WHITEMARSH -- Among the numerous casualties of the coronavirus pandemic – weddings. These days, the need for “social distancing” and all the other adjustments triggered by COVID-19 are huge concerns for prospective brides and grooms. But dealing with disrupted marriage plans during tough times is nothing new for some of us.
Ask longtime Lafayette Hill civic leader John Loughridge. The retired Realtor is well into his 90s, but he has no trouble remembering his whirlwind World War 2 marriage to wife Martha on Dec. 30, 1944. Their wedding plans had already been postponed twice, and the young Marine was on the rifle range at Officer’s Training School in Quantico, Va., when he got the OK to head home post haste. At 11 that night, he and Martha said their "I dos" in Mount Airy’s Church of the Epiphany with ushers he’d “never met and a church packed with strangers.” They checked into Philadelphia’s Barclay Hotel at 3 a.m. and had dinner with family the next afternoon before he raced back to Virginia for whatever came next.
Inspired by the realization that all kinds of back stories have underpinned weddings held at the historic Highlands estate in Fort Washington, Director Dana Dorsey decided to expand the property’s archives by adding details about nuptials that have taken place there over the decades. To that end, Dorsey has put out a call for photos shot at wedding ceremonies held on the grounds. The oldest picture submitted will earn its senders a professional photo session on the grounds. Entry deadline was originally May 1 but has been extended to June 30 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dorsey’s rationale for the project goes beyond her belief that weddings comprise an important chapter in The Highlands’ rich local narrative.
“My other goal in doing this project was to show as many people as possible how important it is to preserve history and protect open space,” she explains. “That’s a goal of The Highlands Historical Society, and the more neighbors in our community support that philosophy, the better able we are…to continue making memories here.
“We have extensive archives here that are made up of mostly handwritten daily documentation from the three families that lived here. Their journals included the weather, seed purchases, guests who visited and general family and daily life activities. I thought it would be a wonderful addition to the estate’s archives to keep a record of all the families that, essentially, started here at The Highlands on their wedding day.
“One of my most favorite aspects of working here is getting to meet people in our community that are genuinely interested in the history of the estate as well as hearing about the personal adoration people have for The Highlands. I feel so honored to be a part of so many weddings here, and so I began taking more time to record and preserve the wedding day memories here by asking for couples to share their personal experiences here…and (their) photos.”
According to one Highlands history, the Whitemarsh Township manor house was built by politician and merchant Anthony Morris in the late 1700s, sold to Daniel Hitner in 1808, to George Sheaff in 1813 and to Caroline Sinkler in 1917. Sinkler niece Emily Sinkler Roosevelt and husband Nicholas purchased the property in 1941 and donated it to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1957. The Highlands Historical Society formed in 1975 “to preserve, restore and interpret the historic mansion and grounds…”
“The facts and information I share with guests (during historic tours for visitors) are mainly derived from personal family journals and letters that were kept by the families that lived here,” Dorsey says. “My thought is, why not continue this act in new ways to continue to preserve history and add to The Highlands archives.”
At press time, her instincts were already well-supported.
“So far, I have received several emails with photos of couples who were thrilled to share photos,” Dorsey says. “I even had the pleasure of meeting…Lauren and Eric Gozzard, who married here on Dec. 18, 2004. They visited The Highlands during our holiday open house this past December and brought their two daughters to share with them where they married and take some family photos.
“Allison Kissel grew up right across the street from The Highlands, and she used to play in the gardens and dream about having her wedding here one day. I had the honor of working with her to make that dream come true a few summers ago. It was like witnessing a full circle.”
Another couple, Dawn and Jamie Andrews, tied the knot at the site on Sept. 29, 2012 and return annually for photos.
“I think it’s a testament to how special The Highlands is when you look at the wedding photo, pregnancy photo and, then, a family of four,” Dorsey says. “It’s stories like this one that inspire me to educate the community about the history here and to continue making lasting memories here. Preserving history and protecting open space has become a passion of mine, and I cherish the interactions I have with people who think of The Highlands so fondly and return to walk the grounds year after year.
“I think it’s incredibly touching for people to have the ability to walk in the same gardens they did as nervous brides, now with growing families. To be able to share a significant piece of your wedding day with your children is a very special experience. We have the wedding certificate of the couple who had this mansion built as their dream home, and now I not only have the privilege of being a witness to the first day of a couple’s life together, but the chance to see them visiting over the years to come.”
Submissions to The Highlands wedding history project – a photo and details about its contents – can be emailed to email@example.com or, via regular mail, to Dorsey’s attention at The Highlands, 7001 Sheaff Lane, Fort Washington, PA 19034. Additional information is available at www.highlandshistorical.org or 215-641-2687.