The “experimental village” along colonial Grubb Road was founded in 1900 with the purchase of 162 acres of farm and forest by two Philadelphians, decorative artist G. Frank Stephens and architect William Price. Stephens was a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and brother-in-law of artist Thomas Eakins; Price was a successful architect who had studied under Frank Furness and absorbed Emersonian ideas via Furness's father, a close friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Funding for Arden was provided by a soap manufacturer of Philadelphia, Joseph Fels. Following the utopian ideals of Henry George, late-nineteenth-century proponent of the Single Tax (he proposed that land only should be taxed), Arden was and remains a community owning its land in common and just taxing land values.
Arden's creation sprang from efforts in the 1890s by members of the Philadelphia Single Tax Society to make tiny Delaware a political hotbed of their ideas. Price had the specific notion of testing the Single Tax theory by establishing a village based on its principles. One model was Elbert Hubbard's Roycroft, East Aurora, New York, founded five years before. Arden, named for the idyllic forest of Shakespeare's play As You Like It, was just a summer camp until 1905, when year-round residency tentatively began. Half-acre leaseholds were offered, and all the land was leased by 1909.
There were fifty houses in place by 1908, when 120 people spent the summer, and forty wintered over. The first photographs, dating from 1907, show rustic, shotgun-plan cabins with hipped roofs that extend forward to form a porch supported by two columns. These early so-called “toy houses,” a minority among the tents, were faced with plywood and log veneer and topped with tarpaper roofs. Casement-style camp windows allowed ventilation. In 1909, Fels gave $5,000 to encourage better architecture in Arden, and Price turned his attention to the problem. Up to now his energies had been directed to another utopian community of his own creation, Rose Valley, Pennsylvania (begun 1901). Price's layout for Arden, made in December 1910, followed the principles of the Garden City movement in England, as exemplified by Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1902). It retained two “greenbelts,” as Howard would have called them, wooded tracts that afforded privacy and access to nature. One lies along scenic Naamans Creek to the east; Sherwood Forest (a nod to Wilmingtonian Howard Pyle's illustrations for The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, 1883) occupies the west and was rescued from development in 2004. In between, the Arden community consisted of two zones, Woodlands and Sherwood, divided by Harvey Road. Each had a central common. Price was commissioned to design four or five cottages in 1909 by Fels, who, influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement, favored a medieval-style approach. More than sixty houses were built in Arden between 1909 and 1915.
Arden attracted media attention, largely because the famous writer Upton Sinclair briefly lived there (BR9). Mabel Tuke Priestman wrote on “The Summer Camp at Arden” in American Homes and Gardens (May 1908), and Gustav Stickley described “Summer Bungalows in Delaware” in The Craftsman (November 1909). In the 1920s, the outside world began to impinge upon the colony; there were automobiles and street lamps, though no paved streets and stone curbs until ninety-six WPA workers arrived in 1935.
Arden was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the only town in the United States placed on the register in its entirety. Today, Arden, population 480, contains many old houses, often as the core of later, weirdly improvisational expansions. An innovative “green” or plant-covered roof was installed on an Arden home in 2003. Residents fear gentrification, and, indeed, the historic Arden Inn was recently replaced by a Nanticoke-brand prefabricated home (see WS2).
In addition to the entries listed here, the following buildings are of interest. The Brambles (1901, George Leach and Harry Vandever; 1910–1912 wings added), at 1901 Millers Road, is one of the earliest Arden homes, famous for having been owned by reformer and labor organizer Eva Reeve Bloor (familiarly known as “Mother Bloor”) and her husband. When they wintered over in Arden in 1905, it was the first time anyone had done so. Frank B. Downs added the wings and gave the house running water, a novelty. Friendly Gables (1909, William Price), at 2205 Little Lane, was the first dwelling built with Fels's gift of $5,000 for the architectural improvement of Arden. Here Price copied the Harry Hetzel House he had previously designed in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. Inside are low ceilings with timber beams, and a stone fireplace stands at the core. The Arden Forge provided hardware for this and other early houses. Owner Fred Steinlein ran the Arden printery in the basement. Built for Lulu Clark, Green Gate (1909, William Price), at 2210 The Sweep, was the second cottage funded by the Fels donation. Across the road at Number 2209 stands another Price house, The Lodge (1910), in a similar Gothic Revival mode.
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