Ghettos on the Main Line: A (Once Ignored) Reality of the Past

Even in the Main Line’s golden age, the rich were outnumbered by their servants—and tried to hide it.

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The infamous Fritz Court in Wayne.In urban planning, appearances always matter. So it was probably inevitable that the first planning proposal for the Main Line would get hung up on one perplexing issue: How do we hide the servants?

“Low-priced houses for local employees will continue to be close-packed rows of rather unattractive houses on narrow streets,” wrote landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., who created the 1919 plan for local leaders. “These are not appropriate for the suburban district and tend to depreciate the entire region.”

Those “close-packed rows” were actually the nice worker housing. In 1912 Bryn Mawr, a researcher found 10 families living with only a single water spigot in a former stable that was “more like a kennel than a habitation for human beings.” Bare ground was the latrine.

Though it was not an isolated case, appearances mattered more.

“They won’t let a sewer be put in on the street—though we’ve all signed for it—because they want to crowd out the poor section by making conditions too bad to live in,” one landlord told a housing investigator. “They want the work done all right, but they expect the workers to roost in trees like birds.”

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