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The Saunders Purchase. In 1897, Mrs. Frances Baugh Saunders (1858-1937), wife of Philadelphia medical publisher Walter B. Saunders (1858-1905), purchased the newly-named Idlewild Farm (or Idylwild) from Samuel G. Williamson. Her purchase along Williamson Road, Bryn Mawr, included the nucleus of farm buildings and 87 of Williamson’s 104 acres. Around 1900, Mrs. Saunders converted Idlewild to a dairy farm and summer house.
When Frances Saunders purchased the farm, she acted independently, using her own inheritance. Although their home was in Overbrook, the Saunders family spent summers at the farm. It was a place for work and play, especially for the children: William L. Saunders II (later Lawrence, "Larry") and Emily.
Flight from Philadelphia. The period at the turn of the century was one of migration by affluent Philadelphians from the industrial city to the farm areas of the Old Welsh Tract. Many of these rural estates became "country gentlemen’s estates" or hobby farms, with mansions or greatly remodeled homes.
Mrs. Saunders preferred to retain the old stone farm buildings, remodeling the main house as little as possible. By 1900, she added a herd of Ayshire milking cows, a milkhouse, plus a large wing and bull pen to the bank barn. She also purchased three adjoining properties, increasing the farm to 167 acres by 1920. Although she was completely deaf, she ran the dairy business from the farm or home until 1927, selling high-quality raw milk to Suplee Dairies.
Lawrence and Dorothy. In 1923, while on a visit to New York, Lawrence Saunders (1890-1968) met Dorothy Wynne Love (1902-1992), a Vassar College student. She was the daughter of cotton factor William Love of Memphis, Tennessee, and his wife Mary. Lawrence and Dorothy were married in 1924 at Princeton, New Jersey, where Dorothy’s mother resided. The couple took up residence at Idlewild Farm.
In 1927, Frances Saunders deeded the farm buildings and 70 acres to Lawrence, and the remainder of the land to her daughter, Emily. Although Frances had made limited changes to the farmhouse, the young couple undertook a partial remodeling and renovation in order to make it a permanent residence. The facade was modified to give a more formal appearance; stucco covering the building was removed, and the beautiful old locally-quarried fieldstone was repointed.
Family Growth. The years which followed were busy ones as the Saunders raised their five children. In 1937, Lawrence became Treasurer of the family publishing company, later President and Chairman of the Board. The couple was also active in the community, particularly in matters concerning the environment.
In 1927 Dorothy and Lawrence, with a group of property owners in the area, began Bridlewild Trails Association. It now has a large membership of families who enjoy riding or hiking on over 30 miles of marked trails.
In 1951, Lawrence created Saunders Foundation, a private group to maintain Saunders Woods (also known as Little Farm), a 26-acre property he had purchased in 1922 on Waverly Road, Gladwyne, for the public enjoyment, recreation and preservation of it’s natural beauty.
Dorothy at Idlewild. After the death of Lawrence in 1968, Dorothy purchased Idlewild Farm with 26 acres from his estate. It was a working farm and Dorothy enjoyed farm life in all seasons. She would later incorporate her feelings about its rolling pasture lands, woodlands, lovely old trees and quarried stone walls into a book of poems, Unbroken Time, published on her 80th birthday. In her later years, graduate students stayed at the farm to help her. Dorothy made all who came to live or visit Idlewild feel welcome.
An Active Life. Despite failing eyesight and other infirmities in later life, Dorothy kept active with social events, travel and writing poetry. Uppermost, however, was her need to fulfill a longtime dream: to find a way to protect her beloved Idlewild Farm for the enjoyment of future generations.
Beneath her warm and gentle manner, this soft-spoken woman had the strength and determination to protect this property which had been in the Saunders family for almost 100 years. The first step, the research to substantiate Idlewild’s history pursuant to a National Register nomination, was for Dorothy a fascinating study of this, the oldest operating farm in the township.
