Historic Preservation Feature is a series of articles on the efforts to save and reuse historic buildings, districts and sites in Pennsylvania.

An historic sites survey is rightfully likened to a trea­sure hunt. A game of discovery, it relies on clues obtained from old maps, diaries, photographs, newspapers and countless other sources to lead to the awaiting bounty. Rather than finding a pot of gold, the historic sites survey, through its identification and documentation of old buildings, is rewarded by the discovery of pattern and significance in the built environ­ment. Structures determined to be of exceptional historical and architectural importance, like fine antiques, are “collectible” and should be studied, cherished and preserved.

The historic resources of Chester County and many other areas of the nation are now being scrutinized through official historic site surveys as mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and subse­quent federal legislation. A survey is underway in Chester County under the direction of the Chester County His­torical Society and coordinated by the Environmental Management Center of the Brandywine Conservancy. Staff and volunteers are leaving no stone un­turned in their search for historic sites. Not surprisingly, it has become apparent that the county is home to an ex­traordinary collection of venerable eighteenth and early nineteenth cen­tury buildings. Lacking the high style of such well recognized landmarks as “Cliveden,” the county’s vernacular buildings are often more historically than architecturally significant. Practi­cally designed and solidly constructed, the buildings are a clear manifestation of the once ubiquitous agricultural economy. Chester County is particu­larly noted for its sensible Quaker architecture, which is as pleasing to the eye today as it was 200 years ago.

Change always came slowly to Chester County. It was not until after the Civil War that the county had felt rumblings of a new industrial age­ – foretold by the penetration of the Columbia (Pennsylvania) Railroad in 1833. The new Victorian age was an era of heroes and giants: John Henry’s hammer rang, Casey Jones called for steam, and Carnegie cabled Rocke­feller to warn what Jay Gould was up to next. While some continued to build in the Georgian mode as late as 1850, the new aristocracy turned to pattern books and architects for the physical expression of their pros­perity.

Among the architects whose work is represented in the county is Frank Furness. He is now recognized as Philadelphia’s and possibly the na­tion’s leading exponent of the idio­syncratic High Gothic Revival Style, which flourished in the late nineteenth century. Small wonder Furness was the muse of this eclectic style; he was irascible, unpredictable, complex, in­tellectual and occasionally irrational. He wore loud clothes.sported a handle­bar mustache, and was prone to carica­ture. Frank Furness’ architectural career was launched in 1871 and con­tinued into the early 1900s. While the composition and name of his firm changed periodically, he was its guiding genius.

Due to the paucity of written ma­terial on Furness and the lack of a central archive for his work, the loca­tion of Furness-designed buildings has proved to be a most difficult but de­cidedly worthwhile task. James F. O’Gorman’s exhaustive work, The Architecture of Frank Furness, provided invaluable clues and was the initial inspiration for the search. The survey thus far has revealed that Fur­ness was sensitive to the county’s traditions and charms and surprisingly versatile. His portfolio included barns. stables and outbuildings. He made alterations to existing buildings. When given a free hand in the design of a country estate. he would uninhibited­ly lavish attention on the smallest detail.

Philadelphia was the showcase for Furness and his firm’s achievements. Working in the “polychrome pictur­esque,” Furness designed such remark­able buildings as the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1872-76), the Library of the University of Pennsyl­vania (1888-91), and the Provident Life and Trust Company (1876-79), to name a few. Compared to these monumental structures, the work done in Chester County is somewhat sub­dued. In fact, most of the “suburban” commissions were done for the personal use of the corporate giants for whom the firm had successfully de­signed in Philadelphia.

“Winden,” an estate on the out­skirts of West Chester. is a particularly fine example of this in Chester Coun­ty. Unlike most of the other Furness­-related sites. “Winden,” already known to architectural historians, was located without difficulty. The firm of Fur­ness and Evans was commissioned in 1882 to make alterations and addi­tions to an Italianate stone home owned by Samuel R. Shipley of Philadelphia. Shipley, director of the Provi­dent Life and Trust Company for over 30 years, patronized the firm on a number of occasions. Under the hand of Furness. the dignified stone house, which had been constructed by William P. J. Townsend in 1857, was transformed into a palatial summer estate. Its original symmetry and clarity are disguised by the addition of a front projecting library wing, a porte-cochere. overhanging gable dormer windows and a cantilevered second floor addition to the kitchen. The transformation is executed in the decorative wood shingles and clap­boards common to the Stick (Chalet) Style.

