Ardrossan stands almost alone as a reminder of the halcyon days of Philadelphia's Main Line. The estate at its height comprised roughly 900 acres, incorporating a number of pre-existing houses from the 18th and 19th centuries (including Holly Tree House, the oldest in Radnor Township), a purebred herd of Ayrshires, a commercial dairy, a stable of Irish "hunters", and a beautiful stone water tower built in 1917. Commissioned in 1911 by Colonel and Mrs. Robert Leaming Montgomery, the "Big House"-the centerpiece of the Ardrossan estate-was designed by Horace Trumbauer, one of America's foremost classical architects. The house interiors were done by the prominent decorating firm of White, Allom & Company. Representative of country house architecture in America at the time and the social milieu to which the Montgomerys belonged, the house stands today, essentially unaltered since 1912. Many of the custom built pieces of furniture are still covered with needlepoint embroidered by Mrs. Montgomery and her "auntie", Helen Beach Tyler, who lived at Ardrossan until her death in 1944.
This is the first book on the history of Ardrossan-the house and estate. It is an intimate portrait that not only reveals Ardrossan as a beloved home for a family of accomplished individuals, but the book also relates, in vivid detail, the process of building a grand house (almost every document pertaining to the construction of the Big House has been preserved at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, The Atheneum of Philadelphia, and in the Montgomery-Scott-Wheeler family archive, including architectural drawings and correspondence between Col. Montgomery, Trumbauer, and White, Allom & Company).
The Montgomerys and Ardrossan might arguably be the American counterpart to the Carnarvons of Highclere Castle or the Granthams of Downton Abbey. They are perhaps best known as the family on which Philip Barry based his 1938 play, The Philadelphia Story, becoming the "stuff of legend" when Barry's play was adapted for the screen-with Katharine Hepburn reprising her stage role as the main character based on the Montgomerys' oldest child, Helen Hope Montgomery Scott.
Col. and Mrs. Montgomery-Charlotte Hope Binney Tyler-lived a remarkable life. They were both respected stewards of the community and politically engaged, especially against the eighteenth Amendment! Colonel Montgomery was an early member of the Radnor Hunt and cofounded the successful brokerage firm Montgomery Scott & Co (today known as Janney Montgomery Scott). He was an early enthusiast of the autogyro and an active supporter of the arts-commissioning family portraits from notable artists of the day, including Philip de László, Sir John Lavery, Ignacio Zuloaga, and Augustus John.
Together the Colonel and Mrs. Montgomery created a magnificent, yet comfortable, home in which they raised their four children: Hope, the eldest mentioned above, expanded the family dairy business and was a legendary socialite; Mary Binney Wheeler, second to be born, founded a modern ballet company and studied piano, playing with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra; Aleck, the third child and only son, served in WWII and was a successful stockbroker in the family business; and Charlotte Ives, the youngest, was a national champion horsewoman who inherited her father's love of flying.
While very much the center of family life, Ardrossan also embodied the elegant splendor one would expect of hosts with the Montgomerys' social standing. There were many grand parties at Ardrossan during the twentieth century. Attendees included the Pitcairn brothers, the Duncan sisters, and even Ray Bolger who played the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz." Frequent guests of the Montgomerys included playwright Philip Barry, George Copland, and the former First Lady, Edith Roosevelt (Miss Tyler's cousin); one weekend the Col. And Mrs. Montgomery even hosted the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia.
David Nelson Wren's engaging text and the beautiful photographs-both newly commissioned and archival-capture the vision of Colonel Montgomery, chronicle the family's history, and preserve Ardrossan's rich history. Beautifully bound, this elegant volume records the life of a house that remains an important example of American country house architecture.