A wonderland in which the meaning of the great house shares with the stone of which it was built the slow decay of ambiguity and the gray ruin of time. There semblance and reality once merged in the nobiliary games of old Philadelphia, and there splendor reigned but not in quite the way it appeared to. At Whitemarsh Hall, the stately Palladian palace that Edward T. Stotesbury built in Chestnut Hill.
Only paradox remains.
This palace rises in stony silence above Whitemarsh Valley. Once it was common for two hundred, and sometimes as many as six hundred, guests to gather there for tea. Princes and statesmen visiting the United States as guests of the nation slept in its gilded suites.
The silent requiem of time fills the palace. One hurries through the dour twilight of abandoned rooms and voiceless corridors where the invading winter rain now turns to ice. Gone is the luminous elegance of the Georgian interiors white and gold paneling, gilded capitals, stucco swags and festoons, and high chimneypieces with scrolled pediments that appeared to break above the cornice line adapted by Allom from historic precedent and executed with a skill of like precedent in his London workrooms. Gone as well is the urbane eloquence of marbled Empire pilasters, cool treillage walls, and painted boiserie (adapted from the leaves of a Watteau screen) designed by Alavoine and executed in Paris with the nuance, and measure, the cultivated certitude, of traditional French craftsmanship. Such were the legacies of great interior art that had once made Eva Stotesbury grand salon and boudoir, withdrawing room and guest chambers the most notable in Philadelphia.
Edward Townsend Stotesbury was the head "the resident senior partner" of Philadelphia’s most, famous and prestigious, banking house, Drexel & Company. He was also senior partner of J.P. Morgan & Company in New York. Stotesbury, the very model of success his income for 1919 was $5,585,000, and he was known to be "the richest man at Morgan’s" by 1927 when his wealth reached $100,000,000. One may question the quality of his intelligence, he never read a book, but as has been noted, he had a remarkably keen mind for the complexities of finance.
For many years in Philadelphia the name of Edward T. Stotesbury was a synonym for great wealth. In a complex financial world, he was a man of power, an international banker, a genius dealing in credit, yet rarely, if ever, seeing any great amounts.
But to the man on the street, Stotesbury was more a legend Philadelphias wealthiest citizen the master of Whitemarsh Hall owner of yachts, of estates in Bar Harbor, Maine and in Palm Beach, Florida.
Stotesbury was born in Philadelphia on February 26, 1849 of Quaker parentage. He received his elementary education in the public schools of the city and then entered Friends Central High School. Following his graduation from that institution he spent one year under the tutelage of Thomas May Pierce, founder of the well-known Philadelphia business college, which bears his name today. At that time it was located in one room of a long-since demolished building at 8th and Green Streets.
With that preliminary education in business, young Stotesbury became a $16-a-month clerk in the wholesale grocery firm of Rutter and Pattison on Front Street near Market, and then took a clerkship in the sugar refinery firm of Harris & Stotesbury of which his father was junior partner. Young Stotesbury decided he wanted to work for Drexel & Co., the well-known Philadelphia banking house of which A. J. Drexel was founder and directing head. He was always punctual, never absent. He kept meticulous records of every penny he spent. These qualities ingratiated him with Anthony J. Drexel. When Drexel went into partnership with J.P. Morgan, Stotesbury received a lucrative post. Proof of the fashion in which he made himself a valued junior employee of the firm was instanced in 1882, when he was made a partner. In after years he often told the simple story of that success, which, boiled down, was: "Keep your mouth shut and your ears open."
He saw America grow from a virtually rural economy to industrial might, and yet he remained essentially the "country banker." He relied more upon his judgment of the character of an applicant for a loan than he did upon the nature of his collateral. It took him but 16 years to rise from a junior employee of Drexel & Co that was in 1866 until he became a member of the firm, and in the following half-century the name "Stotesbury" was known on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the significant services which he preformed in the course of his business career was that of assisting in the floating of the International Chinese Loan of 1909. During the course of that loan he made several trips abroad. This was only one of the numerous occasions on which he participated in the floatation of foreign loans for Morgan & Company.
Mr. Stotesbury was married twice, his first wife, the former, Miss Frances Berman Butcher, having died many years ago. There were two daughters born of that marriage. One, Mrs. John Kearsley Mitchell, the other, Mrs. Sydney Emlen Hutchinson. His second marriage, to Mrs. Oliver Eaton Cromwell, the former Lucetia Roberts of Chicago took place in the brides home at 1808 New Hampshire Avenue, Washington D.C., on the afternoon of January 18, 1912.
Always a man of simple personal pleasures, Mr. Stotesburys principle diversion for many years was the rearing of thoroughbred horses on his farm at "Wingo " Chestnut Hill, and driving of his thoroughbred trotters. He was a lover of blooded stock, and the Stotesbury teams in those years when teams were the vogue were marveled at by those who knew equine excellence.
