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Chestnut Hill

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The change from middle-class Mount Airy to elite Chestnut Hill is signaled by a railroad bridge, a war memorial, and a small creek that converge where Cresheim Valley Road intersects the great Germantown Avenue. A more prepossessing entrance occurs where Cresheim Valley Road crosses Allens Lane into the once vast properties of the Houston Estate ( PH177). Chestnut Hill's principal churches are Episcopalian and contrast with the more modest Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist churches that are clustered near the center of the village at the intersection of Bethlehem Pike and Germantown Ave.

The choice of architects by Germantown Avenue's institutions and churches is a telling indication of status and connection to regional businesses that would appear again and again in the five-county region. Chestnut Hill's superb stone houses were largely built by Italian stonemasons who lived in a nearly separate village at the south end of the street at the core of which is the Venetian Social Club at 8030 Germantown Ave. This red brick structure with industrial iron sash and a mosaic with the lion of St. Mark, the emblem of Venice, was designed in 1929 by John Graham. The brick and limestone Bell Telephone Company offices for the CH (Chestnut Hill) exchange at 8318 Germantown Avenue (1923) are by John T. Windrim, while the handsome Colonial Revival banks at Gravers Lane (1921) and Evergreen Avenue (1926) are by Arthur H. Brockie, who worked extensively in Chestnut Hill.

Churches are particularly telling about the evolution of a place. Among the earliest is the tiny Baptist (German Dunkard) sanctuary at the intersection of Bethlehem Pike and Germantown Avenue, built in 1835, rebuilt in 1857 and again in 1925, when it was given its present Colonial Revival–cumQuaker appearance by Heacock and Hokanson. While the early churches were associated with the original German settlement, the railroads brought a broader world of Episcopalians, Irish Catholics, English Methodists, Scots Presbyterians, and their architects. At 23 E. Chestnut Hill Avenue, the Roman Catholic Our Mother of Consolation Church of 1855 was remodeled by Rowland W. Boyle in 1899, and its neighboring school was by Edwin Forrest Durang, the principal architect for the diocese. The Presbyterians hired W. Pope Barney for their great Colonial Revival church (8855 Germantown Avenue) in 1930 but the Great Depression and World War II stopped all activity until 1948 when the same design was finally constructed.

Chestnut Hill divides into two distinct zones—though with some overlap. The lower hill, where the Italian community was located, was always relatively déclassé, but an equally important split occurs along the east and west sides of Germantown Avenue. At the top of the hill, the east side is typically the location of smaller houses where the workforce of the shops on the avenue and the great houses lived. East Evergreen Avenue is a good example: the small 1880s porch-fronted double houses with side entrances into the kitchen and front entrances off the porch into the parlor continue an Irish house plan type. Evergreen Place contains tiny mansarded postcentennial twins that were updated in the 1925 as inexpensive “starter” houses by Robert Rhodes McGoodwin. It was McGoodwin who added the latticed porches that give the block its unity—and its charm.

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas

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