Editor's note: "If Walls Could Talk" features vital homes and other buildings in Ardmore, Merion and Wynnewood—their architectural style, their history, and the people that have, and continue to, walk through their doorways. In the first of a series, writer Brooke Hoffman looks at a church in Wynnewood built for a clothing baron.
At the turn of the 19th century, Lower Merion was changing from a farm community to the lavish neighborhoods we see today, mostly thanks to the new railroad—the "main line" of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Instead of crops, rich men were quick to grow castles and mansions out of the fertile soil. In 1885, Issac H. Clothier (yes, that Clothier), build a fortress on a 60-acre plot of land in Wynnewood.
Architect Addison Hutton designed the Scottish Baronial castle, which was named Ballytore. "The basic material used in the castle is gray granite with Wyoming Valley bluestone used for bands and copings," Dupontcastle.com says. "The roof is blue slate."
"What is interesting about Ballytore, in some ways even compared to Maybrook and certainly to Woodmont or some of the other gothic-inspired houses—it is fairly restrained," explained Jeff Groff, director for public programs for the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. "It doesn't have a lot of elaborate ornamentation."
There was a personal as well a professional relationship between Hutton and the department store duo of Strawbridge and Clothier. Justus C. Strawbridge's mansion in Germantown, "Torworth," was designed by Hutton, as were the Strawbridge & Clothier department stores. Hutton was considered the "Quaker architect of Bryn Mawr" and was at the height of his career when he designed Ballytore for Clothier. The original layout consisted of the main estate house, stable house, and a carriage house (originally part of Henry Morris' Maple Grove farm). A second house was added to the property in 1912.
Groff has been working with the Merion Conservancy, researching and lecturing on the topic of Main Line historical homes, for more than 35 years. He is also a member of the Lower Merion Historical Society, and has done extensive research on homes like Ballytore.
According to Groff, the name Ballytore reflects Clothier's background; he named his home after a town in Ireland that had a large Quaker population. Originally the home would have been classified as an "English House" or castle, with its characteristic heavy granite stone square tower. It is also reminiscent of a style popular in Great Britain and Scotland around the same time—Scottish Baronial. The phrase was used to classify some older castles, but there were also architects designing new structures that were designed to appear like classical homes, similar to Ballytore.
The characteristics of Ballytore that make it Scottish Baronial are the exterior massive stones, the square tower and its cone-shaped top. But there's a Quaker aspect to it as well, despite the lack of anything that might be described as "simple" or "plain."
Said Groff: "The interiors, while they were grand, weren't as elaborate, and that in part probably reflects both Clothier and his architect Addison Hutton as Quakers."
An effective illustration of this point is to compare Ballytore to Rathalla, now the main building on Rosemont's campus. The French-influenced home "raised a few eyebrows at the time" due to its over-the-top ornate exterior.
Clothier lived in Ballytore until his death in 1921. His remaining family either moved westward or migrated to Villanova and Valley Forge. In 1933 it was rented to the Agnes Irwin School—the school purchased it in 1936. Ballytore changed hands again in 1963, becoming what it is today: St. Sahag & St. Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church. (You may have voted there recently, too, if you live in that part of the Township.)
The overall structure and some of the interiors are still fairly intact, noted Groff, who feels the overall structure of the original home transitioned well into a church.
There are other houses on the Main Line similar to Ballytore, he added.
"Because they are almost masked, people drive by them all the time and don't even think that much about them, but there are schools, convents, retirement communities, nursing homes ... so many different things [the homes] have become.
"Some of them have been pretty radically altered inside, but a lot of them, if you peel back some modern lighting or wall-to-wall carpeting, you can very quickly, visually get down to the original house."
In the next few weeks Patch will be peeling back a few walls to find out the story behind some of the historic, unique homes in this patch of the Main Line. If you have some walls in mond that you wish could talk to you, let us know.