16 March 2016

The North Glenside Land Company - "500 Desirable Lots"

Early on in my home research, a familiar corporation name kept popping up-- that of the "North Glenside Land Company". It re-appeared in deed after deed, specifically in the legal description of my land, as I kept requesting the documents from the Recorder of Deeds office via mail as part of my chaining the title (at that time, I had no opportunity to physically search in-person). Every week or so I'd receive a new deed further back in time, and each one defined the property's southwestern boundary "thence along the land of North Glenside Land Company". This continued back to Reginald Ferguson's receipt of the overall land tract from Emma Spear in 1919.

Just a Neighboring Development, But Consider My Interest Piqued

My initial viewings of local atlas maps found my property within the boundaries of "North Glenside - Ferguson" in 1937, as part of Reginald Ferguson's subdivision. But although it was called Ferguson's North Glenside, the corporation called North Glenside Land Company always seemed to be clearly a separate entity. In fact, it appeared to be the owner of the majority of the vacant land directly to the southwest and even a few slivers to the north and east bordering Ferguson's. The name "North Glenside Land Co." does not appear specifically on any of the early atlas maps, although the area is labeled "North Glenside" in 1916. In earlier years, this neighborhood was instead occupied by the "William Penn Real Estate Co." in both 1891 and 1897 (it was further labeled as "Remlu Heights" in 1909", a name which re-appeared on the 1937 map. Upon first glance, NGLCo (as I'll refer to it for short) appears to have been a successor to Wm. Penn Real Estate Company in owning that land tract.

After Googling the North Glenside Land Company, I was excited to find the following photograph courtesy of Duke University:

This photo was taken less than 1/2 mile from my house in 1916, down at the Ardsley railroad stop, and captures three advertising billboards. On the far left billboard, one can just make out the words "North Glenside Land Co." In the foreground we see the rail tracks, with Jenkintown Road trailing away from the photographer to the east. This view is in the direction as if one were moving away from my house. Cutting across from left to right in front of the billboards (behind the closer sign reading "Get Off Here- Ardsley Burial Park") is Tyson Avenue, largely obscured by the sloping ground. This sign for the NGLCo alerts disembarking train passengers, as well as those remaining on the train, that great home lots are nearby. The sign reads "North Glenside Land Co.     [Hou]ses and Bungalows For Sale" and the bottom line likely reads "Build to Please" with further text not in view.

Before I knew more details about Ferguson's tract and before I pinpointed my house's construction date to about 7-8 years after this photo, I thought that this could possibly have been advertising a development which included my house's lot or even the house itself. Alas, it is the neighboring subdivision but is a fascinating find nonetheless which intrigued me further about the North Glenside Land Company.

North Glenside Land Co. in the Years 1914-1920

Documentation found to date of the NGLCo's existence and operations largely consists of newspaper advertisements and references to the company in property deeds. The corporation is included on several reports produced at the Pennsylvania State Treasurer's office for the years 1916 and 1918, and there appears to be some evidence that the company was formed in 1914. Newspaper advertisements taken out by the company, found in the Philadelphia Inquirer, are frequent in this same year, 1914, adding credibility to that assumption. The company again appears to have advertised somewhat heavily in both 1916 and 1919, with at least one ad found in 1920.

Add to this the photo of the billboard dated 1916 and we have a fair bit of evidence that the NGLCo was active primarily from 1914-1920. What occurred pre- and post- these dates I am not quite sure at this time. However, any documentation which also provides any sense of geography always refer to the general area of Ardsley station. Thus, at this time I feel reasonably certain that the area of their holdings corresponds with those of the Wm. Penn Realty Co. before it and which was labeled as North Glenside in 1916. This general area, to the southwest of Ferguson's North Glenside tract, also corresponds roughly with what is today known as the community of North Hills (between Jenkintown Rd and Mount Carmel Ave, and between North Hills Ave and Edge Hill Rd). I have to assume that NGLCo's holdings were further contracted within those boundaries (probably no further east than Hamel Ave), and subtracted from it certainly would have been any lots sold off before 1914 to individuals.

Portion of a 1916 local atlas map. The location of my house, prior to its erection, is circled in purple. "North Glenside" is directly to the southwest. Original map via Franklin Maps.

"Your Bungalow in North Glenside"

The company's 1914 advertisements in particular provide some richness to this story. Nearly all of them stood out within a dense newspaper page of text ads by including an image of a bungalow. Most are also peppered with flowery language, as many real estate ads are. NGLCo was selling much the same type of haven that many developers were at this time, offering modern amenities such as reliably clean plumbing water and electric street lights, as well as an escape from city life with attractive landscapes ("high healthful surroundings"!) while at the same time allowing easy access to Philadelphia by way of the railroads. They implore potential customers to "enjoy your summer in a bungalow". Indeed, many of the bungalows built in this era served as summer cottage retreats for city dwellers. All of the ads in this first group are from April through July of 1914, indicating a heavy advertising blitz to try to lock in customers during the first spring and summer seasons after the company's establishment:

We see here an indication of the possible number of sales during these several months, as NGLCo continually amends its total availability from "500 desirable lots" down to 450 and eventually to "over 400". We also learn that the company had built dozens of bungalows itself (at least 40), in order to offer turn-key homes to buyers seeking such. In addition, vacant lots were available (certainly!), and the company appears also to have offered ready-to-build floor plans as well as customization. But wait, there's more! Easy financing and a free automobile ride to the tract from the train station. Everything to everyone, of course! It clearly was successful to some extent, as the earlier ads indicate pricing for a bungalow home ranging from $3,000 to $3,500-- that is later amended to $3,500 to $4,000 and later further to "$3,500 and up". A buyer could grab hold of a vacant lot for $250 to $500.

The ads also indicate management of the company by a Mr. William G. Glenn, on-site customer service by a Mr. Walter Lewis, and that the NGLCo maintained three offices in Philadelphia. One of these offices was at the Land Title Building on South Broad Street, an early skyscraper designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham. Given the existence of not one, but three offices, all of which were off-site in the city, I'd wager that Mr. Glenn was part of a larger operation and that the North Glenside Land Company solely existed as a corporation to serve this new development.

By October 1914, either business had slowed or the company had completed more bungalows on the lower end of its scale. This simple ad offers a "white plastered bungalow, hardwood finish ideal for young couple, $3000" as well as 5-room (2-bedroom) homes for $3,500 and 6-room (3-bedroom) homes for $4,000. No picture in this one either:

A few advertisements return to the Inquirer newspaper in 1916, one found with a picture:

In the plainer advertisement, we also see an additional listing below it bearing the name "Renninger & Renninger" (if you've read my chain of title summaries, this name should be familiar!). It's a sign of things to come for the North Glenside Land Company, as by 1919 they no longer rely solely on their "agent on the grounds" here and instead have farmed agency representation to the prominent local realty company headed by Harry Renninger:

The NGLCo still claimed "500 desirable lots" and perhaps used this figure loosely to describe their entire development at large. The company seems to still clearly be building in the neighborhood in 1919 in order to "supply the urgent need of more houses". Also, the sizes of the homes being built have increased in size. This ad below from 1920 is difficult to read, but lists three bungalows, ranging from 7-8 rooms in size with price tags from $6,400 to $9,500:

The trail of the North Glenside Land Company dries up after that, at least without more extensive research. I'll just need to keep digging, figuratively speaking, of course.

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