Hope Lodge

William and Alice Degn, 1922 to 1957


• Colonial Revivalists

William Degn was born in 1864 in New York to Laust Engelbrecht and Marie Antoinette Degn. Degn's family came from the island of Romo off the coast of Denmark. Alice Maris Degn was born in Philadelphia in 1869 to Richard Maris and Lavina Cressman. She attended the Stevens School for girls in Germantown. The couple was married November 14, 1894. They lived in North Philadelphia and Germantown before their acquisition of Hope Lodge. They continued to use their home on West Phil Ellena in Philadelphia in colder weather until the construction of their winter quarters at Hope Lodge, extending the kitchen wing, was completed, in 1927.

The Degns heard about Hope Lodge from the pamphlet that noted the beauty of the historic house. They bought Hope Lodge and 36 acres of property on September 25, 1922. They paid $35,000. The Degns added to their estate by purchasing approximately 22 acres from Henry C. and Amanda K. Biddle for $750 on December 24, 1923.

The Degns were most concerned about preserving the integrity of the structure. At the recommendation of Lippincott, they consulted Paul Cret, a respected architect, to assist them with their restoration. Cret's company probably designed the present door hood, which, according to the Historic Structures Report, is probably how the original looked. The Degns furnished the house with their collection of 18th and 19th century antiques. They often had visitors to the house and received numerous compliments. Two visitors from California in 1927 commented, "Had a perfectly lovely time. Collected several pounds of George Washington's mud on my shoes in a delightful walk over the historic ground with Mr. Degn." The garden on the south side of the house became a beautiful rose garden with a central goldfish pond, fountain and sundial.

The Degns did make a few changes in the house — they added electricity; they added a bathroom in half the space of the housekeeper's chamber; they added a bathroom in the master bedchamber closet; and they split the second floor northeast closet into two bathrooms. They added a wing onto the existing kitchen for use as their winter quarters, thus eliminating the need to put a large furnace in the cellars of the mansion and to run piping for radiators throughout the house. They built the garage and greenhouse, and the twin tenant house near the barn.

Mr. Degn was a member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania from 1923 to 1925; he seems to have always been interested in history. Degn, with a $500 contribution through William Moland's Sons, was one of the initial subscribers in assisting the Philadelphia Public Ledger to purchase William Penn's original Charter of Liberties to the People of the Province of Pennsylvania (1682). The document was purchased through numerous donations and then given to the state. He attended St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, Whitemarsh, was a member of the Whitemarsh Men's League, and a member of the Montgomery County Historical Society. From 1885 until approximately 1909 Degn was employed at Warthman Dressed Beef and Provisions Company in Germantown, first as a foreman, then as treasurer and finally as manager from 1904 to 1909. In 1909 he moved to William Moland's Sons, Inc. Meat Packing. He was president of that firm from 1927 to 1930. Mr. Degn retired from all business except his "gentleman" farming in 1934.

Mrs. Degn had a number of interests. She attended classes at the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women in Ambler and contributed to many causes. She belonged to a card group, and attended and gave many afternoon teas, card parties and dinners. She often went into the city to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra, to shop at Wanamakers and eat in their tea room. She frequented sales and auctions and spent much time in her beloved gardens.

The Degns continued the tradition of farming the property, although they do not seem to have been financially successful at it. For many of the years for which we have records, the farm showed a net loss. Farmers were hired to work the property, including Abraham Kinsey and Jacob Harlan Wentz, who later became the first state caretaker of Hope Lodge, with his wife Evelyn taking over over after his death in 1960 — their two daughters, Nancy Wentz Yambor and Virginia Wentz Sinn, who were born on the estate, still live in the area and are valuable sources of information about 20th century Hope Lodge.

Mr. Degn died at Hope Lodge September 6, 1940 at the age of 76. He left the property to his wife Alice. Mrs. Degn died in 1953 at the age of 83. Both Mr. and Mrs. Degn are buried at St. Thomas' Church in Whitemarsh.

Mrs. Degn's will set up the Hope Lodge Foundation to maintain the property. In her will she provided that the house and grounds were to be held "in perpetuity for the enjoyment and education of the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and others, as a museum and permanent exhibit typical of the architecture and furnishings of the Colonial Period of America."

[Read more about the Degns]