If any of you plan to be in the Philadelphia area this month or live in the area, love architecture, history and Christmas, then do I have the event for you. This past weekend I was thrilled to head down to the beautiful Fairmount Park neighborhood which runs along the riverfront. This years holiday tour of the historic mansions didn't disappoint. Talk about getting in the holiday spirit while discovering gems of Philadelphia’s past, as the Historic Houses of Fairmount Park opened their doors all month long. During the holidays, Fairmount Park’s historic mansions get all dressed up and merrily decked out for the season during the annual Historic Houses of Fairmount Park Holiday Tours. Decorated by local interior designers and garden clubs, six of the seven historic houses — Cedar Grove, Laurel Hill, Lemon Hill, Mount Pleasant, Strawberry Mansion and Woodford Mansion — welcome visitors with festive adornments trimming the well-preserved historic interiors. Each mansion promised a different theme and varied holiday.
Robert Morris, merchant, entrepreneur and financier, accumulated land along the East bank of the Schuylkill River circa 1770. Morris was a major financier of the Revolution, signer of both the Declaration of Independence and, later, the Constitution. The estate was known as “The Hills” and included an elegant greenhouse in addition to barns and outbuildings making up this working farm.
The featured stories of this Federal style house span over three centuries and incorporate the life of the acclaimed colonial Judge William Lewis (1752-1819) to the national celebration of the Sesquicentennial of 1926 (celebrating America’s 150th anniversary.) Of course the story involves tales of lavish parties and strawberries.
A colorful Scottish sea captain and American patriot, John Macpherson (1726–1792) and his first wife Margaret built this grand country estate and productive farm in the mid 1760’s to the delight of many from Philadelphia society, including statesman John Adams, prior to his Presidency. This home is built high atop cliffs overlooking the Schuylkill River and the Macphersons employed as their builder-architect Thomas Nevell, an apprentice of Edmund Woolley, the builder of Independence Hall.
Rebecca Rawle, a wealthy widow with three young children, built this small country house around 1767. Her second marriage was to the British Loyalist and former Mayor of Philadelphia Samuel Shoemaker. Her home was seized during the Revolution, and the years that followed were difficult for Rebecca and her family. Rebecca spent several years trying to reclaim her house, which was sold in 1782 to Major James Parr. She was able to buy back Laurel Hill and pay off some debts in part by using some of the profits on the produce raised at the home.
A trusted confidant to Philadelphia’s beloved Ben Franklin, William Coleman was a highly educated, successful merchant when he built this summer house in 1756. Legend says the woods and nearby ford in the Schuylkill River gave the estate its name. A patriot, Coleman enjoyed this summer home, with servant’s house and stable, on 12 acres of land. William Coleman and his wife Hannah raised their orphaned nephew George Clymer, who later became a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
This farmhouse served as the summer residence for five generations of the Coates, Paschall and Morris families of Philadelphia. Built in 1748-50 by the wealthy widow Elizabeth Coates Paschall, the original small home of grey native stone received numerous additions over the years, with rooms which illustrate the evolving styles of the family as seen through their furnishings. They enjoyed this lovely summer home until 1888.
It was a gorgeous tour, and a great opportunity for a chance to see in these very historic homes. My only suggestion is to take along a flask with a hot toddy in it...it can get nippy in between houses. Afterwards, our evening ended at Dillsworth Plaza at City Hall for a few cock-a-tails and watched the ice-skaters....a great people watching place. And it finally put me in the mood for the holidays.