He served as president of the National Horse Show of America, Ltd. And was American representative of the International Horse Show at the Olympic meet in London in 1908, and was honorary president of the American Road Drivers Association.
Even in later years, when increasing age and business responsibilities denied him active participation in the horse shows of the vicinity, Mr. Stotesbury indicated his partiality for "mans noblest animal friend by making vigorous protest to the opening of the Fairmount Park bridle paths to motor vehicles. It was partially due to his intervention that the extension of motorists privileges to those leafy lanes along the winding Wissahickon was denied.
During the war Mr. Stotesbury was plunged even more deeply into business, yet he found the time to throw his energy into the numerous war activities, including the various Liberty Loan drives, and in particular the Red Cross War Fund in 1917, in which he was personally influential in obtaining subscriptions approaching $3,500,000. The American Red Cross recognized his efforts.
His interest in children was evidenced by his position, shared with Mrs. Stotesbury, as a kind of "patron saint" to the Starr Garden Recreation Center at 7th & Lombard St.
Mr. Stotesbury was for years an intelligent and discriminating collector of fine works of art and in June 1932, loaned the bulk of his collection of paintings, tapestries, furniture and porcelains to the Pennsylvania Museum of Art for display in the Art Museum on the Parkway during a visit of some months which he and Mrs. Stotesbury made to England.
He was also a director of the Reading Railroad, the Lehigh Valley Railroad, the Philadelphia Fidelity Bank, the Girard Trust Company, the Cambria Iron Co., Pennsylvania Steel Co., Latrobe Steel Co., Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co., Keystone Watch Co., and the Jesup and Moore Paper Co.
A confidant who saw Stotesbury daily has recalled that he has a special telephone on a small table near his roll top desk on the partners platform at Drexel & Company which was connected directly to the phone in Evas office at Whitemarsh Hall. "Whenever that phone rang, he would run to it, and his face would light up. It was like the coming of the Almighty. He absolutely adored her."
Stotesbury died at eighty-nine on May 21, 1938. Wall Street insiders as early as 1927 had known him to be worth $100,000,000. Stotesbury was spending $1,000,000 a year to maintain Whitemarsh Hall. (In the opinion of Augusta Owen Patterson of Town & Country, who wrote with authority on such matters, Whitemarsh Hall may have been the best-maintained estate in both America and Europe. At one time, Marcel Deschamps, Grebers assistant supervised the daily work of seventy gardeners there.)
Mrs. Stotesbury issued the following statement a few hours after her husbands death:
Mr. Stotesbury had not enjoyed his customary good health during the past season in Palm Beach. He had several heart attacks and was confined to bed most of the winter. He recovered sufficiently, however, to make the trip home to Philadelphia in the middle of April on his yacht Neveda. Since that time he steadily improved and following his usual custom of 72 years he went to business at Drexel & Company practically every day.
Yesterday he seemed unusually well, driving to the Main Line to lunch with friends and paying a visit to Mr. Joseph E. Widener. Today he left home for Drexel & Company in unusually good spirits and attended his regular routine, including a visit to the office of the Reading Railroad. He left the office apparently in excellent health but on the way home was suddenly taken ill and collapsed on his arrival at Whitemarsh Hall. Both his physicians were summoned and within two hours he had apparently rallied and seemed greatly improved.
After sleeping peacefully until half past eight he awakened apparently refreshed and took a little nourishment. Within a few minutes thereafter he suddenly collapsed and died in Mrs. Stotesburys arms.
Eva and Stotesbury at El Mirasol
Palm Beach, January 12, 1928
The mosaic is confusing. Stotesbury withdrew $55,000,000 from his account at Morgans between 1933 and his death a rate of withdrawal of more than $10,000,000 a year. His stepson, James H.R. Cromwell, who was then married to Doris Duke, had become a devoted New Dealer. One day in 1936 Stotesbury told him, "Its a good thing you married the richest girl in the world because you will get very little from me. I made my fortune and I am going to squander it myself; not your friend Roosevelt."
But where did the money go? What did he squander in on at so incredible a rate?
Two years after his death, a probate inventory revealed the estimated net value of his estate to have been $4,000,000. Stotesbury, had he lived another two years, would have been broke with three unmarketable palaces on his hands. He had, in fact, been on a financial suicide course.
He left Eva the lifetime use of Whitemarsh Hall, but the total income he provided for her from an estate trust was only about one-quarter of what it would cost to run the palace. She immediately moved out and sadly dismissed her staff of forty, most of whom had followed her through the seasons from palace to palace for almost two decades. Fiske Kimball watched angrily as Eva, trying to sell the famous Stotesbury collection of English Portraits and the fine furniture, realized little more than ten cents on the dollar.
