Dora Montgomery, BMC ’24

Buildings in Lower Merion Township

Semester: Spring 2023

Praxis Course: Praxis II – CITY 350 Urban Projects

Faculty Advisor: Jeff Cohen

Field Site: Lower Merion Conservancy

Field Supervisor: Kathleen Abplanalp

Praxis Poster:

Dora Montgomery_Praxis Poster_Final_Resized


Further Context:

My project was to take photos of fire insurance surveys kept at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania archives. Fire insurance surveys are records taken of buildings by the Franklin Fire Insurance Company and the Pennsylvania Insurance Company during the nineteenth century. They recorded the dimensions and materials of new buildings in order to assess their insurance costs. Surveys often included plans of the first floors. I specifically documented buildings in Lower Merion Township. The surveys I found range in date from 1820 to 1866. I will be giving my copies of the surveys to Lower Merion Conservancy, a local organization devoted to natural and historical conservation in Lower Merion Township. The Conservancy will, in the future, enter them into a database of buildings in the township accessible by researchers and residents. The surveys, especially the plans, provide valuable information for understanding the types of buildings in the township from the time. I learned, for example, most of the buildings were barns and stables, but there were larger and more interesting homes and public buildings as well.

The first image on my poster is an atlas of Lower Merion Township. Part of my job was to locate the buildings I found in surveys on atlases of the Township. I could not actually use that atlas, as there were no high quality digital copies, but it was the nicest to look at. The next two images are a plan and drawing of Whitehall Inn, a no longer extant hotel built next to Whitehall Station, a train station in Bryn Mawr. Whitehall Inn was demolished, but Whitehall Station still exists, and was renovated into the Bryn Mawr hospital thrift shop. The images below are a snapshot of the location of Whitehall Inn & Station on an atlas from 1851 and two images of Whitehall Station, one from when it was an operating station, one from today.

The next several images are from different surveys from across the Township. They reflect the wide variety of buildings from the period. There is the residential home of John Levering, who was a prominent citizen and himself made a map of the Township. There are the plans of a tenant house, for rent, and a spring house, which was located over a natural spring of water, at Harriton Farm, a large estate in the Township. The Baptist Church, which is just down the street from Bryn Mawr, was also on Harriton Farm. Many of the surveys are not as detailed as those previously displayed, reflected by the sketch of buildings in Merion Square, several of which were owned by D.N. Egbert, but not all. Many plans included additional information about nearby roads and buildings to help situate the buildings being surveyed. The final image is of stables at Whitehall Inn, which resemble most of the surveys found. As one might expect for a agricultural community, most of the buildings surveyed were barns and stables.