Philip Sharples’ Greystone Hall

Philip M. Sharples (who often went by P.M.) was a fourth-generation Pennsylvanian and from an influential Quaker family in Chester County. Not surprising that one of Sharples predecessors was the first mayor of our town.  In 1881 Sharples established the Sharples Separator Works Company with plants in Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Canada and Germany.  At its peak, Sharples Separator Works was the largest industrial company in our town, employing 600 workers and turning out an average of 3700 separators a year (West Chester University Archives).  He was clearly a big deal.

The company did exceedingly well for over 30 years and Sharples became a rich man.  In 1907, he finished construction on Greystone Hall, an incredible house that sits just north of town designed by architect Charles Barton Keene.  Coincidentally, just after looking at the Sharples’ city house, I attended a lecture at Greystone Hall, not initially realizing that this was a Sharples’ house as well.  I am not sure P.M. lived in or owned the city house though – it was possibly a relative. There are a lot of Philip Sharples in the family tree!  I need to look into that further.  In any case, by 1907 P.M. Sharples was living quite grandly at Greystone Hall with his wife and three children.

The photos below are from Architectural Record,1909 via Beyond the Gilded Age.

The floor plan. Unfortunately even when you enlarge it, you lose the detail but at least you can appreciate how massive this house is.  So so SO many rooms.


So much of the original interior detailing has been preserved.  Of course, there were only a limited number of rooms open to the public but the dining room appears to look nearly identical down to the paint color.  It is the only room that I saw where the wood paneling and trim were painted.  Of course, that was my favorite!

I’ll take the Bishop House, please!  I am not sure if the three houses pictured here are still on Greystone’s property or have been sold off with their tracts of land over the years.

And here’s Greystone as it looks today. . .the North Front.

WC Press
WC Press
The Knot
The Knot

The South Front

This is the best I could glean from the Internet on today’s Greystone.  It functions as both a private residence and a wedding/banquet venue.  The first floor is open for events and is very well-preserved.

Here are a couple of pictures I took the evening of the lecture.

The property is expansive and the approach is right out of the English countryside storybooks. img_0620 img_0622 These cabinets in the kitchen/likely former butler’s pantry are incredible.  The ceilings are easily 12-feet-high.img_0626-1 img_0625-1

P.M. and his wife moved in and a mere four years later his wife passed away leaving Sharples and his three children alone. He later remarried and had 3 more children.  His second wife and 6 children lived at Greystone until 1935.

Sharples fell victim to the Depression and ended up losing Greystone to foreclosure in the early years of World War II. Greystone was pledged as collateral on loans and about half of the original nearly 1000 acres of land were sold off in small parcels starting in the late 1930s.  Sharples relocated his family to Pasadena where he lived for 9 years before passing away in 1944 (

You can read more about the history of Greystone in detail and the family who has owned the house since 1942 here.  The house sits on an incredible 500 acres. Still.

If you are local, check the Chester County Community Night School bulletin for lectures at Greystone Hall or the Chester County Historical Society as well.


Philip Sharples’ Houses

Earlier in the summer, this house went up for sale, and it tugged at my historic house-loving strings.  The house sits on the other side of our college town, a stone’s throw from the University, on a gorgeous piece of property.  It has a very interesting history, including several famous residents, but first a tour of the house.

This is the front of the house with a beautiful grass lawn and mature plantings that make for the prettiest views off the front porch.  These trees offer valuable privacy as surrounding this house are apartments and multi-family living.  You would never know it.  It’s a quiet, peaceful haven from the bustle of the street below.

The front porch is incredible.  I took a picture of the painted brick and shutters while visiting as the color scheme is in the running for our house.

I love the louvered shutters that screen the porch from the street.  The busier street sits to that side of the house.  The front of the house is not street-front and functions as a backyard.

The porch ends and you step down onto a brick patio that runs along the kitchen side of the house.  The dining room has french doors that lead onto the brick patio.

Here is a view of the front yard from above. The layered evergreen screen means total privacy and gorgeous views out every one of the front windows.

The house sits on a corner, and off the quieter street are a garage and driveway.

The climbers,the louvered doors and glass-enclosed side entry are all so charming from the street.  The driveway and garage are located on this side as well.

The door pictured essentially functions as the front door.  Look how pretty the millwork is in this house!  There are two living rooms with a fireplace in each.  The bigger room pictured here is where the front door is with access to the porch.

A view into the dining room off the main living area.  Seriously look at that trimwork!!!!  I wish the realtor/photographer had taken a picture of the front door (which acts more like a back door).  It is unbelievably gorgeous and there is no mistaking that it was meant to be the grand entrance of the home at one point.

Here is the other living area that you access right off the back door.

