Dark Secrets Lost & Abandoned

Fighting Quakers

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{*Sorry, it’s cell phone pictures.}

Today it is known as the “Richard Ashbridge Mansion.” A Quaker, Richard would probably shudder at hearing his house referred to as such. But today, you could definitely call it a mansion with its second floor porch (maybe that was added later?) and columns around the doors.

Once known as Indian Run Farm, this house was built in 1843. But the Ashbridge roots reach back much further. It was in the 1700’s that a Welsh Quaker named Richard Thomas, Richard’s grandfather, became the first European settler of, what is today, Exton, Pennsylvania. He built his cottage on the land in 1707 while the Lenni-Lenape Indians were still living there too. That cottage is still standing but wrapped up as well.

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Fighting Quaker

Richard Thomas was born in the township in October of 1744. When the Revolutionary War broke out, Richard was appointed a colonel of the 5th Battalion in Chester County. If you only know one thing about Quaker’s it is that they are pacifists. Richard’s Friends Meeting disowned him for his military service. His family remained with the church, including his brother George who in a letter hinted at still aiding the cause in more secretive ways. George died 10 years after the war from yellow fever.

During the war, Richard participated in a campaign into New Jersey to protect Philadelphia from the British. As a Colonel he dined with President George Washington and was invited the the first celebration of the President’s birthday. James Peale painted his portrait on ivory while Richard served in the Senate; you can see it in the Met’s collection, here. It’s still vibrant and beautiful.

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After the war Richard was appointed Brigadier General of Chester County but declined the promotion. Instead he embarked on a political career, serving as a Senator and member of Congress.

Richard and his wife had eight children. His daughter Mary and son Richard (a head injury) both predeceased him. His daughter, Thomazine, named after his wife, married William Ashbridge. Together they had Richard Ashbridge who built this house.

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Back to the Ashbridges

Richard Ashbridge’s children all built their own houses and so after his death, in 1913, Richard M. Newlin purchased the property from his estate. The Colonial residence and 85-acre farm cost him a grand total of $25,000 (probably a little over half a million today). The sale notes many of the old house’s unique touches, such as a bathroom built with a Dutch oven to heat the bathtub water and several grand antique marble mantels. “It is one of the best preserved specimens of pure Colonial architecture in Chester county” the newspaper reported.

The Newlins used the home as a summer residence after extensively renovating the 20-room stone house. They were still living there in the 1920’s as they hosted their daughters’ society coming-outs and society teas, all of which made the society columns.

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The basement has been broken into but from the size it looks like, by animals.

Two Houses, One Town

In the 1933 Indian Run Farm itself made the papers but this is where it gets a bit confusing. This time it was owned by an oil heir and the house was described as a “stone structure, two and a half stories high, and completely modernized since Rogers acquired it five or six years ago. The home is not particularly pretentious, resembling in general many homes in this area. A large barn, near the house, burned down shortly after Rogers purchased the place, and was never rebuilt. In its stead Rogers constructed a huge garage.”

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It’s hard to believe there was a 65-acre estate  with the same name in the same town. Was that the case or was this a piece of the farm and another country house on its land? I wasn’t able to find out for sure. It definitely looks like a different house at least, even though this one was renovated in the 1950’s…but was it on the same land? (There’s a picture from the Associate Press below of the house in question):

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On that rainy night in 1933 though, John Spinks, a chauffeur for wealthy socialites Mr. and Mrs. Henry Huddleston Rogers, Jr. was arrested on the property. Arguing over stoplights, Spinks stopped the car and threatened to kill them. He fired a pistol, forced them out of the car and drove off with it leaving them stranded on the dark road. He was arrested at Indian Run Farm.

Once in custody, Spinks denied starting the argument. Instead he accused Rogers of kicking him in the head and said that the gun discharged during their scuffle. {The Rogers would be involved in a much darker story a few years later but you’ll have to wait for my book 😉 }.

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Changing Hands

In 1939 Harold E. Martin bought part of the old farm lot and opened a hotel, restaurant and gas station. In 1957 he bought the adjacent property from his neighbor Buzz: Indian Run Farm. By the 1980’s he’d sold the land to Linpro, a development company.

The Martin children said they never lived in the mansion. They lived in the carriage and tenant houses and the mansion was extensively renovated. Its 26 rooms were divided into 5 apartments with three stories, four or five bedrooms each complete with walk-in fireplaces.

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The property passed from development company to development company until an outdoor mall was built not so long ago. With their purchase of the land they promised to protect and restore the historical structures. According to the company who made the roof covers, the structures have been protected with tarps since 2002 when development of the area first began but that is it. Only the barn, now a beer garden named World of Beer, and the gamekeeper’s cottage, now Maggy Moo‘s ice cream, has been restored.

The other buildings, promised to be restored but still decaying, are a woodcutter’s shed, a carriage house, and a tenant house all dating from the 1800’s to 1912.

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The former front door.

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Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9