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Shannon's Reading Notes and Research

S. Yaeger's picture

Jones, Dick, The First 300: The Amazing and Rich History of Lower Merion, Lower Merion Historical Society (2000)

My research starts with The Lower Merion Historical Society's history of Lower Merion County as written and archived into The First 300.  I will not be using direct quotes here as the book's website indicates that doing so requires written permision.  However, the hyper link above accesses the entire text.

The Lenape Indians

The text includes some information about the area prior to being settled by the Europeans as it explains that the proximity to the Schuykill river made it a convenient site for the Lenape Indians, who inhabited much of the east coast.  The Lenape were a fishing and hunting tribe who travelled in bands through PA, DE and other East Coast states.  A point that I found interesting was that William Penn gained a "right" to the area when he purchased Pennsylvania, but still felt compelled to pay the Lenape Indians for their land despite the area having been settled by both the Dutch and the Welsh prior to Penn's purchase.  My intention is to research further into the lives and patterns of the Lenape bands.

The Pennsylvania Railroad

After Pennsylvania and Philadelphia were established, the area that is now Lower Merion was developed by The Pennsylvania Railroad, who established the area as something of a summer resort for wealthy families before selling off parcels of land for private estates.  The railroad had strict rules about the placement of houses on each tract of land, specifying that houses needed to be situation a particular distance from the road.  Evidence of these regulations can still be seen in many of the private residences around the college.  Additionally, this indicates that the area of Lower Merion has always been a wealthy community, Though the Welsh names of the towns within Lower Merion indicate that they were named long before the county was established, when the area was first settled, the names were actually deliberately chosen by the railroad as a nod to the earlier settlers. 


Pehaps the most interesting information I've found about the evolution of the campus is about Wyndham house.  The First 300 mentions that Wyndham was originally the house of Patience Morgan, and that it once served as a farm house.  Further research (via Wyndham's site and a few others) indicates that the house was once surrounded by land that included an orchard.  Since farming was a pretty big part of the area's history, and because I thought is was interesting to imagine the most modern looking area of campus as a farm, I used a horticulture list to try to narrow down what sorts of trees might have been grown in the spot where we now have Erdman.  Mostly likely, Wyndham would have grown either apples or cherries, and possibly a combination of both.  My best guess, however, is apples, since there were other thriving apple farms in the area.  

All of this research into the evolution of the campus and our town really got me thinking about how much manipulation and planning goes into creating the ladscape on which we currently live and study.  It's easy to think of Bryn Mawr's campus as a natural environment, given the trees and the rolling hills and the wildflowers, but it's stunning to me to consider how much human intervention is and was required to create it.  Over the past 127 years, the campus has been built up, landscaped. altered, and re-altered to fit the changing needs of the college.  These needs have changed with the chaging student population, and with technological advances in transportation and information.


Yesterday, I sat in front of campus center and considered some the ways in which we manipulate the landscape of the campus as I watched a work crew busily work at undoing some of the greenery of campus.  They appeared to be un-sodding the lawn in a large area near the cowpath.  I vaguely remember this effort being mentioned in a facilities email, referencing the possible expansion of the paved area around Campus Center, and the possible paving of the cow path that leads across senior row, but I'm not sure if this was the project being worked on this visit or not (and I definitely didn't want to interupt their work to ask).  Watching this work move along and thinking of an earlier conversation with Anne about the extreme landscaping efforts that keep our campus beautiful, I began to think about how much our environment queers the line between natural and manufactured.

When many of us think of nature, we think of plants, trees, grasses, etc. and, while these things may all be natural in a sense, much of what we see on campus through the changing seasons is completely manipulated through the college's landscaping efforts.  We live and work in a location where the first warm days of spring bring perfectly blooming dafodils and tulips that never wither but are instead replaced by other blooms and foliage as the season progress.  We never walk to class past the dying process of a summer garden in September because the college has those plants removed and replaced in an effort to keep our environment beautiful.  Perhaps an extreme example of this is the mad rush of landscaping that occurs right before commencement every year.  Walk around campus in mid to late May, and it's suddenly a riot of color in preparation for the visitors who will soon arrive.  Walk  around during customs week, and it looks vaguely different, yet still so carefully manicured, as the college welcomes new students and their families. 

So much of our lives as students at Bryn Mawr relies on our sense of our environment.  We often refer to campus as a bubble.  Though this term is usually used to described the insular nature of our social landscape vs our physical landscape, it does point to the way we locate ourselves within the campus.  From the moment a student first arrives, their environment dictates a lot about how their time here will be spent.  Dorm assignments place students in particulrt locations on campus, and, as such, dictate how they will get to class, how much time they'll need to return to their rooms, and who they will first get to know on campus.  Student groupings for the events of customs are even dictated by a student's placement within their dorm, as so much of Bryn Mawr's interally grouped activities are done by hall group.  Thus, we are not merely students in one bubble here, but students in many layers of bubbles within bubbles that are manipulated by grounds crews, altered by technological avances and even populated differently as our ability to traverse our environment chages.