At Wynnestay, A Glimpse Of Life In The 17th Century

Posted: June 16, 1991

Thomas Wynne is best remembered as William Penn's close friend, personal physician and fellow passenger aboard the ship Welcome en route to America. Wynne served as first speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and he gave his name to Wynnewood and Wynnefield.

Almost forgotten is Thomas Wynne's house. What a shame.

Actually, Thomas Wynne never lived in Wynnewood, but some of his descendants settled there. They called their estate "Wynne Wood" in his honor, and the name was adopted for the nearest stop on the railroad's Main Line.

Thomas Wynne's house is just across City Avenue from Bala Cynwyd in Philadelphia's Wynnefield section. Named for the ancestral home of the Wynnes in Wales, Wynnestay, meaning Wynnefield in Welsh, is the Wynne family homestead. Eight generations of the Wynne family in its direct male line lived in the house for more than two centuries. It stands on Woodbine Avenue on ground Wynne bought from William Penn in 1681.

Now for sale on three-quarters of an acre, Wynnestay provides an enchanting setting for an open-house tour. This large building tells its tale mainly in the three stages of its construction: 1689, 1700 and 1905.

The peripatetic Wynne didn't spend lots of hours in this house. As far as we can tell, he divided his time between his two other properties - a brick house on Front Street above Chestnut and a plantation at Lewes, Del. But while this house was being built, Wynne's attention was keenly focused on Philadelphia.

Of stout fieldstone construction, the oldest part of the Wynne dwelling contains one large room over another. It's impressive and worth the trip even just to enter the main front door and step directly into the Wynne living room facing the mammoth walk-in fireplace and imagine how life was lived here during the 17th century.

Jonathan Wynne, the doctor's only son, who arrived in Merion from Wales as a lad with one of his five older sisters, may have helped build the 1689 structure his father owned in Wynnefield. Certainly he put things on track with the house soon after his father's death, settling there permanently.

Jonathan Wynne enlarged Wynnestay in 1700 and defined boundaries of its (by then) 100-acre farm that remained unchanged until modern times. These extended

from 54th Street to City Avenue to Bryn Mawr Avenue to Wynnefield Avenue and back to 54th Street. Visible from Old Lancaster Road (54th Street) in its early days, Wynnestay house was targeted several times by foraging parties of British soldiers in the Revolution.

Once while its patriot owner, Lt. Thomas Wynne, was a prisoner of war on a British prison ship in New York Harbor, his wife and servants bravely defended the house against such a raid until a detachment of Pennsylvania Militia drove off the British, killing three Redcoats later buried behind the house.

The quietude of the farm was dealt its severest blow a century later. By then, the oldest part of the house lay empty and forlorn, the family preferring to live in the 1700 addition. Enter Bala Cynwyd neighbor and Pennsylvania Railroad President George B. Roberts, who envisioned residential subdivision of the surrounding farmland. This began in 1895. By 1905, Wynnestay house's owners, the Smedley developers, had architect Walter Smedley add a large north wing with dining room and a graceful staircase. He also raised the roof line, while retaining some of the house's remarkable hiding places of revolutionary times.

Change, inevitably, has overtaken Wynne's farm, But Wynnestay house shows every encouraging sign of being a survivor.

"Wynnestay," 5125 Woodbine Ave., Philadelphia. Open house, next Sunday, 1-4 p.m.


Harry Sefarbi, long-time Barnes Foundation faculty member, exhibits 103 oils at Woodmere, many of them beautiful works that have a positive formal vitality and do justice to his fine reputation as an artist. Also at Woodmere, the late Penn Valley photographer Richard T. Dooner is featured soloist. His are mainly portraits done by his well-known method of remote control photography.

Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill. Ends today. Open Sundays, 2-5 p.m. 247-0476.

comments powered by Disqus