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.
In the latter part of the 19th century, during the pre-income tax, laissez faire era of American history, wealth generated by the great industrial and commercial boom became concentrated into the hands of the very few. As these wealthy few sought refuge from the teeming, often fetid urban confines, the countryside beyond Philadelphia became highly prized as sites for gentlemen farms, summer residences, and playgrounds for expensive pastimes. To symbolize their power and social status, Philadelphia’s industrial and commercial aristocracy hired noted architects to design and build grandiose architectural structures and spectacular estates modeled on the majestic manor houses and estates of Europe and particularly England.
Pine Run Farms, the estate of Henry Pratt McKean, Jr. was aptly described as “one of the show places in the Philadelphia suburbs” and “one of the handsomest estates in the vicinity of Philadelphia.” Talamore at Oak Terrace is situated entirely within the bounds and within some of the buildings that were once Pine Run Farms. And so it is appropriate to learn more about McKean and his estate.
read more about Henry Pratt McKeam
in the late 19th century wealthy Philadelphians sought to move farther from the city to escape the omnipresent smoke and grime. The Ambler-Penllyn area held particular attraction, as it became increasingly accessible. By the 1880s the Reading Railway lines extended into the Gwynedd Valley and by 1902 trolley lines connected Philadelphia and its suburbs, linking Flourtown to Ambler, Spring House, and the William Penn Inn. A few businesses relocated to the area and several socially prominent Philadelphians purchased open farmland and built summer estates nearby.
Ambler experienced a notable growth spurt after 1881 when Henry Keasbey and Richard V. Mattison relocated their pharmaceutical business from Philadelphia to Ambler. Keasbey and Mattison eventually became the world’s largest manufacturers of asbestos products. Reflecting the opulence of the times, Richard V. Mattison’s Ambler mansion, “Lindenwold”was modeled after Windsor Castle (now the St. Mary’s Villa) and in 1891 he added a church and an opera house to Ambler’s burgeoning inventory of classic architecture. Others who built impressive mansions in the area included William Singerly, owner of the Philadelphia Record, who built “Record Farms” (now Normandy Farms). Brewmaster George Rieger built a mansion on Blue Bell-Penllyn Pike (now Silverstream Retirement Home), as did financier Henry B. Coxe (now Beth Or synagogue). Financier Francis Bond hired Horace Trumbauer to design a spectacular residence on his 250-acre estate on Sumneytown Pike (now the main building at Gwynedd-Mercy College).
Seeking something impressive to suit the tastes and lifestyle of his highbred Boston wife, Henry Pratt McKean and his agents assembled several parcels of land in Horsham Township along Welsh Road in an area upper crust types in the 1890s called “Penllyn.” At the time, Penllyn generically described all of the desirable areas within and adjacent to Gwynedd Township. As Polly King (Miller), a long-time Gwynedd resident explained, “Penllyn is what we called this whole area of Gwynedd.” Specifically, Penllyn referred to the interconnected estates extending from Horsham to Whitemarsh that permitted the “horsey set” to ride to the hunt from one property to the next. Horses and cross-country riding were Henry McKean’s enduring passions, and so Penllyn was an ideal locale for his entry in the ostentatious estate derby.
By 1891, when Gwynedd was divided into Upper and Lower Gwynedd Townships, wealthy Philadelphians, such as the Ingersoll, Smith, and Vaux families, were already ensconced in Penllyn, deeply engrossed in a social competition of conspicuous consumption, each determined to acquire Penllyn’s best land to built enormous chateaus and country estates. With most of the choicest properties already taken, McKean looked just beyond Gwynedd’s edges into Horsham Township.
In 1894, a year in which both of his parents died, Henry McKean purchased four properties along and near Welsh Road, running from a point about a half-mile West of Hughes Road (now Tennis Avenue) to what was then called Creamery Road (now McKean Road), including 89 acres from William Wilson, 96 acres from Clement Comly, 10 acres from Jesse Seaman, and 10 acres from Thomas Marks. McKean named his estate Pine Run Farms.
The Comly farm, the most developed of the four properties, became the physical core of Pine Run Farms. Clement Comly was the son of Phoebe Kneedler, whose grandfather, Jacob Kneedler in 1791 built an imposing stone "homestead" on the "upper farm" either directly on or very near the site of what became the McKean manor house. In 1894 the McKeans took up residence on the property, apparently moving into the renovated Kneedler-Comly house.
