Nether Providence Twp, Delaware County, PA

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Westlawn (a.k.a. The Charles Essig House; 123 North Providence Road) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Photo:PHMC. [2]

"Westlawn" is a large, single, detached dwelling which depicts the Queen Anne style favored for use on prominent suburban houses of the late 19th century. The main house, built in 1882, is set with its facade parallel to the main road (Providence Road) with a drive graciously circling around the house and leading to the carriage house behind the main dwelling. A combination of brick, clapboard, novelty shingles, half-timbered beams and stucco highlight the asymmetrical, two and one half story structure. High quality design and workmanship is evident in the details of all areas. The integrity of the property is very good with well preserved distinctive interior and exterior features, the retention of exterior landscape features and layout, and the addition of appropriate extensions (1895) of equal quality.

The asymmetrical nature of "Westlawn" starts at the roof level with a cross gable roof which is penetrated by gable dormers, a turret, a square tower, a faceted pentagon addition, and three corbelled chimneys. The asphalt-over-slate roof has copper cresting and finials, and culminates with kick eaves supported by cornice brackets. The extended rakeboards are decorated with raised bull's eye fillets and supported by brackets. The gable ends of the dormers are constructed in the half-timber style with wooden cross beams and stucco panels. All of the dormers and gable ends have a pair of windows within them.

The second floor exterior of the dwelling is wood frame construction with clapboard siding that is reeded on the bottom edge. The clapboarding is divided into panels to accent the window placement; horizontally, at the top and bottom of the windows, and vertically extending the window stiles and the corners of the building. A projecting beltcourse separates the second floor from the brick first floor level. The bricks are closely set in stretcher bond with color matched mortar. The foundation is smooth faced, polygonal pattern gneiss on the original section, with rock faced ashlar gneiss on the porch and orangery.

The front (NE) facade has five bays. The windows are double hung 12/1, 13/1 or 15/1. A deep wooden porch starts at the center of the house with a portico set on paired Tuscan columns and a raised stone foundation. A fretwork gable panel and a rakeboard with dentil and bull's eye decoration ornament the portico which leads to the main entrance behind. The double, paneled doors are capped with an arch band of brick and a keystone of ornamental unglazed terra cotta. The door is flanked by narrow, arched, stained glass windows. There is a double band of smoked brick at window sill height on the first floor porch area, extending to, and continuing on to the SE side of the house. To the North of the porch portico is a projecting tower which is brick on the first and second level with a decorative bull's eye motif fascia panel below the third floor level cut wooden shingle siding. On the North end is the 1895 faceted addition. This addition is two stories, completely brick, continuing the use of closely set stretcher bond brick with color matched mortar. The windows in this section are 1/1, a window on each level of the diagonal facets, with a chimney on the NW end. One window on the first floor level is stained glass.

The SE face of the Dwelling has three bays with a projecting gable to the South. The materials and design of the main facade are repeated with a half-timbered panel on the projecting gable, and clapboard siding panels on the second floor level with 13/1 windows. The first floor level has the continuation of the porch, ending in a projecting set of stone steps. A leaded clear glass, wood and stone orangery is on the first floor level of the projecting gable.

The SW face has two bays with two gable dormers. The placement of the materials and the designs used are consistent with the pattern for the house as a whole. There is a round window on the second floor level between two windows aligned beneath the dormers. An enclosed porch is on the West end of the first floor level. It has the reeded clapboarding used elsewhere on the second floor, as well as window panels using 6/1 double hung windows. There are exterior doors at each end of the porch.

The NW face of the main dwelling is comprised of four sections. To the South is the end of the one story porch described in the paragraph above. The next section is a two and one half story gable end of the main portion of the house. The gable panel on this face is sided with slate in a fish scale pattern. The windows are 15/1 in the gable end and 6/6 on the first and second floors. Slightly arched half windows at the basement level are present on this facade. There are iron grilles over the basement windows. The next section of this face is a three story turret. The cone shaped roof sits atop three casement window levels separated by sections of novelty wooden shingles. Furthest to the North is the 1895 brick, faceted addition. The windows in this section are 1/1 with a window on each of two levels, on each facet and an exterior chimney on the NW end.

The interior of "Westlawn" retains an unusual amount of original woodwork and other details representative of a fashionable late 19th century house. Two outstanding rooms are the dining room and the library. The ceilings in both rooms are divided into decorative panels by wooden beams. The library woodwork is entirely oak and includes raised panel interior shutters, doors and wainscotting, built-in shelving, and picture railing. The wainscotting and shelving both have dentil moulding cornices. The mantelpiece has dentil moulding, reeded flat columns capped by rosette blocks, and above the shelf are two free-standing columns, four beveled glass mirror panels, and a center cabinet accessible through two vertical board doors. The mantelpiece is topped by a metal railing.

