This summer, I spent some time going through the Edwin Forrest Home Records to identify items for digitization. This collection documents the Home, its operation, its residents, and its dissolution. The Edwin Forrest Home was founded after the actor Edwin Forrest’s death to provide a place where retired actors could live comfortably and be cared for during the last years of their lives. Residents were required to have been in the theatre for a proscribed period of time, and needed recommendations to be accepted to live in the Home. Upon entry, the residents turned their incomes over to the Home, which agreed to feed, clothe, and pay for medical care for each resident for the duration of their stay at the Home.
The Home’s first location was Forrest’s country estate “Springbrook” in the Holmesburg section of Philadelphia.
In the early years of the twentieth century, it became clear that this home was no longer sufficient to serve the needs of the residents. Among other limitations, Springbrook only had one toilet. The board of the Edwin Forrest Home contracted the construction of a new facility, which would have modern conveniences and provide guests with everything they needed to fully enjoy their retirement. This new Home at 4849 Parkside Avenue opened in 1928.
Some of the most interesting records in the collection are the “Guest Books,” which are essentially small files on the residents of the Home. In some cases, the guest books are simple trascriptions of guests’ names and basic information.
In other cases, these guest books are more elaborate affairs, including photographs, newspaper clippings, obituaries, details about the actors, and contact information for friends and relatives.
The residents ranged from minor local actors to popular stage and screen stars. Many of the actors played in silent films, and later, talking movies. Some of the more prominent residents included Marion Abbott, Lois Arnold, Jack Amory, Florence Averell, George W. Barnum, Charles Canfield, Frank Chapman, Dallas Tyler Fairchild, Hal Forde, Herbert Fortier, Clarence Handyside, Bertram Harrison, Helen Van Hoose, Julia Stuart Mackay, Josephine Morse, Wedgwood Nowell, Fanny Addison Pitt, J. Barney Sherry, Bennet Southard, Marie Taylor, William H. Turner, and Ann Warrington.
Some of the correspondence in the collection illustrates the “dramas” that sometimes ensued in this home, but primarily the residents’ letters express their sincere appreciation for the care they received at the Edwin Forrest Home. When the Home closed in 1986, it merged with the Lillian Booth Actors’ Home of the Actors’ Fund of America in Englewood, New Jersey. This home is still in operation.