The Battle of Bertland

Bertland, at top center, from Mueller's 1909 Atlas of Delaware County

Bertland, at top center, from Mueller’s 1909 Atlas of Delaware County

Part Two
Continued from last week

Howard was 13 years older than Bertha and in declining health from his drinking, and he took frequent trips away to recuperate. In late 1909 after returning, little improved, from his annual retreat to the wilds of Canada, Bertha insisted that he take a longer trip, around the world.

Howard had fond memories of his earlier 5-month trip to Japan, and in December 1909 he applied for a renewal of his passport. He was accompanied by the Ireland Agency’s solicitor and general manager, Howard M. Donovan, who attested to the accuracy of Howard’s application.

Three days later, on December 24, Howard Ireland left “for 6 months to a year” on another world cruise, accompanied by his nurse, but not his wife. Bertha’s several powers of attorney enabled her to carry on the business, assisted by Mr. Donovan.

Howard Izard Ireland

Howard Izard Ireland

Eight months later, in August 1910, Howard departed Yokohama and returned to Swarthmore. He was appalled to find that Bertha and the 10-years-younger Donovan had been living together at Bertland, and to make matters worse, she had assigned to herself and Donovan all of the Ireland Agency’s stock.

Bertha and Donovan voted in Bertha as president and treasurer, Donovan as vice president and manager, and Howard as merely a director. Bertha told the maid that she was going to evict Howard, whose only souvenir of his travels was a venereal disease, but it was Bertha who moved out of the house in mid-October of 1910, alleging “cruel and barbarous treatment,” and who was afraid to return for fear of “personal violence” at his hand.

Howard wanted his company back, and the initial fireworks of his homecoming erupted into a legal battle that lasted 3½ years. He hired his across-the-street neighbor, Morton Z. Paul, who was Swarthmore Borough’s solicitor, and sued Bertha in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas.

The court ordered Bertha to return the corporate stock to Howard and make an accounting of the company’s money. Bertha’s appeals reached the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, but she still lost. She no longer had control of the business, but she was determined to have the house for herself.

In March 1911 she sued Howard, asking the court to find her the legal owner of Bertland and to evict her husband. Morton Paul was joined by a second lawyer to defend Howard’s interest, but Bertha outgunned them with three. The suit hinged on determining whose money had been used to pay for the properties and improvements, but Bertha had had complete control of her money, Howard’s money, and the agency’s money. Her mingling of monies and baffling system of accounting made it almost impossible to determine who had paid what for anything.

The legal battle made the news throughout the county and even in New York, but was politely ignored in Swarthmore. The case dragged on until December 1913, when the court found that Bertha was the owner of Bertland; that Howard did not have to pay rent for the time he lived there after she moved out; but that he did have to now vacate the premises and pay her legal fees.

It was Howard’s turn to appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, but he lost the case and his home, and moved to Philadelphia. Howard Donovan also returned to Philadelphia, where he eventually married someone other than Bertha.

In the spring of 1914, in an effort to regain some appearance of his former social standing, Howard rented the Walter Furness property on Providence Road in Wallingford. This was the front portion of the great Horace Furness estate, and included the area where the Helen Kate Furness Library is now.

Bertha remained at Bertland until 1919, when she sold the property and took an apartment in Philadelphia.

Howard continued in business for a time, but he was ill and broken. His faithful lawyer through the suits and appeals, Morton Paul, had moved to Sharon Hill, and by 1920 Howard was reduced to renting a room in Morton’s house.

Bertha was having difficulty in pursuing her business endeavors because she was still married to Howard, and they finally divorced in January 1921. In March 1922, at age 64 and heavily in debt, Howard Ireland’s heart gave out and he died in his Sharon Hill apartment. His children, Sumner and Virginia, declined to be his executors and gave the job to a bank. Bertha eventually moved to the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, where she died in February 1940, at age 69.

Following several interim owners, Swarthmore College purchased the old Bertland mansion, and rented it out before using it as a dormitory for students and faculty. After the College was refused permission to convert Bertland to a 2-family residence, the house and barn were torn down and the present house was built, southwest of the old mansion. The peaceful, landscaped grounds are part of the Scott Arboretum, and are marred only by an occasional lingering wisp of acrid smoke.

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