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Dundale Revisited

by Colleen Dionne

*Note: Since the original writing of this article, Dundale has been rededicated as Picotte Hall at Dundale. All references to "Dundale", "Dundale Hall", and "Dundale House" have been changed accordingly.

Built in 1890, Picotte Hall at Dundale is located on the west side of the beautiful Villanova campus, directly across from “Welsh Hall.” Purchased by Villanova in 1978 for $750,000 Picotte Hall at Dundale has been the home to many special people and events. During those 20 years Picotte Hall at Dundale has housed everyone from students to priests; it was selected as the Vassar Club Designer’s Show House in 1979.

It was a small wonder that after years of continuous use, the beautiful mansion began to show signs of its age and was in need of repairs. In August of 1993, a full-scale renovation began on the house and in March of 1994, the refurbishment was completed. The house currently is used for administrative offices and for receptions and other special events.

Picotte Hall at Dundale, like many grand houses in Villanova, was built at a time when true craftsmanship mattered. The house is a true form of art, from the tiles that surround the base of the fireplace to the tip of the tower. The 35-room mansion, constructed by the famous architect Addison Hutton, had 14 bedrooms, four bathrooms, a parlor, a music room, a library and a dining room.

The style and design of the house only can be described as eclectic. The numerous windows, bays and gables reflect a Queen Anne style. Throughout the house, both on the exterior and interior, there is the hint of Colonial influence, in the paneling and detailed wood work. Finally, the style of the exterior is both a mix of Country French and Pennsylvania Dutch, both a common in this region. The cost of constructing this unique home was much less than one might expect. Because its owner did not engage a building contractor, ordered only plate glass windows, and arranged to have the carpenters and those who worked on the construction handle all the lumber, the actual building cost for the house was only $64,000.

From the bottom of the front stairs to the tip-top of the widows peak, there are four floors to the mansion. Between two of these floors there are three different entrances. One entrance is a side door which leads to the cellar of the house, which is now a floor used for offices; the second is the main entrance, which protrudes slightly at the front of the house. Its first presentation is a stone-framed structure with a wooden arched entrance leading to the main stairs and to both the main doors and the veranda, which is referred to as a sleeping cove. The rest of the veranda is not covered and runs along side of the mansion.

The third entrance, a porte-cochere or covered entrance, is located at the rear of the house. The porte-cochere entrance is one level higher than the level where the front steps begin, making the entrance even to the main floor of the house. This entrance was created in order to allow easy access to the other important structures that once existed such as the ice house, the greenhouse and the carriage house. Another structure which this entrance created access to was the barn, which still stands today, but also is in need of restoration.

The house’s structure is undisputedly strong, constructed with two layers of stone that the family had quarried from the land. Another distinct aspect of the construction of the house is that, between those two layers of stone, a layer of brick was inserted. Whether this was for support, design, or temperature control purposes, is not known. Picotte Hall at Dundale was the only house on the property that had both a stone exterior and interior. Slate was used for the roof of the house as well as for the surface areas of the gables.

The interior of the house may be the most interesting part of the restoration. Currently, the main floor has been fully restored, with furnishings and wall hangings that reflect the time period in which the mansion was built. Many things in the house have changed since it was built but much of the beautiful woodwork still adorns the interior from the hallways to the fireplaces.

Starting at the ground level we have the cellar. The cellar of the house is divided into two sections. The first section is the storage area. The second section was used for the kitchen as well as the maids’ dining room, a preserve pantry, and the family’s laundry room. The laundry room was built so that it was situated over a well allowing easy access to water for washes. Each window on the cellar level is protected with thin iron bars that curve into a simple sort of “S” style formation. These “S” style bars also were used to create the balconies on the second floor of the mansion.

Heat for the house was supplied by two large coal furnaces, in addition to the fireplaces which could be found in every room of the house. Today, as you walk into the main foyer, you are greeted with one of the many beautifully carved wooden fireplace mantles which adorn the house. Discovered next to one of the furnaces, in the corner of the house, was a four-foot-deep well where ashes were placed until they could be disposed of at the end of each winter season.

As you move up stairs to the main floor of the house you enter the parlor, library, the music room and dining room. The corridor is resplendent in richly varnished oak wainscot paneling. In the foyer there is a dark wooden square paneled ceiling. Separating the main hallway and the foyer is a beam intricately carved on both ends. This hallway leads to all the main rooms on the floor as well as the back stairs, the powder room and the main staircase, which was designed with an elaborate spool-work trimmed banisters.

Next to the staircase is the entrance to the parlor, which can be closed off with the original sliding doors. The parlor, with large windows on both ends of the room, also is elegantly designed with oak trim. The fireplace is immense approximately and amazing with a large oak frame, carved in colonial style. The mirror which rests upon the mantle is bordered in maple, and the mosaic tiles found at the base of the fireplace are French.

Across the foyer is the music room. This room also has an original sliding door at the foyer entrance. The walls of the music room are light in color with a lovely green tinted leaf-like pattern. Next to the window are hand crafted cabinets which give the room a unique and cozy appearance. The fireplace in the music room probably was changed sometime during the 1920's; instead of the usual iron fireplace, today there is a herring-bone brick fireplace with a wooded mantle.

