THE BLOG
12/04/2014 04:03 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2015

A Victorian Mansion in Andrew Wyeth Country

When the poet James Whitcomb Riley visited William E. Lockwood in Glenloch, Pa, sometime in 1895 or 1899 during his tours of eastern U.S. cities, he arrived at the Glenloch station of the Pennsylvania Railroad. That station was nestled nicely in the 836-acre estate of Lockwood, founder of Glenloch and the millionaire inventor of the popular paper collar for men. Riley, at that time, undoubtedly noticed that Lockwood's Italianate Victorian Gothic marble and blue limestone mansion- built from quarries that have long been covered over by Route 202, and designed by architect Addison Hutton with its eaves, torrents, arches, tower and cranberry stained glass windows- resembled his own Indiana home.

Why the poet chose to visit Lockwood is unclear, unless of course the wealthy businessman had an avid desire to host America's most popular poet. Whatever the reason, Riley was now in the most spectacular house in Chester County, Pennsylvania. In those days the area was filled with grain dealers, dairy farmers, so called "maiden schoolteachers" and marble quarries. Glenloch- Scottish for "lake of the glen"- was Lockwood's personal kingdom, an area rich in Revolutionary War lore. The fields and forests there have long yielded continental army muskets and cannonballs which, at least until the 1960s, were occasionally unearthed by children or farmers. It was in these fields and forests that General Washington and his men established camps on their way to Valley Forge.

The original 836-acre estate once housed three separate farms, tenant houses and four railroad stations. Glenloch, in fact, constituted an entire town and had its own post office. The mansion itself cost $250,000 to build. The property also contained a number of springs, which attracted the wandering (and lustful) eye of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR).

The PRR had already engaged Lockwood's fury when it built and named the Glenloch train station without getting Lockwood's permission to use the name, causing Lockwood to change the name of the Estate to Loch Aerie. The PRR would also break its promise to Lockwood that it would maintain the pipes that carried water from the estate's springs for the railroad's upkeep of its steam locomotives. In addition to breaking this contractual agreement, the PRR used all of the water from the Estate, leaving the Lockwood family high and dry.

Lockwood had no choice but to fight the PRR, but this would be a battle that he would lose. The fight cost him his fortune. When Lockwood died in 1911 at age 79, he left two daughters, Miss Daisy and Miss Edith, and a son, William E. Lockwood. Jr. who died in 1949. When I interviewed one of the sisters as a budding high school journalist, the William Jr. came up several times in the conversation.

The Loch Aerie mansion was just a quarter mile from where I grew up in Frazer. My boyhood home was originally built as a simple housing development consisting of six split level houses, thanks to the post WWII housing boom generated in part by the GI Bill. Some extended family members often referred to our Frazer house as being "in the sticks" because it was surrounded by fields, streams, hills and great swaths of hilly forests.

The three bedroom split level home was set square in the middle of land that once belonged to a nearby farmer who had cows grazing in our backyard. My mother, busy working in the kitchen, would often utter a shocked "Oh!" when a cow or two would break through the barbed wire fence and walk up to the kitchen window.

Driving along Lancaster Pike near Planebrook Road and Route 29, you could glimpse much of Loch Aerie behind clumps of trees. Trees also covered a good portion of the mansion's front porch. Only a section of the mansion's tower (which contained a 900 gallon water tank) could be spotted among the tree tops.

As children, we had always heard that old Loch Aerie was inhabited by two old sisters who rarely came outside but occasionally made appearances when curiosity seekers explored the estate's massive backyard. The backyard contained a man made pond and a weather beaten statue of Neptune, which seemed to recall ruins from ancient Greece.

You could not just walk on the grounds of Loch Aeries because one or two of the old sisters who lived there inevitably would spot you and say something. Miss Edith and Miss Daisy seemed to have eyes in the backs of their heads. The ornate mansion, with its Swiss Gothic architecture, alpine roofs and chalet dormers, approximated the gingerbread houses we had seen in children's books. For us it was a house of intrigue and mystery.

We especially liked to visit the house in summer, albeit in a sneaky way because we didn't want to be spotted by the sisters. The few times when we wern't "apprehended" we would linger by the fish pond near the overgrown and nearly ruined gardens and lose ourselves as we stared into the sun bleached eyes of Neptune. We were also careful to periodically scan the mansion's windows for shadows or silhouettes indicating that the sisters were spying on us. When this happened one of the massive shutters might open and a sister's voice would call out, "Who goes there?"

We ached to get inside Loch Aerie, but as the sisters were old and very private, we knew this would never happen. We did not know then that the estate was once one of the largest in Pennsylvania, and that in 1877 it had its own telephone system, security system and that every door in the house was wired with a burglary alarm. The 19th century also had its own version of the homeless problem, as vagabonds or tramps would sometimes try to hide on the property or try to get inside Loch Aerie through one of its many windows. At one point in the mansion's history, a dozen tramps were rounded up on the grounds of the estate.

Loch Aerie had five bedrooms, round stained glass windows, a large cranberry stained glass window on the second floor, a spiral staircase and that 900 gallon water tank that was half hidden in the trees. It also, at one point, had its own landscape designer, Charles Miller. Throughout the years, both before and after its demise, it had been featured in many magazines and newspapers.

Although Miss Edith and Miss Daisy both died before 1970, I would get a chance to meet them when I began working as a paperboy for The Daily Local News.

I'd ride up to the mansion on my bicycle, knock for Miss Edith or Miss Daisy, and wait to be admitted so that I could be paid for the week's worth of newspapers.

Sometimes I'd be asked to come inside while one of sisters counted out the exact change. I'd find myself standing in the magnificent foyer with its grand "Gone With the Wind" staircase while eyeing the gilt gold framed oil paintings on the wall. I forget whether the old ladies ever tipped me, but I do remember them as being nice but also somehow from another time.

When I graduated from paperboy to a teen-aged, first-time newspaper journalist on assignment, I went to Loch Aerie to interview Miss Daisy for a Main Line publication. Miss Daisy told me stories about her father and the paper collar, the Pennsylvania Railroad and about the poet, James Whitcomb Riley. Suddenly, all the years of mystery and reserve surrounding Loch Aerie- and its occupant sisters- vanished in a confessional waterfall.

After the sisters' death, the house lay abandoned for a time, opening the door to another kind of "tramp"--motorcycle gangs like the Warlocks and The Pagans who set up camp and used the mansion as their headquarters. Although Loch Aerie had a new owner then, this was the wild, experimental decade of the 1970s- a time when older forms of tradition were tramped underfoot. Nobody cared about exquisite ceiling carvings or moldings or grand staircases. Drop ceilings and modernism ruled the day.

In 2000, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that after the sisters died, "the house was sold, then became famous for a time in the 1970s as the home of the Warlocks motorcycle gang. The gang's stay included a fire in the east wing and a 1973 shootout with the rival Pagans in which one Warlock was shot, as was the gang's pet wolf."

Although Loch Aerie has been compared to Bryn Mawr's La Ronda Estate and to Granogue, Irenee Du Pont's Estate in Delaware, it's still on the real estate market today.

The magic of this old place is transcendental and compelling, although Neptune has long since vanished.