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Lynnewood Hall, Home of the Widener Family


Lynnewood Hall.

Lynnewood Hall, in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, was built by Harry Widener's grandfather P.A.B. Widener, the founder of the family's fortune. P.A.B. Widener started out as a butcher's apprentice, moved on to own butcher shops, and made a small fortune selling mutton to Federal troops during the Civil War. After the war, he went into politics and became City Treasurer; then, noticing that public transport was needed, he and his friend William Elkins (Harry's maternal grandfather), bought up streetcar lines and soon consolidated all the lines in Philadelphia. He then diversified into railroads, helped organize U.S. Steel and the American Tobacco Company, and invested heavily in Standard Oil. By the time of his death in 1915, P.A.B. Widener was worth over $100 million dollars (equivalent to nearly 2 billion dollars today).

Designed by Horace Trumbauer, the same architect Harry's mother would later hire to design Widener Library, Lynnewood Hall had 110 rooms (55 were bedrooms) and a full-time staff of 37 servants when the extended Widener family moved in 1900. Set within several hundred acres known as "Elkins Park," the house was copied from a great neoclassical mansion near Bath, England. A French architect was hired to lay out the formal garden and spectacular fountains, which were said to rival Versailles. Trumbauer created a two-story great hall with a  floor of inlaid Italian black and white marble squares, marble staircase, and a ballroom large enough to hold a thousand guests. The dining room walls and floors were patterned in slabs of green, garnet, and white marbles, and an entire wing was constructed to display P.A.B.'s art collection (eventually given to the National Gallery).

Sold by the Widener family in 1943, Lynnewood Hall has fallen into disrepair. Various architectural elements, like the central fountain, were auctioned off. The house has passed through various hands, and is currently owned by the First Korean Church of New York.