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Lynn Bentley

The Mainline Realtor

  • (610) 213-0047
  • (610) 645-3882

What is the Main Line?

The Main Line is an unofficial region of suburban Philadelphia comprising a collection of affluent towns built along the old Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad (currently Amtrak's Keystone CorridorSEPTA's R5 line) which runs northwest from Center City Philadelphia. The rail line, from which the area affectionately got its name, was central to creating the Main Line communities which in the 19th century became home to many sprawling country estates built by Philadelphia's wealthiest families.

History of the Main Line

The area comprising the Main Line was once home to the Lenni Lenape Indians. The Main Line was settled by Europeans in the 1600s, when William Penn sold a tract of land (the Welsh Tract) to a group of WelshQuakers for ten cents an acre. This accounts for the many Welsh place names in the area, though not all date to the 1600s. For example Bryn Mawr was thus named only in 1869, previously being named Humphreysville.

The Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad was constructed during the early nineteenth century as part of the Main Line of Public Works that spanned Pennsylvania. Later in the century, the railroad, which owned much of the land surrounding the tracks, encouraged the development of this picturesque environment by building way stations along the portion of its track closest to Philadelphia. The construction of sprawling estates attracted Philadelphia elite, many of whom had one house in the city and another larger "country home" on the Main Line. In the 20th century, many of these families relocated to the Main Line suburbs, part of the national trend of white flight and suburbanizaton. As a result, the Main Line saw rapid investment, prosperity, and growth into greater Philadelphia's most affluent and fashionable region.

The railroad placed stops approximately two minutes apart, starting with Overbrook. The surrounding communities became known by the railroad station names which started at Broad Street Station in downtown Philadelphia and went on to 32nd St. Station, and then the stops were named Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, Villanova, Radnor, St. Davids, Wayne, Strafford, Devon, Berwyn, Daylesford, and Paoli. Malvern was added to regular suburban service later. At least five of these station buildings, along with the first Bryn Mawr Hotel, were designed by Wilson Brothers & Company. Broad Street Station was replaced with Suburban Station in 1930, and 30th Street Station replaced 32nd Street three years later. Suburban service now extends to Malvern, Exton, Whitford, Downingtown, and Thorndale. The train that served these stations was known as the "Paoli Local", and that name became a near-synonym for the Main Line itself.

The actual railroad line then continued on to Chicago, with major stations at Lancaster, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. The railroad, since taken over by Amtrak, is still in service, although its route is slightly different from the original. It also serves the R5 line of the SEPTA Regional Rail system.



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