Furness’ fondness for heavy panel­ing, massive staircases, varied mantles with naturalistic detail and dramatic spatial areas is reflected in the interior alterations. “Winden” is an imposing and thoroughly distinctive home that ranks highly among the county’s archi­tectural treasures.

In 1900, Shipley contacted Furness and Evans again, this time to make al­terations to a neighboring property, “Town’s End Farm,” which he had recently purchased. The additions to “Town’s End Farm” are far more restrained than those at “Winden” and possibly the work of Allen Evans, Furness’ more conservative partner. The addition of a sweeping arch with keystone redefined the interior space of the essentially Federal structure and evidenced the growing popularity of neo-classic design.

It was a phone call in the wake of a bridge party that prompted the “dis­covery” of another Furness house. According to this source, an estate near Paoli had been designed by the famous firm. The location of the complex was confirmed using early twentieth cen­tury property maps and newspaper clippings, one of which read:

Builder L. F. Focht is asking sub-bids for the stable and gar­dener’s house for Mr. John C. Bullitt, to be erected at Paoli, according to plans by Messrs. Furness, Evans & Co. The same builder is progressing rapidly with the residence which he is building for Mr. J. C. Bullitt at the same place.
Philadelphia Inquirer
January 24, 1900

Like the firm’s other clients, John C. Bullitt was an affluent and well con­nected Philadelphian whose many children and grandchildren filled the rambling house during summers and on holidays. One of his grandchildren was William C. Bullitt, Jr., eminent diplomat and ambassador to Russia (1933-36) and France (1936-40). The Bullitts may have had closer than usual ties with Furness, owing to the marriage in 1899 of a daughter, Helen B., into the large Furness family.

Had there been no written clue of its eccentric designer, the Bullitt estate would provoke investigation on looks alone. The complex consists of a main house, stable/gardener’s cottage, and a small, low, rectangular building pos­sibly used as a game room. All of these structures bear the signature of Fur­ness in architectural detail and mani­fest his unusual humor in overall de­sign. When viewed as a whole, this suburban playground of a wealthy family appears a bold interpretation of the traditional Chester County farm­stead.

The exterior of the main house is dominated by the presence of rustic stone columns which bear more than a casual resemblance to the conical forebay supports of Chester County’s barns. These columns support a full length south facing porch, reminiscent of a barnyard forebay. An exaggerated mansard roof contains two full levels of living space; its dimensions are more akin to those of a gambreled roof barn than a residence. A brick terrace set deeply at foundation level contributes to the agricultural impression by con­juring up the notion of a stockyard. From here attention is drawn to the sunken game room, by now looking too much like a chicken coop. Did the architect imagine his clients within clucking contentedly during their sum­mer games? This smacks of Furness’ irrational humor. The stable is charac­terized by more distinctly residential features and has the familiar over­hanging gable dormers accented with barge board trim. The shingled walls kick out slightly over a stone founda­tion and swoop up to meet the roof. With the Bullitt estate, Furness, it seems, has challenged traditional rela­tionships and created the improbable­ – the inversion of house and barn.

Old MacDonald had a farm – but it was never anything like the Berwyn stock farm of A. J. Cassatt, who was second vice president of the Pennsyl­vania Railroad, and a prominent citi­zen on the Main Line. Cassatt pur­chased the farm in 1881. In keeping with the style of the era, he set about establishing it as a showcase of live­stock management and agricultural technology. Until he retired to breeding and racing thoroughbred horses, Cassatt resided at his Merion home, “Cheswold.” “Cheswold” was designed by Frank Furness (as was Cassatt’s Philadelphia residence at 2006 San­som St.). Both Cassatt and Furness were forceful, deliberate men who shared an interest in horses and coun­try life. Their working relationship is likely to have begun during the 1870s when Furness began designing stations for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

