If the meticulous Morris Arboretum mirrors Chestnut Hill in its polite society charm and affluence, so too does Awbury Arboretum reflect the older, weathered beauty of Germantown. Morris, opened as a public arboretum in 1933, was built as Compton in 1887 by brother and sister John and Lydia Morris. Their namesake house was demolished in 1968, but the landscaped 92-acre grounds—recognized as the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania—survive with the support of the University of Pennsylvania and a $16 admission fee. Awbury, five miles southeast in East Germantown, operates as a relatively small nonprofit supported by other nonprofits, and its grounds are free to roam from sunrise to sunset.
In 1852, ship owner Henry Cope purchased 40 acres of land in Germantown to build a summer home for his family. Adding homes for his sons and their families, the estate effectively became a Cope compound; his daughter Mary Cope, married to John Haines (from the Haines family for whom Germantown’s Haines Street is named), already lived in a nearby house built in 1849 with a design from Thomas Ustick Walter. William Saunders, a botanist and proto landscape architect whose work includes Hunting Park, the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and the development of Washington, DC’s park system, advised Henry Cope in the English-influenced landscaping. Over the course of the next several decades, so many buildings were added, the styles reflecting their respective times, that 31 of them (24 homes) were protected when the Awbury Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
In 1916, the Cope family designated 55 acres as Awbury Arboretum, to be kept open as a public park. Those same 55 acres provide East Germantown with its largest green space, and several access points make it easy to circulate the grounds. SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill East Line has a stop, Washington Lane, at the bottom of the stairs of one of them.
The photos here were taken yesterday afternoon, when the temperature hovered around 70º and a slight breeze hummed through the trees.
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To learn more about Awbury Arboretum, visit its web site HERE. A 56-page PDF authored by Mark Sellers and Gay Johnson on Awbury’s historic houses is worth a look HERE. And a good background on the Awbury Historic District is HERE.