The fabled Main Line stretches along Route 30 (a.k.a. Lancaster Ave. and, farther west, Lancaster Pike) between Bala Cynwyd, which is closest to Philadelphia, west to Paoli, a distance of about 15 miles. The area got its name because it parallels what was the Pennsylvania Railroad’s main rail line from Philadelphia to Chicago. Many of the Railroad’s original large shareholders built lavish homes and estates in the country towns along this line outside Philadelphia, and they were followed by more of Philadelphia’s elite, until the area became “the” upper class place to live.
While much of Route 30 has become a commercial strip, it offers the considerable benefit of marvelous shopping and dining. (See our sections on “Great Shopping Towns,” “Specialty Shops & Services” and “Restaurants.”) Drive a few blocks north of it and you’ll find yourself in a seemingly endless wonderland of estates, beautifully landscaped mansions, near-mansions and merely very, very big houses. It’s great fun just to drive the winding, tree-lined roads and enjoy the scenery.
Two of the Main Line’s prettiest towns, Bryn Mawr and Wayne, have commercial centers where you can park your car and walk from shop to shop. Ardmore’s Suburban Square, an attractive outdoor shopping center operating for over 75 years, serves a similar function, as does Spread Eagle Village in Strafford. For more on Wayne, read “A Closer Look at Wayne” (also available under Back Issues for June 2008).
One of the fascinating facts about the Main Line is the extraordinarily large number of private schools and colleges located there. Starting with St. Joseph’s University (technically in Philadelphia, but never mind why), and progressing westward, there’s Haverford College, Harcum College, Bryn Mawr College, Rosemont College, Cabrini College, Eastern College and Villanova University. There are also over a dozen elite private schools, including Agnes Irwin, Baldwin, Friend’s Central, Haverford School, Shipley, Devon Prep, Malvern Prep and Valley Forge Military Academy, to name a few.
You might enjoy a visit to the campuses of Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College, near one another and both with very handsome grounds. Haverford College is located on Lancaster Avenue, in Haverford, and Bryn Mawr is on Merion Avenue, several blocks north of Lancaster Avenue, in — you guessed it — Bryn Mawr.
You can park on both campuses in designated areas and stroll around. The campuses have inviting stretches of tree-shaded lawns and walks, and Haverford has a well-used 3-mile jogging path. You’ll find orientation maps displayed at a variety of locations or, find the campus Admissions Office to get your own map.
Should you be at Bryn Mawr around lunch time on a weekday, you might want to have your meal at Wyndham (101 N. Merion Ave.), the inviting 18th-century stone farmhouse that is the Alumnae House on the campus, and where the public is welcome. At Haverford, the pond on campus is a great spot for feeding the ducks and geese there or you may catch a cricket match with the only varsity cricket team in the country.
From Bryn Mawr you can head east on Route 30 until it intersects with Route 1, then go north on Route 1 to Merion. There you’ll find the Barnes Foundation, which houses one of the world’s finest collections of early French modern and post-Impressionist paintings, grouped with fine examples of antique furniture, ceramics, hand-wrought iron and Native American jewelry. The displays are unorthodox, controversial in more traditional art circles and absolutely fascinating.
After years in the courts, the current plan is to move the collection to a new, yet-to-be-built location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. In the meantime, you can still see the collection displayed as Dr. Barnes intended it to be, in the location he chose. Gardens tours are also available.
Located at 300 N. Latches Lane, Merion. 610-667-0290; barnesfoundation.org. Reservations are required. Hours: Fri-Sun, 9:30 to 5, Sept-June; Wed-Sun, 9:30 to 5, July 5-Aug. 31, Adm: $15, $7 audio guides.
Or, you can head west on Route 30 from Bryn Mawr to Paoli, make a left on Route 252 and head south to Waynesborough Road to historic Waynesborough, a magnificent fieldstone Georgian manor house situated on 16 acres. This stately building was home to seven generations of the Wayne family, the most famous being Major General Anthony Wayne (a.k.a. “Mad Anthony”), who served with distinction under Washington and Lafayette during the Revolutionary War. Wayne was active in expanding the western frontier, and he defeated the Indian nations resident there in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. There’s a guided tour and slide lecture, Paoli Massacre diorama with self-activating tape commentary, and museum shop.
