Tag: house museum

Wrights Ferry Mansion

We left Wheatland for our other stop in Lancaster County, in the town of Columbia on the Susquehanna River. Wright’s Ferry Mansion is the restored home of Susanna Wright, an English Quaker settler who never married, but bought property on what was then the frontier and became self-sufficient operating the ferry crossing. She was an intellectual who wrote poetry, taught herself Latin, and corresponded with such figures as Benjamin Franklin. She also grew silk worms and wrote a treatise on the subject. The restored house museum features Philadelphia furniture made before 1750. There’s an expensive but very complete set of two books covering the house and the collection. › Continue reading…

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Wheatland (1828)


On our second day in Lancaster County PA, I visited Wheatland, the estate of President James Buchanan, which is in the city of Lancaster itself. Buchanan is usually considered one of the worst presidents, but he is the only president from Pennsylvania and his restored house is definitely worth a visit. It’s a Federal style house, built in 1828, which is furnished in the Victorian style to reflect the era when Buchanan lived there, from 1848 to 1868. I didn’t watch the introductory video, which had some info about Buchanan’s political career. Visitors are told to walk from the visitor’s center down to the house, where a guide wearing a hoop skirt period dress gave the tour, which focused on domestic issues rather than politics. Even if one is not thrilled by Buchanan himself, there is also the interesting story of the unmarried president’s First Lady, his niece Harriet Lane, who later inherited the house. The house is adjacent to the Lancaster County Historical Society, which has an exhibit gallery and a book store.

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Ephrata Cloister (1732)

Ephrata Cloister

Leaving the Hans Herr House, our next destination in Lancaster County was Ephrata Cloister, in what is now the town of Ephrata. Ephrata Cloister was a religious community founded in 1732 by Johann Conrad Beissel, who was born in Germany and eventually came to what was then a frontier wilderness in Pennsylvania. He was followed by men and women who had left the Brethren movement and embraced Beissel’s distinctive religious ideas. At the core of the community were celibate brothers and sisters, living and worshiping together, who also sang hymns (many written by Beissel himself), created fraktur (a Pennsylvania Dutch folk art) and operated a German language printing press. The community eventually died out, but many of the original buildings survive and are open as a museum run by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Visitors see an introductory film, are led on a tour of the buildings and are then able to wander on their own and explore the various structures. The story of the community is a fascinating one and, even if one is not interested in all of the religious aspect, there is great beauty in the many buildings which, like the Hans Herr house, evoke a feeling almost of the Middle Ages. The museum gift shop has an excellent selection of books, including a series of pamphlets on archaeological work being done at Ephrata Cloister (as many of the original buildings do not survive). On Google Books there’s available an old two volume history of the community written by Julius Friedrich Sachse and published in 1899: The German Sectarians of Pennsylvania: A Critical and Legendary History of the Ephrata Cloister and the DunkersVol. I (1708-1742) and vol. II (1742-1800).
› Continue reading…

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Hans Herr House (1719)

Hans Herr House

Leaving State College, our destination was Lancaster County, PA. This is the heart of what is called the Pennsylvania Dutch (really Pennsylvania German) country. I visited four historic sites in the area over two days. On our first day in the area, I visited the Hans Herr House (1719), 1849 Hans Herr Dr, Willow Street, PA. This is the oldest surviving house in Lancaster County. Built by Mennonite settlers as a home and a meeting house, it is now a museum owned by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. The house is small, but very impressive because it really has a medieval look. The house is made of stone and with its irregular placement of windows, it is quite a contrast with the types of houses I’m used to in New England. That is the great thing, for those interested in old buildings, about traveling to a region like Lancaster County, where the early settlers were not all English and had a quite different building tradition. In addition to the Hans Herr House, the property has has two later farmhouses, built by Herr descendants (one of which has the visitor center, the other is a private home), a reconstructed blacksmith shop and barn, and a barn with a large display of farm implements. Adjacent to the house, there is also an herb garden. › Continue reading…

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Boal Mansion (1789) and Columbus Chapel (1909)

Boal MansionBoal Mansion

I visited Pennsylvania a few weeks ago and went to a number of historic sites, starting with the Boal Mansion and Columbus Chapel, in Boalsburg just outside of State College. Nine generations of the same family have lived in the house and the museum displays a wide variety of objects acquired over two centuries. In the fourth generation, George Jack Boal married Malvina Amada Buttles, whose brother-in-law was Theodore M. Davis, an Egyptologist who discovered the tomb of the great grandparents of King Tutankhamun. Objects from the tomb are on display in the house. In the fifth generation, Colonel Theodore Davis Boal married a French-Spanish heiress, Mathilde de Lagarde. She was a descendant of Josephine, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the museum has a lock of Napoleon’s hair on display. Mathilde’s aunt, Victoria Montalvo, was married to Diego Columbus, a direct descendant of Christopher Columbus. Mathilde inherited from her aunt the Chapel from the Columbus Castle in Spain. In 1909, the Chapel interior, which includes Columbus’ desk and two pieces of the True Cross, was moved to the Boal estate and placed inside a new building by Col. Boal. The museum also has exhibit rooms containing displays of farm implements and weapons. › Continue reading…


Graeme Park (1722)

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After visiting Hope Lodge, it was a brief trip over to Graeme Park, in Horsham in Montgomery County, PA. The blur in the picture above is not a ghost. Instead, I blurred our tour guide for the sake of privacy! This historic home was built in 1722 for William Keith, who was colonial Deputy Governor of Pennsylvania (for the then absent Penn family) from 1717 to 1726. The house, which was later named Graeme Park for Dr. Thomas Graeme, is a beautiful stone structure with striking blue trim. As for the interior, the rooms are mostly empty with just a few items of furniture, so the emphasis is on the paneling of this distinctive home. › Continue reading…

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Hope Lodge (1748)

Hope Lodge

Returning home from my trip this summer to Philadelphia, I stopped at two historic home outside the city. The first stop was Hope Lodge, in Fort Washington in Montgomery County. Hope Lodge is a classic Georgian-style country mansion, built between 1743 and 1748 for a Quaker businessman named Samuel Morris. It was designed by Philadelphia architect Edmund Woolley and is a country cousin to the grand houses in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. As a house museum, Hope Lodge is notable for presenting two time periods inside: the Colonial and the Colonial Revival (not unlike the Webb House in Wethersfield, Connecticut). Also of note are the extensive basement rooms, which include a meat cellar, dairy cellar, scullery, and root cellar.

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