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Historic timeline at Hallowell Elementary School by Justine Musick
Historic timeline at Hallowell Elementary School by Justine Musick

Welsh Strawbridge

Welsh Strawbridge

Welsh Strawbridge

Welsh Strawbridge (1878 - 1969) had been an investment banker/stock broker and purchased Graeme Park from Morris Penrose in 1920. The Penrose family had owned and worked the estate as a farm since 1801. Advertisements for the property appeared in the Evening Public Ledger on November 24 1919 and on Febuary 2, 1920.

Mr. and Mrs. Strawbridge continued the stewardship and preservation of the historic c1721 Sir William Keith House at Graeme Park that had been faithfully carried out by the Penrose family from 1801-1920, and with the donation of parts of the property to the state in 1957 and to the Natural Lands Trust/Horsham Township in 1997 continued the Strawbridge/Welsh/Marshall families' tradition of preservation, philanthropy and being all around good people.

Welsh was the son of the prominent Philadelphia physician, Dr George Strawbridge and his wife Alice Welsh Strawbridge, and was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Welsh and his brother Jack established the brokerage firm of J & W Strawbridge in 1897 (66 p185) when Jack was 24 and Welsh would have been 19. Welsh retired in 1919 (at the age of 41!) prior to his marriage to Margaret Marshall, and the business of the firm was taken over by Townsend, Whelan, and Co. where Jack Strawbridge - just returned from WWI - became a senior partner.

"Townsend Whelen & Co. announce the retirement of J. Hunter Ewing and the entrance into the firm of J. H. Cope Morton and John Strawbridge. The members of the firm are William B. Whelen, T. Duncan Whelen, Thomas L. Ehoyn, J. K. Cope Morton and John Strawbridge. The firm of J. & W. Strawbridge has been dissolved owing to the retirement of Welsh Strawbridge. Townsend Whelen & Co. take over the business of J. & W. Strawbridge." (85)

Welsh Strawbridge had been married previously to Irene Thomas, a "..German girl he met on a ship on his way to Europe, but none of us ever saw her. She died of consumption at Saranac six months later... " {66 p218) in 1917. {Saranac likely refers to the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium at Saranac Lake, NY which was founded by Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau for treating TB patients with the "rest cure" in cold, clear mountain air. The photo below shows patients at a cure house where the prescription called for sitting outdoors in temperatures as low as -10F. Unfortunately for the first Mrs Welsh Strawbridge, this cure did not really work.)

He met his 2nd wife, Margaret Ely Marshal, at a meeting of the Farmer's Club at the New Hope property that his cousin Robert Welsh had purchased from Margaret's father, Dr George Marshall.

While Welsh Strawbridge and Margaret Ely Marshall were courting, they visited Graeme Park. Mrs. Strawbridge remembered that visit well. When they became engaged, Welsh asked her, “Would you like to live here, or would you rather have a castle in Spain? Because I have an opportunity to go into the wool business in Spain. And, if we lived in Spain, you could have a castle.” Margaret replied, “I would prefer living in Pennsylvania.” Welsh Strawbridge purchased Graeme Park in 1920. (86)

The Strawbridges raised sheep, Guernsey cattle, and horses for steeplechase racing. They also owned several thoroughbred horses.

Horse's were Mr. Strawbridges passion. He was an avid horseman and racer, and was Master of the Hunt at the Whitemarsh Hunt Club and is reported to have kept his own pack of hounds. Mr Strawbridge maintained space along the edges of his fields for riding and hunting. As a farmer himself, he had respect for the fields of other farmers when the hunt used their land and was well liked in the farming community.

