History of 330 Highland Lane - August 6, 2013
After some recent online sleuthing, I've determined that our house was not originally part of the estate we thought it was but rather, connected to a much larger and more prominent estate.
Originally, we believed the house was built in 1920, because that is what was in the official real estate listing. We were also told by the person that we bought the house from that our house and the one situated close and next door (a very similar house) were out-buildings or servants quarters for the mansion that is now the clubhouse for the Millridge housing development. This made sense because of the road and stone gate that is next to our property. This road leads down towards the Millridge mansion, Casa Mia, which was owned by the Jacobs family in the first half of the 1900's.
I began to search around for the history of that mansion in the hopes of finding out more about our house. In doing so, I stumbled across some historical maps that are available for purchase. Many of these maps were created by the Pennsylvania Railroad Co., which owned much of the land in the area and sold much of it to wealthy Philadelphians for their summer homes. In a map from 1908 [pdf] there are two houses that are clearly clustered together right along Highland Lane, similar to the distance our house is from Radnor Road off of Darby road [click image to enlarge]:
What's interesting is that if you zoom in close enough on the Penna. R.R. map from 1908, it even has our house and the house next door oriented the same way where ours is facing east and the house next door is facing south.
Comparing the 1908 Penna. R.R. and another from 1900 [pdf] it seems as if the house was actually built sometime between 1900, where there were no houses on our area of Highland Lane, and 1908 when they are clearly there.
And according to the boundary lines on the 1908 map above [again, click to enlarge], it appears as if our house is actually somehow a part of the "Wootton" house, which was an estate of several hundred acres built and owned by George W. Childs, the publisher of the Philadelphia Public Ledger and one of the co-founders of Drexel University and the town of Wayne, all of which were ventures with Anthony J. Drexel, a Philadelphia banker who came up with the idea of mortgage financing..
Here is a photo of Wootton, sometime around 1900, give or take ten years:
The estate eventually passed on to George W. Childs Drexel, who was George W. Childs' godson and the son of Anthony J. Drexel. Eventually, the Penna. R.R. maps reflect the change of hands.
In a map of 1926 [pdf], the road next to our house appears and leads down to the Jacobs's mansion, Casa Mia [click on map to enlarge]:
In the late 1940's, the Wootton estate was turned over to developers who built many houses for "junior executives" in the area, but the house and several out-buildings are now part of St. Aloysious Academy. Conferences and meetings are often held in the main house.
So what is the original use for 330 Highland Lane?
Two theories at this moment:
Theory #1: In several magazine articles written about Wootton in the mid-1880's, the gardener and superintendent of Wootton is mentioned, Mr. John M. Hughes. It is possible that the pair of houses on Highland Lane were for him and his family.
Theory #2: This is the most logical theory so far. Maps show that originally, the Wootton estate did not extend all the way from Bryn Mawr Avenue to the north and Highland Lane to the south. In 1887, it appears as if the area around Highland Lane was a farm owned by the Sheaff family [pdf] and then by 1897 the farm was owned by John K. Valentine [see far right of this pdf]. By 1900, the farm was procured by George Childs Drexel [pdf] and it seems reasonable that when the farm was added to the Wootton estate, the pair of houses on Highland Lane were built for the employees in charge of working he farm.
- Andy's Antique Atlases
- An 1881 map of the area in pdf. [see lower left]
- Wootton mentioned in a Philadelphia Inquirer article that discussed a book of Main Line homes.
- From the Radnor Historical society, an hour-long video of an historian at St. Aloysius Academy discussing Wootton.
- A description of the early years at Wootton. [scroll to page 20]
- In an issue of Gardener's Monthly and Horticulturist from 1885, the grounds of Wootton is described and the gardener of the property, Mr. John M. Hughes is mentioned.
- Yet another mid-1880's description of Wootton in American Gardener.
- This early description of Wootton mentions the fact that Childs' procured a nearby farm to add to the Wootton estate. This may be the Valentine farm [Sheaff previously] which is shown in earlier maps.