For a Piece of Heaven Right Outside of Philadelphia: “Bryn Athyn Historic District” Part III: Glencairn Museum
Raymond Pitcairn was a man with many plans on his brain. Not long after the Bryn Athyn Cathedral was finished, he turned his attention to building a home of his own.
He, along with his wife Mildred, had nine children. In addition to seeking a home for his family he wanted a place to display the artifacts he had spent his life collecting. It was always the family’s intention to share their collection of art and religious objects from around the world with their parish.
The home they built would be called Glencairn, a combination of Mildred’s maiden name Glenn and Raymond’s family name Pitcairn. The home took over ten years to complete and the family didn't move in until 1939. At that point some of the older children were already grown and looking to move out on their own, otherwise construction might have lasted a lot longer.
I mentioned in my post (see quote below) about Cairnwood this family created a new path when it came to design and construction.
“In a unique move, that would become a signature of this family, John Pitcairn make a unique decision. Instead of purchasing the stained glass, stone, wood, carvings, statutes and other materials from Europe, he had the craftsmen set up shop on site. In the future when working on the cathedral and Glencairn (see next posts) the workers would be working on the projects directly each with their own skill set. The amount of detail in each of these buildings is remarkable and to think they came to work each day without a sheet of instructions to follow shows just how talented they were.”
Glencairn was the most elaborate of the three buildings and is done in Raymond’s preferred Gothic Style.
The name, Glencairn, is featured prominently on the front door along with the image of a ram, a ewe, and their nine lambs, representing each member of the family. These images can also be seen on the wall above the first floor elevator. Yes, this family had much more than just art to share. Their home is over seven floors not including the sub level floors and an attic. I would be extremely grateful for this very modern feature in a historic castle as there is no air conditioning in this building! It was the only one that day that did not have any so I was a puddle and glad it was my final stop.
There are fans all over but the enormity of the design does not allow for extensive cooling. In some of the smaller former family bedrooms where a lot of the artwork is, those rooms have ACs. Try to savor it before you move on.
Glencairn is quite a proper host though and they offer an array of refreshments and a seat whenever you wish to take a break.
My private tour was given by the archivist a Glencairn a rare treat! How ironically perfect.
We began in the Great Hall. My God I don't think I have ever seen a more appropriately named room. I kept spinning all around trying to take it all in. There are fireplaces so tall you could literally walk inside, should you want to. The massive entry way is engraved like a temple yet my guide tells me that this was the family’s favorite room and the children had no restrictions here. They could play ball or wrestle around and it wasn't frowned upon. There certainly had the room for it but is so hard to picture treating this room and all the prizes in it so casually. But that is the Pitcairn way - people over possessions.
We took the elevator to the top and then worked our way down. The hallways were made of stone and darkened wood. The rooms were all of moderate size there was just so many of them.
I saw the family chapel which was modest in size but larger than the one Raymond grew up using in Cairnwood. The design and New Church presence was similarly felt.
There are many cherished artifacts inside from all over the world. Proudly on display you will see the treasures that were brought back from Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, and Asia.
The first of these rooms I visit is the Egyptian room. I am partial to that region in the world as I continue to dream of visiting the pyramids someday, so this was a particular treat.
Among the exhibits here you will find a miniature display of the process of embalming a mummy from beginning to end. I am told that is a favorite of visiting school children and I can see why. It is tiny but full of a great detail.
Of course the main draw there was the large sarcophagus. The last time I saw a mummy in a private home Vanderbilt was the name on door (http://bit.ly/2tXVO8E), naturally.
After the rooms of worldly artwork we made it to the master bedroom and library. I got to see one of the many “sleeping porches” this home had. There was one here for the parents and also one for the girls as well as one for the boys. Despite having electricity and elevators which were great advances during the time the Pitcairn’s lived here, there was no AC, remember? So when it got too hot inside they slept outside. It is odd to think in a home so enormous having to sleep outside but I can certainly understand why. Although when I left I didn't feel any cooler but God Bless.
The most moving piece of information of the day was a letter of gratitude sent to Raymond Pitcairn signed by all of the workers who helped create Glencairn for keeping them employed throughout the Great Depression. Like father, like son.
Raymond died in 1966 and Mildred lived at Glencairn until her passing in 1979 all of buildings were given to New Church and museum that was formally on display in the high school was brought over so that the entire Pitcairn story could be shared on their land as they lived it.
I hear that Christmas time is pretty special around here. There are afternoon teas especially for the occasion as well as special tours depicting these homes gussied up for the holidays. There are also exhibits on how the holidays were celebrated in those days. I have made a mental note to come back at that time just as I plan to revisit Rough Point in Newport, Rhode Island for the same purpose (http://bit.ly/2umTH0D).
I had originally come just to see Cairnwood in all its glory thanks to an article I came across in the New York Times a couple of months ago. At that time I didn't realize there were two additional buildings to tour.
The article in the New York Times named historic homes a.k.a castles and the ones you should visit near very popular cities. When I saw that Cairnwood was located in Pennsylvania I looked it up to see exactly where it was located. I knew I had an upcoming trip planned to Philadelphia and on the day I was planning my return I had some time to spare. Perfect!
Thankfully I was able to set up a private, personal tour despite the facilities being closed on the day of my visit for a wedding. I am grateful I was able to spend some time in the lives of the Pitcairn family. I believe it changed me for the better.
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