Woodcrest Mansion today

Woodcrest Mansion today

This is the first in a series of blog posts by Jeff Groff, Director of Public Programs at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, looking at the history of Woodcrest on the Cabrini campus and its notable residents.  The Main Line Antiques Show 2014 will be held on the Cabrini campus and Jeff is a speaker in our Lecture Series during the Show weekend.

We are fortunate to know so much about Woodcrest and its owners because of the research and writing of the late Martha Dale, a college administrator at Cabrini University and historian.  Martha and I enjoyed many years of lively conversation and trading discoveries, as she tried to peel back the layers of the story of the Paul family who built Woodcrest c. 1900, and the Dorrances who purchased it in 1925.

Woodcrest historic photo

Woodcrest historic photo

The families associated with Woodcrest are so interwoven with the history of Philadelphia and the upper levels of its society—Paul, Drexel, Mills, Biddle, and Dorrance.  But it moves beyond the Philadelphia world to include Astors, Munns, du Ponts, and English aristocrats.

Woodcrest aerial photo

Woodcrest aerial photo

In 1899-1900 James W. Paul, Jr., a member of an old Philadelphia family and very successful financier, acquired 230 acres in Radnor.  Paul, a widower with three children, followed the trend in creating a grand country estate with an impressive Tudor style mansion designed by Horace Trumbauer as the centerpiece.

Like many wealthy Main Line residents James Paul added buildings to the estate and remodeled the house as his needs changed.  The large Tudor style stable block and coach house completed in 1901 formed a courtyard.   With room for sixty horses, each section was anchored by quarters for upper level staff and their families.

Woodcrest stable

Woodcrest stable

The gardens rivaled the house for attention and elaborate design.  They have the feel of the work of the Olmsted Brothers found on many Main Line estates, but were designed by Ogelsby Paul, the nephew of James and a very successful landscape architect.

Woodcrest garden

Woodcrest garden

With over fifty rooms, including fifteen bedrooms, Woodcrest epitomized living on a grand style with all the attendant spaces—great hall, dining room, morning room, library, billiard room, and at a far point of the west wing, a smoking room.  The servant’s wing, typical of large American houses, was spacious with modern equipment, large kitchen, pantry, servant’s hall, and laundry.  Family and guests could enjoy a swimming pool and tennis courts.

Woodcrest dining room

Woodcrest dining room

Next installment:  Mary Astor Paul, a Heroine of WWII