Open mid-March through Dec, tours given Wed-Sun, 1 to 3; closed major holidays. Adm: $5-$3; under 6, free; family rate, $12. 2049 Waynesborough Rd., Paoli. 610-647-1779; philalandmarks.org/wayne.aspx.
* * *
Valley Forge Country and Beyond. Perhaps the best-known site associated with the American Revolution, the 3,600-acre Valley Forge National Historical Park is a living monument to the men of George Washington’s ragged, ill-equipped Continental army, who spent the frigid winter of 1777-78 encamped there. Thousands died of hunger, disease and exposure.
You’ll find reconstructed soldiers’ huts, fortifications, cannons, Washington’s Headquarters, the Valley Forge Historical Society Museum (site of one of the nation’s largest collections of George Washington and Revolutionary War artifacts), the Washington Memorial Chapel, and Visitors Center, offering guided or tape tours. In addition to all the historically oriented sites, there are miles of jogging, walking, biking and horseback riding trails, and plenty of picnic areas because Valley Forge is also a great park for families and summer days filled with just enjoying the sunshine.
For your first visit, stop at the Visitor Center to orient yourself, see exhibits and a 15-minute film, pick up helpful material for self-guided tours, and find out what special activities and events are going on while you’re there.
Using the “Valley Forge Muster Roll,” the first automated record of nearly 30,000 soldiers who served at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War, visitors can search soldiers’ records at two interactive kiosks in the Visitor Center. Soldier Life programs are presented daily by costumed interpreters at the Muhlenberg brigade site. There’s also a website that can interface with the database, free from anywhere in the world, valleyforgemusterroll.org.
The park is open daily, 6 am to 10 pm. Most sites are open 9 to 5. Adm: free to most sites. 610-783-1077; nps.gov/vafo.
Just about everyone has heard of John James Audubon and his exquisite wildlife art, but far fewer people know about the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, the beautiful country estate that, in 1804, became his first home in America. The rambling fieldstone mansion, on its tranquil site high on a hill overlooking Perkiomen Creek, is now a museum displaying Audubon’s major published works, plus original prints, oil paintings and memorabilia. The estate’s 175 acres are a wildlife sanctuary with miles of trails dotted with feeding stations, nesting boxes and plantings of shrubs and trees attractive to birds.
Open Tues-Sat, 10 to 4; Sun, 1 to 4; closed holidays. Adm: $4-$2. Take Rt. 422 north of Valley Forge and Exit at Rt. 363 (Audubon/Trooper). Left at first light onto Audubon Rd., which leads directly to Mill Grove. 1201 Pawlings Rd., Audubon, 610-666-5593; montcopa.org/historicsites.
Our last stop, in the Ft. Washington area, is The Highlands, a historic country estate with a wonderful restored late Georgian-style mansion and lovely walled formal gardens. It was built for Quaker merchant and lawyer Anthony Morris as a refuge for his family from the yellow fever epidemics sweeping Philadelphia at the end of the 18th century. The estate has had its ups and downs over the years, but today it’s a grand and serene refuge from a frenetic world, thanks to the Highlands Historical Society, which took on the responsibility of saving it.
Visitors may request a guided tour of the elegant mansion, the garden, or both, and are welcome to stroll the gardens and rolling landscape at their leisure.
Several popular events take place at the estate every year. There’s a top-flight Craft Show in the fall, Tea & Symphony chamber concerts in the winter, garden events in the spring, as well as an impressive schedule of exhibits, lectures, workshops and programs.
Tours of the mansion and gardens, Mon-Fri, 1:30 & 3, or by appointment. The gardens are open and free year round. Tours: $5-$3; reservations required for large groups. 7001 Sheaff Lane, Ft. Washington. 215-641-2687; highlandshistorical.org. -CL-