The fireplace has a marble hearth, a cast iron burning chamber and a glazed tile face. The trim around the windows and doors have corner rosette blocks. The leaded stained glass window is a geometric and stylized floral design made with muted blue, brown and mauve ripple glass as well as some opalescent, jewel and beveled glass pieces.

The dining room woodwork features reed carving on the six panel doors, baseboard and sections of the mantelpiece. In addition to the grid created by the ceiling beams, other decorative wooden elements include chairrailing, interior shutters, picture moulding, and pocket doors with an added Moorish rope transom insert. An entrance into the orangery was created through French doors which are framed by flat reeded Ionic columns supporting a carved entablature. The mantelpiece in the dining room has carved rosettes, reeding, stick and ball fretwork, large reeded brackets supporting the mantelshelf, smaller brackets supporting upper side shelves, and a large beveled mirror. The face tiles are green glazed with an embossed grape leaf design. The hearth tiles are black and cream with stylized plant motifs set in a geometric diamond pattern and border.

Other fireplaces include one in the parlor and two in second floor bedrooms. Each fireplace differs in design detail, but all have glazed face tile, cast iron fire chambers and individually styled oak mantelpieces. The tiles on the face of the parlor fireplace are believed to be Minton tiles in the Shakespeare series. Some of the tiles on the face and hearth of the other fireplaces are also Minton style and are in excellent condition. Other surviving interior period features include marble sinks, backsplashs and drip base under the toilet: original lost-wax cast brass hardware, carved wooden doorknobs, and interior woodwork in original finish throughout the house.

Aside from the early additions to the original structure no significant changes have been made to the original floorplan.The main foyer provided direct access to the parlor, library and stairway, and indirect access via a hallway to the kitchen and dining rooms. The plan allows for a circular flow of traffic while highlighting the "public" areas of the house.

The carriage house/stable located to the SW of the main dwelling is a one and one half story rectangular wood frame structure with a projecting walkway, dormers and a cupola topped by a wrought iron weathervane. The clapboard siding is accented by horizontal and vertical boards around the windows, as well as stuccoed panels on the dormers, novelty wooden shingles on the kick eaves and grouped wooden posts supporting the overhanging walkway. The style and materials of the carriage house are consistent with the construction of the main dwelling and further enhance the period setting.

Retained landscape features include the layout of the driveway, brick concave driveway gutters, two cast iron lampposts and a hitching post, stone posts at the driveway entrance, and iron fencing at the roadside.

The integrity of all parts of this property make it an unusually good example of the Queen Anne style and representative of the high quality, detail and fashion of the late 1800's. The major alterations/additions that have been made - the orangery, porch and faceted library addition on the Northwest end - were all completed within a short time after the main house (1895), were designed to compliment and enhance the original structure, and reflect the original sensitivity in quality of material and workmanship.

The significance of the "Westlawn" property is tied to the high level of integrity, the original quality and the present condition of this Queen Anne style residence. Although houses of this style were being built elsewhere in the Philadelphia area, there are no other known surviving examples in Nether Providence Township, and none with the level of integrity evident on this property.

Being a few hundred feet from the Wallingford train station, the house characterizes the new "suburban" ideals of the late 1800's when the railroad extending into the areas around Philadelphia made it possible for the upper class to have a place in the country and still be able to get into the city for their livelihood. While other suburban areas of Philadelphia like Haverford and Radnor developed many examples of the styles popular in the late 1800's, the Wallingford area has few. Those that do exist are representative of the Colonial Revival or Richardsonian styles.

The preparer of this nomination has attempted to identify Westlawn's architect. Research was conducted in Philadelphia at the Athenaeum and at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Historic newspapers were checked and the Delaware County Planning Commission was consulted for possible information gained from their 1983 historic sites survey of Nether Providence Township. Although these efforts have not succeeded in identifying the architect, it remains clear that Westlawn is a locally significant example of late nineteenth century suburban-residences and of the Queen Anne style.

"Westlawn" was built in 1882 for Dr. Charles Essig. As organizer and first Dean of the Department of Dentistry for the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Essig held patents and published extensively in his field. Dr. Essig retained a dental practice in Philadelphia from 1876 to 1898. He was a distinctive man of means and social prominence. In addition to his professional associations, Dr. Essig is known to have had an active interest in the Arts, was a member of the Masonic Order and a vestryman of his church. The 1900 census information shows that the Essig household included four servants: a gardener, an assistant gardener, a cook and a chambermaid. At the height of his career and social presence, Dr. Essig's property reflects the essence of the upper middle class interest in the suburbs and a house to reflect ones' social position. After Dr. Essig's death in 1901, the property remained in the family until 1931.

Delaware County Historic Resource Survey

Tatman, Sandra L. and Moss, Roger W. Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Boston, G. K. Hall, 1985.

  1. Aderman, Ella, Westlawn (Charles Essig House), 1988, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
  2. Photo: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, www.arch.state.pa.us

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