Just off Phoenixville Pike north of West Chester, the sign to Greystone Hall points past an abandoned gatehouse to a road winding down into a ravine. The route twists through the woods until it emerges uphill for a glimpse of an old manor house perched atop a rise, finally coming to an end at a cul-de-sac and covered entryway.
Velda Moog emerges through the entry doors with a friendly greeting, launching into an explanation for the horseless sleigh parked off to the side. “I saw it at an auction,” says Moog, who’s a local attorney. “I actually wanted to buy something else, but they didn’t see my bid and someone else got it. So I had to buy the sleigh.”
She goes on to explain the long, winding driveway. “The idea with these old estate houses was that they needed a long drive so they could be approached from the best angles,” Moog says.
The history of Greystone itself is like the road leading to it—a circuitous path through the previous century that involves two prominent families (one Moog’s) and arrives at its current status as a grand event space that barely shows its age. Although COVID has slowed down rentals temporarily, the grand stone structure has hosted scores of weddings, grand dinners, corporate events and even a mystery theater presentation that cascades from room to room. “We normally host about 20 to 30 events a year,” says Moog as she sets off on a tour of the premises. “Once we had up to 60 annually, but that proved to be too hard on the house.”
“Greystone was built as a good house for a time when the wealthy had servants—but not a good house if you don’t.”
The entry at Greystone leads to a hallway that runs through the main wing—the public part of the house—with a game room and function rooms off to the left. To the right, there’s a library, a reception room, a central hallway, and music and dining rooms. The latter has a long table that looks like it could be the centerpiece for a classic whodunit film. Moog opens the doors that lead to a large patio and the bones of an events tent. Beyond that is a spacious lawn and a pergola in the distance. “Pergolas were the signature of Charles Barton Keen, the architect of Greystone,” she says. “This one has 48 columns.”
For an active 35 years spanning the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, Keen designed many of the grand houses along the Main Line for people with both old and new money. Later in his career, the Philadelphia-based architect did the same for tobacco families in North Carolina. If recently built multimillion-dollar homes in the Chester County countryside are considered McMansions, think of Keen’s works as English-style McManor houses. Some—like Greystone—came with sufficient country acreage. Others were strictly big houses on smaller lots.
Greystone’s original setting was on several hundred acres of what was then rural property. Completed in 1907, the house was commissioned just after the turn of the century by Philip M. Sharples, who made his money selling his tubular cream separators, manufacturing them in a factory at Evans and Franklin streets in West Chester. “It was built as a good house for a time when the wealthy had servants—but not a good house if you don’t,” says Moog, who lives in part of the building. “It was designed as a 15th-century manor house, but it’s very modern inside. Surprisingly, everything was pretty much up to today’s codes. When we added air conditioning, we didn’t have to cut any holes—we just went through the ducts they had installed for a centralized vacuuming system.”
While Sharples was waiting for Greystone to be completed, his family lived in the imposing carriage house at the entry to the property. “It’s more authentic as a style of house,” Moog says. “Unfortunately, it’s now in disrepair.”
Sharples had three children with his wife, Helen, who died only four years after the family moved into Greystone. He remarried and had three more children with his second wife, Jean. Unfortunately for Sharples, his fortunes declined in the early years of the Great Depression, and he had to sell off about half of the surrounding property. Ultimately, the family abandoned Greystone in 1935 and moved to Southern California.
In 1907, the same year the Sharples family moved into Greystone, Moog’s father opened the Oriental Rug Renovating Company in Philadelphia. Aram K. Jerrehian had escaped the Armenian genocide in Turkey by fleeing with his family to the United States in 1904. The store later changed its name to Jerrehian Brothers Rugs of Quality, and the family began to prosper in its new surroundings.
In 1942, Aram and his brother purchased an abandoned Greystone and began modest renovations. Some of the family moved into the estate, which still totaled about 450 acres. “We came out from Philadelphia in the 1950s,” says Moog, who’s kept in touch with Sharples descendants still living in Southern California.
For several years, Moog lived away from the area, returning in 1991 with her family to take care of her ailing mother. She decided to stay, transforming Greystone into an events center while maintaining a portion of it as family quarters. Her husband died three years ago, and now her daughter, Elizabeth, has stepped in to help with the marketing.
The Moogs will be celebrating 30 years in business in 2022, and they’re looking forward to a special event they hold every five years— a reunion dinner for couples who had their weddings at Greystone. “We usually have about 100 couples attend,” says Moog. “Of course, we’ve had a few divorces. But we like to think that Greystone marriages last.”
Another popular event is the staging of a period play by Katherine Bates called The Manor. The audience is split among different rooms, with the actors mingling among them before assembling together for the denouement. Moog came across the play in California, transporting it to Chester County with help from Aldan’s Colonial Playhouse.
Sharples’ fortunes declined in the early years of the Great Depression, and he had to sell off about half of the surrounding property. Ultimately, the family abandoned Greystone in 1935.
Greystone’s events business has declined somewhat in recent years. The family has sold off the carriage house and much of the acreage, making way for a new community to be built on its doorstep. Though developers were planning to use the carriage house as a clubhouse, it was in poorer condition than anyone realized. So it’s fate is in doubt.
When the big house becomes too much for the family to maintain, a museum of some sort is one possibility—or perhaps a local university might use it as a dedicated conference center. “My dream is to have it saved,” Moog says. “We’ve preserved it almost intact as it was built—just touchups and cover-ups, but no major renovations. I’m looking for an angel for Greystone. I want it to be preserved.”