One fateful night in 1898, a large dairy barn on the Cassatt farm caught fire and burned to ruin. Flames ignited a neighboring barn and farm office. Furness and Evans were called upon to design the replacement. Plans called for “a large handsome stable … replete with all the latest accommodations.” In plan, this barn relies on the tradi­tion of single deck bank barns. It is distinguished, however, by its mater­ials, framing, equipment and decora­tion. Stone, frame and brick are com­mon barn building materials in the county. Here is coursed stone, wood shingle and a specially made asphalt and gypsum brick used as flooring. The interior framing is stylistically braced. The telltale clue that this is not the work of a master barn builder is in the use of nails, rather than pegs, to secure the mortise and tenon joints. Electricity, metal stanchions and ce­ment floors are technological im­provements that were not found in most other Chester County barns until 1910. Furness could not resist a few Gothic touches. The walls are subtly flared. Disproportionately small shin­gled brackets appear to support the weight of the massive roof. Where else, please, is there a cornice return on a barn?

The discovery of “Deepdale” and then “Hill Crest,” two works attrib­uted to Furness and Evans, was the happy result of a case of mistaken identity. The clue from O’Gorman’s book, “E. S. Beale, Residence, Ber­wyn, 1901,” provoked a search of old property atlases to no avail. The obit­uary of an Edward F. Beale (no men­tion of an E. S. Beale was ever found) indicated he was enormously success­ful, married the boss’s daughter and died at his home in Strafford, “Deep­dale.” As it turned out, E. F. Beale was none other than the brother-in­-law of Allen Evans, partner to Frank Furness. There is no reason not to believe that Beale would have com­missioned the firm to design the alter­ations to the farm he purchased in 1905, a stone’s throw from the Straf­ford station on the Main Line. A visit to the site reinforced the growing conviction that “Deepdale” was indeed the work of Furness and Evans and that E. S. and E. F. Beale were one and the same.

Despite its seemingly calm exterior, “Deepdale” at close look is an unpre­dictable combination of elements derived from various architectural styles which argues for the Furness and Evans attribution. Mantles iden­tical to the corbelled brick creation in the Bullitt house are present in “Deepdale,” and the bracketed hipped gable dormer windows in the facade are replicas of those used by Furness at his own country home, “Idlewild” in Media.

The problem remained, however, between the 1901 date given in O’Gorman’s clue and Beale’s purchase of the property in 1905. In addition, the Berwyn reference did not jibe with “Deepdale’s” Strafford address. A careful review of old property maps yielded the discovery that Evans and Beale had jointly owned a large parcel of land in Berwyn at the turn of the century. The site was checked for structures and another architectural treasure was found.

“Hill Crest,” situated in the heart of Berwyn, but visible only through the bars of a great wrought iron fence, is no stranger to the lists of “lost” American architecture. In going through some files shortly after the discovery of “Hill Crest,” a 1978 Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) memorandum came to light which indicated that the location, history and very existence of a Mary A. Bair house in Berwyn required verification. Photo comparisons of the two houses and a deed search of “Hill Crest” proved it was indeed the “miss­ing” Bair house. It was in all prob­ability built by William F. Drennen of Philadelphia during his ownership of the tract between 1884 and 1892.

“Hill Crest” is, perhaps, one of the county’s finest examples of the work of Furness and Evans. Its architectural features and overall design invite com­parison to other major commissions. “Hill Crest’s” majestic facade and multi-leveled roof are matched by an equally outstanding rear elevation. The interior of the mansion is no less impressive with its breathtaking paneling and carved woodwork.

