Gatehouse Drive, Kennett Square, Chester County, Pennsylvania
This house is best associated with...
Richard Joseph Levis
Dr Richard J. Levis, M.D., of Philadelphia & "Cedarcroft" Pennsylvania
In 1852, before leaving for China where he would accompany the historic mission of Commodore Matthew Galbraith Perry to Japan, Taylor realized a childhood dream by acquiring the Pusey farm across the road from his childhood home in Kennett Square. The stone house and barn had long since fallen into disrepair but it represented a canvas on which he could build his dream home. Standing within an enclosed parcel of land (traditionally referred to in Scotland as a 'croft') on which were scattered several cedar trees, he named what would become his home, "Cedarcroft" - and it was at his suggestion that his friend, the showman P.T. Barnum, named his second home Lindencroft.
While travelling in Germany in 1856 Taylor met Marie Hansen, daughter of the Director of the Gotha Observatory, and they were married the following year. He immediately put his mind towards building a home at Cedarcroft and had hoped to have it finished by the time their daughter, Lillie, was born in 1858. As it was, works did not start until the following summer when the cornerstone was laid on June 5, 1859. Beneath it, Taylor buried a time capsule, a zinc box in which he placed a copy of his first travel book ("Views Afoot"); one of his poems; some coins; a manuscript poem by his close friend, R. H. Stoddard etc.
The bricks used in its construction were fired from clay taken from a nearby field and the hole it created was filled with water and is now the pond found at the entrance to Unicorn Lane. The Taylors now had, "a large, comfortable country house with a fine outlook on the surrounding country". They moved here permanently from New York City but since building costs had spiralled from the budgeted figure of $10,000 - his savings from sixteen years of hard work - Taylor immediately departed on a lecture tour to pay the final bill of $17,000. His dream home was complete, but between the building costs and day-to-day running costs, it left him struggling to make ends meet for the rest of his life.
Despite his money concerns, Taylor made the best of his home. A "humorous" house-warming was held on August 18th, 1860, and as part of the celebration Taylor and Stoddard wrote and put on a play: "The library, which was at the farther end of the house, facing the barn, was turned into a stage by running up a partition of muslin sufficiently far from the walls to allow us to enter unperceived from the green-room, which, by the way, was the dining-room... the parlor, which fronted the library, and the hall between the parlor and the library, were packed with the audience". The following day, the guests who had stayed over released a large balloon into the air with a card attached that read: "Cedarcroft, August 19, 1860- 9 o'clock P.M." On the reverse was written, "Please report by Village Record where this balloon descends." It got as far as East Marlborough.
"Life at Cedarcroft Took on a Continental Character..."
The well-travelled Taylors planted a variety of fruits, vegetables, and specimen trees here, among them Latakia tobacco, melons, and a giant sequoia from California. On and around the house they grew ivy, Dutchman's pipe, Virginia creeper, wisteria, and trumpet flower.
Initially, the Taylors had been amused by the simple mindsets of their decidedly less well-travelled neighbors, but having lived for so long in New York and Europe their own liberal attitudes towards alcohol, tobacco, politics, religion and parties, "soon aroused the Quaker community to outspoken indignation". A contemporary account recalled that, "under the hand of Mrs Taylor, life at Cedarcroft took on a Continental character... he produced wine from his own arbors, and further outraged the temperance advocates by importing beer and whisky from the city. Gossip concocted preposterous conceptions of the gaiety of life at Cedarcroft". Having failed to unite a life of farming with literature and with debts continuing to grow while all the while enduring a torrent of harassment from his small-minded, judgmental neighbors, Taylor's enthusiasm for Cedarcroft quickly ran cold.