The library, unlike the music room, was designed with a heavy mix of both maple and oak. The library is a beautiful room with many large book shelves that extend to the ceiling. There are some shelves next to the windows that reach from the bottom of the floor to the ceiling and in the other corner one can find a lovely cabinet bookcase leaded with glass doors. The most noticeable part of the room is the fireplace which is formed with hand-painted tiles that tell the French children’s tale about the adventures of “Pere Michel”, a small cat who is trying to escape from a near disaster.

The dining room, also trimmed with oak wainscot paneling, lies in the west corner of the main floor. The fireplace is framed by a fine grain pattern of quarter-sawn oak. This fine grain pattern enhances the fireplace’s original tile.

Originally included with the dining room was a large China closet, two pantries and a dumbwaiter which carried the food up from the kitchen below. At one end of the dining room one can find a large pair of French doors leading on to the veranda.

Located above the main floor are present University Development offices. Prior to restoration, however, the hallway was painted in a rose tone. Oak panels such as the ones that are found along the main hall, can also be found wrapping around the staircase all the way to the third floor. The floors of the house have inlaid wood planking in a distinct patter made up of light and dark woods that work together to create a box-like pattern. As one walks through the house it is easy to spend a great deal of time absorbing the beauty of each little detail that decorates it from floor to ceiling and from outside to inside.

The house is not the only aspect of Picotte Hall at Dundale to be admired; the beauty of its surroundings is noticeable too. Currently the grounds of the mansion are picturesque with a sloping front yard and circular driveway leading into a spacious and uniquely patterned parking area in front of the barn. At the entrance of the driveway is a sweet and simple pond surrounded by willows. During the late 1800s, when Picotte Hall at Dundale was first a residence, there was a small house adjacent to the main house. This house was used as a servants residence and at one time for the family cook.

The circular driveway leads to the house and the surrounding buildings such as the barn or ice house. When it was first inhabited by the Morris family, much of the land was used for farming. There were fruit trees, nut trees and a large vegetable garden with everything from corn to potatoes. There was also a barn full of animals. Many of the buildings have fallen to ruin with age, yet still some remnants remain of where these structures once stood.

The history of the house is as unique as the mansion itself. We can trace the different tracts of property that surround the house and foresight of the patriarch of the Morris family, Israel Morris, Sr. However, the purchase that caused the creation of the current building took place in the year 1874 when Israel Morris II, bought his first piece of land.

It all began with his father Israel W. Morris, Sr. The youngest of ten children, Israel W. Morris, Sr. was born in Reading, PA in 1778. One of his brothers was the famous Philadelphian, Captain Samuel Morris of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. As an adult he became president of the Locust Mountain Coal Company and the Lehigh Valley Railroad and married Mary Hollingsworth. Together they had nine children and in 1811, they had a seventh child, who shared the name of his father: Israel Morris II.

Israel Morris II did as well for himself as his father had and in 1828 formed a partnership, “Morris, Jones Company,” which was to become the first to introduce and manufacture bar and sheet iron in America. In 1839, he married Elizabeth Longstreth. They had four children: Theodore Morris who would marry Mary Lowness Paul; Frederick W. Morris who would marry Elizabeth F. Paul; William H. Morris who would marry Sallie Wheeler Paul; and one daughter Anne, who never married. Each of Israel’s three sons grew up to work for the family business.

In 1860, suffering from lung problems, Israel Morris II had to retire from his company . His retirement, however, did not slow him down instead he became involved with several large and important organizations. He was one of the founders and managers of the Free Library and Reading Room of Philadelphia. He was director of the Bank of North America, the American Fire Insurance Company, and the Provident Life and Trust Company.

Noting the many successful land purchases by his father, Israel Morris II decided to try his hand at real estate. His first purchase was 64 acres of land in 1864, from Sarah S. Huston. After that, he bought seven acres from the Pennsylvania Company for Insurance of Livestock and 21 acres from the Estate of Elizabeth Penn-Gaskill. He even bought land from the Pennsylvania Railroad. By 1888 he had amassed over 99 acres of land.

On the land which he named Dundale there were already several farmhouses and a barn. The house the Morris family selected for their dwelling was constructed of plain brown plaster with a tin roof with had two entrances on ground level. For the most part, the family lived in the city but during the summer, they would use this farmhouse as their summer cottage.

As the family grew and the cottage began to feel crowded, Israel Morris II decided to build a house for his son, Frederick Morris and his family, who spent more time at Dundale because they were the ones who maintained the farm and also because they had already moved into the “barn house.” It was in 1890, however, that the largest of the houses, Dundale, was built. Picotte Hall at Dundale was actually built on the site where the original farmhouse had stood and the design for the mansion was based solely on the vision of Israel Morris II. The next houses to be built were for his two other children, William and Anne. After Israel’s wife died in 1890, he moved in with his daughter Anne, and remained with her until his death in 1905.

