+ More

History of the Philadelphia Main Line

The “Main Line” is another name for the affluent, Western suburbs of Philadelphia. It derives its name from the fact that towns were built along the “Main Line” of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which ran northwest from downtown Philadelphia, running parallel to Lancaster Avenue (now U.S. Route 30) and the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line, which extended from the Philadelphia city limits to traditionally Bryn Mawr and ultimately to Paoli, PA. The Main Line rail line led to the development of the Main Line communities, which in the 19th century, became home to many country estates, which were built by some of Philadelphia’s wealthiest families. The Main Line was the setting for the classic 1940 Hepburn/ Grant/ Stewart motion picture The Philadelphia Story.  Notable individuals who trace back to the Main Line include Walter Annenberg, billionaire, philanthropist and founder of TV Guide, Kobe Bryant, NBA player, Ed Snider, Chairman of Comcast Spectacor, Patti Labelle, singer and musician, Ronald Perelman, billionaire, controlling owner of MacAndrews & Forbes and Revlon, among others. Note: Grace Kelly, actress and later, Princess of Monaco, is often mistakenly referred to as a “Main Liner”. However, The Kelly family lived in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia

The SEPTA Paoli/Thorndale line and the Amtrak Keystone Corridor line (which runs to Harrisburg and beyond) currently run along a similar route as the original Main Line, starting from Center City, Philadelphia and the 30th Street Station, respectively. The original Main Line railroad placed stops approximately two minutes apart, starting with Overbrook. The surrounding communities became known by the railroad station names, including Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, Villanova, Radnor, Saint. Davids, Wayne, Strafford, Devon, Berwyn, Daylesford, and Paoli. Malvern was subsequently added to regular suburban service. The current SEPTA Paoli/Thorndale line still stops in many of these communities.

Communities on the Main Line

The Main Line proper is a line of communities extending northwest from the City of Philadelphia. From Philadelphia, the stations on what is now referred to as the Paoli/Thorndale (formerly "R5") Line are: Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford and Bryn Mawr, which inspired the mnemonic "Old Maids Never Wed And Have Babies". The contemporary definition of the Main Line now encompasses many communities past Bryn Mawr. They are sometimes referred to as the upper Main Line and include Rosemont, Villanova, Radnor, St. Davids, Wayne, Strafford, Devon, Berwyn, Daylesford, Paoli, and Malvern. In recent years, the service has extended even further west than Malvern.

Some communities, most notably Gladwyne, Bala Cynwyd, and Penn Valley, are included in what is commonly accepted as the Main Line, as they are typical Main Line communities. Neither, however, is located on the rail line for which the area is named and therefore may be considered culturally rather than geographically on the Main Line.

The Main Line Communities

The Main Line Municipalities


U.S. Route 30 (Lancaster Avenue) is the main thoroughfare through the Main Line; it runs east to west, through the large majority of its towns and municipalities. The SEPTA Paoli/Thorndale (R5) rail line runs along the Main Line and has stops in nearly all of the Main Line communities, offering direct access to downtown Philadelphia (including the University of Pennsylvania) and easy connections at the 30th Street/Amtrak station to an extensive network of regional commuter trains, serving the entire Philadelphia metropolitan area, the Philadelphia Airport, New Jersey (including Princeton and Trenton). Frequent Amtrak trains run from the 30th Street Station North to New York City, Connecticut, Boston and South to Delaware, Baltimore, and Washington, DC, and the Amtrak Keystone route stops in Ardmore, en route to Harrisburg. The Main Line is ideally located mid-way between New York City and Washington, DC.


The Main Line communities are renown for their education systems and numerous, nationally ranked public schools, many considered to be among the finest in the nation. The school districts that serve the Main Line are Lower Merion School District in Montgomery County, Radnor Township School District and School District of Haverford Township in Delaware County, and Tredyffrin/Easttown School District and Great Valley School District in Chester County. The Main Line is also home to some of the most famous and exclusive private schools in the United States, including Malvern Preparatory School, The Haverford School for Boys, Agnes Irwin School, Baldwin School for girls, Episcopal Academy, Friends' Central School, Akiba Hebrew Academy (Now called Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy) , The Shipley School, and Valley Forge Military Academy, which includes among its famous alumni, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf and J.D. Salinger, author of the classic, The Catcher in the Rye.

