Cheltenham History: Grey Towers Part of the Gilded Age

By Purnell T. Cropper | August 10, 2010

The Main Line Times’ Kathy O’Loughlin tells tales of the gilded past of two Montgomery County townships—Lower Merion and Cheltenham—in an Aug. 7 article that references the three-inch-thick book on Montgomery County: The Second Hundred Years.

“Cheltenham,” she writes, “was first depicted on a map drawn in 1681 by William Penn’s surveyor general, Thomas Holme. The township was established in Philadelphia County by 15 English Quakers who each had gotten a land grant from Penn of 100 to 500 acres as part of William Penn’s Province of Pennsylvania. Two of Cheltenham’s most noted early residents were Richard Wall and Tobias Leech, who both came from Cheltenham, England, hence the name of this Pennsylvania township.”

“The Gilded Age, when new tycoons lavished vast fortunes untouched by federal taxes on baronial self-contained estates with splendid mansions, lasted from after the Civil War until the early 20th century. Its effect on the small community of Cheltenham was overpowering,” reads The Second Hundred Years.

“Another mansion getting a second life was Grey Towers, now part of Arcadia University, formerly Beaver College. The 41-room Gothic castle patterned after Alnwick Castle in England was designed in the late 1890s at a cost of $2 million by Horace Trumbauer, who designed about 50 homes in Cheltenham as well as many in Lower Merion,” writes O’Loughlin.

“Grey Towers was built for William Welsh Harrison, who formerly owned Rosedale, a 47-acre farm and country home. The cost of Grey Towers was financed by the family business, the Franklin Sugar Refining Company founded in 1863 by George Lieb Harrison. It boasted fireplaces on the two sides of the lobby made of French Caen marble with mantelpieces of hand-carved Italian marble, windows of Belgian cut glass and a painting on the ceiling of the ballroom that was created in France and then transported to the mansion,” she writes. Read more.