Our History

Celebrate the history of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy and envision our future!
1966: Committee organizes to preserve VFW Building

A committee calling itself “The Committee for the Preservation of Historic Buildings in Chestnut Hill” was organized to preserve a vital part of Chestnut Hill’s history.  The VFW halted demolition, giving the community time to raise money to rescue the building. Image via archives: 1968.812.1.

1967: Chestnut Hill Historical Society (CHHS) incorporated

As co-founder Shirley Hanson once noted, “[T]he historical society’s highest goal has been to treat Chestnut Hill as a unit and preserve for the future those characteristics which ensure its ongoing vitality.”

1969: “Chestnut Hill: An Architectural History” published

Through fervent fundraising the Historical Society was able to guide Susan and Willard Detweiler through the project and write the publication. Some 50 volunteers researched nearly 600 buildings in Chestnut Hill and parts of Wyndmoor. Dr. Margaret Tinkcom, Historian of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, described the result as “A major event defining the future of Chestnut Hill.” Image via archives: 1995.372.

1970: CHHS completes rehabilitation of VFW Building

Seen here is the Chestnut Hill Historical Society dedication ceremony on the steps of the VFW building, May 6, 1969. Image via archives: 2004.10.113.1

1970: CHHS programs connect community to Chestnut Hill’s past, present, and future

This series concluded with “Chestnut Hill: An Evening of Speculation” with Romaldo Giurgola, Robert Venturi, and Louis Kahn as panelists, with PMA director Evan Turner as moderator. This program attracted an audience of 800. CHHS’ Nancy Hubby (pictured at right) hosted. Image via archives: 2007.2.125.47

1970: John McArthur Harris presents first in series of programs “Chestnut Hill: An Evening of Reminiscence”

John McArthur Harris, Jr., organized slides of Chestnut Hill past and present and moderated these events, which were presented annually for many years.  At the initial event a standing-room-only crowd heard Raymond E. Currie, Mrs. E. Florens Rivinus, and Jacob F. Ruth speak about life in Chestnut Hill as they knew it. A then “present” image of the Acme Market on Bethlehem Pike taken by Harris for his presentation is shown here. Image via archives: 2004.10.262.2.

1973: CHHS successfully nominates 22 Houses on Summit Street to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places

100 Summit Street as it appeared in 1969. Image via archives: 1968.805.1.

1980–82: 8860 and 8840 Norwood Avenue saved from wrecking ball

Chestnut Hill Hospital, the owner of the houses, gave the Historical Society the right to ownership of each building for $1 for 10 years if within three weeks the Historical society could find tenants who would be willing to take on the expense of a large, deteriorating building. Image via archives: 2003.28.21.

1981: 10-year preservation of Gravers Lane Station completed

Negotiations began in 1971 to improve the condition of the station.  Finally, in 1979 the Historical Society reached an agreement with SEPTA for restoration rights.  The work, completed in 1981, encompassed reconstructing the porch, painting the station in its original colors, repointing the station, and undertaking chimney repairs.  Intensive fund-raising led to grants which were matched by some 300 individual donors, the Chestnut Hill Community Fund, the Gravers Station neighbors, and the business community. Preparing for the restoration of the Gravers Lane Station building, designed by noted architect Frank Furness, are (from left to right, architect Skip Lynch, Chestnut Hill Historical Society members Nancy Hubby and Shirley Hanson and contractor William Cornell. Image via archives: 2007.2.239.

1984: First annual fundraiser- Preservation Potpourri

The event would be held towards the end of each of the next 30 years, until being renamed Preservation Celebration. The event exists today as the Architectural Hall of Fame. Seen here are Grace Stewart and Richard Snowden at the second event, which was held at the Stevens House, 8860 Norwood Avenue. Image via archives: 1985.2.1.

1985: CHHS successfully creates one of nation’s largest National Register districts, in Chestnut Hill

Listing in the National Register is first and foremost an honor and has no effect on private property owners unless they undertake a project with federal money or that requires licensing. The nomination process required an inventory of the community’s buildings, which is now a Chestnut Hill resource to encourage preservation and guide change and development. Jefferson Moak was hired by the CHHS as a consultant to complete the project, culminating in a 382-page typewritten inventory of all buildings present in Chestnut Hill at the time. Photo: Bradley Maule.

1987: CHHS campaigns to purchase 8708 Germantown Avenue for headquarters

The building was purchased as “A Home for Chestnut Hill’s History” and as a Resource Center for preservation tools and techniques. The generous response of many members of the community to persistent fund-raising enabled the Historical Society to pay off the mortgage in 1990. Richard Snowden was instrumental in both the conceptualization of the idea of a headquarters, and for its purchase. Image via archives: 1988.100.12.

1987: Harris Collection first significant donation to CHHS Archives

Photo of Gretchen Eggleston, Shirley Hanson, Ed Wolf, and Joe Strauss with boxes containing Harris Collection. This accession was a significant donation to the Archives, and is still heavily relied upon by researchers and staff. Image via archives: 1987.133.1.

1990: CHHS established easement program and acquires first land and façade easement

The board developed goals and guidelines for a land and façade easement program and accepted its first easement in 1990. The Friends of the Wissahickon now jointly sponsors this program with the Historical Society.  This program currently manages more than 40 easements (valued at over $10 million), which protects more than 130 acres of open space and 13 historic facades. Pictured, 8015 Navajo Street, protected by a preservation easement in 1997. Photo: Bradley Maule.

1993: FOW donates the Wissahickon Collection to archives and partners in CHHS Easement Program

The Chestnut Hill Historical Society and Friends of the Wissahickon began a long and fruitful partnership, forming a joint easement program. The FOW moved into the upstairs office at the CHHS headquarters, and the Archives of the CHHS received the collections of the FOW. This circa 1905 postcard showing the Tedyuscung statue is just one of thousands of items included in the Wissahickon Collection. Image via archives: 1995.166.