Public, private and parochial schools of the Main Line are as follows:

Public High Schools

Harriton High School (in Lower Merion) Lower Merion High School
Haverford High School Radnor High School
Conestoga High School (Tredyffrin/Easttown) Great Valley High School

Private Schools

Academy of Notre Dame de Namur (Girls) Friends' Central School
Agnes Irwin School (Girls) Malvern Preparatory School (Boys)
Akiba Hebrew Academy (Co-ed) Merion Mercy Academy (Girls)
Baldwin School (Girls) The Haverford School (Boys)
Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (Girls) The Shipley School
Devon Preparatory School (Boys) Valley Forge Military Academy
Episcopal Academy Villa Maria Academy (Girls)

Parochial Schools

Archbishop John Carroll High School St. Norbert's School (Pre-K~8 co-ed)

Main Line Colleges and Universities:
The Main Line is home to many renowned colleges, including Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, Eastern University, and Villanova University, among others. The full list of Main Line colleges and universities is as follows:.

Bryn Mawr College Immaculata University
Cabrini College Rosemont College
Eastern University Saint Joseph's University
Harcum College Valley Forge Military Academy and College
Haverford College Villanova University

Sporting and Social Clubs

The Main Line is home to many well-known, award winning golf courses, including the following:

Merion Cricket Club Radnor Hunt Club
Merion Golf Club (Ranked America's 7th best golf course
in 2008 and hosted the U.S. Open in 2013)
Radnor Valley Country Club
Philadelphia Country Club Waynesborough Country Club
Overbrook Golf Club White Manor Country Club
Aronimink Golf Club Chester Valley Golf Club
Gulph Mills Golf Club

Main Line Recreation and Attractions

The Main Line offers numerous recreation opportunities and world famous attractions, including:

  • The Appleford Estate: A 300-year-old 24-acre estate located in Villanova. Today it is carefully maintained as an arboretum and a bird sanctuary.
  • The Haverford College Arboretum (216 acres): an arboretum located across the campus of Haverford College, in Haverford, Pennsylvania. It is open daily without charge.
  • Bryn Mawr Film Institute: A non-profit community theater founded in 2002 in the old Bryn Mawr theater building, built in 1926, which it is in the process of significantly restoring and renovating. The institute offers showings of classic movies of the 20th century, opera, film education courses, and film discussions.
  • Chanticleer Garden: located in Wayne
  • The Devon Horse Show: The oldest and largest multi-breed horse show in the U.S.
  • Harriton House: Located in Bryn Mawr. Built in 1704 by a Welsh Quaker named Rowland Ellis. He named the estate "Bryn Mawr", meaning "high hill" in Welsh, which is where the community gained its name.
  • King of Prussia Mall: An upscale shopping mall. One of America's largest shopping complexes.
  • Merion Golf Club: Ranked America's 7th best golf course in 2008 and hosted the U.S. Open in 2013.
  • Philadelphia Country Club: One of the first 100 golf courses established in the USA. Hosted the 1939 U.S. Open.
  • Radnor Hunt Club: A club for country horse riding and for a yearly spring fox hunt, in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
  • Valley Forge National Historic Park: The site where the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777–1778 during the American Revolutionary War.
  • Friends of the Willows Cottage: The mission of the Friends of the Willows Cottage is to preserve, restore and facilitate the adaptive reuse of the historic gatehouse of the Willows estate in Radnor Township, Pa.
  • The Woodmont Estate: Woodmont is a mansion and hilltop estate of 72 acres in Gladwyne. The model for Woodmont was the George W. Vanderbilt mansion, Biltmore, in Asheville, North Carolina. Woodmont was designed in 1891 by Quaker architect William Lightfoot Price in the French Gothic style for Alan Wood, Jr., a steel magnate and former U.S. Congressman. Overlooking the Schuylkill River, the industrial town of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, and the Alan Wood Iron & Steel Company Plant, the chateauesque mansion was completed in 1894 at a cost of one-million dollars.In 1953, it became the home of evangelist Father Divine, and the center of his International Peace Mission movement. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1998. The site is the highest elevation in Montgomery County, and features views of 15 to 20 miles.


Fairmount Park - the municipal park system of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It consists of 63 parks, with 9,200 acres and is the largest city-owned park system in the world. It should be considered the earliest public park in America and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Longwood Gardens - consists of over 1,050 acres of gardens, woodlands, and meadows in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, in the Brandywine Creek Valley. It is one of the premier botanical gardens in the United States and is open to visitors year-round to enjoy exotic plants and horticulture (both indoor and outdoor), events and performances, seasonal and themed attractions, as well as take part in educational lectures, courses and workshops.

Brandywine River Museum - a museum of regional and American art located on U.S. Route 1 in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, on the banks of the Brandywine River. The museum is known for its collection of works by hundreds of artists, including three generations of the Wyeth family--N.C., Andrew and Jamie.

For more information about the Philadelphia metropolitan area and the Main Line, visit www.pahomes.com


Questions? Just Ask!