Ardmore, PA (ARD)
Located in Lower Merion Township along the Main Line, Ardmore is one in a string of Philadelphia suburbs that have been tied to the city by rail for more than a century and a half.
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2020): 34,001
- Facility Ownership: Amtrak
- Parking Lot Ownership: Amerishop Suburban, L.P.
- Platform Ownership: Amtrak
- Track Ownership: Amtrak
Ardmore is located in Lower Merion Township along the Main Line, a string of Philadelphia suburbs that have been tied to the city by rail for more than a century and a half. Passengers at Ardmore currently use a modest one-story brown brick station constructed in 1957 by the predecessor Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) after the old Victorian era depot was destroyed by fire. The stop serves both Amtrak trains as well as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) commuter service that runs between Center City Philadelphia and Paoli.
In the early 2000s, the township began to craft a comprehensive redevelopment strategy for Ardmore, whose main street—Lancaster Pike—is dominated by low-scale commercial and mixed-use structures from the early twentieth century. The multi-phase project emphasizes transit-oriented development that encourages residents and visitors to walk or use public transportation to commute to work or complete errands.
When European settlers arrived on the shores of what is now Philadelphia in 1682, the area around the Delaware River was inhabited by tribes of the Lenni-Lenape or “Delaware” American Indians. William Penn—owner and founder of the Pennsylvania colony—made a peaceful treaty with the Lenni-Lenape which resulted in generally good relations between the colonists and the tribe; but as the colonial population grew over the next century, many of the Lenni-Lenape eventually moved west.
Located about eight miles west of Philadelphia, Ardmore was originally part of the “Welsh Tract,” a 40,000 acre parcel of land that William Penn granted to a group of Welsh Quakers in 1681 before he had seen his new American lands. The immigrants wished to create their own autonomous, self-sustaining community in the New World where they could practice their religion and maintain their culture free of the governmental pressure they had experienced in Wales after its incorporation into England in the early sixteenth century.
One of the first European-American settlers in the Ardmore area was John Roberts, who purchased the rights to 500 acres along a fast flowing stream. Roberts eyed the property from an economic standpoint; a miller, he recognized the potential that the falling water held for mill operations. By 1690 Roberts had built a grist mill north of the center of present-day Ardmore on what is now known as Mill Creek. Roberts’ original log house dating to the 1680s still stands near the watercourse, although it has undergone a series of renovations and expansions; it remains one of the oldest structures in the area. Roberts’ success at Mill Creek encouraged others to migrate to its banks where grist, lumber, and cloth mills were established. The most noted enterprises were those that produced fine hand-made white paper. German settlers skilled in its fabrication dominated the industry by the mid-eighteenth century.
After the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia was the largest city in the United States, and its business, intellectual, and artistic center. It drew on the hinterlands of eastern Pennsylvania to supply it with foodstuffs and other goods, many of which were transported over the Lancaster Pike that connected the city to Lancaster in the heart of Amish agricultural areas. Sections of the road dated to the first decade of European settlement, but in 1792, it became the first toll turnpike in the young country. It was noted by travelers because it was an engineered roadway that adhered to designated specifications and had a surface covered with gravel. At Ardmore, travelers stopped at the Red Lion Inn, which served as a hotel and store and went though various incarnations from 1796 until it was closed in 1919 and then demolished in 1941.
While the Lancaster Pike improved Philadelphia’s commercial position, developments to the north and south threatened the city’s status as the prime port for goods from the interior. New York State finished the Erie Canal in the 1820s; Maryland boasted the National Road, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was then under construction. Farsighted leaders in Pennsylvania pushed for a similar transportation corridor to link Philadelphia with Pittsburgh, considered the Gateway to the Ohio Valley. Rushing to catch-up, by 1836 the state had completed the Main Line of Public Works, a system of railroads and canals that reduced travel time between the far ends of the state from weeks to four days.
The “Main Line” was authorized by the state in 1828; five years earlier it had chartered the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad (P&C) which subsequently became the first link in the corridor. The railroad connected Philadelphia with Columbia, located on the east bank of the Susquehanna River eighty-two miles to the west. The first section was in operation by 1832; as a piece of public property, it charged tolls, and early users had to supply their own horses, rolling stock, and any necessary facilities for freight and passengers. Although the first steam locomotives were used in 1834 when the line was completed, horses were common on the rails until they were finally outlawed in 1844. Within a decade, the P&C realigned the tracks to the south where they closely paralleled Lancaster Pike; for the most part, this is the route that the Keystone Service and the Pennsylvanian currently follow.
Maintenance proved expensive, prompting the state to sell the Main Line to the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) in 1857; originally chartered to run from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, by 1855 the PRR ran the entire distance between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and severely cut into the Main Line’s profit margin. The PRR undertook a program to modernize, straighten, and realign the tracks. In the mid-nineteenth century, Philadelphia was America’s city ascendant, the “Workshop of the World” known for its manufacturing prowess. The Industrial Revolution made fortunes and created urban zones dominated by factories which belched smoke and contributed to poor living conditions for workers. Those with the financial resources looked for healthier abodes removed from the grime and grit of the industrial city, and the PRR happily promoted its Main Line as a bucolic and healthful area easily accessible to downtown via a short train trip—encouraging growth along its path only helped the railroad’s bottom line.