"Uncle Welsh owned and rode racehorses....He had a fabulous horse named River Breeze who generally won, so the betting was always in his favor....Uncle Welsh was very handsome, but he was quite silent, almost gloomy. He had deep set blue eyes and short-cropped golden hair. His figure was slender and wiry and he was a magnificent rider. He was more reserved than his exuberant older brother (Jack) who was always the center of attention." (66 p217)

Welsh rode River Breeze to victory in 16 Steeple Chase races. River Breeze died in 1941 and is buried in the meadow behind the Penrose-Stawbridge house. (Steeplechase is a cross country style of racing that originated probably in Ireland in the 18th century. Its roots were in the fox-hunting field, and occasionally horsemen would match up their horses for races over considerable distances. They would race to landmarks such as church steeples, and thus one of these races was a chase to the steeple, or a steeplechase (83) ).

Mrs Strawbridge reported that Welsh competed in Steeplechase races until his 50's and that he had broken every bone in his body.(86) This photo shows him getting up after a fall, possibly into a fence, during a hunt.

In 1910, Welsh and 2 other men set a record by riding in a balloon to 17,050 feet.

Philadelphia, June 16 - A new altitude record for this state was made to-day by the balloon Philadelphia II, with Dr. Thomas E. Eldridge, Dr. George H. Simmerman and Welsh Strawbridge, a well known banker, in the basket. A height of 17,050 feet was attained. The former record was 15,600 feet, made by the Ben Franklin two years ago.

The ascension was made from this city shortly after 9 o'clock this morning. The landing occured at Petersville, Northampton County sixty miles distant, at 11:35 o'clock. The airship dropped 17,000 feet in eighteen minutes.

The world's record for altitude is 10,500 metres (34,448 feet), held by Berson and Luerin. The American record is 24,200 feet made by Clifford B. Harmon and Augustus Post last October. (87)

Welsh's brother, John (Jack) Strawbridge, partnered with him at J & W Strawbridge beginning in 1897, but also had a distinguished military career serving in the Spanish American War in 1898, with the First City Troop in the Expedition Against Pancho Villa in 1916, and then as Captain of Headquarters Troop of the 319th Field Artillery in World War I (1917-19) (66 p173-185). We do not have any record as to whether Welsh Strawbridge served in the military.

Graeme Park, of course, is the home of the splendid Georgian style mansion known as the Keith House. The Strawbridges could have chosen to live in this home, although modernizing it may have cost some of its charm, but instead they chose to live in the L-shaped 1810 home that we now call the Penrose-Strawbridge House. (Mrs Strawbridge, however, had wanted to live in the smaller caretaker's cottage which we now call the Springhouse, " I wanted so badly to live in the little caretaker's cottage. But my mother-in-law told me that just wouldn't be proper. I thought it would be very romantic." Intelligencer Article 1971

The Keith House at Graeme Park had its heyday probably in the short period of 1755 to 1772 when Dr. Graeme died. Although his daughter, Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, continued to live there until 1793, she was very cash poor and the lack of maintenance and several army encampments during the Revolutionary War took their toll on the farm. A visitor in 1786 described it as looking neglected.

The Penroses purchased Graeme Park in 1801 and may have lived in the Keith House until 1821. They recognized the historical significance of the building and kept it relatively well preserved during the 119 years it was in their care (The Keith House was apparently a popular tourist spot in the early 1900s, but Morris Penrose may have had trouble with its upkeep, a 1905 article described it as dilapidated and another in 1907 called for the state of PA to take it over. This burden may have led to his trying to sell it as early as 1907. )

The Strawbridges also understood and appreciated the Keith House and worked to preserve it for future generations.Immediately after purchasing Graeme Park Mr Strawbridge was contacted by representatives of The Art Institute of Chicago (81) and Winterthur Museum (82) interested in purchasing the paneling at the Keith House, but he chose not to dismantle the mansion. The interior of the mansion may also have been used as a model when Independence Hall was restored to its original 18th century design beginning in 1953 but we have not verified this.

The Strawbridges did use the Keith House for special events and entertained large groups at the house on several occasions. Guests included artist and founder of the Mercer Museum - Henry Mercer, and the future Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson. They hosted a coming out party at Graeme Park for their nieces: Priscilla Sparks Sailer and Elizabeth Twells Sailer; in 1929 with 1,000 guests. the invitation for this event is shown on the Anne-West-Strawbridge page .)

