Mount Pleasant (built 1762-1765), one of two historic houses administered by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and owned by Fairmount Park, will temporarily close on Monday March 23, 2004 for structural restoration and roof repair. The National Historic Landmark building, located on Mount Pleasant Drive in Fairmount Park East, is expected to re-open late this year. Funded through a generous grant from The William B. Dietrich Foundation, the restoration project will be overseen by the Conservation Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
With its striking hipped roof and flanking dependencies, precise adherence to symmetry and balance, and intricate carved woodwork interiors, Mount Pleasant is considered the most architecturally significant among the 18th-century houses of Fairmount Park. Philadelphia-born master carpenter Thomas Nevell (1721-1797), student of Independence Hall builder Edmund Woolley (1695-1771), built Mount Pleasant between the years 1762 and 1765 as a summer home for a wealthy Scottish sea captain named John Macpherson (1726-1792). After restoring Mount Pleasant to the period of its original ownership, the Philadelphia Museum of Art opened it as an historic house museum in 1926. Handsomely installed with American paintings and decorative arts in each room, the Middle Georgian house today opens a window on life in Philadelphia during the remarkable period of the American Revolution when historic figures ranging from the revered John Adams to the reviled Benedict Arnold were captivated by this mansion’s imposing presence.
Within Philadelphia’s extensive Fairmount Park stand a number of 18th- and 19th-century homes open to the public. The Park House Guides of the Philadelphia Museum of Art will continue to offer detailed tours of many of the Fairmount Park houses, all located within a 10- minute drive of each other:
- Cedar Grove (1748) served as a summer home for five generations of the same Quaker family, the Paschalls and the Morrises, who came to America at the time of William Penn (1644-1718). Originally situated on fifteen acres in the Frankford section of Northeast Philadelphia, this native gray stone house features ground floor rooms which all open to the outside, suggesting easy country living rather than the formality of a grand mansion. After the house and the family objects were donated to the City of Philadelphia in 1926, Cedar Grove was meticulously taken apart, reassembled at its present location on Lansdowne Avenue in Fairmount Park West, and opened in 1928 as an historic house museum administered by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- Laurel Hill (1764-1767), located on a rise high above the banks of the Schuylkill River at Randolph/Edgeley Drive and Fairmount Avenue, is the most visible of the houses when driving through the park on West River Drive. The original central section of Laurel Hill reflects the Middle Georgian influence of nearby Mount Pleasant. Two additions enlarged the house in the 19th century: a simple one-story wing on the south side and an octagonal two-story wing on the north side. In addition to administering the house, Women for Greater Philadelphia annually hosts a summer concert series with candlelight receptions on the porch facing the river.
- Lemon Hill (1800), a grand Neoclassical villa, features oval-shaped rooms with curved doors and fireplaces on each of its of three levels. Situated at Kelly Drive and Sedgley Avenue, Lemon Hill was the first of the Fairmount Park houses to be purchased by the City of Philadelphia in 1844 and it is administered today by Colonial Dames of America, Chapter II.
- Strawberry Mansion (1788-1789), the largest of the Park houses, is Federal in style with large Greek Revival wings on either side. Located at 33rd and Dauphin Streets, the site of what was once a steamboat landing, Strawberry Mansion served not only as a country home, but also as a popular restaurant. In the late 19th century, the Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins was known to play "shinny," a form of street hockey, on its grounds with his friends. Today, the mansion’s attic houses a fine collection of 19th-century toys and dolls, which can be enjoyed on a tour. It is administered by The Committee of 1926.
- Sweetbriar (1797) was built in a Neoclassical style as a year-round residence for Samuel Breck, an acquaintance of the French General Marquis de Lafayette, who fought alongside George Washington in the Revolutionary War. Standing on what is today Lansdowne Avenue, the house features a colonnade in the entry hallway and large Italianate windows. It is administered by The Modern Club.
- Woodford (1772) presents an excellent Philadelphia interpretation of Georgian architecture. Its original owner, the merchant William Coleman, was praised by his close confidant Benjamin Franklin for having the “coolest, clearest head, best heart, and the exactest morals of any man.” Temporarily closed for restoration after a July 11th fire, Woodford is planned to re-open to the public in 2004. It is administered by the Naomi Wood Trust. Woodford is near Strawberry Mansion on 33rd and Dauphin Streets.
How To Visit the Fairmount Park Houses
Self-Guided Tours: Admission for self-guided tours is $3.00 per person payable at the door of each house. Maps are available at the information desk in the West Entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Trolley Tours: Trolley tours to the houses are available from the West Entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For more information, call the Philadelphia Trolley Works at (215) 925-TOUR (8687).
Group Tours: Slide lectures, theme tours, and lunch packages can be arranged for groups. For ticketing and reservations, call the Museum’s Group Sales Department at (215) 684-7863.
School Programs: School tours of Cedar Grove complement classroom studies of American history. Hands-on activities engage students in aspects of 18th-century lifestyle such as etiquette (learning to curtsy and bow), embroidery, ironing, stringing apples for drying, folding linens, working with maps, and washing clothes. For more information, call the Museum’s Division of Education at (215) 684-7333.