Thursday, February 25, 2010
San Diego to Dallas to Philly, Pt. 2: The Cassatt Mansion
Imagine having a HUUUGE mansion as your playground when you were a kid. That’s exactly what I had...kind of. The local YMCA was located in the former Cassatt Mansion. The expansive property had a 34 room mansion built of Flemish bond brick in 1907 as its centerpiece. I remember running up and down the hallways, checking out the plethora of dusty rooms, and having daycamp inside this French Renaissance Style home (although at the time, French Renaissance meant very little to me!).
Via the wonderful worldwide web, I was able to glean a little history on my former playground.
The Cassatt Mansion was built by J. Gardner Cassatt, brother of famous impressionist painter Mary Cassatt (whose painting leads off this entry). The Cassatt family were part-owners of the Pennsylvania railroad. Their cousin, Mary Cassatt, was the famous French Impressionist style painter. Although she didn’t live in the mansion, Mary Cassatt did come to visit her brother in 1908 and most likely saw the house then. The architects were Cope and Stewardson of Philadelphia. In 1951, the Cassatt family decided that with the reduced use and the high cost of maintenance, it was time to sell the estate. At that time the estate occupied the same 124 acres originally purchased in 1906, but it was no longer a self-sufficient farm. A local broker subdivided the property in 1951. The Norbertine Order bought 54 acres, including the mansion; and the 70-some acres to the east of Foxall Lane were developed and new roads named Country and Abbey opened. Somehow the Norbertine Fathers learned that the Cassatt family was selling their estate. So the Wisconsin-based order bought the house and adjoining 54 acres, which is still what the YMCA has today.
The YMCA bought the property in 1964 as the site for a complete, multi-purpose community activity place, and also raised the money to upgrade the mansion and build their facilities. Father Neitzel, Head of the Norbertine Priory, whose order then owned the former Cassatt property, was most helpful in working toward a sales agreement which the YMCA could match. On December 31, 1964, the sale was completed for $210,000. Most of the amount was represented by pledges. A capital campaign accumulated enough funds to pay off the note to the Norbertines.
The "Y" renovated the mansion house, at an additional cost of $80,000. The carriage house was renovated in 1967, three years later. Tennis courts were added, followed by improvements necessary for swimming.
Behind the main desk in the spacious paneled entrance hall, there is a plaque dedicated to the memory of J. Gardner Cassatt by his daughters, Ellen Mary Cassatt Hare and Eugenia Cassatt Madeira. In 1964 the family donated money to the Capital Funds drive to restore the mansion, and in turn the YMCA has done a wonderful thing by preserving that estate and his legacy.
For more Daveland Philadelphia photos, visit my regular website.