Developer of William Penn Inn in Wynnewood Strikes Deal with Preservationists

The property has a secret room that's believed to have served as a hideaway for runaway slaves.

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William Penn Inn c. 1875 | Image courtesy of the Lower Merion Historical Society

Unlike its similarly named sister structure in Montgomery County, which celebrated its 300th birthday last October, the William Penn Inn in Lower Merion was facing demolition and landed on one of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia’s “Places to Save” lists less than a week later.

The key word found in that last sentence: was.

According to the Main Line Times’ Cheryl Allison, an agreement of sale has been struck between a preservationist group and Rayer Builders, the developer that had initially planned to demolish the historic inn to make way for five new homes:

William Penn Inn Partners LLC will purchase the inn and a portion of a parcel at the corner of Lancaster Avenue and Cloverhill Road to restore and convert it into three residential units, said Mac Brand, a principal. Rayer Builders, the current equitable owner of 527-533 E. Lancaster Ave., has plans to build three new single-family houses to the east of the inn.

It’s still early in the process, notes JulieAnn Murphy, Historic Preservation Coordinator at the Lower Merion Conservancy. The developers still have to navigate the land development process, but Murphy said it’s really the “best case scenario” for both preservation and development. “It’s not often we get to celebrate these wins.”

Preservationist and public outcry rang out against Rayer’s plan when it was first announced (in addition to being a long-standing landmark in the area, a secret room that that may have been used to hide runaway slaves was recently discovered be one of its occupants), and soon, officials had to hold a meeting with two advisory boards that eventually tabled the project.

Murphy said it was impossible to determine if the secret room, accessed by an intricate pulley system, was indeed used for the Underground Railroad.

Allison reports the “new arrangement,” which involves William Penn Partners getting the inn parcel and dividing the building into three condos (each with a 2-car garage), will be presented for review to the Lower Merion Historical Commission on February 23rd, while a land development plan will be heard by the planning commission on March 2nd.

The Inn section, Allison writes, will “require conditional use approval on an issue of setbacks.”

Agreement raises hopes for saving Wynnewood’s William Penn Inn [Main Line Times]