When the PRR took control of the Main Line in 1857, there was no Ardmore on the map because the town was then known as Athensville. About 1811, resident Dr. James Anderson suggested the name—understandable, as he was a physician and a classicist. An early county history recounts that in 1859 Athensville only had twenty-eight houses, but with the explosive growth of Philadelphia and the promotional powers of the PRR, that was soon to change. The Main Line became the haunting ground for Philadelphia’s newly minted millionaires who desired large estates in pleasant surroundings but with efficient transportation to downtown businesses. As the nineteenth century progressed, milling operations no longer relied on water power and many of those lining Mill Creek fell into disrepair; their remains survived to the present day because they were located on the grounds of large estates and therefore did not face development pressures.
While the wealthy assembled sizeable parcels, the upper middle class was also attracted to the Main Line, and many settled in the towns that grew up around the train stations. One Ardmore development proudly advertised “stone suburban residences…finished in hard wood, elegant fixtures.” As the nineteenth century melted into the twentieth, the Main Line was transformed into a popular string of commuter suburbs. The PRR replaced the small original depots, and by 1915, it electrified the rail line between Center City and Paoli.
To accommodate the new residents, the PRR replaced the early P&C-built wood depot at Athensville with a larger and more elaborate facility that was in keeping with Victorian notions of proper mixing of the sexes, meaning that it included separate waiting rooms for men and women. At the time, the PRR worked closely with the Wilson Brothers, a Philadelphia architecture and engineering firm. Concurrent with its efforts on the new Main Line stations, the firm also designed the principle structures for the 1876 Centennial Exposition. The partners would later build the train shed at Broad Street Station, which when finished was the largest single-span train shed in the world.
At Ardmore, the Wilson Brothers conceived a station with random rubble walls of rock-faced gneiss; Ohio sandstone was used as a trim, most prominent in the sills and lintels. Built into a hillside, the trackside façade was two stories tall whereas the backside was three stories in height where the hill gave way. The asymmetrical composition was meant to convey an impression of the picturesque, with which the hard edges of urbanity could not compete.
The trackside façade featured a recessed central section marked by three cross gables with dormers and a deep porch to shelter travelers from inclement weather; the posts supported fancy gingerbread scrollwork. The center section was framed by a prominent gabled pavilion at one end and a multi-sided tower with an elaborate tent roof. Colored slate shingles were arranged into elaborate patterns on the roof, reminiscent of the polychrome often found in brick buildings of the period. The multiple gables were highlighted by fancy woodwork and delicate finials; the principle trackside gable was in the stick style.
According to a period railroad journal, the main floor had a general waiting room, but also featured a separate ladies’ salon and a gentlemen’s smoking room which had access from the rear of the station. Adjoining the public areas were the baggage room and telegraph and ticket offices. The basement provided living quarters for the station agent and had a parlor, bedroom, dining-room, kitchen, and a cellar; additional bedrooms were on the second floor. Early views show the approach to the depot, and a verdant garden and other plantings firmly place the station in the suburbs. To complete the trackside transformation, the PRR informed residents that it was renaming their town “Ardmore,” from the Gaelic “Aird Mhór,” meaning “Great Height.” The PRR gave most of the towns along the rails Gaelic or Welsh names more in keeping with the picturesque, exclusive Old World image it hoped to project to potential suburbanites.
As Ardmore’s population grew, so too did its business district along Lancaster Avenue south of the railroad tracks; most of these two and three story buildings still stand. In 1931 a new commercial district—named “Suburban Square” in a 1936 contest—opened on the north side of the tracks. It was one of the first suburban shopping centers to house a full branch of a major department store—Strawbridge and Clothier—as well as a movie theater, supermarket, offices, and other shops more typical of a city center. Even today train riders immediately recognize Ardmore due to Suburban Square’s prominent Art Deco office tower, which when completed was one of the tallest buildings outside of Center City Philadelphia.
Ardmore remains a popular place to live, complete with fine shopping, good schools, and access to the Philadelphia region and nation through its Amtrak and commuter rail services. Interestingly, there is another Ardmore on the Amtrak map, and it is indeed named for Ardmore, Pa. Legend goes that as the Santa Fe Railroad was building its line through Oklahoma in the 1880s, a crew foreman who had worked for the PRR suggested “Ardmore” as the name for one of the towns along the corridor. Ardmore, Okla., is on the route of the Heartland Flyer.
The Keystone Service is financed primarily through funds made available by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Station Building (with waiting room)
- Quik-Trak kiosks
- No ticket sales office
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- Bag storage not available
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight parking is not available
- No restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- Accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- Accessible same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible overnight parking is not available
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift
|Mon||06:00 am - 01:00 pm|
|Tue||06:00 am - 01:00 pm|
|Wed||06:00 am - 01:00 pm|
|Thu||06:00 am - 01:00 pm|
|Fri||06:00 am - 01:00 pm|