Sunday, October 21, 2012

Wissahickon Style VII, or Hidden Kingdoms and Jill McConkey

Lehman's Lane
Post 54
Price St.

 There are unexpected golden pockets, hidden kingdoms tucked along the Wissahickon. One of them is in Germantown within view of Alden Park and within view of Lincoln Drive.

Jill McConkey, an ex-librarian, grew up in this neighborhood. Because she  loves it so much, she communicates its beauties and history well,

 So please welcome the guest author of this blog --Germantown Friends, Grinnell College and the late lamented Columbia University Libary School alum, library advocate, and all around good Josephine,--Jill McConkey.

 "West Price was a special street. Stunning in spring, with an archway of huge Norway maples, and steep front banks reefed in old azaleas.   It was an especially close community because the twin houses meant  we were packed tightly together and because we all had a generous front porch."

{House at right is where Jill grew up.}

 We had an annual Victorian Christmas party (jointly with residents of brick-paved neighboring Stafford Streett,) a tree planting party(to replace some of the dying old maples with fast growing  red oaks) and even (for a brief time) our own little newsletter. Crime was infrequent since we were in an isolated niche of  Germantown.

We were also able to take full advantage of the nearby park (walking Forbidden Drive) and  running (and rolling) around the grounds of Alden park and swimming in its unique indoor tiled  pool.  My father used to tell us that the red blazes on the stone bridges over Papermill  Run (near Rittenhouse Town)was the blood of Lene Lenape braves.

 It was an ideal neighborhood for trick-or-treating although it took forever as all of the adults had to chat with each other.

This is a documented William Eyre House

Lehman's Lane
We hopscotched,roller skated and jumped roped (even double Dutch) on the smooth asphalt of Price Street, jumping in leaf piles in the fall and discovering that Sycamores drop the best, crunchiest leaves. --

 We also spent a lot of time playing, with neighbor kids, on "Private" yellow brick Lehman's Lane...

Sledding down its steep curves in Winter, playing Hide and Seek and Baby in the Air in summer.  We thought we were the only ones who knew about a hidden special mansion called Oaks Cloister.

Front of Oak Cloisters

An elderly white-haired man and his even older mother used to sit under the dark, arched, Studio porch staring at us.  The Studio was a spooky stone structure behind the Tudor style main house. When they were inside we couldn't resist trespassing.
The Cloisters
 The sprawling, neglected side yard included overgrown fountains and other curiosities. Something of an enchanted secret garden for us.  We gathered acorns from around the grounds for ammunition  in acorn fights.

One  day we found the courage to peek in the windows.  We saw an astonishing cloistered art gallery with marble statues and antique paintings in gilded frames.  We darted away fast because we fancied that this mysterious old man was something of an ogre.

Historical Marker

Turned out that this old man, according to my father, was the son of Joseph Huston who had designed the PA state capitol.  Joseph had gone to  jail for a few years because he'd been convicted of graft  in 1910 for cost overruns on the construction and furnishings. This aura of scandal only added to his mysteriousness in our eyes.

Side view Oak Cloisters

Side Door
 Then one Halloween my father, who had always had a strong interest in architecture, took us to his Studio while trick or treating.

More Side View

We trembled with fear as we approached but were also very curious. He turned out to be the nicest man you could ever wish to meet and generously donated money to our little orange UNICEF containers and gave us each an enormous chocolate bar."

Jill, ever the librarian, has also been kind enough to furnish these links

 Happy All Saints, All Souls.

The local guard cat, who saw fit to accompany me as I wandered.

Happy Halloween

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