Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Top 10 Finding Frank Furness, the Architect


We all stumble upon things and people accidentally that often leads our curiosity to further exploration.  I found Frank Furness or he found me in Chambersburg, PA.  Since that chance meeting, I would like to share what I have discovered about Frank Furness.  I bet you too have driven by something designed or co-designed by Frank at one time or another in your travels.

Frank Furness November 12, 1839 - June 27, 1912.

1.  He lived in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.  The Helen Kate Furness Library in Wallingford is named for his sister in law.  Frank also had a famous brother who was quite the Shakespeare scholar, the most important one of the 19th century.  The library is named for Frank's brother Horace's wife, Kate. The Horace Howard Furness Memorial Shakespeare Library and Reading Room is part of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Penn. The  Furness home in Wallingford, Lindenshade was designed by Frank in 1873, sadly, it was demolished in 1940. I did go looking for traces in Furness Park though. Frank Furness had a home Idlewild, that he built in Media. I think it is still there but privately owned.  I didn't want to trespass : ).

Wallingford Train Station, Wallingford, PA (1890)

2. Frank Furness was a decorated soldier in the civil war.  He received the Medal of Honor. I was told on my tour of Laurel Hill Cemetery that Frank carried artillery to the front lines, a dangerous job. Yes, Frank Furness is one of the reasons I went to Laurel Hill Cemetery. I have been on a quest ever since I stayed in the house that Frank built.The Ragged Edge Inn in Chambersburg, PA.




3.There seems to be a railroad connection, Frank designed quite a few railroad stations as a matter of fact the bed and breakfast that I stayed in in Chambersburg that Frank designed, Ragged Edge Inn was the home of a former railroad man Colonel Moorhead C. Kennedy, President of the Cumberland Valley Railroad.  Kennedy is another whole story in himself.  Every one seems to cross paths. Kennedy also has an affiliation to Williamson Trade School.  I am still trying to connect that dot. Monday of this week I just pieced together how Frank Furness would have built a home over two hours away from this area.  Kennedy owned a home at Rittenhouse Square and Furness did a lot of work in the neighborhood.

Glenn Mills Train Station (1882)

4. Wilson Hall at the The Haverford School on the Main Line was designed by Furness. The original idea for a grammar school came from  Mrs. Lois Cassat and Andrew Cassat her husband to create a feeder school for Haverford College. Andrew Cassat was President of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Wilson Hall, Haverford School (1901)

5. Isaiah Williamson, a Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist donated 2 million dollars just before he died in 1889 to create a trade school for poor young men.  At one time I believe the boys had to be fatherless.  Tuition to the school remains a free scholarship.  Frank Furness designed the main building.

Williamson Trade School (built between 1889-1891)

6.  I was trying to cleverly put this at six.  Frank's father, William Henry Furness became minister at the First Unitarian Church and served as minister for 50 years.  He was an outspoken abolitionist and expressed his passion from the pulpit. Frank designed the third and current building, completing it in 1886 while his father was Minister Emeritus.  Kevin Bacon (six degrees) was raised at the First Unitarian Church and had his acting debut in a holiday pageant there.

First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia (completed 1886)
7. The Merion Cricket Club is a private club on the Main Line.  It was originally established in 1865 in Wynnewood,  moved to Ardmore and now resides in Haverford.  The sixth and current clubhouse was designed by Frank Furness in 1897.  It is a beautiful and stately looking building.

Merion Cricket Club (1897)

8. The Baldwin School formally the Second Bryn Mawr Hotel just knocked me out when I saw it.  All I could say was, wow but certainly there are more descriptive and elegant words to describe this massive and intricately sculpted building.  It really does have the wow factor though stand in the center of the field and just look up at it. Your eyes can't take in all the detail at once.






9. Udine Barge Club at Boat House Row #13 along Kelly Drive in Philadelphia was designed by Frank Furness.

Udine Barge Club (1882)

10. PAFA (Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts) was designed by Frank Furrness  and George W. Hewitt, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.



Frank Furness is buried at Laurel Hill cemetery. His tomb is nothing fancy but he certainly has a room with a view as it should be for some one with such artistic imagination. 


He looks out over the Schuylkill River and he doesn't have to deal with all that traffic on Kelly Drive.  He was a man with a plan.




Frank Furness designed over 600 buildings in his career, sadly many have been demolished and one that I came across is in deep disrepair others have been renovated to their magnificent splendor.  It is not the easiest thing to find a complete list of his buildings and then track them down but it is an adventure.  He's got stuff all over the place.   If you are good, I will show you more.  Actually if I am good.  I have a total of 17 I have found so far and one I would swear a building is his but it was designed by his teacher.  It is on Broad Street.  Anybody know what it is?


This year marks the 100th Anniversary of his death and there are exhibitions all around.  Check this link for more information on the exhibitions and by all means go out and search for Mr. Frank Furness and his work.  You will be dazzled.

1 comment:

  1. Great article! Frank Furness has had a tremendous impact on our area!

    Interestingly, The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades has the largest collection of his buildings in the world. Mr. John Wanamaker retained Mr. Furness to design the entire campus after Mr. Williamson died in 1888. This included not only the Main Building; but the student housing and the President's House. In total, there are nine buildings. All of the buildings are used for their original purposes of housing, teaching and administration.

    Williamson is a tuition free college in Media, PA serving young men from families of limited income. Our admission requirements are often confused with the Hershey School which was originally for fatherless boys and very similar to Williamson in our missions. Please come and visit us one day!! www.williamson.edu - Jim Hannigan, V.P., Plans and Operations

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