Phew! Radnor Township Historic Mansion Saved by Anonymous and Willows Park Preserve
The Bad News for this Historic Mansion
The Willows mansion and all of her 10,000 square feet have been sitting atop the highest point of her 47.5 acres in Radnor Township, slowly deteriorating for decades. Built in 1910 by Charles Barton Keen, the historic mansion was commissioned by local distiller John Sinnott, and has many of the architectural features of the Gilded Age (Hey, Main Line history buffs – John grew up at Rathalla, a historic mansion in Rosemont; see footnote). Owned by the township since 1973 and used as a community meeting place and wedding venue until 2012, the cost to maintain a historic mansion of this size proves burdensome for even the wealthiest of townships. So while the grounds have continuously been used the by the public as a park (temporary fencing may change that, as damages are assessed and restoration begins), the mansion has become a white elephant, and the stable/gatehouse at the entrance of the long drive is rumored to be virtually unsalvageable. We shall see.
The Good News: Here I Come to Save the Day!
Enter Willows Park Preserve (WPP), a resolute, heroic group of local residents determined not to let the historic mansion sink further into deplorability. The group has signed a 10 yr lease with Radnor Township and hired an architect/historian to preserve, renovate and restore the mansion. The first two floors will be open to the public while the third floor will house mechanical systems. The intent for the mansion as a place for people to gather and relax hearkens back to the fashion of landed, Main Line Country Houses during the Gilded Age, thus, the historic mansion will enjoy a return to her roots. The township has long wanted to keep the mansion available to the public, consistently shooting down commercial development proposals over the years. This new partnership between public and private interests finally, hopefully, represents the ideal solution. The historic mansion’s revitalization will begin in 2019.
WPP will apply for arboretum status and has already applied to the National Register of Historic Places. Please take a moment to applaud! The latter designation would prevent the mansion from being destroyed, as has been the unfortunate result for many of the Philadelphia area’s remarkable historic mansions (Hello…. La Ronda? Whitemarsh Hall? Yorklynne? We the people failed you, most epically). The WPP’s lease includes the mansion only. The grounds will continue to be maintained by Radnor Township.
The Universe Works in Mysterious Ways
In August of 2017, a local resident was wandering through the historic mansion and stumbled into a meeting of the WPP, completely by chance. That turned out to be a lightning strike. When the group shared what their purpose was, the long-time Radnor resident pledged $1 million dollars to aid their vision and effort. Yeee – haah! This gave the group’s proposal to renovate and run the historic mansion some teeth and the authority to ask the township to chip in, which the township is doing, to the tune of an additional 1.8 million dollars.
You Can Participate
VOLUNTEER. The Willows Park Preserve invites the community to join one of four committees: Fundraising and
Friendraising; Programming and Planning; Heritage and Horticultural Conservation; Social and Hospitality. To receive a committee member job description, email Tish Long at [email protected]
DONATE. WPP seeks landscaping companies to donate time and material, and building material suppliers to donate: doors, windows, roofing, lighting, hardware, furniture, cabinetry, and appliances. Also, major gifts may be made on behalf of a family or individual, with naming opportunities.
Fun Historical Footnote: John Sinnott grew up at Rathalla, the French baronial style historic mansion that is now the centerpiece of Rosemont College. His father, Joseph Sinnott, designed it and had it built to raise his family of NINE children. Joseph worked at John Gibson’s Son & Co., which was then one of the largest distilleries in the country. John Gibson’s son Henry is the man who created the Scottish-style historic mansion in Wynnewood known as Maybrook.