Even though Dundale was a gift for his son Theodore and his wife Mary, the house was shared by the whole family. It was a good thing that the house was large, because much room was needed. Each one of Israel’s children, except for Anne, had large families: William and Sallie had six children; Frederick and Elizabeth had seven. Of all four children, Theodore and Mary had the largest number of children: seven daughters and nine sons. Unfortunately, Theodore and Mary lost four of their children when they were still young; three of them died from scarlet fever.

As time passed, the children grew up and began to start their own families. By 1920, there were eight houses on the Dundale property, each house added by a new generation who wanted to live year round in the country. The final occupant to live in the Dundale mansion was Theodore’s son, Charles Christopher Morris, who was better known as Chris. Chris loved his home and was as involved in his community as the generations before him, working with such organizations such as St. Christopher’s Hospital and Holy Trinity Church. He also served as president of Morris, Wheeler and Company; but he was best known for his love of cricket. After years of playing in international matches and being named “Mr. Philadelphia” for that city’s team, he had collected many wonderful articles of memorabilia which later he donated to the Haverford College Library. Today these pieces are housed in a special room named for him. In 1971, Chris passed away and the land was divided and sold. The Dundale mansion, however, stayed in the Morris family’s possession and through their generosity was used to house students and priests from Villanova until the school purchased the house in 1978.

Today Picotte Hall at Dundale stands more serene then it once did. There are no more children playing on the lawn and no farm animals grazing in the fields. The Morris family had grown and the generations have moved on, yet, the memories of the home and it’s occupants still stand strong. Several extended family members have visited Picotte Hall at Dundale over the years and through their visits we were able to capture some of their fondest memories.

When describing the Morris family, Lydia Morris Reeves, daughter of Alfred Morris who was the son of William and Sallie Morris, remembers them as loving; always cordial to one another. “We loved living out here, we could run through the woods. There was a spring where we could put our feet in the water to cool off.” Lydia has many wonderful memories. She shared how, when she was young, her grandfather, William Morris, would drive her and other members around in a new invention his car, a Winston. In those days there weren’t many cars, and it was especially not the norm to find one out in the country. It was a wonderful new experience for her and looking back she can’t believe she survived because not only was owning a car a new experience but driving one was as well. For the most part, however, the children would either walk where they needed to go or take the train.

For many in the family, especially the men, the train was an intricate part of everyday life. Lydia described how every morning the men would head down to the train tracks and wait for their ride into the city. One story from the memoirs of Anne Theodore Morris, “I Remember, I Remember,” looks back to a somewhat comical incident which occurred in the early years of Dundale. Everyday, Israel Morris II and his sons would catch the eastbound train at their private station called Upton in order to get to their office in the city. The train station was located only a short distance down the lane from the mansion. One day the train was 20 minutes late in stopping at the Upton station. Israel Morris II, being a timely man, was not amused. The late train had cause him to be late for a meeting. Infuriated and embarrassed by his own tardiness, Israel immediately contacted the President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, A.C. Cassatt, and expressed his frustration in no uncertain terms. Israel was clear in stating to the president that this was to never happen again. Mr.Cassatt’s reply to Israel Morris II was one of absolute concordance. “Mr. Morris,” he was to have said ”You are correct this will never happen again.” On that very day Mr. Cassat changed the scheduled so that the train would never again stop at Morris’ private Upton station. This may have been the reason for the purchase of the treasured Winston automobile.

Most family travel was between the city and the country. Because Dundale was considered a summer home there were few family members around during the winter, unless for special events, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. Another time the family came from the city during the winter was after a large snowstorm. The whole family could often be found bobsledding all across the hills and the dales of Dundale. A pack at a time would go careening down one hill and up another. One custom that the family strongly held to was their Sunday night hymn singing. Lydia described it almost like a big party, “Everyone was there. We would have a huge meal and then we would gather around and sing. The family also had lots of parties.” The home was known for having many guests. One of the daughters Jacqueline remarked that she couldn’t remember a time when there were fewer than 21 people seated at the dinner table. This isn’t so amazing considering the number of children in the family.

Listening to these tales it is easy to picture the happy family life at Dundale in those early years. Today some at Villanova University have their own stories to tell of Dundale, tales that are different from what one might expect. One story told about Dundale is ghostly. Apparently an employee working late one evening in one office on the third floor of Dundale was preparing to leave the building. As the last to depart it was his job to turn off all the lights and close the doors to offices on his floor. While turning off lights and computers, he heard a girl’s voice crying out for help. The voice sounded faint almost muffled so he assumed it might be students outside the building having fun. He continued shutting things down, when he heard the voice for a second time. This time, however, it appeared to come from right behind him. ”Help” said the voice again, he turned suddenly but no one was there. Startled by the situation, he sped from the building. As he was leaving, however, he noticed a light on in a 3rd floor corner office. This came as a surprise because he was positive he had turned off all the lights. As he quickly drove out of the driveway, a public safety team arrived to guard the house because an alarm system had not yet been installed. The two officers noticed the 3rd floor light and went upstairs to turn it off. By the time they returned from their mission the light in the corner office was burning brightly again.

Whether you believe this tale is up to you. One thing you can believe, however, is that Picotte Hall at Dundale has become an important part of Villanova University and in the future the history of the mansion known as Picotte Hall at Dundale will continue to inspire those who read and hear about it.

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