From the complex unraveling of the estate and the sale of her jewelry, Eva received enough to live quite comfortably. She went back to Washington, were her old friend Mrs. Horace E. Dodge rented her , for a nominal sum, a superb hotel that Trumbauer had designed.
Eva died in Palm Beach on May 31, 1946, eight years after Stotesbury. She was eighty-one. With her at the time were a son, James H. R. Cromwell, and a daughter, Mrs. Alf Heiberg. Mrs. Stotesbury had been ill all winter and spent several weeks in Jefferson Hospital before leaving for Palm Beach. On May 16, she suffered a severe heart attack from which she never rallied.
James H.R. Cromwell was at one time U.S. minister to Canada and is the former husband of Doris Duke, often called "the worlds richest girl." Mrs. Heiberg, who was born Louis Cromwell, was in succession the wife of Walter Brookes, Jr. Baltimore sportsman; General Douglas MacArthur, now Allied Supreme Commander in the Far East, and Lionel Atwill, the actor, before marrying Heiberg.
In the forecourt of Whitemarsh Hall, guests found themselves in front of an Ionic temple portico whose columns four across the front rose fifty feet to an entablature that supported a gable pediment. Here one came upon a succession of historic refractions: Rome interpreting Greece; Andrea Palladio interpreting the Roman past in Renaissance Italy; English architects interpreting Palladio in England during the reigns of the four Georges; and finally, Trumbauer, and his chief designer, Julian Abele, reinterpreting the Georgian achievement in Chestnut Hill.
On Saturday, October 20, 1916, the George A. Fuller Company broke ground for the foundation of Whitemarsh Hall. That evening the employees of Drexel & Company gave Stotesbury a dinner to celebrate his fiftieth anniversary at the bank the partners presented him with a gold vase.
On the afternoon of Saturday, October 8, 1921, Eva opened Whitemarsh Hall to society.
One hundred and fifty rooms measuring one million five hundred thousand cubic feet with one hundred thousand square feet of floor space - had served as a fireproof stronghold for ninety van-loads of art, including French furniture, medieval ivories, renaissance bronzes, gothic tapestries, and five hundred painting that had been shipped down from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and second, as a temporary industrial research center.
The magnificent villa, which is situated in the center of a 250 acre park at Paper Mill Road and now Cheltenham Avenue in Wyndmoor, was five years in the building, although work on it was seriously delayed during 1917-18 by the entrance of the United States into the World War. The estate, it was estimated at the time, cost in excess of $2,000,000, and upon it, and the mammoth six-story mansion, three of which are beneath the ground, were lavished by all of the ingenuity of the architect, the decorator, the sculptor and the landscape gardener.
James H.R. Cromwell, Will Rodgers, Eva, & Stotesbury
Under the portico at Whitemarsh Hall
Construction of the building begun in October 1916, the month that marked the anniversary of Mr. Stotesburys connection with the firm of Drexel & Company. It took five years to build and was Stotesburys wedding gift to his second wife, Eva. It was opened formally on October 8, 1921.
The house was built of Indiana Limestone. Marble from Italy, Oriental rugs, French furniture, Medieval tapestries, paintings by the masters, and chandeliers.
To it, in the years between 1921 and Mr. Stotesburys death, came the great of all nations, distinguished visitors to whom the Stotesbury's played the part of host and hostess. When the crown prince of Sweden made his visit to America during the sesquicentennial year he was a guest at Whitemarsh Hall for several days.
A team of trained mechanics was employed to service the estates fleet of chauffeur-driven cars and 35 servants were said to have occupied the service wing of the mansion. A staff of groundskeepers trimmed the grounds of the then-325-acre property. The subterranean floors housed a bakery and a carpenters shop as well as a wine cellar shielded by three doors which was kept well stocked during prohibition.
Henry Ford is reputed to have said after visiting the palace, "It was a great experience to see how the rich live."
Up keep of Whitemarsh Hall is reported to have been more than $1,000,000 a year.
The six-story mansion was patterned after Georgian mansions in England. To keep proportions correct, three stories were built underground. The main portico, the formal entrance on the northwest side, now approached from Paper Mill Road, is supported by massive limestone columns 50 feet tall.
The house contains 147 rooms, 45 bathrooms, three elevators, a 64-foot-long ballroom, an organ with three-story pipes, a gymnasium, a refrigerating plant, a movie theater and an extensive telephone system, and a game room where Mr. Stotesbury kept his billiard table and a slot machine. On the second floor were the master bedrooms, two offices, a breakfast room and the many guest suites.
Estimates of the cost of the mansion, approached originally by a mile long driveway from an entrance gate on Willow Grove Avenue in Wyndmoor, ran from $2 million to $12 million.
Whitemarsh Hall was demolished in April 1980.
Some of the text and photographs on this page are from the book
The Twilight of Splendor
by James T. Maher
Published by Little, Brown & Company, Canada