Architecture

Scottish Castle In Wynnewood Lives Like Royalty Again

October 6, 2020 | by Stacia Friedman

Maybrook Mansion was built in the late 1800s and designed by Watson Hewitt and William D. Hewitt to look and feel like a Scottish castle.| Image courtesy of Jefferson Apartment Group

Wynnewood is associated with nice homes, shopping centers, and good schools. Not castles. That’s because Maybrook, the last remaining grand estate in Wynnewood, has been shrouded in litigation, intrigue, and dense woodlands for decades.

Although it is located just behind the Wynnewood Train Station, the only glimpse area residents could get of the castle was its rose-colored turrets peeking above the tree line. Growing up walking distance from Maybrook, I never dared to venture down the narrow path leading from the station to the castle.

Amazingly, when I was 19-years-old, my boyfriend invited me to have dinner at Maybrook. I’m not sure what shocked me more. That my boyfriend’s uncle and aunt, John and Ruth Merriam, lived in the castle or that I was finally going to see what was inside. I was excited and terrified. However, the Merriams quickly put me at ease. John was a real estate developer, art collector, and philanthropist. Ruth was passionately involved with art restoration. The décor conjured up Mary Queen of Scots or the Adams Family, depending on your feelings about medieval architecture and 19th century décor.

A portrait of Henry C. Gibson painted by artist Bernhard Uhle in 1891. | Image courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art

My visit, however, did not answer lingering question. What was a castle doing in Wynnewood? For that, we need to go back to when Lower Merion Township was rolling farmland.

In 1857, the Pennsylvania Railroad connected Philadelphia to Bryn Mawr and points west running parallel to Lancaster Avenue. That motivated wealthy Philadelphians to buy land and hire famous architects to design “Main Line Gothic” castle-like mansions as summer retreats. While most Main Line castles have since gone the way of the bulldozer, Maybrook remained intact due to a unique set of circumstances and characters that almost rival Downton Abbey.

It started in 1881, when liquor baron and business magnate Henry C. Gibson purchased 67 acres of Wynnewood farmland from a Welsh Quaker. Gibson hired George Watson Hewitt and William D. Hewitt to duplicate a medieval Scottish castle. The name Maybrook combined the first name of Gibson’s daughter with a brook that ran through the estate.

An archival photograph of Maybrook Mansion, date unknown. | Image courtesy of the Lower Merion Historical Society

Stonemasons were brought from England to lend authenticity to the 35-room, 20,000-square-foot Gothic mansion with a 72-foot tower. Gibson planted a veritable forest of majestic oak, maple, and pine trees to shield his estate from public view. The grounds included fountains, ornamental gardens, a duck pond, a gatehouse, stables, and a barn.

When Gibson died in 1891, his 22-year-old daughter Mary “May” Gibson hired George Watson and William D. Hewitt to design a two-story, 50-foot high ballroom with ornately carved stone pillars, arched windows, and vaulted cathedral ceilings. When May wanted music, she hired the Philadelphia Orchestra. She also added a library, a greenhouse, a carriage house, and commissioned Violet Oakley to design stained glass windows.

In 1950, May sold 10 acres of Maybrook to Merriam who built the 220-unit Thomas Wynne Apartments on the southeastern border of the property. Six years later, May sold the remainder of the estate to Merriam who lived in the mansion with his wife for over 30 years.

Maybrook Mansion’s parlor, dining room, and game room. | Images courtesy of Jefferson Apartment Group

When Merriam’s wife died, he married his secretary Betty Lockyer. Two years later, Merriam passed away leaving his $95 million estate to Lockyer. Before her death in 2000, Lockyer transferred everything to her son by a previous marriage, Robert Lockyer. Head of Merloc Development, he envisioned turning the estate into The Reserve at Maybrook, a luxury apartment complex with the castle as its centerpiece.

For over a decade, Robert Lockyer’s vision was mired in legal battles that went all the way up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Here is where we get into the legal weeds. While Maybrook is technically located in Wynnewood, within Lower Merion Township, its eastern border along North Wynnewood Road is adjacent to the independent Borough of Narberth. Narberth residents put up a fight. Their concern? They did not want a dramatic increase in traffic spilling into their sleepy borough.

In 2006, suburban real estate developers Toll Brothers bought the development rights of The Reserve at Maybrook from Lockyer. Just when Lower Merion Township was about to celebrate its new tax base, Narberth played hard ball again. Residents were appalled at Toll Brother’s plan. Then came the housing market crash of 2008. All bets were off.

The Reserve at Maybrook apartment complex. | Rendering courtesy of KTGY Architects.

By 2016, Toll Brothers was out of the picture and Haverford Properties entered into an agreement with Lockyer. “He sold us 34 acres, which included the mansion, stable, and carriage house,” said Charlie Houder, president and founder of Haverford Properties.

Haverford Properties, in partnership with Virginia-based Jefferson Apartment Group, presented their plan for a 250-unit luxury apartment complex designed by KTGY Architects. Lower Merion Township approved and Narberth got its wish. The entrance to the complex is on Penn Road in Wynnewood and Narberth received a new traffic light to ease congestion.

