based on "Talamore at Oak Terrace" by Dr. James Hilty. Edited for the web site. The complete paper with references is available in our archives.
Talamore at Oak Terrace | Early History | Pine Run farm | McKean Manor House | Horace Trumbauer | McKean Divorce Scandal | Pine Run Country Club | Banker's Country Club | Oak Terrace Country Club ~ Wingels | The Old Oak | Slamming Sam Snead | Archdiocese of Phila | Bud Hansen | Realen | Making of a Golf Course | Rebuild 1993-1995
Henry Pratt McKean named his manor house “Pine Ridge,” apparently because the house was built on the upper ridge of the Comly farm bordered by a line of pines, likely planted by McKean, some of which still stand. Pine Ridge is a gothic styled country mansion following the shape of luxurious English manor houses, with two large wings framing an open courtyard and carriage turnaround in the front. In 1986 Professor George Thomas, a distinguished architectural historian at the University of Pennsylvania, described the McKean manor house as “one of the last surviving and best preserved grand houses of the turn of the century in the Philadelphia region.” The building, according to Thomas, was “probably” designed by noted architect Horace Trumbauer and erected “around 1904.”
Trumbauer’s work ledgers indicate that he performed major redesign work on the manor house in 1908 and that, quite importantly, he was the architect of record for the 1904 construction of the McKean carriage house (discussed below). However, there is no direct evidence of his involvement in the original design of Pine Ridge.
Oddly enough, given the McKean family tradition of patronizing Philadelphia's most important architects, no architect of record for Pine Ridge is listed in any of the available sources where one usually finds such information. Perhaps the information is simply lost to history.
Another explanation is that the McKean manor house may not be an original design at all, but rather, an expensive expansion and renovation of the Kneedler-Comly farmhouse. Important evidence of the latter comes from Edward Matthews, a contemporary observer who regularly published detailed accounts of area real estate transactions and new construction projects in the Ambler Gazette.
Matthews wrote that the Kneedler-Comly homestead, “that ancient farm house,” as he called it, “has been transformed
The Kneedler-Comly homestead likely was expanded into the McKean manor house through major renovations in 1894, or ten years earlier than estimated by Professor Thomas. County tax records and newspaper accounts indicate the McKeans moved onto the Comly-Kneedler property and into the homestead in 1894. McKean was assessed for two new houses built on the property in 1894, one apparently for his estate manager and the other probably being the renovations to the homestead, which apparently were so extensive as to represent a "new" building, as far as the County tax assessors were concerned. No other new building assessments or other records exist to indicate any further construction on the property until 1904, when a stable-carriage house is built, and 1908, when Trumbauer completed renovations to the existing manor house. Moreover, we know from newspaper reports that the McKeans were living on the property and were philanthropically engaged in the Ambler community well before 1904. Thus, the manor house had to have been either originally constructed in 1894 (by an unknown architect) or the product that year of major renovations to the Comly-Kneedler homestead.
Eventually the manor house was expanded to 52 rooms and over 23,000 square feet, but other details regarding its original construction remain obscure. Indications that the manor house was constructed atop the older Comly-Kneedler house are not readily apparent today, perhaps permanently masked by Trumbauer’s 1908 renovations.
McKean’s manor house, Pine Ridge is late gothic revival style architecture, similar to the great English country houses, constructed of a dark red brick exterior, with contrasting limestone windowsills and lintels, slate roof, and a now-enclosed porch across the back. The interior features richly appointed oak paneling, a vaulted vestibule, and a multi-level front stair hall. Ornamented plaster ceilings, oval panels, and fine oak millwork are found throughout the first floor. The upper floors are not as decorous or elaborately finished, but the quality of appointments is unmistakably elegant and there is a fireplace in nearly every room.
The McKean estate, Pine Run Farms was known for its beautiful shrubbery and trees, particularly fine specimens of golden beech and oaks, none of which, as it happens, are included in the Montgomery County Inventory of Historic and Cultural Resources. To make the grounds suitable for his favorite sport, cross-country riding, McKean ordered the clearing, leveling, and contouring of large portions of the property (thus inadvertently making it easier later to construct a golf course). Additionally, McKean managed the water run-off problem by installing a sophisticated network of large ceramic tiles and culverts, many of which were uncovered during the construction of Talamore golf course and some of which still function today as McKean originally intended.
Virtually no records remain of what life was like at Pine Ridge. But clearly the McKean estate was part of an interlocking community of privileged, elite country estates, all early twentieth-century playgrounds for Philadelphia’s ultra rich. Henry Pratt McKean's farm lay between the Henry McKean Ingersoll estate (then called "Annandale Farms") and the estate of McKean’s sister, Phebe Warren McKean Downs, who married Dr. Norton Downs, a Germantown physician. In 1906 Dr. Downs commissioned Horace Trumbauer to design and build a large manor house at the corner of Welsh Road and Butler Pike (now the site of the Horsham Clinic).
The Downs estate, known as "Fordhooke Farm," was connected to the McKean and Ingersoll estates by a private, tree-lined carriage road roughly paralleling Welsh Road. The carriage road appears in the 1893 Atlas of Montgomery Country and the 1934 Franklin Survey. The recent (2004) construction at Greystone Estates has obliterated remaining traces of the carriage road on the other side of Tennis Avenue. Remnants of carriage road can be seen on the Talamore side of Tennis Avenue, beginning with the driveway to St. Matthew’s Church, following to the van Steenwyk house, then following along Park Creek past Oak Terrace Farms up to the main residence. Talamore residents along Glendevon Drive may still glimpse vestiges of the old carriage road and the overgrown sycamore-lined McKean riding trails near their properties.
Dr. James Hilty
Dr. James W. Hilty, retired Professor of History and Dean of Temple's Ambler campus, has written extensively about American politics, including Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector (Temple). He has provided political commentaries for various publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and served as historical consultant to various news media, including C-SPAN, NBC News, NPR, and others. A Temple faculty member since 1970, Hilty also wrote the introduction to Marvin Wachman's The Education of a University President (Temple).