1994: First Curator/ Archivist hired to lead Archives

A grant was given to the CHHS by Richard Snowden, making the creation of the position possible. Elizabeth Jarvis is shown here in this photo taken in the Archives, shortly after she joined the CHHS.

1997: The Architectural Map and Guide of Chestnut Hill published to raise appreciation

The Map and Guide has been purchased by hundreds of visitors to the Chestnut Hill Historical Society since its release in 1997. Designed by Diane Woodward and lavishly illustrated with photographs by Jim Abbott, the map has been a success in raising the appreciation of the architectural history of Chestnut Hill for numerous newcomers to the area. Photo: CH Archit map cover

2000: CHHS goes digital and joins 21st century

Through the use of PastPerfect software, staff and volunteers have spent countless hours cataloging the collections of the Chestnut Hill Historical Archives and Library. This has helped to preserve the collections and makes them more accessible to the public. Here, volunteer Michelle Macinsky uses PastPerfect to catalog one of the many CHHS collections. 

2002, 2004: Images of America: Chestnut Hill and Chestnut Hill Revisited published

The publication of the book required the authors to review hundreds of photographs of Chestnut Hill, from the Archives and numerous individuals with ties to the area. The book sold thousands of copies, being Arcadia Publishing Company’s second best-selling book nationally for 2002. Shown here is the 1920 image used for the book’s front cover, of the J. L. Gillies General Express Company in front of the company office at 8515 Germantown Avenue. Image Courtesy Arcadia Publishing Inc. 

2003: The Germantown Avenue bridge replaced over Wissahickon Creek with historically-appropriate materials and design

A crisis occurred in the early 2000s when a crack was observed in the foundation of the bridge carrying Germantown Avenue over Wissahickon Creek. The CHHS under the leadership of Director Peter Lapham worked with Chestnut Hill College, near neighbors, and the Chestnut Hill Community Association to ensure the replacement bridge was safe and attractive, and that the sweeping curve of Germantown Avenue to its southwest remained. Here, Sister Carole Jean Vale of Chestnut Hill College signs an agreement, as Peter looks on. Image via archives: 2007.2.72.11.

2004: Chestnut Hill United Methodist Church parsonage saved from demolition.

The Church had proposed the parsonage be demolished to create more room for a wider driveway and parking lot. With Peter Lapham’s help, in combination with the efforts of the Historic Advisory District Committee, the old parsonage was saved.

2011: The Easement Program becomes the first urban land trust accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.
2013: 20th Century architecture tour draws hundreds from eastern US

The program was a tremendous success, with registrants from all over the East Coast attending the tour.  At some colleges and universities, students of architecture were given the day off to travel to Philadelphia to attend. See here is the Esherick House, one of many houses on the tour. Photo: Bradley Maule.

2013: The Archives goes “live” as more than 10,000 of its photographs are made available online

This made a new revenue stream available to the Archives, and made Archives content available to new and remote audiences.  The results of a search for photos of the CHHS headquarters using “8708” as a keyword are shown here.

2014: First Preservation Awards introduced

The Chestnut Hill Historical Society’s Preservation Recognition Awards were created to honor projects in the following categories:

    • Preserving / protecting historic resources (in the built or natural environment)
    • Historic building restoration, rehabilitation or adaptive reuse, or
    • Good stewardship of an important building.

Shown here is a 1938 view of Valley Green Inn, which won one of the first Preservation Awards. Image via archives: 2008.10.5.

2015: Fire Station protected after 3 years of effort

A small committee of CHCA, CHHS, the city, and fire department saved the Chestnut Hill Fire Station, which was listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

2015: Philadelphia Cricket Club property preserved

The Philadelphia Cricket Club and the Woodward family struck a deal to permanently preserve 37 acres of green space in Chestnut Hill.  The Chestnut Hill Historical Society was involved for years in these negotiations. Image via archives: 2010.28.27

2015: CHHS and Chestnut Hill Business Association (CHBA) mount Windows to the Past exhibit

This joint CHHS/ CHBA exhibit consists of a series of panels documenting Chestnut Hill’s history. The panels are placed in vacant storefront windows and can be relocated with ease. Brad Perch poses with a panel documenting the history of his ancestor’s market, formerly located at 8512 Germantown Avenue.

2015: Discovering Chestnut Hill: 300 Years of History exhibit opens at CHHS headquarters
2015: Architectural Hall of Fame created, chosen by thousands of public votes

Held at the home of George Coates, CHHS inducted its inaugural Architectural Hall of Fame members, including the Thomas Mill covered bridge, Gravers Station, the Wissahickon Inn, the Margaret Esherick House, and the Vanna Venturi House.

2016: The Vanna Venturi House permanently protected with designation to Philadelphia Register

The Chestnut Hill Historical Society successfully nominates the Vanna Venturi House (1962-1964) to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. This iconic house- also known as “Mother’s House”- has been called “the biggest small building of the second half of the twentieth century” and one of “the 10 buildings that changed America.” It is now protected forever. Photo: Bradley Maule.

2017: Chestnut Hill Historical Society becomes Chestnut Hill Conservancy

Celebrating 50 years of architectural preservation, land conservation, and documenting history, the Chestnut Hill Historical Society changes its name to the Chestnut Hill Conservancy and looks ahead to another 50 years. Pictured here, the new logo, adopted January 2017.

2017: Preservation Alliance bestows Conservancy its Board of Directors Award

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia honored the Chestnut Hill Conservancy & Historical Society with its 2017 Board of Directors Awardfor exceptional stewardship of historic properties.” Founding member Shirley Hanson and executive director Lori Salganicoff were on hand to accept the award.