Our History continued ...

What was to become the town of Bryn Mawr in later years did not grow up around the house that was the original "Bryn Mawr." Rather it was the small settlement called Humphreysville on Lancaster Pike which formed the nucleus of the town.

Several branches of the Humphrey family emigrated from Wales to Pennsylvania, and eventually the entire Humphrey tract, owned by various members of the family, totaled 1900 acres, encompassing the present towns of Bryn Mawr, North Haverford, North Ardmore, the Mill Creek section and the land north of Wynnewood.

John Humphrey, an uncle of Thomas and Rowland Ellis, and Benjamin Humphrey owned land adjoining the "Bryn Mawr" plantation. Benjamin Humphrey built a fine house near the present day Bryn Mawr College and lived there until his death in 1737. As the years passed, other members of the family built homes in the vicinity, and around the family a small town developed and came to be known as Humphreysville or Humphreyville. By 1858 it was a thriving center, containing twenty-one houses, a two-story public schoolhouse and a number of elegant "country seats" of prominent Philadelphians who wished to escape to the country from the activity of the city.

Bryn Mawr benefitted from the construction of the railroads which helped in opening up the interior of the country in the mid-nineteenth century. By 1834 the Columbia Railroad which enabled travellers to go from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh was in operation and Humphreysville became an important stop for fuel and water and was the only place where suburban tickets could be purchased.

In 1857 the Pennsylvania Railroad, chartered in 1846, bought the Columbia Railroad. Two years later the first station was built in Humphreysville, near the White Hall Hotel, and came to be known as the White Hall Station. It served as a passenger station, ticket office and telegraph office. Many trains going west stopped here including the one bearing President Abraham Lincoln's body. It survives today as the building of the Bryn Mawr Hospital Thrift Shop.

In the late 1860's the railroad, because of the development of new equipment and more powerful locomotives, was able to replace the earlier track, which wandered through the countryside to avoid hills, with a new and straighter route. The White Hall curve was eliminated and use of the station discontinued. In 1869 the railroad built a new station to serve Humphreysville. The construction of the new track brought complaints from the local farmers who feared that the deep cut through the high ground which the railroad proposed to make to lessen the grade from Haverford would cause damage to their lands. When the farmers filed claims against the railroad, the company decided to buy all the adjoining farms and use them for real estate development rather than just buying the rights of way. Thus the railroad acquired nearly all the land between present day Penn Street, Gulph Road, Roberts Road and the railroad tracks.

This tract was then divided into building lots for what was to be an exclusive residential area. The deeds of sale forbade the use of buildings as stores, manufacturing concerns, shops, livery stables or "for any offensive occupation." Houses built on Montgomery Avenue were to cost at least $8,000.00, and on the other streets at least $5,000.00 - no small sum in that time - and had to be located a stipulated distance from the street.

In 1869 John Edgar Thomson, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, decided to name the new Humphreysville station "Bryn Mawr" in honor of the eighteenth century farm of Rowland Ellis, and in keeping with the other Welsh names that were given to stations and towns on the railroad's "Main Line."

Soon the buildings on Lancaster Pike which made up the town of Humphreysville took on the name Bryn Mawr and, as a 1875 publication of the railroad boasted, "from a scattered hamlet the place is growing into the proportions of an elegant town. Villas and cottages are springing up with wonderful rapidity, and it is altogether within the realm of probablllty that Bryn Mawr will, in a few years, be one of the largest, and certainly one of the most beautiful suburbs of Philadelphia."

How true this prediction was. By 1884 Bryn Mawr was the most populous community in Lower Merion Township. There were approximately 300 houses within a mile of the station. Most were along Lancaster Pike and Montgomery Avenue. However, there were a good number of large "country seats" of wealthy Philadelphians in the surrounding area. The railroad service was excellent; twenty-seven trains daily left Bryn Mawr for Philadelphia. The townspeople could shop locally at several food stores and clothing and dry goods stores. Fuel and ice could be secured nearby. Local residents provided their neighbors with all kinds of services and items, ranging from a shoemaker to stables and a grist mill. Since 1874 the town had been served by its own Post Office, located at the corner of Lancaster Pike and Bryn Mawr Avenue, and its own newspaper, The Home News, and later The News. The town could even boast of an ice cream parlor.

As Bryn Mawr was a favorite summer retreat for city dwellers, many hotels and boarding houses flourished. The largest and most elegant was the Bryn Mawr Hotel, built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the early 1870s. Here, in a four-story brick structure with Mansard roof, socially prominent guests enjoyed the country air in elegant surroundings with modern facilities such as gas lighting, bathtubs and an elevator. They could relax in the terraced gardens and use the poolroom and bowling alley, and still be but a two minute walk from the railroad station. In 1887 a disastrous fire destroyed the hotel. A new hotel was constructed on the site by a group of local residents, but by the 1890s Bryn Mawr was no longer a favorite vacation spot and the hotel failed.

The property was purchased by The Baldwin School, which had been founded in 1888 by Miss Frances Baldwin, and the school has occupied the property ever since. In 1894 The Shipley School, another girls' private school was established. The children of the town attended a two-story school located on Lancaster Avenue. However, the most notable educational institution in the town was founded in 1880 by Dr. Joseph W. Taylor. He sought to establish "an institution for advanced learning for women to have equal advantage with men." In September 1885 the first students, meeting high admission standards and prepared for instruction equal to that in the best male colleges, entered Bryn Mawr College.

The churches in Bryn Mawr reflected the diversity of the population. By the mid-1880s five churches had been established and had active congregations: the Lower Merion Baptist Church, established in 1808; the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, founded in 1851; Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, founded in 1873; St. Luke's. Methodist, established in 1877; and finally the Bryn Mawr African Methodist Episcopal Church, dating from 1878. However, the Catholic population of permanent residents and vacationers were without a place to worship. The nearest churches at that time were St. Denis', located since 1828 in what was called Cobbs Creek or West Haverford, and the chapel on the grounds of Villanova College, about two miles west on Lancaster Pike, where the Augustinians not only educated young men but also had a seminary.

In 1871, the Augustinians at Villanova applied to Bishop Wood for permission to open a church in Bryn Mawr, but he refused their request......

Read on by clicking on the "Chapter 1" link below.