The Mansion at Noble Lane: From exclusive estate to exquisite escape
Built in 1903 as the country estate and gentlemen’s cattle farm of John Henry Strongman, one of the founders of the famed F.W. Woolworth five-and-dime empire, the sprawling estate has had many lives–and almost as many peaks and valleys as northeast Pennsylvania’s mountains.
The Early Years: The Strongman Family
Strongman erected the grand Gatsby Mansion on the original site of his parent’s modest farm house. He was one of eight children of immigrants from England who settled here and became farmers instead of laborers. John Henry hired architect Charles Arthur, from nearby Dyberry, to bring his two-story vision to life. Upon completion, the site was named “Bethany Homestead Farms,” and farming included dairy, poultry and developing Guernsey herds for sale.
John Henry Strongman was one of the first men to join F.W. Woolworth in his lucrative chain store venture. During the ‘20s, Strongman expanded his Bethany estate with the purchase of seven farms and several additional parcels of land. At its peak, the estate totaled almost 1,000 acres, including an executive nine-hole golf course. When Mr. Strongman died in 1932, the estate was valued at more than $2 million dollars.
Mr. and Mrs. Byron DeWitt Miller took over the estate; she being Hortense Strongman, daughter of Mr. John Henry Strongman. In 1910, Hortense had married Miller, who was a founder of F.W. Woolworth, Ltd. in England. They returned from England in 1920, and Mr. Miller became president of the Woolworth parent company in the States. The Millers took the Mansion to new heights, adding a third-floor addition for her parents to enjoy when they weren’t spending most of their time in Miami. The Millers, meanwhile, kept a regular residence in New York City and used the Bethany Mansion as their summer house.
Mrs. Miller hired gardener Cecil Stanbridge, from England, to design the estate’s formal gardens, which included the wisteria-covered arbor–still a magical place–and a potting shed with an extensive greenhouse. The potting shed remains intact across from the carriage house, but the greenhouses were dismantled in the late ‘80s.
The Millers also added to the Play House building, which was at first mostly a gymnasium with other recreational facilities to be added. From the beginning, the Strongmans made the building available to the community for benefits, card games, teas and other events. Mrs. Miller remodeled and expanded the Play House in 1933, adding the Olympic-sized pool and the stage, where the famous actress Cornellia Otis Skinner performed many times, along with many locals who today fondly remember their day in the spotlight.
Mr. Byron DeWitt Miller died in 1960 having been separated from his wife for several years. Mrs. Miller died the following year at age 87. During her life she was known for her philanthropy, not only in Bethany, where she helped to found the Women’s Club and built the Bethany Park and library, but also in England, where she volunteered during World War I, and in Miami, where she owned a gorgeous mansion and hosted numerous charitable events, especially her highly anticipated fashion shows. Upon her death, she bequeathed Bethany Homestead Farms and all her other real estate assets to her son Byron Strongman Miller.