Fairmount Park Historical Houses Walking Tour, Philadelphia

Fairmount Park Historical Houses Walking Tour (Self Guided), Philadelphia

Fairmount Park, Philadelphia's oldest park, established since 1867, is also the city's largest municipal park, sprawling over 2,000 acres adjacent to the banks of the Schuylkill River. The park grew out of the Lemon Hill estate of Henry Pratt, whose land was originally owned by Robert Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1972, the park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This was partly due to the multiple historic houses located within the area and affectionately known as the "Charms of Fairmount Park" or simply "Park Charms". Designed and used as private residences, most of these properties are referred to as mansions (Woodford Mansion, Strawberry Mansion, Ormiston Mansion) due to their size and former use as the summer country estates by affluent Philadelphian citizens around the time of the American Revolution.

Back then, the city's only developed areas were located several miles away to the southeast along the Delaware River, making the current park territory an ideal refuge from epidemics during the summer months. The mansions were built between the latter half of the 18th century (Randolph House, c. 1767) and early 19th century (Rockland Mansion, c. 1810), and their architecture features a variety (and sometimes combination) of styles including Colonial Revival, Federal, Georgian, Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, and Palladian.

The majority of historic dwellings still extant were constructed within the current park boundaries, while the others, such as Hatfield House, were moved here from elsewhere in the city. The likes of Mount Pleasant, built in 1762–65 for a Scottish ship captain and currently administered by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, are among the most significant architectural examples of that period in the history of the United States.

If you want to learn more about and get a closer view of the Park Charms yourself, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Fairmount Park Historical Houses Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Fairmount Park Historical Houses Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Philadelphia (See other walking tours in Philadelphia)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.7 Km or 2.9 Miles
Author: Caroline
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Historic Strawberry Mansion
  • Woodford Mansion
  • Laurel Hill Mansion
  • Ormiston Mansion
  • Rockland Mansion
  • Mount Pleasant Mansion
  • Hatfield House
Historic Strawberry Mansion

1) Historic Strawberry Mansion

Historic Strawberry Mansion is a summer home that was originally named Summerville. Judge William Lewis, who purchased land in what is now Fairmount Park, built the mansion sometime between 1783 and 1789, and lived here until he died in 1819.

Two years after Lewis's death, Joseph Hemphill bought the mansion; his family was responsible for adding the Greek Revival wings to the Federal-style structure erected by Lewis, circa 1828.

In 1867, the mansion was sold to the city, along with a great deal of the surrounding land, in an effort to protect the source of the city's drinking water, the Schuylkill River, following which the area was named East Fairmount Park.

Under the supervision of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fairmount Park Commission, the Committee of 1926 (made up by several women's clubs combining efforts to create a Sesquicentennial Exposition in South Philadelphia in honor of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence) renovated Strawberry Mansion to be used as a museum and place of hospitality.

Funds for the renovation were donated by Joseph Horn of Horn and Hardart's automats, who grew up in the Philadelphia area and used to play in the park as children. In turn, women's societies throughout the city filled the rooms with exceptional period furnishings.

The house officially reopened in 1931. Today, the Committee of 1926 continues to preserve the historic property and the principles of hospitality on which it was founded. The most recent renovation of the building took place in the early 21st century.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Woodford Mansion

2) Woodford Mansion

Woodford Mansion is the first of Philadelphia's great colonial, late-Georgian houses to be erected in the Philadelphia area, and as such exemplifies the opulence of that period's properties.

It was built from 1756 to 1758 on 12 acres (49,000 m2) as a 1½-story summer residence by William Coleman, a wealthy merchant and justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Upon Coleman's death in 1769, the house was sold to Alexander Barclay, a Quaker, who served as His Majesty's Customs Comptroller for the port of Philadelphia. After Barclay's death in 1771, the house was bought by his brother-in-law, David Franks, who, in 1772, added a second story and a kitchen wing, enlarging the house to almost its present size.

In 1869, the city bought Woodford and added it to Fairmount Park. The house served as the home of the Park's Chief Engineer and Supervisor, and later, in 1912, as the Park Guard headquarters and traffic court.

The building was restored, commencing in 1927, and in 1930 was opened to the public as a house museum, which it still is. Under the direction of the Naomi Wood Trust, the museum houses the Naomi Wood collection of antique household goods, including Colonial furniture, unusual clocks, and English delftware.

As a contributing property of the Fairmount Park Historic District, Woodford was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1967.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Laurel Hill Mansion

3) Laurel Hill Mansion

Randolph House, also known as Laurel Hill Mansion, has a bunch of conflicting stories about its origin. Some sources claim that it was built by Joseph Shute in 1748, after which in was purchased by Francis Rawle for use as his family's summer retreat. Others, including Women for Greater Philadelphia, Inc., the nonprofit organization that manages, interprets and maintains the home, insist that the land where it sits was purchased by Francis Rawle in 1760.

Either way, Francis Rawle was killed in a shooting accident in 1761. His wife, Rebecca, proceeded with plans to build Laurel Hill. At some point, she married Samuel Shoemaker who would later become mayor of Philadelphia. As a British Loyalist, Shoemaker eventually fled to England to avoid arrest, upon which Laurel Hill was seized and sold at auction.

Major James Parr purchased the home and leased it to French Prime Minister, the Chevalier de la Luzern.

