A month ago, when Woodward Celebration organizer Will Detweiler told me about his plan to have five days of events marking the contributions the Woodward and Houston families have made to Chestnut Hill, I considered what the Local could best do to report the story.
The first thing that came to my mind was posing the question: Why celebrate the Woodwards? The answer to that question was more substantial than I realized.
I’ve been around Chestnut Hill and the Local long enough to know the basics. I knew Henry Houston purchased much of what would later become West Chestnut Hill. I knew he planned the Chestnut Hill West rail line and I knew the Woodwards had not only maintained the home rental business, but had expanded it and contributed – often quietly – to many Chestnut Hill causes.
But as I waded more and more into the details, the Woodwards’ impact on Chestnut Hill was striking for how much of what they did still stands today. From the many homes they built, to the institutions they fostered. It also occurred to me that many in Chestnut Hill don’t really know the extent of that legacy.
It was for that reason we decided to scratch the surface with the series we did on the family over the last two weeks.
One of the main goals of Detweiler’s group – naming the Chestnut Hill Community Centre for Gertrude Woodward, Henry Houston’s daughter – will likely do a much better job of preserving that legacy in the community.
The Community Centre at 8419 Germantown Ave. is a great place to preserve the Woodward name, particularly that of Gertrude Woodward who rented the building in 1917 to house a local branch of the National League of Women’s Service. Other organizations were invited to move into what had been called “The Service House.” It became a center for numerous community efforts to support people in need during the nation’s entry into World War I.
In 1919, Gertrude officially donated the building to the community. She led a fundraising effort and donated a substantial portion towards the purchase of the building, which was put under the control of a nonprofit organization.
In making the Community Centre a monument to Gertrude’s generosity, Chestnut Hill has the opportunity to ensure that the legacy of the Woodwards’ focus on community continues. A capital campaign will begin – one we will hear more about this week and soon after – to make sure the building is restored and maintained in perpetuity.
There really is no better way to mark the Woodwards’ contribution to Chestnut Hill then to engage in the same sort of sustainable preservation the family has undertaken for the last 100 years. In 2116, the people of Chestnut Hill can take stock of the same set of buildings, the walkable neighborhood plan and the plentiful open space and know who they have to thank for all of it.