This Old Barn

A charming piece of East Falls history gets a facelift as we dig into the property’s storied past. 

This historic barn on JeffU’s campus goes “topless” for the next few weeks as it undergoes $300k+ in upgrades, including repointed walls, new rafters, and a new roof. The barn will still need further improvements before it’s fully restored, but this first phase is a big step towards preserving this unique structure from the early 19th century.

TRUE STORY: This rustic outbuilding of Wissahickon schist was probably one of the first structures built on this property back in the early 1800’s. The first known owners of the land were Abraham Martin, who purchased 24 acres and “a stone dwelling” here from the estate of James Moyes in 1834.

Martin was active in the Sunday School Union, an organization dedicated to establishing Sunday schools in rural communities (and known for its ticket reward system for encouraging students to memorize scripture). Martin managed an “infants retreat” in Germantown, and records seem to indicate that he operated a boarding school off School House Lane for kids whose parents were absent or traveling.

Local brewer Philip Guckes acquired the property in 1870, taking advantage of the narrow creek where the parcel backed up to what’s now Warden Drive. He went bankrupt and William Warden brought him out in a Sheriff’s Sale in 1883.  The “School House Lane Company” subdivided the land for various Wardens, Strawbridges, and other prominent Philadelphians.

In 1927, the last deed holder sold to the Madiera family, noted for sweeping renovations to the grounds and a spectacular burglary in 1930. They only lived here 12 years, then moved to Haverford in 1939.

This style of barn — aka a “Rhine Valley bottom” — was a precursor to Pennsylvania “bank barns” prevalent in this area. These barns exemplify a highly-mechanized, diversified grain-and-livestock agriculture. The upper level is a hayloft with central grain-threshing floor. Below includes stable and stalls with a walkway down the middle once housed horses, milk cows/cattle, and sometimes sheep or hogs.

Jefferson University’s historian confirmed that this barn (off a driveway behind School House Lane where it meets Vaux Street) was once used as a slaughterhouse. These days, it’s a maintenance shed, as well as a lasting reminder of our past as a hard-working rural community.

Thanks to Tom Becker, Associate VP for Operations (and big fan of historic architecture) for this update.

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