Rebecca was able to reclaim the property by 1791. After she died in 1819, her son William inherited the house, and then sold it to Philadelphia surgeon Dr. Philip Syng Physick. His daughter, Sally Randolph, inherited the house upon his death, at which point it became known as the Randolph Mansion, or Randolph House.

The house was renamed Laurel Hill Mansion in 1976 by the City of Philadelphia during the United States Bicentennial.

The central portion of the house was built around 1767, in Georgian style, and expanded in the early 19th century with a one-story addition to the south side. The octagonally-shaped Federal-style addition on the north side was built in 1846.

The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Ormiston Mansion

4) Ormiston Mansion

Ormiston Mansion is a 2½-story, red brick, late Georgian-period house constructed in 1798 on a plot of 45 acres (18 ha) above the eastern bank of the Schuylkill River. Edward Burd, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court prothonotary, who built the mansion, named it after the village near Edinburgh where his father, James Burd, was born.

The city of Philadelphia purchased the mansion and land from Burd's heirs in 1869 to expand Fairmount Park. The house was used as a residence for park employees, and later as the Fairmount Park Art Association's meeting house.

The building has a large wooden porch in front and a smaller porch in the rear.

Many of its original interior features remain in place, including fireplaces with marble mantles and a Scottish bake oven. The cedar shake roof includes a widow's walk and Federal-style dormers, while six large shuttered windows are on each side of the house, and five on the front. The first floor interior includes a large drawing room spanning the entire width of the house, a kitchen, and a dining room with a large door leading to the rear porch.

Ormiston Mansion is registered on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and is an inventoried structure within the Fairmount Park Historic District entry on the National Register of Historic Places. The Royal Heritage Society of the Delaware Valley—a privately funded non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Pennsylvania's British heritage—has preserved and maintained the house since 1982. The organization hosts various events at the property to which both society members and general public are invited.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Rockland Mansion

5) Rockland Mansion

Rockland Mansion is a 2½-story Federal-style mansion overlooking the Schuylkill River in East Fairmount Park. The 26 acres (11 ha) of land on which it sits was bought by a Philadelphia merchant named George Thomson in 1809. The mansion was completed circa 1810 using rubble stone for the masonry work, which was then finished with stucco scored to resemble cut stone.

Thomson used the house as a summer residence for about five years and then sold it to another merchant, named Isaac Jones, in 1815, whose son, in turn, sold it to the city in 1870.

Beginning in 2002, the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia (PCoP) entered into a long-term lease arrangement with the city, and by 2005 had totally restored the property. Following that, PCoP relocated their administrative offices to the mansion, and has maintained educational and community-related activities here ever since.

Rockland Mansion is currently registered on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and is an inventoried structure within the Fairmount Park Historic District entry on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Mount Pleasant Mansion

6) Mount Pleasant Mansion

Mount Pleasant was built about 1761–62, in what was then the countryside outside Philadelphia, for John Macpherson and his wife Margaret. The owners named the house "Clunie" after the ancient seat of the Macpherson family clan back in Scotland.

Macpherson himself was a privateer, possibly a pirate, and, according to John Adams, second U.S. President, who visited the mansion in 1775, had had "an arm twice shot off". Adams also referred to the house as "the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania." Its builder-architect was Thomas Nevell (1721—1797), an apprentice of Edmund Woolley, who built Independence Hall.

The Georgian mansion has an entrance topped by a pediment supported by Doric columns. A balustrade crowns the roof which also has prominent dormers and two large chimneys. Two small symmetrical pavilions flank the main house, an office and a summer kitchen. All are adorned with brick quoins.

The interiors contain the original paneling with ornamental carving, and still show the "elegance of the lifestyle of colonial elites," as well as souvenirs of Macpherson's life and times, and period furniture. The latter comes from the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In 1792, the mansion was purchased by Jonathan Williams, first superintendent of West Point and grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin. He lived here intermittently until his death in 1815, upon which his children sold the estate to Fairmount Park.

The structure was restored in 1926 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Hatfield House

7) Hatfield House

The historic Hatfield House in Fairmount Park was built as a suburban villa in 1760, in what is now the Nicetown neighborhood of Philadelphia. From 1806 to 1824, it operated as Catherine Mallon's Boarding School for Girls. William J. Hay, the next owner, implemented some major Greek Revival-style alterations – including the addition of the unusual 5-column temple portico – in 1838. Dr. Nathan L. Hatfield, of the University of Pennsylvania, bought the property in 1854; his family owned it for another 75 years.

The house appears on the 1843 Ellet Map of Philadelphia County, on the south side of Nicetown Road (Hunting Park Avenue), east of the Philadelphia and Germantown Rail Road and west of the Germantown and Perkiomen Turnpike (Germantown Avenue). By the 1855 Barnes Map, the city's street grid has been sketched in, although few of the streets yet existed. By 1862, a horse-drawn streetcar line passed a block east of the house.

Simon Gratz High School was built directly east of the house in 1925. Major Henry Reed Hatfield donated the house to Fairmount Park Commission in 1929. In 1930, the building was dismantled and moved one story at a time to its present site at 33rd Street and Girard Avenue. Architect Erling H. Pedersen, of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, managed the relocation.

In 1972 the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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