established communities like Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy, and a plethora of homes built of Wissahickon schist stone.

This home is nearly 5,300 square feet, and its unusually eclectic architectural style is what caught my eye. It boasts a Lincoln Drive address, and although you may able to catch it as you zip by, it actually presents most of its frontage on the cross street of Westview St. A mostly symmetrical facade with a hipped roof and deeply bracketed eaves, I mostly see Italianate or Renaissance Revival coming through in the mix of styles. The fenestration pattern and chimneys at either end carry over Colonial Revival planning. The most interesting features of the architecture, however, are the uniquely shaped arch dormers at the attic level. I can't quite peg that particular shape to a specific influence, maybe Flemish, but the center dormer which breaks the deep cornice line of the house makes a strong statement. Shallow segmented arches carry through to the first floor windows, the center window of the second floor, and the main entry porch. The stucco facades are uniquely adorned with red brick belt-coursing and perimeter trim, and a decorative diamond motif manifests itself throughout the exterior.

Image via Google Street View

Origins

The land on which this home presently sits was once part of a vast 500-acre estate owned by a prominent Philadelphia scientist and druggist, George W. Carpenter (1802-1860). It also happens to sit within the southwest corner of a 100-acre portion of Carpenter's primary estate, named Phil-Ellena. In 1893, Carpenter's beneficiaries sold this land to a business interest which included all-time Philadelphia capitalists Anthony Drexel and Edward T. Stotesbury (I previously discussed E.T. Stotesbury in another Saturday Spotlight post on a property in suburban Wyndmoor). What followed was the planned development called Pelham. The area, with the Chestnut Hill train line running through it, became popular, giving rise to hundreds of architect-designed twin homes and mansion homes for successful businessmen of the mercantile trades. The first decade of the 20th century saw the creation of Lincoln Drive, an extension of the existing thoroughfare (then called Wissahickon Drive) that wound through Fairmount Park along the Wissahickon Creek. The extension cut through Mount Airy along the branch of the Monoshone Creek, and is today one of the main thoroughfares to the near-northern suburbs of Philadelphia.

1895 map of Mount Airy. "X" marking the future spot of the featured house. The name "Ed. T. Stotesbury et al" is sprinkled throughout the Pelham neighborhood which is springing up at this time. Lincoln Drive goes no further north than Carpenter Lane at this point. Portion of a map courtesy of PhilaGeoHistory.

The assumed construction date for this eclectic stucco house is sometime between 1910-1920. It is believed to have been constructed for a wealthy manufacturer of ladies' dresses, named Abraham H. Caplan. Caplan was a native Russian, born in 1870 in what is now Latvia, and emigrated to the United States in 1884, later becoming a naturalized citizen, and clearly, a successful entrepreneur. Caplan lived at this home with his wife, Lena, and their three children-- daughter Irena was the eldest, and two boys, Clarence and Harold. Caplan employed two African-American women in 1920 as a live-in cook, 41-yr-old Minnie Bevens, and a live-in maid, 23-yr-old Cora Williams.

Lena (left) and Abraham Caplan (right). Photos from their 1923 application for a U.S. Passport.

1930s to Present

Although it is unclear exactly what may have happened to Abe's dressmaking business, by 1930 he and his family have moved onto a rental apartment in Germantown, and Abe has now switched careers to become the manager of a real estate business. Whatever those possibly poor fortunes may have been, the Lincoln Drive house saw a new owner. This was a Mr. John M. Greene, a 72-year-old retired treasurer of a sugar refinery business, and formerly of Atlantic City. Greene occupied the abode with his 62-year-old wife, Cecilia Gertrude Greene, and reported a value for the home of $40,000 in 1930. Cecilia, apparently Greene's third wife, passed away only a few years later, in 1933, of a type of heart disease.

It did not take the womanizing John Greene too long to find his fourth bride, however, as he married Ellen Nordstrom, approximately 45 years younger, the following year in Manhattan. John and Ellen lived in Mount Airy at the Lincoln Drive home through at least 1940. At some point thereafter, the couple moved to Yeadon in Delware County, with John Greene eventually retiring in 1945 to a nursing home in Chestnut Hill. He passed away there in 1947.

As for the Lincoln Drive house, a Mrs. Roy S. Streeter is listed at the address in 1950. The house has been well cared for and has been owned by the current owners for the past 24 years, since 1992. A veterinarian runs his business from this address, specializing in making house calls to ailing pets in their own homes.

UPDATE: I was contacted by Margaret, a former resident of this house, who lived there from 1950 to 1991! According to her, the Bailey family was the first African-American family to live on Lincoln Drive. If this indeed the case, it is a fantastic and fascinating addition to the story of this house and to the history of Mount Airy. I'll continue digging, and when I learn more I'll be sure to share in a future post. Thanks to Margaret for writing in!

4 comments:

  1. This was the first house on Lincoln Drive sold to a Black family in 1951. They lived on that block until 1988.

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  2. Thanks for the additional information! Would be very interested to hear further of your family and their time in this house.

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  3. my family is friends with the baileys.... to us, this is the bsiley house. i am happy to share contact info offline. :)

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  4. How can anyone miss on this blog, Totally be-enchanted by this blog.guesthouse

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