My favorite room in the house.  This is the library that is tucked between the kitchen and the back hall.  If you open the closet pictured to the left there is a built-in bar.  There is also a powder room tucked back into the right corner.

The kitchen is a great size and runs along the brick patio portion of the front yard.  

That window wall!!!

The 2nd and 3rd stories feature 6 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms.  The bedrooms are all a soothing cream color and about this size with great light and gorgeous views.  This bedroom looks out onto a beautiful Victorian across the street that, despite being broken up into apartments, has maintained its charm.  The views out the remainder of the windows are mostly green lawn and pretty plantings.  A rare phenomenon in this section of our college town.

So, back to the history of the house.  The house is known as the Philip Sharples house and here are pictures downloaded from the Library of Congress. The second is the picture that the listing agent couldn’t get because over the years the plantings have grown very tall on that busier street side.

132358p_150px 132359p_150px

Philip Sharples had the house built in 1900 and one of the seven owners was actor Claude Rains, best known as the original Invisible Man.

Philip Sharples ( Sharpless) made his fortune by borrowing the idea for a cream separator from the Swedes (de Laval was the original inventor of the centrifugal cream separator) and introducing it to customers in the US.  For 40 years from the 1890s to the 1930s, Sharples sold this successfully across the country and it made him a very rich man.

West Chester University archives
West Chester University archives

Sharples set up factories, first in West Chester and Illinois and then eventually in California, Canada and Germany. As his company grew and he achieved worldwide success, Sharples began purchasing land just north of town upon which to build his country estate.  Eventually he was able to buy nearly a thousand acres and construction of Greystone Hall began.

To be continued  . . .

The Laboratory

On a daily basis, the word “lab” is used in our home.  Go put the shovel back in the lab.  Did you lock the lab?  Make sure to close the lab windows before bed.



Here is the lab, just out the back door.  Good thing it’s cute as it is going to be a fortune to restore!

IMG_1603I can’t begrudge it because the lab really does give our yard some pretty structure.  And, I would miss my courtyard.


And stucco walls to grow vines . . .


And, of course there is that small piece that the building has a special place in history.  So, let’s start there and take a peek inside.  In 1933 the Rettew family bought ‘Hackberry Hill’ – it hadn’t yet been named and the house was still the smaller, more conventionally floor-planned center hall colonial.  There’s the garage peeking out from behind the house.  Construction on the garage started the same year the Rettews bought the house.


Let’s go inside!  img_0676

The first floor of the lab is broken into 5 very small rooms.  There is the entryway, boiler room, main room, kitchen and storage.  It sounds far grander than it is, and I only have a picture of the boiler room right now.  The beast!


The stairs are just to the left as you go through the front door.  They turn past a fire extinguisher from the 1960s.

img_0236The wood flooring is in pretty good shape, all things considering.

This is the view as you ascend the stairs.  The light in this space is wonderful and the windows are definitely a standout feature.  This was Rettew’s work area and according to his daughter it looks just the same.


img_0237 img_0225 img_0224 img_0222 img_0226

Raymond Rettew is second from the left with Alexander Fleming in the bowtie.


And, Rettew’s lab as it looked in the 1930s and 1940s, photographed for his book A Quiet Man from West Chester.  The fixtures and all the built-ins are still in good shape.


The roller shades were still hanging on the smaller front windows but we took them down for restoration work.  Essentially it looks the same from so many years ago.

The sterile room and growing room run along the back of the lab.  It is dormered out for space but we found it curious there were no windows.  It makes sense as the growing room had to be dark. The other doors on either side of the window seat are a bathroom and storage closet.

There is no plumbing, heating or electric hooked up so that would be the first order of business and then the question is – how best to preserve the character of this special place?

Boxwood’s Gardens: Part III

Boxwood’s backyard is an example of my favorite type of garden.  If you look closely there isn’t a wide variety of plant material.  In fact, what I love most is that there are sweeps of the same plant.  The hydrangeas en masse make this garden special as do the clipped hedges that give the Limelights structure.

The grounds were designed by John Howard of Howard Design, LLC.  The website is stunning.  Here are a few examples of Howard Design’s projects and all pictures are from their portfolio.

And, a couple more pictures of Boxwood’s grounds:

Here’s my humble interpretation.  I would love to see what John Howard would do with my property.  Of course, he wouldn’t have a grand estate as a backdrop but there would be room for alleés and sweeps of trimmed hedges and hydrangea.



Like Howard, I love a good climber.


We have a pretty big side yard that is begging for some attention and structure.  I am going to have to sit down and really study Howard’s portfolio and ask, “What would John Howard do?”

John Howard – a sophisticate like his work!

Hmmmm . . . An allée of hornbeams?  A row of holly trees?  A layering of clipped yews and roses?