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Views of Narberth Past

Lady Narberth, 1914

Image source: collections of Narberth Community Library and David M. Lockwood

Addresses in view: 100 Maple Ave., 104 Maple Ave.

modern view of the historical image seen from the same viewpoint
"Jacob's Ball Field at the west end of Elmwood Avenue" where the Narberth Day Fête and Historical Pageant was held June 26-27, 1914 (area in green). Based on photos, contemporary descriptions and the 1913 map.

In the photo, from the 1914 Pageant program:

Behold "Lady Narberth, Queen of the Pageant, and the ladies-in-waiting and pages". The pageant was Narberth Day Fête and Historical Pageant, presented June 26-27, 1914, the debut project of the three-month-old Narberth Civic Association (NCA). A cast and crew of over 200 (10% of the population in 1914!) took up the roles of Indians, Welsh settlers and town founders. Many of the founders were played by their adult children or grandchildren.

cover of the 1914 Pageant program
Cover of the 1914 Pageant program

The Pageant, held in anticipation of the the Borough's 20th anniversary, clearly seeks to create a history and sense of identity for the new community. Was it charming, inspiring, embarrassing? Read the program (PDF, 1.5MB), which contains this photo, and draw your own conclusion. Lady Narberth delivered no lines; to fanfare and trumpet blast, she regally processed and, at the conclusion, recessed, followed by her ladies, flower girls and two pages holding her long train.

The location of the performance was announced in the Ardmore Chronicle as "Jacob's Ball Field at the west end of Elmwood Avenue". On the 1913 map, this area was marked as the property of "Ins. Co. State of Pa." By 1919, 3 Elmwood had been built here, owned by Harry A. Jacobs. Jacobs served as editor of Our Town from October 14, 1915 through March 12, 1921. He succeeded its first editor, Mrs. C. R. Blackall, director of the Fête and Pageant.

A couple dozen men, women and children dresssed in colonial costume walking hand in hand; backs of houses on right.
Narberth townsfolk playing Welsh settlers of 1682 in the 1914 Historical Pageant. On the left is the railroad embankment and on the right are 17 and 19 Elmwood Ave. Source: unknown newspaper, collection of the Narberth Community Library

What did contemporaries think of the Fête?

In announcing the upcoming event, the Ardmore Chronicle and the Philadelphia Inquirer used the identical phrase "It is a pretentious program that the Civic Association has arranged". They may have been quoting a press release, but it's a curious wording. Did "pretentious" have an alternative meaning in 1914?

Notwithstanding, the Inquirer's review after the first performance (PDF, 933 KB) was quite complimentary:

…one of the most colorful and unique celebrations any community of similar size has ever attempted. The "All-year-'Round Home Town," as Narberth has been called since its wide-awake civic association decided upon that slogan, showed that it could do great things today in exactly the right way. …a crowd of 10,000 or 15,000 is expected to witness the pageant and the other features.

The Survey, "a weekly journal of constructive philanthropy" published in New York City, went further. It asserted that the pageant "resulted in a kind of social regeneration within the community. are real neighbors and are working hand in hand to make Narberth a better place in which to live. Finally, the pageant put Narberth on the map, favorably."

Mrs. George M. Henry

black and white drawing of a cozy armchair in front of a stone hearth with a fire.
Headline for The Fireside 1914-15

Lady Narberth, a.k.a. Elise K. Henry, lived at 107 Chestnut, which we glean from reading "The Fireside", the social column in Our Town, Narberth's weekly newspaper 1914 - 1949, the NCA's next big project. Lady Narberth reprised her pseudonym as its author during its first year. She also served as a Director of the NCA.

Mr. George M. Henry was the NCA's first president, a driving force behind the development of Narbrook Park and Narberth's burgess from 1914 to 1918. Nevertheless, the Henrys had left Narberth for Berwyn by 1920.