Peter Arrell Brown Widener, an incredibly industrious man who provided mutton to all union troops located near Philadelphia, took the financial success from his future endeavors to create one of America’s premiere estates. The owner of subway and streetcar lines in three major cities, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, landed himself as one of the wealthiest men in the Unites States, and one of the elite owners of countless pieces of art.
Horace Trumbauer, among the greatest architects of the Gilded Age, was commissioned in 1898 to design one of Pennsylvania’s most lavish estates. P.A.B. Widener rejoiced over the completion of his new home, Lynnwood Hall, in 1900.
The impressive estate was developed to house several members of the widener family. Widener’s son George and his wife Eleanor became housemates in the extravagant dwelling with their young children Eleanor, George, and Harry. Joseph, Peter’s other son, and his wife Ella also took residence in Lynnwood with their children Peter Arrell II and Josephine.
The Indiana Limestone estate bore similarities to another nearby mansion along the New Jersey shoreline known as Ballingarry. The Spring Lake home was owned by Martin Maloney who was involved with oil companies, railroad systems, and the Philadelphia Electric Company. Unfortunately, the coastline manor did not survive the wrecking ball and was town down in 1955.
Unlike Ballingarry Mansion, Lynnwood Hall was part of a much larger estate. The Wideners possessed more than 400 acres in the Philadelphia suburb, with 36 of them being home to the mansion itself. A tall, iron fence outlined the property around the plot of land showcasing the main structure. Two beautiful entry gates met Ashbourne road at opposite ends of the grounds landscaped in an Italian Renaissance style.Art was a priceless possession to the Widener family. One of the most alluring parts of Lynnwood Hall was the massive 90 foot long gallery dressed with beautiful paintings. Chairs were spread throughout the room for viewers to move at leisure in order to take in the exquisite detail dripping between frames. Graciously, Mr Widener would open his doors to spectators who sought to enjoy the presence of such pieces. With such success in this room, the Widener’s thirst for more space to house artwork grew. The Van Dyke Gallery was added to rear facade of Lynnwood in 1910 by Trumbauer. The gallery known as the Rembrandt Room showcased many great pieces of work. Most were Dutch with the exception of two. Those not stemming of said origin were created by Van Dyke. Philemon and Baucis and The Mill were among the pieces residing in this impressive room.
After the shocking deaths of Harry and father George Widener in the tragic sinking of the Titanic in 1912, a major change occurred in one of the large rooms in Lynnwood. The library, which housed Harry’s book collection, was given a new look and life. The books were given to Harvard University, and the transformation from library to ballroom began. Detailed moldings and cherubs graced the ceiling with the library’s original Baroque ceiling panting.
Lynnwood Hall’s Widener connection did not demise with P.A.B Widener’s death in November of 1915. Many great mansions of the gilded age through the twenties separated from the original family after the first generation. Lynnewood was not one of those homes. Three generations of Wideners spent much of their lives making unforgettable memories within the iron fences of the grounds.
In 1941, three years prior to Joseph Widener’s death, Joseph, who was left in control of the family’s impressive art collection, turned over the contents to the National Gallery of Art located in Washington D.C. Initially it was believed the Philadelphia Museum of Art would receive the gift, as Joseph sat on their board.Upon Joseph’s death in 1944, the remaining possessions of the Titanic sized home were auctioned off. The estate’s farm located directly across the street was sold to a developer who transformed the productive space into apartment complex known today as Lynnewood Gardens. After a failed transaction, the house was ultimately sold to the same developer who constructed Lynnewood Gardens. Nothing was done to the home, and after four years, the Faith Theological Seminary purchased the property. Sadly, the house is currently in a devastating state. The entire property is overgrown with no traces of its original grandeur reimagined by French landscape architect Jacques Grebes in 1916.
The mansion was put on the market a while back and is still for sale as of February 2016. Hopefully, Lynnewood does not follow in the shadows of her sister, Whitemarsh.
Written and Photographed by Matthew J. Niewenhous
Kathrens, Michael C., Richard C. Marchand, and Eleanor Weller. American Splendor: The Residential Architecture of Horace Trumbauer. New York: Acanthus, 2002. Print.
Hildebrandt, Rachel, and Old York Historical Society. Images of America The Philadelphia Area Architecture of Horace Trumbauer. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia, 2009. Print.