Neighborhood in a Nutshell: Narberth/Penn Valley
Narberth proper is best defined as “Mayberry, USA”. For those of you too young to be familiar with the television town of Mayberry from the Andy Griffith show, think of a village atmosphere with a distinct town center with mom and pop shops, where people walk and know each other and don’t often need to travel outside of their microcosm for basic goods and services. That’s Narberth. As a result, people who are moving here are often very interested in living in this quaint little town, complete with its own movie theater, train station, restaurants, post office, etc. The borough hosts lots of community events (like the biggest local July 4th fireworks celebration in the area) and the community truly is a tight-knit one.
Notice that Narberth “proper” was the subject of the previous paragraph. The adjacent Penn Valley is quite distinct from Narberth in just about every way, except its mailing address. Penn Valley uses Narberth’s post office/zip code, so, frequently, homes for sale in Penn Valley are listed as being in Narberth. It’s important to distinguish as the vibes are quite different. Penn Valley is more conservative and less “funky” than Narberth and people are definitely more inclined toward privacy. Unlike Narberth, there is no Penn Valley town center and residents tend to pick up the necessities via car vs. on foot. Don’t worry, though, Penn Valley shows its community pride with charming red and white signs marking its borders that depict William Penn in front of a farm house.
Many of the homes in Narberth are very modest in size (under 1,800 sq. ft. in many cases) with very small bedrooms, often only one bathroom and small kitchens. Family rooms, driveways and garages are also rare in Narberth. There are, south of the train tracks, larger single family homes that are more often what transplants are looking for, but they are coveted and rarely go up for sale. As a result, prices are at a premium in Narberth.
Penn Valley properties are much more expensive, newer and on larger lots. There are some mid-century moderns and some sprawling ranches as well as some split levels and many properties are an acre or more. (Narberth homes could be on as little as .15 acres.) Penn Valley has few sidewalks and, due in part to the larger lots, is not as “neighborly” as Narberth.
The annual Narberth Dickens Festival. Haverford Ave., the main “downtown” street is closed off and transformed into a 19th century London tableau with activities and entertainment for everyone. You can ride in a horse-drawn carriage, enjoy puppeteers, magicians and ice sculptures—and it’s free!
The Narberth spring sidewalk sale. While the deals are terrific and it’s a great excuse to walk around outside in downtown Narberth, this annual event is really a celebration of community. With participation at (or very close to) 100%, the sidewalk sale is representative of the community spirit for which the borough is famous.
Best Kept Secret
The Bickings family cemetery on Fairview Rd. John Frederick Bickings was a successful paper mill owner who made his home (and business) on 10 acres near Mill Creek. While, in rural areas, it’s not uncommon to see small family cemeteries, no one expects to see them in places like Penn Valley. However, a drive past this memorial is a good reminder of the age of the community and its reliance on Mill Creek as a power source for the mills that lined its banks.
Narberth is actually not part of Lower Merion Township, though it’s smack dab in the middle of it. The borough chose to remain independent, complete with its own police department. Many years ago, Narberth shuttered its community schools, so students now attend Lower Merion School District schools. (Less fun is that the taxes in Narberth are a bit higher as residents pay a small additional amount to use the township resources.)
If you are curious about other Main Line towns and neighborhoods, please take a look at my Main Line Neighborhood Guide.
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