Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Shed:
100 Coulter Avenue, Ardmore
Constructed in 1881
Kimco Realty, the owner of the Pennsylvania Railroad freight shed on the Trader Joe’s site, has indicated that it has no immediate or future plans to replace the historic frame building with parking spaces. The railroad shed, which has long been a curiosity in the township, still does not have demolition protection, but Kimco’s reconsideration of its original plan offers hope that the 135-year-old building will remain to tell the story of Ardmore’s early development.
Lower Merion’s character is inextricably tied to the fortunes of the Pennsylvania Railroad. From the mid-nineteenth century through the 1920s, the railroad extended its influence and reach by aggressively purchasing and developing land near or adjacent to its Main Line. It also promoted commercial and residential “improvements” near its property. The railroad achieved much of its business success by exploiting Lower Merion’s appeal (a combination of picturesque beauty and proximity to Philadelphia). Its focus on the development of property near its line occasioned the construction of enormous country estates, the expansion of multiple business districts, and the creation of numerous “railroad” neighborhoods.
To support its objectives, the railroad built a vast system of infrastructure near its tracks. The framed freight shed in Ardmore was one component of this system. Constructed in 1881, the shed complemented Ardmore’s lavish stone Gothic Revival passenger station (not extant). Inside the shed, the railroad stored goods and manufactures scheduled for conveyance on the company’s line. The railroad also maintained an office in this building. The shed retains most of its original, external building fabric, including ornamented trusses in its gable-end walls, vertical wood siding on its front and back sides, and decorative brackets on its eaves. It is an outstanding example of a design executed by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s in-house architectural department and is the last surviving, intact railroad freight shed in Lower Merion. It is also a community asset that illustrates the township’s significant historic relationship with the railroad.
The freight shed, which is located at the rear of the Trader Joe’s lot in Ardmore, is in peril. In July 2015, its owner, Kimco Reality, received tentative sketch approval to create approximately ten parking spaces on the site of the shed. The shed should not be demolished to accommodate these parking spaces. Rather, it should be relocated and rehabilitated for a new use. Kimco has shown itself to be an excellent steward of a landmark resource; it is the owner of Suburban Square, Ardmore’s magnificent and well-preserved historic shopping center. The shed could benefit from the company’s established practice of sensitively curating historic resources. With the support of Kimco, the shed could be removed from its current site and relocated to a site that gives it increased public accessibility and greater utility. Precedent for a move already exists: during the mid-twentieth century, the shed was lifted from a rail yard near Ardmore’s Times Medical Building and relocated to its current home. This can be done again.