The Roy F. Weston corporate head­quarters were established in 1966 in what was once an expansive summer estate, “Morstein,” on the outskirts of West Chester. Most recently the home of two biological supply companies at the time of the Weston purchase, the buildings and grounds were in a sad state of neglect. Through the efforts of Weston, Inc. the compound was restored, although certain facts of its origin were not completely known. While the handsome stone mansion with its compliment of stables and outbuildings reposed in a gracious woodland setting, the Chester County countryside was being combed for the John P. Lewis residence at Zermatt:

Architects Furness and Evans and Co. have finished drawings for alterations and the erection of a handsome residence at Zer­matt, Chester County, Pa. for John P. Lewis. The drawings can be seen at contractors Jacob Myers and Sons office. The spec­ifications provide for masonry, brick work, carpentry and mill­work, dumb waiter, iron and steel work, slate roofing metal work, plastering, painting and glazing cement work, hardware, etc.
Philadelphia Inquirer
May 27, 1899

Having failed initially to pinpoint a place named “Zermatt” in Chester County, a search was begun for Mr. John P. Lewis. Although no John P. Lewis came to light, a likely prospect was found in one John F. (Frederick) Lewis, a wealthy Philadelphia lawyer and philanthropist who had built a summer home along the West Chester Railroad in 1898. Lewis named his estate “Morstein” in honor of his ancestral German home. It was in Edward Pinkowski’s Chester County Place Nfimes that “Morstein” and “Zermatt” finally were linked. It seems that Lewis, by 1900, had persuaded railroad officials to change the name of the station near his home from “Woodland” to “Morstein.” A post office had been located in that station since 1888 under the name Zermatt. Not surprisingly, the name of the post office gave way to “Morstein” as well, and Zermatt quickly faded from mem­ory.

The strong Period Revival elements in the design of “Morstein” are indica­tive of the decline in popularity of the High Gothic Revival Style by the end of the nineteenth century. The style’s gothic excesses came to be abhorred as strongly as they were once admired. As Philadelphia’s premier architect of the High Gothic, Frank Furness’ career plunged.

Frank Furness died in 1912, his architectural achievements nearly for­gotten. In the decades following the decline of the Gothic Style, his work was the object of strident criticism. During that period many of his build­ings, particularly those in Philadelphia, were demolished. Thus far most of the suburban works have escaped that fate; some have been looted, altered, divided and adapted. Thankfully, the era of the great estate has not entirely passed in Chester County.

The revival or interest in the work of Frank Furness, which became ap­parent in the I 950s, has resulted in the elevation of his standing by critics and sentimentalists. He is now recognized as a vital link in the chain of American architects who charted the course of twentieth century design, including Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn and Robert Venturi.

Like sunken Spanish galleons, across the county floor, the works of Frank Furness await discovery and reexam­ination. Where, for example, are the Biddle and Dingee houses in Paoli? This is the clue:

Since the Paoli Heights Land Company, of which D. B. Hadley is President, purchased in April last the tract of 350 acres at Paoli, says the Bryn Mawr Home News, they have disposed of fully one-fourth of the origi­nal purchase for building pur­poses. A new avenue, 60 ft. wide … has been opened … and at an admirable location along it H. W. Biddle … will erect a fine house early in the spring. Another on the same avenue will be built by J. H. Dingee, broker of Philadelphia. The architects for both these houses are Fur­ness and Evans ….
Daily Local News
November 29, 1882



This article first appeared in the Brandywine River Museum’s May 1980 Antiques Show Catalog and is reprinted here with permission. It is one of the more intriguing stories to emerge from the Chester County Historic Sites Survey, one of many surveys being conducted across the state in cooperation with the PHMC’s Office of Historic Preservation.


Anne H. Cook is a Regional Coordina­tor for the county survey and is a member of the Tredyffrin Township Board of Historical and Architectural Review. A graduate of Smith College, she does free lance writing and photo­graphy and served as director of Project 1776, a Bicentennial school program.


Ann L. Snider earned her B.S. in Man­-Environment Relations at the Penn­sylvania State University in 1979. She has since served as a project volunteer for the historic sites survey in East Marlborough and Tredyffrin town­ships.


Martha L. Wolf, a graduate of Swarthmore College, is the Brandywine Con­servancy s historic preservation special­ist. The conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization in Chadds Ford dedicated to art and environ­mental quality programs. Its applied environmental research programs are designed to assist local, state and federal governments, private land stewardship and other nonprofit pub­lic ventures.