"Liberty Hall"... Not Quite Saved By the Bell
By 1871, Taylor had determined to sell and he placed Cedarcroft on the market for $50,000. It remained stagnant on the market until 1874 when a Mr Bell from Chicago expressed an interest. Taylor wrote, "He is a man who has made money in silver-mining; is 50-years old, wants to live as a country gentleman, and has, evidently, a great deal of sentiment in his nature. He is willing to give me $45,000 cash" - before ever having clapped eyes on the place! As it was, the deal fell through and Taylor would never be free of the yolk of Cedarcroft in his lifetime. In the same year, leaving the house occupied by his parents, sister, and brother-in-law, he left Kennett Square and relocated with his family in New York, never returning to Cedarcroft again for anything other than short stays.
In March, 1878, Taylor accepted the appointment of U.S. Minister to Prussia. Before he departed American soil for what would be the last time, his old friend Richard Stoddard penned his recollections of Cedarcroft: "My favorite room when I am there is the library, where I see Bayard Taylor seated at his desk, translating 'Faust' may be, or writing a book of travel. He is busy, but not so busy as to be entirely absorbed in his work. He can smoke and talk without losing the thread of his thought. I leave him writing in the library and pass out on the piazza, the pillars of which are draped with vines; down the terrace and past the flower-beds into the green lawn bordered with trees; down the lawn to the pond at the end; back through the belt of trees on the roadside border of Cedarcroft, and up till I strike the drive and follow it to the arched portico of the tower. Then I stroll off to the orchard, the grapery, or where I will, for Cedarcroft is but another name for Liberty Hall."
Dr Levis & Clara Barrington
Taylor died at Berlin but his body was shipped back to Kennett Square where he was buried under an elegant tomb in the Longwood Cemetery. If his liberal spirit had drawn the ire of the locals in the 1860s, by the turn of the century he had become a local hero and Kennett Square's newly constructed library on Broad Street was named in his honor.
Cedarcroft was bequeathed to Mrs Taylor and their daughter who finally managed to sell the mansion and its remaining 116-acres in 1882, at the vastly reduced price of just $14,050. The purchaser was Isaac Warner Jr. who flipped it on for a profit just the following year to Dr Richard J. Levis (1827-1890), President of the Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania. He divided his time between here and Philadelphia with his third and final wife, Harriet, who was only five years older than his eldest daughter.
Dr Levis son, Minford Levis, lived here for three years before selling in 1893 to Mrs Clara Barrington, the niece and co-heir of A. Boyd Cummings who gifted Brandon Park to the people of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The following year (1894) was not a good one for Clara: not only did she lose her husband, Francis, but Cedarcroft only narrowly avoided being consumed by fire. By 1900, her fortunes had reversed and Cedarcroft was acquired at the Sheriff's auction by local real estate agent, Elwood R. Green, who sold it to a local conglomerate who founded "The Cedarcroft School" here in 1904.
Restored by Edge
The school lasted until 1917 when it was absorbed by St. Luke's Academy on the Main Line. In the same year, the house was purchased by James Bachelor Dowsland Edge (1875-1939). Born in England, he came to America where he rose to become Vice-President of E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. James Edge had the funds and vision necessary for him and his wife, Anna Baily (1877-1964), to restore the house and gardens to their former glory. Aside from their three children, James' only brother, Francis Edge, also lived here, making his home in the fourth and fifth floors of the tower from which back then it was said the Delaware River could be seen.
Mrs Edge sold Cedarcroft in 1952 to another local conglomerate and what now became known as 'Cedarcroft Inc.' had Robert E. Ferguson as President, J.D. Pusey as Secretary, and C. Maxwell as Treasurer. From 1956, it was home to Thomas Clement (1884-1968), a farmer and farm equipment salesman, and his wife Mabel Barnes Galbreath (1885-1977). Two years after Tom died (1970), his widow sold up and the following year it was declared a National Historic Landmark. The carriage house still stands as does the original barn and gatehouse, although the latter two have since been converted into private homes. As for Cedarcroft itself, its more recent history and ownership since 1970 remains unclear. If you can help by adding anything, please log in and leave a comment.
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