Lush Spring Greens In Verdant East Germantown

 

Francis Cope House at Awbury | Photo: Bradley Maule

Francis Cope House at Awbury | Photo: Bradley Maule

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.

SEPTA's R7 passengers can hop off the train and onto the trail in about 15 steps | Photo: Bradley Maule

SEPTA’s R7 passengers can hop off the train and onto the trail in about 15 steps | Photo: Bradley Maule

Natural geometry of persimmon bark | Photo: Bradley Maule

Natural geometry of persimmon bark | Photo: Bradley Maule

Weavers Way Co-op's Farm at Awbury was established in 2000; here, the staff breaks for lunch | Photo: Bradley Maule

Weavers Way Co-op’s Farm at Awbury was established in 2000; here, the staff breaks for lunch | Photo: Bradley Maule

Well, not everyone broke for lunch. Weavers Way Co-op Farm at Awbury | Photo: Bradley Maule

Well, not everyone broke for lunch. Weavers Way Co-op Farm at Awbury | Photo: Bradley Maule

Others such as Mt. Airy's High Point Cafe and, seen here, the Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers, maintain plots on the farm at Awbury | Photo: Bradley Maule

Others such as Mt. Airy’s High Point Cafe and, seen here, the Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers, maintain plots on the farm at Awbury | Photo: Bradley Maule

Bigleaf Magnolia in bloom at Awbury | Photo: Bradley Maule

Bigleaf Magnolia in bloom at Awbury | Photo: Bradley Maule

Buttercups in bloom in the wildflower meadow | Photo: Bradley Maule

Buttercups in bloom in the wildflower meadow | Photo: Bradley Maule

A Yellow Buckeye tree stands proudly atop a meadow | Photo: Bradley Maule

A Yellow Buckeye tree stands proudly atop a meadow | Photo: Bradley Maule

Yellow Buckeyes are particularly popular with bees | Photo: Bradley Maule

Yellow Buckeyes are particularly popular with bees | Photo: Bradley Maule

Though there are 24 homes included in the Awbury Historic District, not all of them are occupied | Photo: Bradley Maule

Though there are 24 homes included in the Awbury Historic District, not all of them are occupied | Photo: Bradley Maule

... nor are they all even still standing | Photo: Bradley Maule

… nor are they all even still standing | Photo: Bradley Maule

Porch of the Francis Cope House, designed by Philadelphia firm Yarnall & Cooper, built in 1862 | Photo: Bradley Maule

Porch of the Francis Cope House, designed by Philadelphia firm Yarnall & Cooper, built in 1862 | Photo: Bradley Maule

Ardleigh Street entrance to the arboretum, one of three access points off of city streets | Photo: Bradley Maule

Ardleigh Street entrance to the arboretum, one of three access points off of city streets | Photo: Bradley Maule

A pond at the low end of a meadow indicates the historic water course of the Wingohocking Creek, which feeds Tacony-Frankford Creek and ultimately the Delaware | Photo: Bradley Maule

A pond at the low end of a meadow indicates the historic water course of the Wingohocking Creek, which feeds Tacony-Frankford Creek and ultimately the Delaware | Photo: Bradley Maule

* * *

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.

About the author

Bradley Maule is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and the creator of Philly Skyline. He's a native of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and he's hung his hat in Shippensburg, Germantown, G-Ho, Fishtown, Portland OR, Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.



2 Comments


  1. Great photos of an almost forgotten place – Beautiful. Thank You Mr Maule.

    • These are wonderful photographs. I believe the big buckeye you showed is actually a European double horse chestnut. We do have many yellow buckeyes that finished blooming about a week ago in the wetlands and elsewhere.

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