Where The Rich Retreat For Some, It's Saratoga Springs, N.y., Or The South Jersey Shore. But The Place For The Area's "Old Money\" Crowd To Summer Is Still \"philadelphia On The Rocks" - Mount Desert Island, Maine.

Posted: August 19, 1990

Around the turn of the century, John T. Dorrance, his pockets bulging with the money he had amassed from his invention of canned condensed soup, decided that it was time to spend summers on Mount Desert Island, Maine.

His decision was not universally acclaimed. One summer resident who took a dim view was Mary Howard Sturgis, grandmother of Robert Montgomery Scott.

"In effect," said Scott, president of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, ''she said, 'There goes the neighborhood.' "

No such calamity ever occurred. If the Dorrances (of Campbell's Soup) are now regarded as "old money," there is little doubt that Philadelphia's old money still prefers the mountainous Down East island to any other resort.

It's easy to see why. While moneyed movie stars and celebrities flock to the Riviera or Caribbean, Philadelphia's first families head for less- publicized places. Like Mount Desert Island, which offers the old- fashioned, low-key pleasures compatible with a class in which women limit jewelry to ropes of pearls, and the men wear their fathers' hand-me-down, tailor-made tuxedos.

Forget beach condos on pilings with expanses of plate glass overlooking the sea. Instead, there are shingled cottages shrouded in bushes and hedges, or concealed behind sand dunes, or at the end of long driveways hinting at private acreage the size of a borough.

Don't look for kiddie rides or discos, either, let alone casino gambling. For these families, a night out, from Maine to Martha's Vineyard to Mantoloking, N.J., means dinner and dancing at "the club" or some laid-back equivalent.

On Mount Desert Island, it's the Asticou Inn, a gray-shingled, century-old hotel with a yellow-awninged porch overlooking Northeast Harbor. The hotel epitomizes the old-money combination of austerity and luxury: Its 50 simply furnished rooms have framed waterfowl prints but no television sets, and on Thursdays it offers a buffet dinner-dance featuring lobster, shrimp Newburg and the music that its guests were dancing to 35 years ago at St. Paul's School or Agnes Irwin.

"This is Philadelphia on the rocks," said William L. Van Alen Jr. of West Chester, president of the American Flag House and Betsy Ross Memorial, as he and his wife, Judith, headed to a recent dinner-dance. The ever-citable sociologist E. Digby Baltzell supports the thesis. "Mount Desert," he wrote in 1958 in Philadelphia Gentlemen - the Making of an Upper Class, "has been the most popular Proper Philadelphia summer resort for over half a century."

In the 30-plus years since Baltzell made that statement, many prominent Philadelphians have found other resorts, notably along the South Jersey shore. Long Beach Island, for instance, provides relief from the city heat for art dealer Marie Schwarz, for businessman J.N. "Jay" Pattison, and for Arthur Klein, chairman of the board of Harcum Junior College, and his wife, Marilyn, who share a compound at Harvey Cedars with Klein's mother, Esther.

A LONG HISTORY

Long Beach Island is one of the longer-established South Jersey resort areas, dating from 1745, when its southern tip was known as Tucker's Beach. A small resort was subsequently established on the eroding peninsula that became Tucker's Island and finally disappeared beneath the seas of Beach Haven inlet.

To the south, Elizabeth Schoch, widow of M. Yetter Schoch, founder of the United Parcel Service, summers in Ocean City. Raymond Perelman, head of Belmont Industries, and his wife, Ruth, have a mansion on the beachfront at the southern tip of Atlantic City; its front-yard swimming pool can be secluded from curious boardwalk onlookers by a movable wall.

SUMMERING IN AVALON

Avalon also has its share of summer homes, including those of Laura and Bill Buck; hand surgeon James Hunter; Sarah Lee Lippincott Garroway, widow of television personality Dave Garroway, and industrialist Donald Stoughton, who lives with his wife, Joanne, in a cedar-beamed beachfront mansion filled with French country furnishings. The house will soon be included in a Time-Life series book on home-decorating.

Longport remains the traditional resort of city politicians, and Cape May is still popular and fashionable. Grace Buck, widow of J. Mahlon Buck, one- time chairman of Smith Kline & French, has a home there, for instance, as do Betty and Brent Farber and Mary and William F. Stokes.

However, most Proper Philadelphians - to use Baltzell's phrase - spend their summers farther north. Baltzell says that even in the 18th century Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Newport, R.I., were popular resorts for Philadelphians. "Over a hundred Philadelphians voyaged to Newport for summer sojourns between 1767 and 1775."

Saratoga still draws its share of Philadelphians, notably those with racing interests, who go there for the August season at the track. George Strawbridge, horse breeder and Widener University faculty member, rented a place there with his wife, Nina, this year. So did Elizabeth Moran, a Chester County horse breeder. Another regular there is Kay Mather, widow of insurance broker Charles E. Mather 2d.

Newport also maintains Philadelphia connections, as well as a contingent of the nationally rich and famous, including Sen. Claiborne Pell (D., R.I.). Established as a center for artists and intellectuals, primarily from the Boston area, Newport soon drew inhabitants from Philadelphia as well as New York.

One of its mightiest mansions, the Elms, was built for a Pennsylvania coal magnate, E.J. Berwind. Dorrance Hill "Dodo" Hamilton, a member of the Dorrance family, and her husband, Samuel, also a descendant of one of Philadelphia's oldest families, have an estate at the south end of the island overlooking the junction of the Atlantic and Narragansett Bay.