Mr, Strawbridge purchased 4 additional parcels between 1920 and 1951 that had been part of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson's Graeme Park and by the end of 1951 the estate was about 300 acres. These parcels had been parts of the estate that had been sold off by Dr. Smith between 1798-1801 (see Graeme Park Timeline)

In 1919, Harold Pitcairn developed Pitcairn Field directly to the southeast of Graeme Park where he developed his autogyro and mailwing, and offered flying lessons and flights to Philadelphia. The Strawbridges had lived with the airfield and Welsh' sister Ann even owned and flew one of Pitcairns autgyros. As a result of World War II however, the US Navy acquired the field and in January 1943 it was commissioned as the Naval Air Station, Horsham (later renamed the Naval Air Station, Willow Grove).

The navy introduced a jet training program in 1949 and Willow Grove was 1 of 4 bases large enough to handle the jets. The base underwent a $5 million expansion due to the escalation of the Cold War and the conflict with Korea. This expansion lengthened the runway by extending it past Privet Road out to Keith Valley Road. On October 5, 1953 33.855 acres of Strawbridge land were conveyed to the United States by condemnation, and on April 15, 1957 Mr Strawbridge sold 41.49 acres to the US.

The Strawbridges grew concerned that the historic Keith House may at some point be sacrificed as the air base continued to expand. So in the mid 1950s they began to explore ways to save it and in 1959 they donated 41.77 acres plus the Keith House and the Penrose barn (now the Visitor's Center) to the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission to guarantee its preservation. Ironically, Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson spent 3 years fighting the new Commonwealth so they wouldn't take Graeme Park, and 180 years later the threat of future wars led the Strawbridges to finally let the commonwealth have it. (while in 2015 Graeme Park is still under the control of PHMC, the economy has forced many of the properties under the control of PHMC to close. Graeme Park remains open to the public due to the work of the volunteer organization Friends of Graeme Park). The photo below shows J. Frederick Kohler presenting a proclamation of thanks for their contribution of Graeme Park from Horsham Township to Mr and Mrs Strawbridge in 1967. The proclamation can be seen in the gallery below. The Willow Grove NAS was officially closed on March 30, 2011 - thanks to the Penroses and Strawbridges, the Keith Mansion and Penrose-Strawbridge House still stand.

The Strawbridges sold another 78.44 acre parcel on the opposite side of Keith Valley Road in 1966. This was used to build a roadway to the new sewage treatment plant. The remaining 102 acres, which now makes up what is called the Strawbridge Farm was transferred to Margaret Strawbridge upon the death of Welsh Strawbridge in 1968.

Mrs. Strawbridge loved the farm and to ensure its preservation, she sold half the estate, in 1986, for $1 to The Natural Lands Trust, a conservation organization that protects the forests, fields, wetlands, and streams that are essential to the sustainability and quality of life in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, with the remainder of the farm going to the trust upon her death.

Mrs Strawbridge died in November, 1996. The Natural Lands Trust was not interested in restoring or maintaining the buildings on the property, so in 1997 they sold the estate to Horsham Township with the understanding that the farm would be preserved. HPHA has been working with the township on the restoration starting shortly after that.

Welsh Strawbridge came from a very talented and accomplished family, brief bios of his sister Anne, father Dr George Strawbridge, grandfather John Welsh, and uncle Herbert Welsh are featured on this site. Welsh's legacy of the preservation and donation of Graeme Park follow the public service, pro-bono work, and philanthropic tradition that was well established in this family.




Support the Future of Horsham's History!

Horsham Preservation and Historical Association (HPHA)
900 Governor Road
Horsham, PA 19044 USA
© 2000- Horsham Preservation and Historical Association
A Community Benefit Organization

Horsham Preservation and Historical Association (HPHA)
900 Governor Road
Horsham, PA 19044 USA
© 2000- Horsham Preservation and Historical Association
We are A Community Benefit Organization
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215-343-0659 | Email

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