Mill Creek Tenement House Walls: Rolling Hill Park, Gladwyne
*Lower Merion Township Parks and Recreation Department, working under department head, Donna Heller, have been hard at work clearing vegetation that has been threatening the fragile condition of the historic tenement house ruins. On January 19, they were installing an attractive split-rail fence around the perimeter of the ruins. The Conservancy is grateful to the township for being so responsive to its request to care for the ruins. We are hopeful that this work may advance future efforts to stabilize and preserve these significant township-owned resources.*
The Mill Creek tenement house walls are located in Rolling Hill Park and are the property of Lower Merion Township. The tenement houses draw their significance from the mills they were constructed to serve – the Barker/Rose Glen Mill and the nearby (non-extant) Todd’s Textile Mill. The latter was a factory established on the site of two earlier industrial buildings – Bicking’s Paper mill and the Derringer Mill, a manufacturer of pistol parts. Like other factories powered by Mill Creek, the Barker Mill and Todd’s Textile Mill were incubators of industry and helped establish Philadelphia as the “workshop of the world.” The residences were two-and-a-half story stucco-covered stone buildings that accommodated dozens of millworkers. After a series of devastating floods during the 1890s, most of the mills closed and evidence of Lower Merion’s milling community nearly vanished. Traces of the millworkers’ domestic arrangements survive however, in the remains of the Barker and Toddtown tenement houses. The outside walls of the houses constitute the bulk of these remains and help establish their original form and construction.
The Mill Creek tenement house walls are valuable resources and should be preserved. The township stabilized the walls of the residences in 2011, but since then, the buildings have deteriorated to a point of near collapse; the Toddtown walls require immediate stabilization for safety and preservation. The tenement house walls, which are located within close proximity to heavily-traversed park trails, provide a meaningful record of the everyday architecture that once defined this area of the township. With creative interpretation, the tenement house walls could be used to teach audiences about Mill Creek’s extraordinary contribution to the local and regional milling economy.