Mt. Airy: Yesterday and Today – A Look at Pelham’s past

Pelham’s historian, Lois Frischling uncovered the forgotten story of this wonderful assemblage of late Victorian homes, in West Mt. Airy. During the Pelham Centennial Celebration, 1991-1994, residents learned that George W. Carpenter (1802-1860) assembled his 500-acre gentleman’s estate, bounded by Germantown Avenue, Upsal Street and Carpenter Lane.  Carpenter was a wholesale druggist and land speculator, and became one of Philadelphia’s seven millionaires at his death.  He built an enormous Greek revival style mansion in 1844, located along the present Mower Street at Pelham Road.  It boasted 14 Ionic columns along its 165-foot front.  He called his new home “Phil-Ellena” (“for the love of Ellen”), named after his second wife, Ellen Douglas (1823-1900), who was 20 years younger than him.

George Carpenter died in 1860.  In 1893, his widow and children sold 100 acres of the estate to financiers Anthony Drexel and Edward Stotesbury, for $1.00 and a percentage of future home site sales.  The developers and builders were Herman Wendell and Willard Smith, and the development of Pelham was expeditious. The wide, graceful Pelham Road was constructed at once and in 1894 the Phil-Ellena mansion was razed.

Homes in a variety of popular revival styles were soon erected in Pelham, including Tudor, Jacobean, Flemish, Italianate, Georgian, Queen Anne, Norman, Classical, and a range of idiosyncratic hybrid styles.  Young architects, who later achieved great distinction, designed these stately homes for newly wealthy Philadelphia businessmen and their families.  

The Pelham neighborhood survived its first century little changed in character, its mature trees and lovely gardens gracing its largely unaltered homes.  Pelham’s present residents are the successors to the world of George Carpenter and his family and to the vision of Pelham’s builders.  In future articles, I will discuss the Carpenter family and estate, and the building of Pelham.

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Burt Froom is a Parish Associate at Summit Presbyterian Church, 6757 Greene St. in Mt. Airy. This essay was originally published on the website of West. Mt. Airy Neighbors(WMAN).

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