Anthony Wayne Ridgway, descendant of "Mad Anthony" Wayne, Revolutionary War general, and Madison Clews and his wife, Margaret Strawbridge Clews, also have places there.

"Dodo" Hamilton's sister and brother-in-law, Hope Hill and John A. van Beuren, live in nearby Middletown.

Robert Montgomery Scott and his wife, Gay, have a summer place at another New England shore resort, Nantucket. John Eckman, Rorer Group chairman, and his wife, Jane, also go there. Sheldon and Lucy Hackney (he is president of the University of Pennsylvania) go to nearby Martha's Vineyard, where they are regular tennis partners with columnist Art Buchwald.

One ocean resort not mentioned by Baltzell but which for half a century attracted Proper Philadelphians is Bay Head, N.J., and its equally exclusive neighboring communities of Mantoloking and Normandy Beach. Perhaps Baltzell wished to keep it a secret because his family for decades had a mansion there, as did Philadelphia-area families including the Barnetts, the Coxes, the Chandlees, the Chances, the Schoettles and the Peaslees of South Jersey.

Bay Head, situated at the head of Barnegat Bay, has had a large contingent of Philadelphians active in yachting. The only yacht club with which the exclusive Bay Head Yacht Club has full reciprocal relations is the Corinthian in Essington; both clubs have shared many members.

Later Days, a book commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Corinthian Yacht Club, for instance, contains photographs of the Stand Pat III, owned by Joseph M. Patterson, a Philadelphia oilman who summered in Bay Head and kept his boat at the Bay Head Yacht Club, and the Connie IV, the yacht owned by George T. Pew and named after his wife. It, too, was kept at the Yacht Club.

These days, following in his family's footsteps, the Pews' son, Tom, and his wife, Sandy, also keep their 43-foot sailboat, the Anodyne, in Bay Head, using it as a summer pied-a-mer. Jim Artz, a Haddonfield lawyer, and his wife, Mimi, and Nancy and Geoffrey Dougherty, residents of Valley Forge and mainstays of the Orpheus Club, also are summer boaters there.

Bay Head is no longer the Philadelphia enclave it once was, however. Most vacationers there now come from North Jersey or New York. The Garden State Parkway is to blame, says Bill Fortenbaugh, a longtime Bay Header who grew up on the Main Line and now teaches at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

Not only did the parkway make travel easier for those coming from the north, he said, but the newcomers themselves also altered Bay Head's nature.

"Philadelphians tend to be scruffy," Fortenbaugh said. "They couldn't get used to the new elegance."

As the Asticou Inn suggests, Mount Desert Island, and notably Northeast Harbor, appeals to that scruffiness, despite its distance from Philadelphia. Under optimum conditions, it's a nine-hour drive.

Other Maine communities not quite so far away have their Philadelphia adherents. The Boks hang their holiday hats in Camden, for instance, and the Wyeths of Chester County do their summer painting at Port Clyde.

But of the 229 Northeast Harbor residents listed in the Red Book directory - a miniature social register of the island's five main communities - 52 (more than from any other single source) are from Philadelphia.

One of the earliest Philadelphians to summer in Maine was S. Weir Mitchell. In 1891, according to Baltzell, Mitchell came for the first time to Mount Desert Island, which also began its resort career as an artists' colony "in order to avoid the new-rich then taking over Newport."

"People would take the sleeper to Portland and be picked up there by their chauffeurs," Gardiner Biddle, of Wynnewood, said as he and his wife, Pixie, and Tamara Leddy stood in line for the Thursday buffet at the Asticou.

This fall, innkeeper Daniel Kimball will bolster the hotel's Main Line appeal by marrying Lydia Fitler of Haverford, who summers in Seal Harbor.

"Part of the charm of Mount Desert is that it is so far away," Bonnie Van Alen, William Van Alen's sister-in-law, said recently as she paused in her jeep at the entrance to Clifton Cottage, the Van Alen estate overlooking the

entrance to the harbor itself. "Of course, everybody else from Philadelphia is up here, too," she said.

Mount Desert has its share of prominent non-Philadelphians, too. Caspar Weinberger, former secretary of defense, lives at Windswept in Somerville.

In Northeast Harbor, Charles Gogolak, famed as a kicker for the Princeton Tigers football team, lives in a cottage named Time Out, whose front porch has a bench in the shape of a Tiger. And at Serendipity lives T. Garrison Morfit, better known to the world as Garry Moore.

But Philadelphia names prevail. A couple of estates away from the Van Alens are Sage Watch, home of Berwyn resident Edward B. Leisenring, chairman of Westmoreland Coal; Pyne Cottage, home of Richard B. Light of Devon, and Ready About, home of Kaighn Smith of Bryn Mawr.

Philadelphia lawyers Morris Cheston and Benjamin R. Neilson have homes in Northeast Harbor; so do R. Anderson Pew, half a dozen Madeiras, the Foulke clan of Chestnut Hill, and Marion "Kippy" Stroud, the force behind the Fabric Workshop.

And, three generations later, the Dorrances still maintain their presence. Tristram Colket, a grandson of John Dorrance, has a home at Bar Harbor.

And Diana Norris, also a Dorrance grandchild, is a familiar face around Northeast Harbor, which includes a small business district unmistakably targeted toward quiet wealth. "Mrs. Norris was just in here," Gary Beal, proprietor of Beals Classics, said as he stood between a display counter of Quimper porcelain and a counter stuffed with Godiva chocolates.

"Godivas are made in Reading, Pa.," Beal said. "She owns them."

John Dorrance would finally have felt at home.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|