ANDREW JACKSON DOWNING (1815–1852)
Downing’s seminal work, The Architecture of Country Houses, was first printed in 1850 and reissued many times, most recently by Dover Publications in 1969. It was, perhaps, the single, most influential nineteenth century book on American architecture
Antrim Osborne, for whom the first house was built in 1862, chose Downing’s Design VIII, A Suburban Cottage in the Italian Style, for his stone farmhouse. He called his home “Sunnyside” after Washington Irving’s cottage on the Hudson River in upstate New York.
Downing also was a prominent landscape designer and horticulturalist. He wrote A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America, which was published in 1841. Together with his partner, Calvert Vaux, he designed the grounds of the White House and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. He is also credited by Fredrick Law Olmstead with having jointly developed the winning design for Central Park in New York—the Greenwald Plan—before Downing’s untimely death at age 37.
WILLIAM LIGHTFOOT PRICE (1861–1915)
Price, who trained under Frank Furness, was the Quaker architect who founded the Rose Valley Association in 1901 as an Arts & Crafts community, modeled after the idealistic village described in William Morris’ 1890 socialist novel, News from Nowhere.
Charles and Lavinia Schoen, who had purchased Sunnyside from Osborne’s estate in 1904, retained Price to expand the farmhouse into something more suitable for a successful railroad industrialist. The result was “Schoenhaus”, certainly one of the grandest Arts & Crafts homes in the country.
Price went on to design the Marlborough Blenheim and Traymore resort hotels in Atlantic City, as well as a number of train stations and the Chicago Freight Terminal for the Pennsylvania Railroad, before his early death at age 54. His innovative work is the subject of George Thomas’ 2000 book, William L Price, Arts and Crafts to Modern Design.
HOWELL LEWIS SHAY (1884-1975)
began his architectural career in the offices of Horace Trumbauer, during which time he is credited with creating the design ultimately chosen for the Philadelphia Art Museum. His own firm, Ritter and Shay, was founded in 1920 and designed the Packard Building (1924) with its massive Samuel Yellin iron gates; the Drake Apartment Hotel (1929); the Market Street National Bank (1930) at 12th and Market Streets, with its ancient Mexican-inspired Art Deco terra cotta exterior by the O. W. Kecham Terra Cotta Works; and the United States Custom House (1934), whose interior is one of the most dramatic Art Deco spaces in Philadelphia.
Maurice and Adele Saul had purchased Rose Valley Farm from the Schoen estate in 1921. Saul is the founding partner of the Saul Ewing law firm in Philadelphia and was the developer of the Packard Building, the then-tallest office building in Philadelphia, which had been designed by Shay.
In 1927, when Saul decided to expand his dining room and add an outside porch, he retained Shay for the design—and Yellin for the iron work. The result is an Art Deco delight, featuring floors of Enfield decorative tile, extensive Yellin ironwork, and a 16th century door from a Spanish monastery.
Shay’s offices not only were in the Packard Building, as were those of the Saul law firm, but Shay lived virtually next door to Saul, at Possum Hollow and Rose Valley Roads, in a house of his own design.
PETER BATCHELOR (1957–PRESENT)
Batchelor, the renowned Main Line architect, holds dual degrees in architecture and engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a Masters of Engineering from MIT. He began his career as an engineer, taught drawing at MIT and then at Temple University. He came under the influence of Charles Okie, son of R. Brognard Okie (1875—1945)–who also held dual degrees in architecture and engineering from Penn and studied under William Price. Okie is best known for his unique interpretation of the Colonial Revival style, especially in the design of country houses. Okie’s work was
admired by both his clients and fellow architects for the creative and artistic expression that preserved elements of 18th century design while introducing 20th century amenities.
Geoff and Saundra Shepard had purchased Rose Valley Farm from the Saul Estate in 2007 and retained Batchelor to design a plan to restore the Manor House to its former glory–but replacing all its mechanical systems, modernizing the kitchens and bathrooms, and adding a family room, an enclosed porch and an attached garage. His was perhaps the most challenging assignment, since he had to accommodate the architectural work that had been done before hand. Bachelor’s proposal, completed in 2009, was what he imagined Will Price would have designed had he still been alive. What is said of Okie (“Because of his skill in blending old and new, it is often difficult to separate refinished original features from his own design when they are combined in one building”), is certainly true of Bachelor’s work: there is a straight-forward, honesty of design in the additions which assimilates the prior craftsmanship and emphasizes the skills of local artisans. Four different architects, working with four different owners, over the course of 150 years. Yet, the result is a cohesive blend of old and new–and perhaps one of the most unique homes in America.