A Tour of Woodmont (Palace Mission) with Mother Divine

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

When we learned that one of Lower Merion Conservancy's Winter Treks was a "Divine Saunter," a tour of the Woodmont Estate, led by Mother Divine, we signed right up. The widow of Father Divine, founder and spiritual head of the controversial International Peace Mission Movement, was still alive? The group still exists? We wanted to know more. Nearly 30 of us assembled at 10:00 this morning for the walk, a mixture of friends, visitors, and members of the movement. Mother Divine herself welcomed us to Woodmont and led the group to a spot overlooking the Schuylkill River with a view miles to the north. Members then led the tour of the grounds of the 73-acre estate, following well-shoveled paths that cut through the deep snow. We passed the carriage house, visited the greenhouse and saw the massive solar panels that deliver much of the electricty used on the estate. We saw the orchard, springhouse and ponds, the grand entrance way still buried in snow, and the lakes that supplied water to steel magnate Alan Wood's steam locomotive when he needed transportation to Philadelphia. The group passed by, and Paul got a close-up tour of, Independence Cave, which was said to have sheltered wounded soldiers during the Revolutionary War. We circled behind the mansion to arrive at the Shrine to Life, built in 1970, with its magnificent bronze portal.

Foyer at Woodmont

The snow still on the ground meant we had a shorter tour than usual on the annual event, so Mother Divine invited us all inside for a brief tour, which she led, of the ground floor of the 32-room mansion. It was built in 1892 and attests to the life style of the very wealthy at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, and we were surprised at how well this opulence had been maintained into the current century. We toured Father Divine's study, which was kept just as it was when he died in 1965, and passed the large dining tables set for a banquet. There were pictures of Father and Mother Divine, some formal and some casual, in every room.

After the tour of the mansion, Mother Divine led us to the Welcome Center, where we enjoyed hot beverages and muffins. We sat in the table next to Mother Divine, which was “where the action was” so to speak. Mother Divine is in quite good health considering her age. She is a gracious host and is a living link to what we had felt had become a matter of history. The Peace Mission work has done much good and has also done much that is highly controversial. Although we had previously heard of Father Divine and his work, we knew next to nothing about what had become of this after his death. All in all, we had a pleasant winter walk, good company, good conversation, and an educational experience.

See photos.