The Thomas Marks property was located southeast of the Kneedler homestead on ground that now holds Talamore's seventh green, main entrance, and eighth hole. It included a one-story house located, according to a contemporary observer, in a "low situation" (wetlands). Today, the wetlands and ponds of the Marks homestead form hazards in front of Talamore's eighth tee and the green now lies directly over the site of what was once Thomas Marks' house, remains of which were observable in a 1962 aerial photograph and whose remnants were cleared in 1994 during construction of the Talamore golf course.
Pine Run Farms began at the corner of Welsh Road and Creamery Road. Creamery Road later was renamed McKean Road because both Henry Pratt McKean and his brother, Thomas McKean owned land along the road. In 1894 Thomas McKean purchased but never developed a 78-acre plot on the northwest corner of Welsh and Creamery (McKean) Roads, opposite his brother's Pine Run Farms (and immediately adjacent today to Talamore’s sixth green and seventh tee). Thomas McKean’s property abutted his cousin, Henry McKean Ingersoll’s 147-acre estate (which in 1962 became Squires Golf Club).
In a matter of a few years Henry Pratt McKean significantly expanded his estate. By 1900, according to County tax records, McKean had acquired 247 contiguous acres, 240 of which were "improved" and 7 were timberland. Tax assessments reveal that between 1894 and 1900 McKean built two houses, a barn, and new stables. Over the next ten years he held steady the number of horses he owned at around 30, but nearly doubled the size of his cattle herd to 120 head. He gradually added adjoining parcels, increasing the size of Pine Run Farms to 322 acres by 1903, to 444 acres in 1906, and to 630 acres by 1909.
Pine Run Farms consisted of several working farms and scattered components, with the main residence, Pine Ridge at the center. The piggery and chicken houses were located farthest away, near today’s sixteenth green and Glendevon Drive. The stables for McKean’s prized horses were closest in a large stable on the site currently occupied by Talamore’s clubhouse.
McKean’s coaches and coach horses were kept on a separate farmstead called “Cold Spring Farm,” which was located on the former Rowland Hugh property (now the van Steenwyk residence) a few hundred feet from Tennis Avenue (next to Talamore’s fourteenth green). Cold Spring Farm consisted of the former Hugh house, where McKean’s teamsters and carriage drivers lived, a springhouse, water tower, various sheds and outbuildings, and a large hay barn whose footprint was about three times the size of the house. A roadway through the property paralleling Welsh Road and a bridge across Park Creek connected Cold Spring Farm to the main residence. Water from Cold Spring Farm was pumped through pipes over four thousand feet to the estate from the water tower (still standing) that drew and stored water from the highly productive spring next to the Hugh house. Today, only the Hugh house and water tower remain of what was once Cold Spring Farm. The huge barn was destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1976.
The working or business entrance to Pine Run was located on the right side of McKean Road approximately 300 yards north of Welsh Road. Thanks to fragments of a surviving topographical map of the McKean estate (ca. 1911) we know that a tree-lined service road led from McKean Road into the estate, but it did not go directly to the manor house. Rather, it turned left as it approached the house and ended at the stables and carriage house. The main entrance to the manor house was via a tree-lined lane from Welsh Road.
A cluster of seventeen buildings once stood near the McKean Road entrance. The buildings were aligned along McKean Road from roughly the mid-point of today’s sixth fairway, past the existing water tower near the fifth green, and for another one hundred yards or so along McKean Road. Nearest to the entrance along McKean Road stood a tool house, blacksmith’s shop, mill, wagon shed, icehouse, springhouse, corncrib and Teamster’s Cottage. Just inside the gate was a huge sprawling barn, covering more than twice the ground as the manor house. Opposite the barn on the left side of the entrance road, set back a bit in a small grove of trees was the Manager’s House, a rather sizeable structure, judging from the plot plan. A water tower (still standing next to the fifth green) was situated about forty yards above the entrance road. Beyond the water tower lay four workers’ cottages aligned along McKean Road facing the Ingersoll estate (now Squires GC). The Gardener’s Cottage stood farthest from the main entrance, on a spot adjacent to where the cart path now crosses the fifth fairway. The plot plan also indicates a dozen small buildings and outhouses behind the seventeen larger buildings. Except for the water tower, none survive today.
Several families lived and worked on the McKean property. The total number of workers and residents is unknown, but the 1913 County tax records lists twenty-three males eighteen years or older, including McKean’s two sons, as living on the property and paying county head taxes.
All of this is difficult to value in today’s dollars. Newspapers conservatively estimated Pine Run Farms' value in 1914 at somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000, which, adjusted for inflation, would be the equivalent of something on the order of $6 to $10 millions in 2003 after-tax dollars. That seems a ridiculously low comparable value. Given today's escalating real estate values and construction costs, one is hard pressed to imagine how it could be duplicated for less than $30 to $40 millions.
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).