Off the Beaten Path: History of the Crum Ruins

Crum Ruins Panorama AFTER 

Guest Author: Marissa Lariviere ‘18

 

Have you ever stumbled across the strange ruins in the Crum Woods? At first glance, these crumbling walls just seem creepy. But don’t run away- this area actually has a long and fascinating history, involving magnificent mansions and dating all the way back to Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn.

Gardens 4

In 1927, Lytlecote was bought by Ward Hinkson and his wife Edith, and renamed Oak Knoll. The Hinksons would go on to construct an elaborate estate over the 32 acres, turning their home into an iconic site in the area. photo credit: Scott Arboretum Archives

 

Lytlecote

The estate was originally one of three parcels purchased from William Penn in 1681 by a Society of Friends member, Thomas Powell. Centuries later, in 1892, Mrs. James H. Little bought the estate and named it Lytlecote. She built an elite suburban fieldstone mansion on the former farmland, which was described by a contemporary as “one of the most attractive of the many handsome Delaware county estates… massive in its proportions and beautiful in its surroundings.”

Italian Water Gardens 1

A view of the Italian Water Garden from the house. These are the ruins you can find along the trail today. photo credit: Scott Arboretum Archives

 

Oak Knoll

 In 1927, Lytlecote was bought by Ward Hinkson and his wife Edith, and renamed Oak Knoll. The Hinksons would go on to construct an elaborate estate over the 32 acres, turning their home into an iconic site in the area. This included a swimming pool, a private arboretum, and an Italian Water Garden complete with a fountain. In their gardens, the Hinksons and their six gardeners cultivated boxwood hedges, roses, tree peonies, rhododendrons, and Exbury azaleas, among others. They also planted an abundance of trees, including Norway spruces, white pines, a double-flowering dogwood, golden-flowered fringe trees, a lace leaf maple, and flowering cherry trees. Five greenhouses stood near the house, where the Hinksons grew twelve varieties of orchids commercially. Around 100,000 of these orchid flowers were cut and sold each year.

Greenhouse

Five greenhouses stood near the house, where the Hinksons grew twelve varieties of orchids commercially. Around 100,000 of these orchid flowers were cut and sold each year. photo credit: Scott Arboretum Archives

In 1964, the Hinksons sold much of their land to be turned into suburban homes. However, the real demise of Oak Knoll came with the construction of the Blue Route Highway (Interstate 476). The estate was demolished to clear the path for the new road. In preparation, all 73,000 of the Hinksons’ orchids were sold at auction and their greenhouses were dismantled.  By 1967, the Hinksons had moved to a new home in Upper Providence and construction of the Blue Route began. The highway would be completed in 1992.

 

The banks of the Crum are covered with trillium in the spring as reminents  of the Oak Knoll estate. photo credit: R. Robert

The trillium that cover the banks of the Crum Woods in the spring are remnants of the Oak Knoll estate. photo credit: R. Robert

Crum Ruins

Today, little remains of the Hinkson’s elaborate estate. However, the ruins of Oak Knoll’s Italian Water Garden can still be found in the Crum Woods. They are now known as “the Crum Ruins,” “the sunken gardens,” or simply “the ruins.” The ruins consist of the stone walls and steps of the water garden, whose stonework is weathered but not seriously damaged. The college has filled in the small central pool with soil to avoid liability. These ruins are a popular destination for hikers, joggers, and bikers on the Leiper-Smedley trail. This paved path, which is over two miles long, runs from the Thomas Leiper House to Smedley Park. Visitors can still see many of the plants that were cultivated at Oak Knoll, including flowering cherries, yews, white pines, a sourwood, a cucumber magnolia, Japanese pachysandra, large-flowered, sessile, and yellow trilliums, and an abundant akebia vine. These ruins are an important part of local history in a beautiful natural setting. For the adventurous hiker, they’re definitely well worth a visit!

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This article is part of an ongoing column called the Crum Woods Chronicle. The Crum Woods Chronicle will be periodic updates and observations about subjects related to natural history, interesting species found in and around the Crum Woods, and exciting events you can get involved in. My hope is that some of these topics will interest you, strengthen your connection to the Crum Woods, and inspire you to explore your backyard a little more often.

Natural areas do not maintain their character and quality independently, especially when they are heavily used by people and embedded in urban environments. Educating yourself about aspects of the Crum Woods that interest you and understanding how your individual use of the Crum Woods impacts it (and how you can reduce that impact!) are important steps every one of us should take.

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” –Baba Dioum

Categorized as Crum Woods Chronicle

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  1. Marissa – is there an on-line map showing where the ruins are?
    Thanks. Lynn ’68

  2. Dear Lynn,
    Unfortunately, the ruins are not shown on the trail maps. They are located off of the Leiper-Smedley Trail walking from the Avondale Road access point.

    Sincerely,
    Becky Robert
    Scott Arboretum

  3. You can just barely make them out on Google maps. Draw a line due west from the north end of the Swarthmore College track. Zoom in on the edge of the woods before the Leiper trail and 476.

  4. Thanks Andrew. I didn’t think about looking at google.

    Sincerely,
    Becky Robert
    Scott Arboretum

  5. There used to be two brick pits (possible cisterns?) along a disused high path near the Sunken Gardens heading toward the trestle. One had been filled up but the fill had settled a few feet but the other was a 9′ deep, 7′ round chamber with a domed ceiling and manhole sized opening.

    Very mysterious and dangerous, I always wondered what they were for.

  6. Dear Andrew,
    In the late 80s/early 90s the college had contractors fill a cistern on a path not too far from the Crum Ruins. It has sunk several feet since then. It is next to a path that people use every day even though we don’t maintain it as a trail. I’m not sure of the other hole you mentioned, but the fountain in the center of the Ruins was also filled in.

    Sincerely,
    Mike Rolli
    Crum Woods Assistant

  7. Thank you for this lovely article about my Grandparents and their estate, “ Oak Knoll”. I visit “the ruins” of the estate everytime I get home. I have such wonderful memories of playing on the estate from my early childhood. My Grandfsther was a wonderful, thoughtful, endearing, creative man. I still miss him after all these many years.

  8. Thank you for the insight to the folks who lived there. Our student worker was interested in the area and we thought other people might be interested in the story behind the ruin.

    Sincerely,
    Becky Robert
    Scott Arboretum

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