Early Childhood Memories in Bryn Athyn

vinetchildren.jpg“How did the Bryn Athyn children entertain themselves? They climbed trees for one thing and improvised many little games of their own. There was ‘Pussy wants a Corner,’ jump rope, ‘Tisket-a-Tasket’ and ‘I’m the King of the Castle.’ Baseball was popular which we played in the Acton Field, across the way. . . . 

cowgrazingstream.jpg“We wandered long distances over farm land (which was everywhere then) and well out of Bryn Athyn boundaries. In those days it was safe to stray that far and our parents didn’t seem to be concerned.

“There was swimming on hot summer days at the Pennypack. Older folk enjoyed canoeing, which was a pleasant pastime in that enchanting area. At that time the creek was wider in many places. The canoes were locked and chained in a small bay, not far from a large picnic area on the right side of the railroad tracks. [Editors: the author may here be referring to the area known as Alnwick Grove]

“Winter brought the dramatic cold weather sports. There were great hills for sledding, probably the most thrilling and dangerous was at Sleepy Hollow (The Orchards) . . .

skatingpennypackbridge.jpg“On really cold days when the ice was frozen thick, the Pennypack made a magnificent rink, a long sheet of ice as far as the Paper Mill Covered Bridge. There was a little path through the field below the Asplundh house, a quick way to get there. I remember as a small child hugging the big bonfire that had been built and watching the skaters flash by. Brothers, Pierre and Jean, were stumbling about, and my father looking very well pleased to be using his interesting skates acquired in Holland” (France Vinet White, Early Childhood Memories in Bryn Athyn and Life on the Farm: Bryn Athyn, 1987).

napoleon.jpgFrance Vinet White (1903-1988) was born in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, in 1903, the daughter of Camille and Marie Vinet. They had immigrated to the United States in 1897, when Camille Vinet joined the teaching staff of the Academy of the New Church as a professor of French and science. During France Vinet’s childhood, the New Church community of Bryn Athyn was in its infancy. The family lived on the “loop” (today, Alnwick and South Avenue) until 1912 when they moved to an old farm on Byberry Road.

In 1987, when she was in her eighties, France was encouraged by her daughter to write down her childhood memories. Early Childhood Memories in Bryn Athyn and Life on the Farm is now available online at NewChurchHistory.org. Her colorful and often amusing anecdotes provide a uniquely personal look at the early days of the Bryn Athyn community, the Academy of the New Church, and turn-of-the-century life in America.

Photos: The photograph of some of the Vinet children, dressed up to celebrate Bastille Day or Fete de la Federation as it is known in France, is from the early 1900s. The children’s names are written on the back (left to right): “France, Lucienne, Rachel, Pierre” and the baby “Camille” in front. The young cow grazing near a stream, somewhere in Bryn Athyn, is part of a hand-colored magic lantern slide. The photograph of skaters on the Pennypack, near a covered rail bridge, is from a Vinet family album, page 42. Camille Vinet was the photographer, and took many photographs of early Bryn Athyn. The photograph of the Vinet family carriage, pulled by “Napoleon,” shows Camille Vinet holding the reins and several unidentified passengers. It is labeled “Napoleon, Mr. Vinet & Family.” The photographs and lantern slide are all in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA.

Questions and comments may be addressed to the editors at info@newchurchhistory.org

February 25, 2008 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact