Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Favorites of the Fairmount Park Houses

Lemon Hill 1799 - 1800
leads off the tour of the themed 
A Partridge in a Pear Tree Historic Fairmount Park Houses

I would be remiss not to mention Fiske Kimball and hid wife for their contribution to the preservation of many of the Fairmount Park Mansions I will share today.

The Kimballs were the last residents of Lemon Hill

Henry Pratt purchased the property Lemon Hill Mansion is built upon in 1799, at a sheriff's sale.  The property prior to that belonged to Robert Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Morris went to debtor prison in 1799 and died in 1806 a virtual pauper. Morris made significant contributions to the American Revolution and attempted speculative investments after the war but never financially recovered. Pratt built Lemon Hill 1799-1800 in the Federal style originally as a summer home. He was fond of the greenhouse and gardens.  It is said that the first gardenia bush in this country was planted at Lemon Hill.  You can read more about the house and its history at
Some of the highlights inside the home, besides a tour from Program Director Joyce Jones, are the original desk of Robert Morris and chair made of horse hair.

Three stacked oval rooms one above the other can be seen from the exterior.

Unless you are reminded, you could easily miss the curved windows and doors that blend in to elegantly compliment the design of the room.

The Palladian.window on the upper floor is another outstanding architectural feature.  The dishes in the cabinet are special as well, they depict many scenes and buildings around Fairmount Park and Philadelphia.

I have never seen a colonial bathtub, Lemon Hill has one in the same room as the commode with a fireplace of course, this was the dressing room. I have never seen such a fancy commode either. The chamber pot would slide underneath.

 Woodford Mansion 1756-58

Woodford Mansion was the next on my list to visit.  The name is said to have come from
a home in the woods with a nearby ford. William Coleman was the first to build a one and a half story Georgian-style home, stable and servants quarters from 1756-58. This was a summer retreat for William and Hannah Coleman who raised an orphaned nephew George Clymer who holds the distinction of being one of the few that signed the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

One and a half story? Okay let me turn it around for you.

David Franks made the next significant change to the house when he moved in with his family. In 1771, he added a second floor and a rear "el" addition. The Wharton's combined the two bed chambers on the first floor into a dining room and in 1927 Daniel Huntoon, the first Trustee of the Naomi Wood Trust Fund to live in Woodford full time added a modern kitchen as the addition at the back of the house. Most of the furnishings within Woodford belong to the Naomi Wood Trust collection. The last name of Wood has no connection to the Woodford Mansion name.  It is just a perfect fit.

When I get my mansion the Woodford kitchen design is on my radar.  What you are seeing here is only half of it. The other half comes with its own Gingerbread House, who wouldn't want that. I  would spin around in that kitchen, throw a iron pot on the wood burning fire place, dance around the table and take a little nibble off that gingerbread house.

Head back to the fire to see if my hot toddy was heated up yet. Go back to the table on the other side of the kitchen just beyond the chair on the left, the silver container has a cup in it.  It is heating up the my toddy. Also by the fireplace you will see a fire bucket.  I learned something new today, the fire buckets had names on them, this one says Schneider.  All the neighbors helped if there was a fire and when the fire was out, the Schneider's got there bucket back.

I also have to mention the  Christmas Tree in the foyer because the guide in this section of the house made special note of it. The decorations were made by Mander Recreation After School Program a neighborhood school that has a close relationship with the Woodford Mamsion. More information at

Strawberry Mansion 1789

Strawberry Mansionwas  built by William Lewis in 1789 as his summer home. A judge, lawyer and abolitionist, Mr. Lewis played an important role in drafting and passing the 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. It is the largest of the Fairmount Park Historic Houses. It is built in classic Federal style. The center section was the original building. The house was known as "Summerville" at the time.

The wings of the home were built in 1828, during the time that Judge Joseph Hemphill owned the property. The Judge and his wife were known to take frequent trips to Europe. During one of those trips while they were out of town, their son supposedly had the buildings built. He built the ballroom in Greek revival style architectural detailing. It is said, Alexander Hemphill built it to impress his friends of the First City Troop. Even if it is not true what a story.

There is a friendly flag flying there now but I can't help but think of that sinking feeling the parents must have felt when they pulled into their road leading up to their house ......and it had expanded. The house changed ownership several times after Judge Hemphill died.   In 1926, a group of women, known as the Committee of 1926 assumed the role of administrative trust of the mansion with the intend on making it a welcome center to Fairmount Park for all. Historic Strawberry Mansion opened to the public in 1931 with unique collections in each room. I love the French Room.  It is so elegant. If I owned that house and that room, I would rope it off too. If you go to the Historic Strawberry Mansion website they tell you who designed each room. This room was designed by the same ladies that did the Stephen Girard, High Street Exbibit during the Sesquicentennial. I am not sure I would go with the pink but it certainly works well in this room but I am definitely getting a pouf. I love it! This house does have party written all over it.  This is where you want to entertain a large group in my opinion.

I was a little saddened to learn we would not be venturing upstairs, It was open during the house tours two years ago. One of my favorite other rooms is up there, so I went back in time to show you, "The Mural Room".

Pink Room aka The Ballroom photo taken in 2013

The Mural Room was completed in 2013 by Dott Bunn and Patrick Connors. It is just stunning, go back during the regular season when the second floor is open to the public to see it. I have to go back and see the attic. According to the Historic Strawberry Mansion website, they have old toys and dolls and doll houses up on the third floor. I have never seen those. Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner (not that they do it to my knowledge) in this room and setting would be a hot ticket. Check the for special events coming up.

Laurel Hill Mansion 1765-67

The property that Laurel Hill Mansion sits on was originally owned by William Penn and later sold to the Rochford-Shute families. In 1760,  Joshua Howell purchased 76 acres and sold 31 acres to Frances Rawle with permission to build dwellings on this land. Frances Rawle died in 1761 without building a house.

Rebecca Rawle widow of Francis later married Samuel Shoemaker, then Mayor of Philadelphia.  The two story Georgian style center of the house was built in 1767. Samuel and Rebecca were British Loyalists and the house was confiscated and sold at auction during the American Revolution.

What does Lauren Hill have that no other Historic House in Fairmount Park has? The Octagonal Addition was added in 1846, during the time that Sally Randolph lived in the house. She was the daughter of the previous owner Dr, Phillip Syng Physick. It is my favorite part of the house and it is now "the music room".

The "Music Room" can also boast at having the baby brother to the Christmas Tree that stands in the Blue room at the White House this year. Both trees were donated by Bustard 's Christmas's Trees from their Leighton farm in Lansdale, PA. Also in the Laurel Hill Mansion "music room" is the forte piano and harp. Go to the website and to get more information about upcoming events and info about their spring and summer musical programs.

A one story addition was added on the south side in the early 1800's and it is my husband's favorite section for some reason. I find it cozy but prefer the music room, although I do not play a musical instrument, it's bigger.  He could like it best because that is where they are selling the gingerbread cookies. The cookies were baked by The Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College. Yes, we purchased one and yes, it was delicious. This space was once two children's bedrooms.

 Women for a Greater Philadelphia maintain the Laurel Hill Mansion and they are full of hospitality as they offer you tea and joyfully announce that they have the best view in Fairmount Park. I Fact Checked them and they do. They have such pride in their work, their house and their volunteers and it shows.

 They are also preserving a bird's nest on their back porch.

Ormiston House 1798

The Ormiston House was built in 1798 by Edward Burd. Ormiston was named for the Scottish estate of his grandfather.  It is a two and a half story late Georgian style made of brick with a Tuscan porch.

The Royal Heritage Society maintains the house now and they do things "properly". It is not part of the Park Charms homes from what I understand so the admission price is the same but we were not able to use our discount pass here.  I have been here before so I knew it was worth the fare.  I will get to the proper treatment a little later.

Just inside the front door is the living room.  Historians, architects and just plain simple folk like myself will recognize the outline around the fireplace that is King of Prussia marble, I have also heard it called Valley Forge marble but the most common term is King of Prussia and supposedly if you have it you have gem.  It can no longer be found and most of these houses in Fairmount Park have it.

This is a British styled home so it is no surprise to see who is hanging over the fireplace in the dining room, good Ole King George himself. Can anyone tell me what material is outlining the fireplace? Correct, it is King of Prussia marble.

The next stop on the tour is the kitchen in the basement. I really loved the kitchen at the Woodford, remember, but I think I am being swayed by the side oven here. I could make my own pizza all the time, that is livin. I like their gadgets too.  I don't know what you do with them but I would like to try.

Here is a gadget for you and one that I do not think would be much fun.  It is not the obvious, a plunger.  Back in the day of the Burds or perhaps other inhabitants used it to do laundry almost in the same style you use a plunger.  Now I wonder which came first?

Just opposite the fireplace is a donated doll house and what a cool one it is, such detail.  I wanted to stay and play with it but we were quickly ushered upstairs and then upstairs again for the proper treatment.

