The recent death of the last surviving child of the famous von Trapp Family Singers puts one suburban Philadelphia community back in the spotlight. Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, once was home to the family of singers, whose life story was immortalized first by the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical and later film adaptation of “The Sound of Music.”
Maria von Trapp died over the weekend at the age of 99. Maria was the second eldest daughter and was portrayed as “Louisa” in the play and movie.
According to the Lower Merion Historical Society, Baron von Trapp, Baroness Maria, their two sons and seven daughters arrived in the sleepy hamlet in 1938 and live at 252 Merion Road. The historical society says when the von Trapp singers stepped foot in the Philadelphia suburb, the family was virtually penniless. They were refugees who spoke little if any English. They pooled their collective talents together to run a household and quickly taught themselves how to be self-sufficient in a strange environment.
As the family sought refuge in America after fleeing the Nazi takeover of their homeland Austria, they were taken in by Merion attorney and music patron Henry S. Drinker, Jr and his wife Sophie. The couple set up the family in a home located directly across the street from their own house. It was at 252 Merion Road that the family’s tenth and last child Johannes was born in 1939.
While life on Merion Road was anything but easy, the family could be seen wearing their distinctive Austrian garb like lederhosen while making their own clothes, shoes, furniture and pottery. The group could be seen doing daily chores to baking and caring for their home. And in keeping with tradition, the adult von Trapps would regularly stop what they were doing at four o’clock each afternoon for their Austrian coffee hour.
The Drinkers afforded the von Trapps the chance to perform in intimate settings with a few people to groups of about one hundred. On Sunday evenings, the Drinker’s home was the setting for several distinctive musicales from 1938 until 1960. The group would perform at 5:30 until supper was served at 7:30 followed by an additional hour of music.
Just as in their homeland, the family continued to turn their hobby into a profession as they eventually became one of the more popular acts to book. As their popularity swelled, they also performed concerts for local charities and St. Joseph’s University.
The von Trapp singers performed as a group for nearly 25 years touring the United States as the Trapp Family Singers. They eventually settled in Stowe, Vermont in 1950 where they began to welcome guests to a rustic 27-room family home and lodge. After a fire in 1980 destroyed the original structure, a new 96-room alpine lodge was built and the 2,500 acre property is still owned and operated by the von Trapp family.