Ardmore Project Suburban Life in the Early 20th Century

Jacob Myers

Building the Community


Documentation regarding the building projects completed by Jacob Myers, in addition to his role as a board member of the Merion Title and Trust Company point to his involvement in the development of Ardmore, Pennsylvania.  It is necessary to look beyond the physical building of the structures he created in order to examine the purpose that these buildings were used for and, consequently, the contribution these buildings had in the development of a certain kind of community in Ardmore. 

Jacob Myers was a builder who resided at 45 Linwood Avenue in Ardmore.  According to the detailed description of Mr. Myers’ place of residence at 45 Linwood Avenue completed by a surveyor in July of 1893, the lot was on the corner of Linwood Avenue and Athens Avenue and was roughly two and a half acres in size.[1] Mr. Myers can be traced back to humble beginnings.  According to the 1850 census data on Lower Merion, he grew up in Passyunk, Philadelphia, PA.[2]  His father was a farmer in this area and Mr. Myers was the second oldest of five children.  In the 1880 census data, one can find that Mr. Myers lived with his wife and four children.[3]  However, in 1910 the census data shows that Mr. Myers lived at his home with his wife, Lucy E. Myers; his daughter, Mrs. Lucille Ledlesle; his son-in-law, Robert B. Ledlesle; and four servants.[4]  By this time, both of his sons and the older of his two daughters no longer lived with him.  When Mr. Myers passed away in 1918, he left his estate equally divided among his four children, Annie F. Wilson, John W. Myers, William H. Myers and Lucy E. Lederle.

Mr. Myers was a very successful builder who founded Jacob Myers Sons Co.  Through this company, Mr. Myers conducted business operations as a builder as well as a general contractor.  In cases where certain specifications of a project were outside of his expertise, he chose to subcontract the work.  Jacob Myers Sons Co. was developed into a company that had a hand in many of the building projects, both small and large, in the Ardmore and greater Philadelphia areas at the turn of the twentieth century.  In April of 1890, the Philadelphia Inquirer included an article in its paper titled, “Many New Houses:  Which Will Keep Workmen Busy for Months to Come”.[5]  The article discussed the construction boom in the spring of that year that promised to keep builders busy during the coming months.  The article made a point of noting that the boom would result in the development of new streets that had just recently been opened.  A dozen projects that had been approved were listed as support of this argument.  One of these projects was building an additional story over the Polyclinic Hospital building on Lombard near 18th Street to be completed by Jacob Myers Sons Co.[6]  In Ardmore and the rest of the Lower Merion Township, the construction of residential areas was also booming.  The housing boom in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was sparked by the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line.  Furthermore, as improvements to the train and trolley system made Ardmore more accessible from the city, there was increased demand for middle class housing for commuters.[7]   It is evident that Mr. Myers had a hand in the transformation of Philadelphia and Ardmore into the modern communities that still exist today.  At this time, there was a great deal of opportunity to be had from the development of these areas.  This opportunity coupled with Mr. Myers’ expertise as a builder and entrepreneur contributed to the success of the company he founded.

Although Mr. Myers was involved in the development of communities in Ardmore and the greater Philadelphia area, there is a distinction between the work he did in more rural Ardmore compared to urban Philadelphia.  At this time, Ardmore was being developed from sprawling farms into a more suburban community.  Thus, the projects Mr. Myers completed in Ardmore were mostly the building of houses that would form residential areas.  For example, in April of 1901 he did work for the residence of D.E. Williams.[8]  This project included building a new stable on the property.  He was also involved in the building of houses for the wealthy residents of Ardmore.  In August of 1904 he commenced work on a $75,000 project to build a country residence for George Blabon.[9]  The main house was to be three stories and built in Elizabethan style with all the modern amenities of that time. 

In comparison, although Mr. Myers was responsible for the development of new residential communities in the Philadelphia area, his work in this area included projects more characteristic of an urban setting.  Stores, churches, universities and hospitals, vital parts of any city, were largely what Mr. Myers was responsible for building.  In addition to the work he did for the Polyclinic Hospital in April of 1890, in February of 1902 he constructed additions to the Jewish Hospital on the northeast corner of Juniper and Samson Streets.[10]  In January of 1901 he bid on a job to build 85 houses and five stores and dwellings in the 27th ward of Philadelphia.[11]  This operation was to cost a stunning $147,000 at the time.  In July of 1901, he was in the process of building St. Mary Magdalene di Pazzi’s church and the “The Latest News in Real Estate” reported that he was taking sub-bids to build a 63 foot tower to be built on the roof of the church along with a 40 foot cupola.[12]  In July of 1903 he built a one story brick power house at 27th and Aspen Street for the Baldwin Locomotive Works.[13]  Furthermore, Mr. Myer’s was experienced in building churches and in January of 1904, he bid on a job to build the St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Trenton, NJ.[14]  Finally, Mr. Myers was also involved in the expansion of universities in the immediate area.  In August of 1906, he bid on a job to build a new building at Lehigh University that would have the seating capacity of 587 students.[15] 

The role Mr. Myers’ had in the physical building of a community in Ardmore and communities in the greater Philadelphia area is evident in his projects.  With this in mind, it is important to note the impact that Mr. Myers’ projects had in fostering a certain kind of community in these areas.  The homes he built provided a space conducive to raising a family.  Moreover, the churches he constructed kept the community tied to religious values.  The hospitals he made additions to provided the community with a facility that was capable of providing the best care for its patients.  Finally, the educational spaces he created provided a healthy learning environment where the young members of the community were taught the skills that would enable them to contribute to the community as adults.  Mr. Myers was responsible for constructing a certain kind of community.  His work contributed to the construction of a balanced community with the necessary facilities to encourage a healthy lifestyle guided by religious and scholastic values.  It is in examining the functions of the buildings constructed by Mr. Myers that purpose is found in his work.