National Register Nomination. In 1983, Idlewild farm with its farmhouse, outbuildings and 26 acres was entered on the National Register of Historic Places as an excellent example of a turn-of-the-century country gentlemen’s estate. Over the ensuing years, with the aid of the Natural Lands Trust, a private, nonprofit corporation, Dorothy’s preservation and conservation dreams came to fruition. In 1988 she conveyed Saunders Woods to the Natural Lands Trust for its protection and maintenanace. In 1990 she conveyed 21.2 acres of Idlewild Farm, including farm buildings, to be kept as a preserve. The main house was sold and the remaining lots were sold to create an endowment for this purpose.
Dorothy Love Saunders passed away in February 1992 at the age of 89, having spent the last years of her life at The Quadrangle in Haverford. This remarkable woman had accomplished her goal: to leave for the enjoyment of future generations a lasting gift of unspoiled landscape.
A 1915 newspaper clipping reads "James Crosby Brown, of the banking house of Brown Bros., has purchased Clifton Wynyates, the estate of Mrs. William Carpenter Scott at Ardmore [Gladwyne]. The estate was valued at $500,000 and was sold at a figure close to that price. Clifton Wynyates comprises 200 acres, a house of 50 rooms, garage, dairy, stable, numerous other outbuildings and a large riding ring. It is one of the most extensive private estates in the vicinity of Philadelphia."
The Brown Estate. James Crosby Brown, the son of John Crosby Brown of Brown Bros., merchant bankers of Philadelphia and New York, took a position with the Philadelphia office in 1904. He later married Mary Agnes Hewlett of Long Island and they had two sons.
The estate he purchased in 1914 had been designed in 1903 by William Price. Brown called upon the original architect to make changes and improvements. The site incorporated various early farm buildings, mills and mill workers’ houses from the former agricultural and industrial lands bounding Mill Creek. Those structures served as housing for servants and over 25 farm hands who worked on the gentleman’s farm. Because Brown’s wife suffered from asthma, Brown continued to expand his land holdings to protect her from the smoke of burning leaves. Unfortunately this served little purpose, for she died of an attack while out of state.
In 1921 Brown married a widow, Aurelia Jenkins, former wife of a Yale classmate. Together they combined a family of five boys and two girls. In 1925 their own daughter, Aurelia (called Thistle) was added to the family.
The Market Crashes. The lavish life of this Golden Age family changed radically after the stock market crash of October 1929. Brown apparently lost half or more of his investments. At age 56, a heart attack caused his death while walking home from his neighbor and financial associate, Joseph N. Pew.
Despite his losses, Brown’s estate totaled nearly 1.5 million dollars (including the 194 acres in Gladwyne, 1,000 acres on Pasque Island in Massachusetts and two yachts in Brooklyn).
The widow and family moved to a small property in Sugartown, leaving the Gladwyne estate to be sold by his executors to create a family trust.
A Large Subdivision. By 1933 the land was being subdivided through Brown’s widow and his brother, Thatcher. Walter Durham and James Irvine, a leading architecture and development team in the township since 1926, became the chief collaborators. Of all the Main Line estates that Durham & Irvine developed , this was the largest. Subdivision plans changed from 20 large tracts in 1934 to 43 parcels by 1948.
Durham designed and built new houses on 25 parcels. He adapted or altered existing buildings on three others. He also converted Clifton Wynyates into two residences and the garage into a third. What was significant about this development was the care and consideration given to the landscape through a 3-acre lot size and deed restrictions. Despite the estate’s need, the land was not plundered for profit through a high density development of four to five houses per acre.
Durham’s Architecture. Eight of Durham’s new houses typified his early, classic Pennsylvania farmhouse pattern (derived from the 18th century vernacular Welsh homes of the area). Two buildings mimic the British picturesque masonry manor house. Fourteen others range from moderne to new eclectic designs using regional architectural patterns that Durham initiated after World War II.
The Brown Legacy. The Brown estate and the Durham & Irvine team left the township with a quality development using spacious lots with sensitivity to the Mill Creek Valley. Their forward-looking land conservation goals have enabled 192 acres to appear as undeveloped wooded hillsides even today.
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