The Mount of the House of the Lord, Latest on National Register




A Peek at Beautiful Woodmont.



Reprinted from an Article in the Main Line Times of Thursday, September 10, 1998, Perspectives, by Bonnie Squires.

If you never got to visit a French Chateau this summer because you were busy painting the house, you can make up for it with a visit to Woodmont, right in the heart of Gladwyne, just off Spring Mill Road.

How many of you have been to see Woodmont, the fabulous French Gothic mini- castle, home of the Peace Mission Movement and Mother Divine, surrounded by 73 exquisitely manicured acres, established by Father Divine as the country home in 1953?

The Mount of the House of the Lord.

This secret treasure of Lower Merion Township will not be a secret much longer now that the National Register of Historic Places has named Woodmont to its rolls. Mother Divine made the announcement at a recent Lower Merion Township Commission meeting at Riverbend Environmental Education Center.

Mother Divine tells us that this honor is accorded to only three percent of the nation's historic buildings. The designation means Woodmont, which they call The Mount of the House of the Lord, is quite special. I was treated recently to a three-hour visit to Woodmont, meeting with the gracious hostess, Mother Divine, and visiting the chateau and shrine with interesting narration by tour director, Modest Free.

How special? Woodmont was built by Alan Wood, Jr., founder of the Alan Wood Steel Co. of Conshohocken, at an estimated cost of $1 Million way back in 1892.

The architecture is so incredible, the craftsmanship so superb, it probably could not be replicated today for any price. How many homes have you ever seen with butterfly wedges holding the ceiling together instead of nails or bolts?

Mother Divine was able to enlist a lot of local support to have Woodmont singled out for this honor. The National Park Service was inundated with letters from friends and fans, including State Rep. Lita Cohen, Lower Merion board of Commissioners Chairman Ken Davis, Philadelphia City Councilwoman Augusta Clark, U. S Senator Arlen Specter, U. S. Rep. Jon Fox and Rev. Leon Sullivan.

Henry Magaziner, noted architect and former regional historical architect for the National Park service, says Woodmont qualifies both as a significant piece of architecture by a very gifted architect" and as the "headquarters of a movement which has done so much socially useful work."

The head of the Victorian Society in America's awards committee refers to Woodmont as "an original syntheses of European prototypes and American design" as well as "one of the finest examples of French Chateauesque domestic architecture in the United States.


A second floor bedroom

The Mount of the House of the Lord.

Other nationally-known conservationists and architects have praised Woodmont and the Peace Mission for the "Meticulous conservation efforts" which have preserved both "the extraordinary beauty of the site," as well as its buildings."

What they all are raving about is an absolutely splendid chateau on the highest point in our area, perhaps in the county, overlooking the Schuylkill River, the former site of the Alan Wood Steel Co., reminiscent of the Loire Valley's Chenonceau, Azay-le-Rideau.

My favorite "room" in the 32 room mansion in not quite a room. It is a telephone booth. Yes Woodmont had telephones and even electric lights back in 1882. The telephone booth is decorated with beautiful Tunisian ceramic tiles on the walls and floor. The phone number then was Conshohoken 1.

The Chapel Dining Room is a close second, lifted wholesale from a French castle at the end of the last century. It retains gleaming dark woods and "linen fold" carving on the paneled sliding doors.

In the solarium, there are several framed certificates. First, there is a citation from then-Gov. Milton J. Shapp of Merion, congratulating Mother Divine on becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States on Dec. 19, 1977. She was born in British Colombia, became a follower of Father Divine, and moved here in her late teens. The certificate calls her "Mrs S. A. Divine," which stands for "Sweet Angel Divine," her legal name. She usually signs her correspondence by her preferred name, "Mrs M. J. Divine."

The framed Victorian Society of America citation commends the Peace Mission for maintaining Woodmont in such incredibly good condition. Philadelphia City Council issued a citation in 1982, praising the good work of the Peace Mission.

Over the fireplace in the Great Hall, there is a huge framed photo of Father and Mother Divine. Her likeness to Grace Kelly is astonishing - blonde hair, intense blue eyes, willowy figure.


The Great Hall looking west.

The Mount of the House of the Lord.


The Mount of the House of the Lord.

Mother Divine is now a handsome woman in her seventh decade. Her hair is white, but the blue eyes still twinkle as she speaks sweetly and enthusiastically about Father Divine's philosophy and love of America. Her conversation is sprinkled generously with quotations from her husbands preaching. One of her favorites is "If you visualize, it will materialize,"sort of the precursor to "If you build it, he will come."






The Mount of the House of the Lord.


The Mount of the House of the Lord.

She is looking forward to the September, 1999 dedication of Woodmont as a National Historic Landmark.

In the meantime, Woodmont is open to the public Sundays from April to October, I to 5 p.m. Just remember that appropriate attire is requested for visitors is "modest dress --no shorts, and women are asked to wear skirts.











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