Building communities both in Ardmore and the greater Philadelphia area paid well.  This is apparent from the size of Mr. Myers’ estate.  At the time of his death in 1918 he had over $245,000 (the current equivalent of approximately $5,700,000) to his name before debts, legal fees and estate taxes.[16]  What particularly stands out about Mr. Myers’ estate is the diversification of his assets.  It demonstrates that Mr. Myers understood how to manage his wealth and limit risk in his investments.  Mr. Myers owned eight different lots at the time of his death with the cumulative value of this real estate equaling $151, 500.[17]  However, he had $65,000 in mortgages on these properties that had to be paid by the estate.[18]  Furthermore, he held a significant amount of his wealth in stocks and bonds.  The stock he held in the Bryn Mawr National Bank, Merion Title and Trust Company and Jacob Myers Sons Co. particularly stand out.  Mr. Myers was a founding member of the Merion Title and Trust Company, founded in 1889, and was named one of 12 directors at the time of its founding.[19]  This is significant because it was the first banking institution in Ardmore and financed the development of Ardmore and surrounding areas.[20]  Mr. Myers held 250 shares at $70 each, amounting to $17,500.[21]  Ardmore demanded banking facilities capable of supporting its growth and Mr. Myers, along with 10 other leading businessmen in Ardmore, met on February 8, 1889 in the office of Walter W. Hood to organize the Bryn Mawr National Bank.[22]  The purpose of this bank was to be an open place for the deposit of funds in Ardmore.  Mr. Myers held 10 shares at $200, amounting to $2000, in the Bryn Mawr National Bank.[23]  Finally, Mr. Myers owned Jacob Myers Sons Co. through which he operated his business as a builder.  He owned 166 shares at $80 in his company, amounting to $13,280.[24]

It is necessary to stress the importance of Mr. Myers’s involvement in the Merion Title and Trust Company because it is through this organization that he was provided the status, position and connections to build Ardmore’s community.  The board members of the Merion Title and Trust Company were established businessmen in the local community and with their status came connections and the financial means to finance the initial development of Ardmore.  The company had a deposit line of over half a million dollars and had over 1500 depositors.[25]  It was with this money that it financed projects such as the improvement of the system of roads in Ardmore which was undertaken by the Pennsylvania Railroad in order to make the train station in Ardmore more easily accessible.[26]  This improved road system encouraged the development of houses situated along these new roads.  The Merion Title and Trust Company was involved in the selling of these new houses.  This is evident from documentation on property transfers listed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  As a board member with expertise in the field of construction, Mr. Myers had a hand in these operations.

In examining the development of Ardmore in the early twentieth century, Mr. Myers’ contribution to the formation of this community cannot be overlooked.  The construction boom of the late nineteenth and early twentieth afforded him with opportunities he could capitalize on.  Subsequently, the notable success he had in his industry established him as an influential businessman in Ardmore and it was this acclaim that resulted in his position on the board of the Merion Title and Trust Company.  His own building projects as well as the projects undertaken by the Merion Title and Trust company aided in the transformation of Ardmore from a rural village to a modern suburb that embodied the social values of the time period.

- Jack Piontkowski

[1] Montgomery County Record Office (Norristown), RW32,906 (1918).

[2] U.S. Bureau of the Census, 7th Census (1850), Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Passyunk, Sheet 56A.

[3] U.S. Bureau of the Census, 10th Census (1880), Pennsylvania, Phiadelphia, District 658, Sheet 217C.

[4] U.S. Bureau of the Census, 13th Census (1910), Pennsylvania, Montgomery County, Lower Merion Township, District 0095, Sheet 11B.

[5] Philadelphia Inquirer, April 18 1890, 7 col. L.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Phylis C. Maier, Mary Mendenhall Wood, Lower Merion- A History (The Lower Merion Historical Society, 1988), 34.

[8] Philadelphia Inquirer, April 9 1901, 9 col. C.

[9] Philadelphia Inquirer, August 25, 1904, 9 col. D.

[10] Philadelphia Inquirer, February 27 1902, 9 Col. B.

[11] Philadelphia Inquirer, January 10 1901, 9 Col. C.

[12] Philadelphia Inquirer, January 31 1901, 9 Col. A.

[13] Philadelphia Inquirer, July 11 1903, 9 Col. C.

[14] Philadelphia Inquirer, January 6 1904, 9 Col. D.

[15] Philadelphia Inquirer, August 3 1906, 9 Col D.

[16] Montgomery County Record Office (Norristown), RW 32,906 (1918).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Montgomery County Historical Society (Norristown), Josiah S. Pearce, Early Recollections of Ardmore,1913.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Montgomery County Record Office (Norristown), RW 32,906 (1918).

[22] Montgomery County Historical Society (Norristown), Josiah S. Pearce, Early Recollections of Ardmore, 1913.

[23] Montgomery County Record Office (Norristown), RW 32,906 (1918).

[24] Ibid.

[25] Montgomery County Historical Society (Norristown), Josiah S. Pearce, Early Recollections of Ardmore, 1913.

[26] Phylis C. Maier, Mary Mendenhall Wood, Lower Merion- A History (The Lower Merion Historical Society, 1988), 34.