Stenton House [Phila, PA]

I’ve been interested in historic and cultural landscapes since childhood and even at that age loved exploring the plants, topography, outbuildings and other structures giving clues to how the site changed over time and what their exact uses may have been. I learned early on that knowing these exact anthropocentric uses required knowledge of local and regional history in order to help arrange the puzzle pieces so to speak. Growing up in a coastal neighborhood in South Portland, Maine my “playground ” was made up of a lot of open spaces along the shoreline of Casco Bay that started out as small coastal neighborhood villages to support industry [18/19th c]. Everything changed for the war efforts in the 20th C as houses were demolished to make space for the building of naval ships, strategic forts were scattered all along the bay to monitor the Germans, and coastlines were fortified with jetties and other structures. Today, most of these spaces have been part of some type of adaptive reuse or repurposing from the creating of beautiful city parks, to the integration of college campuses greenbelts and mixed use properties and highrises along the very desirable waterfront.

What does this story have to do with Stenton? That’s a good question. Most historic houses and landscapes change over time based on patterns and trends in culture, economic prosperity, national security, and natural/weather events. Just like my “playground” setting as a child in Maine, Stenton has also changed over time based on many factors, and they’re taking many new steps lately to remember these points in time through choice restorations and initiatives.

First, the basics. Stenton was built in the 1720’s as the country home of James Logan [1674-1751]. Logan was considered a renaissance man of his time, beginning as William Penn’s secretary upon arriving to America in 1699, to mayor of Philadelphia and chief justice of the supreme court, to amassing one of the largest colonial-era libraries on the continent, and even discovering the role of pollen in the fertilization of corn. The home is located in North Philadelphia and named after the family’s paternal ancestral hometown in Scotland. The house is an incredible example of early American Georgian architecture and is part of the Historic Germantown Historical Society.

I decided to write this post to persuade all readers to either visit or tell others about this treasure. Here’s my pitch:

  1. First, the tour is designed to engage the visitor in all aspects of the site history from its many uses by the Logan family to the caretaker and administrative offices on site. The organization is very open to discussing the challenges of maintaining an historic house as well as sharing its strategy for ensuring that all audiences have access to this important teaching tool in early American history. Its a highly inclusive mentality that benefits the entire community by helping everyone learn about the entirety of the mission from historic preservation to outreach and cultural resources.
  2. The house has a [19thc?] orangery/conservatory to help tell of story of botanical exploration in early America of which Philadelphia can be considered the epicenter at the time along the likes of Bartram and Franklin.
  3. There’s several very interesting outbuildings where the locations, proximities and layouts help tell how they were used historically.
  4. This place has a complete and stocked old Kitchen! Always great conversation starters. Check out Strawberry Mansion, Woodford Mansion and Cedar Grove if you like the old kitchens.
  5. It has some very unique colonial objects. My favorite was this colonial-era diorama / glass house built by Logan’s daughter that’s made with found objects of the time and represent an great piece of very early American folk art in colonial Philadelphia.
  6. Cool archaeology interpretation. In one display, they were able to collect fragments of porcelain/china tea sets found on site and reassemble them back together. [see tea table with cup and saucers in photo link].
  7. There’s a great old barn that is well interpreted to explain its uses over time.
  8. During my visit, they were very accurately restoring a room to the original paint colors by using period techniques such as linseed oil. Apparently it took several days to dry using these early American directives! [see the mustard colored room in photo link below].
  9. Lovely specimen trees with several possibly dating back a few hundred years. The garden is also undergoing a semi-period restoration.

Check out my site photos here


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