I have to revert to my 2013 photos, the proper treatment consisted of tea in real china teacups. My Auntie Jean, a Brit would not take her tea any other way and cookie and lemon squares to make the experience even more delectable, in honor of the Queen. One of these years I must make the Wassail Party. You can find information about all upcoming events at

Mount Pleasant built between 1762-65

Mount Pleasant was built by Captain John Macpherson to announce his ambition to join established Philadelphia society.  He employed builder-architect Thomas Nevell an apprentice of Edmund Wooley, the builder of Independence Hall.

Macpherson made his money as a privateer and he did very well. Mount Pleasant is considered one of the greatest American houses still standing on its original site.

Here is a back view of the outside of the property you can start to see the pattern of symmetrical facade he continues into the house.  The outbuilding on the left was an office and the one on the right was the kitchen. More often than not the more exclusive homes had the kitchen detached from the house. Yes. Macpherson had money.

Above the fireplace is a portrait of Macpherson. He lost an arm during one of his ventures at sea.  I think I may have read he was shot two times in the arm.Take a look at the fireplace.  It looks like King of Prussia marble to me. Dazzle a docent the next time you are in a historic home, if you recognize it say, "Is that King of Prussia marble?"

Another interesting story I heard at Mt. Pleasant, this is the second Mrs. Macpherson.  The first one had Mr. Macpherson locked up in chains and kept in the out building I said was an office.  She claimed he was insane.  He was able to escape his shackles because of the one arm and made his way into the house looking for Mrs. One.  She died at an early age and he married the much younger Mrs. Two  I have no idea if  the two incidents were related but you can only suspect. There must be more to that story. Macpherson was a Scot.  Did I mention that?

A boar's head was common on the table of the well to do. I think it designated good luck but that is just a guess.

There is an amazing view of the Schuykill River from the house on the hill, but those ladies over at Laurel Hill still have the best, hands down.

Cedar Grove 1746

Cedar Grove is a humble family farmhouse built by Elizabeth Coates Paschall, a widow with three children. The house was a retreat for several generations.

The house was originally located in Frankford.  In the 1920's the last family member to live in the house donated it to the City of Philadelphia to be part of the historic homes in Fairmount Park. It was dismantled brick by brick and reconstructed in its new location.

What makes this home unique from all the others are the furnishings and the siplier lifestyle They are all original to the family and were used at one time or another by its descendants.

Cedar Grove evolved through several generations and several additions. I believe this fireplace was part of the original structure.

Fifty years after Elizabeth built the home that was primarily used in the summer months, her granddaughter Sarah and husband Issac Wister almost doubled the size, adding a parlor, kitchen and third floor to accommodate her family of nine children.

The porch was added was added by Issac the son of Elizabeth and Issac Wister. Note a door from every room on the ground floor opens to the outside, a Quaker style. 

Shofuso Japanese Tea House built in Japan in 1953 reassembled in Philadelphia1957-58

Here is a delicious example of the Shofuso Japanese Tea House, gingerbread style.

Shimenawa (enclosing rope) are decorations made of fresh rice-straw laced in a particular fashion to form a rope.  This ornament is placed at the entrance of the house or over cooking stoves during the new year season.  In Shinto tradition, the shimenawa indicates a sacred area, and no evil can pass beyond the line of shimenawa.

 Mochibana (rice cake flower) is a Japanese New Year's decoration that uses white and pink colored mochi wrapped around branches to simulate blossoms.

Kodomatsu (gate pine) are an ornamental arrangement of pine, bamboo, and sometimes plum blossom placed on either side of an entrance.  They are considered temporary housing for kami, the multitudinous revered spirits and gods of Shinto. They are placed outside of the house toward off evil and invoke fertility, growth, and the power to resist adversity and old age.

The Japanese Tea House was our last stop on a long journey through the Historic Homes of Fairmount Park. Fiske Kimball was right, we do have a treasure here in Fairmount Park.  How fortune we are to have historians, preservationist, architects and volunteers to keep these museums open to educate the public. They can always use the funding and visiting these locations help out.
Come out and support these houses, you will benefit too.

Here is the holiday schedule

This year's theme will be the Twelve Days of Christmas!

Christmas Open House
Thursday through Sunday, December 3 - 20th
10-4 p.m. $5 per house, children under 12 free.

Special Holiday Tours
A Festive Tradition Trolley Tour 
December 10, 11, 12, and 13 - Tours 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Tickets $38 call 215.235.7469 for more information.

A Fairmount Christmas Carol Trolley Tour
December 16 and 18 
Tickets $44 call 215.235.7469 for more information.

Holiday Hotline

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