In 2018, the Reserve at Maybrook opened with a two-story fitness center, resort-style pool, and a 139 year-old castle. “Residents have access to the castle’s renovated game room and parlor, and may also reserve use of its dining room,” said Houder, “On the upper floors, we are creating office space for the use of residents. When the ballroom is renovated, it will be available for rent on a limited basis.” Do I hear a waltz?

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About the Author

Stacia Friedman Stacia Friedman is a Philadephia freelance writer and visual artist who tried New York and LA on for size and came home to roost. Her articles have appeared in WHYY’s Newsworks, the Inquirer, New York Times, Broad Street Review and Chestnut Hill Local. She loves the city’s architecture, history and vibrant arts scene.

14 Comments:

  1. I think it’s called Scottish baronial style. Looks like the Main Building at Friends Central School In Wynnewood.

  2. David E BowersAOL says:

    I worked for John Merriam for a number of years. He was a gentleman and was always fair with his employees. I managed his first apartments “Jericho Manor” in Abington, and spent some time at Maybrook for business and was always pleased. I was fortunate to live in his big house in Abington, “Tall Trees” lucky me.

  3. Stephen Cohen says:

    I travel past this property almost daily for 30-years & did not know what was behind that stone wall? Thank you!

  4. Rebecca OLeary says:

    Great article, Stacia.
    As a kid growing up nearby, in a rinky-dink 1 bedroom apartment with my mom, this property was fascinating to me. Next to the apartment complex was what we called Duck Pond, and then beyond that was a thicket of trees and vines and a remaining stone wall or two from the 18th Century. If you went deeper into the thicket, 2 giant standard poodles, one black, one white, would bark like mad and chase us out. Only one or two times did we get a glimpse at the mansion itself. It was fascinating and I used to dream of living in such a place…

    1. Shelley Stein says:

      As I rode the bus to school everyday, from Ardmore Jr. High through Lower Merion High School I would pass by this house. This house, was where I wanted to live, where I was going to live, where I was going to raise and family and children. but alas it was only a dream. Still love it to this day and appreciate your article and pictures. It’s so special to me.

  5. L Schwartz says:

    I lived in the original Thomas Wynne apartments , still there in the estate next to duck pond in the 1995-98 period when the second wife of John Merrimack still lived in the mansion with housekeepers and staff. I had a child who loved to visit the pond and we were often chased of the grass leading up to the mansion, which had a sign saying Private, No Tresspassing however, curiosity sometimes got the better and she and a playmate wandered up to close, though still a distance from the house. It was visible from that point she Betty Lockyear had armed military orSWAT style armed guard on the porch with bayonets and Doberman pincher dogs so no one got close! It was scary.
    I asked the TW manager at the time Mr Bindram (sp) what was up with the guards. I don’t know if true but heard she was a lush and pretty paranoid. Her son took over as stated the building and rents were immediately raised. I had to move but the original will of Merrimack said not to remove trees or change property, but he was planning to build Maybrook back then and Narberth successfully challenged the egress into Narberth.
    Just my two cents. Nice to hear the gaps in the story I was told.

  6. Allison Weinkranz says:

    Can you tell us about the other private home that it is situated on the grounds? It’s gated. I always assumed “the son” lived there.

  7. Sherry Lynne says:

    It’s a beautiful mansion. It’s a shame it’s been closed to residents of Maybrook since July, with no updates since. It’s not closed due to COVID either. They just arbitrarily closed it.

  8. Cat Light says:

    Great article, Stacia. Hmmm….I think I can guess who the boyfriend was. 🙂

  9. John B. Fitzpatrick says:

    Dear Stacia, wonderful article, I actually lived on Aubrey Road one block behind Penn Road, I lived there from 1949 to 1975, and moved to Manor Road to just recently. I must say, as kids we spent lots of time on that estate,knew of John Merriam, but your article put much into prospective, thank you, I left Wynnewood in June of 2019 and now reside at the Jersey Shore, miss my Wynnewood, John B. Fitzpatrick,

  10. See says:

    Thank you for this fabulous article explaining & exposing a gem & mystery from yesteryear!

  11. Albert Mikutis says:

    Nice to see that such properties still exist and are being rethought for current and future occupsncies. Hope it succeeds!

  12. Nancy (Tingle) Tilman says:

    As a resident of Narberth from 1946-1956, the Gibson estate was a
    fascination. We would take Sabine Ave., cross Wynnewood Rd. and
    walk the “back way” to Ardmore Jr. High and Lower Merion H.S. I
    never saw the house. I’ve Ice skated on the pond (rather rough and
    uneven attempt) and explored the woods enough to run into the weed
    that left the intruder with a burning rash. That was enough for this
    explorer! Rumors of dogs and guards were legendary.
    Thanks for an informative article. Now that I’m into my 80’s and
    live in Calif., it’s great to have some childhood “gaps” enlightened.
    Thanks also to Ted Goldsborough for making this article available!

  13. LeeMcIlvaineManonian says:

    I grew up on Pennwynn rd.
    We walked at the estate often And played in the woods. It always felt spooky! We found a pet cemetery too.
    We loved having the freedom to roam. We would go outside all day and only come home when mom rang the bell for dinner!

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