About two months ago I was invited by En Route Marketing to visit Woodford Mansion and Historic Strawberry Mansion, both historic homes located in East Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this was truly a new adventure – a place that I had never discovered. Therefore, I was able to experience a completely (what was to me) foreign place and explore all that it had to offer.
What made an impression on me instantly was the location of these two historic homes. Woodford Mansion and Historic Strawberry Mansion are right near each other (a win for those who dislike driving). The estates themselves, while located in Philadelphia, are not in the heart of the city. Instead, as the very knowledgeable guide at Woodford Mansion told us, the seventy-five wealthy families back in the 18th century would move this area outside the city in order to avoid the “insufferable” city. (Disease such as yellow fever often spread due to how the stagnant waters attracted mosquitoes to the city and its surrounding areas.) The land which is now known as East Fairmount Park, was believed to be the perfect solution, and became a location for those wealthy families who were able to afford a summer home. Yes, that is another important distinction. Both Woodford and Historic Strawberry Mansion are summer homes.
I first visited Woodford Mansion, a Georgian exterior greeted me as I walked up the brick pathway. The weather wasn’t the beautiful weather I had recently been experiencing – the skies were a rather ominous gray – but nevertheless, it was not raining. I rang the buzzer, and was admitted inside right into the narrow hallway. A pale peachy color, combined with sections of a creamy white, were the paint colors that greeted me. My tour guide was friendly, informing me that he enjoyed having a conversation instead of just reciting information to the visitors – a refreshing take on what a tour should be.
He tailored the tour and the information that he shared to my interests. He asked me as we began to walk to the first room, “What is your favorite kind of history?” I chirped, “Colonial America and the American Revolution.” He hummed as he shook his head in an approving manner, “Well, this house tells the Loyalist side of the American Revolution.”
That was new. I knew about the Loyalists and Patriots from AP U.S. History, and from my readings, but to actually be in a house that had been the home of a loyalist family? That was new.
Perhaps the aspect that caught my attention the most was the fact that this estate was the original estate. It was not rebuilt on the original foundation. I was in fact stepping the same hall – on the same wood that Benjamin Franklin had walked on. How neat is that?
While on the outside of the house it was of the Georgian style, the Queen Anne style furniture decorated the rooms throughout the house. I was able to see the parlor, the kitchen, bedrooms, and even the ballroom. I was able to learn about the various owners of this estate, the extensions that were made to the home, the furniture, and how this house fit into the “larger” history, that is to say, Colonial America and the American Revolution.
Strawberry Mansion, on the other hand, was a summer estate built by Judge William Lewis after the American Revolution. Where Woodford Mansion seemed more conservative and traditional – containing Queen Anne and Federalist style furniture – Strawberry Mansion contained bright furniture and seemed to be influenced by the Empire style. The furniture seemed lavish and the walls were brightly colored with colors of salmon, green, and blue. Whereas the tour at Woodford Mansion just consisted of me, my mother, and the tour guide, the Strawberry Mansion tour consisted of a larger group.
The tour guide was knowledgeable about the estate, offering great insight about Judge Lewis and what the functions of the rooms would have been. One difficulty I experienced was that I was so focused on taking pictures during the limited amount of time we were in each room, that I often was not processing the actual information that was being said. (A big shout out to my mum who listened to the tour guide attentively and caught me up as I clicked away!)
In the end, it was a successful day! I am very grateful for being able to visit these two historic homes, and being able to hear the stories of both estates. I do not visit Philadelphia often, even though I live nearby, so it was a great chance to visit and learn more about what Philadelphia has to offer! A big thank you to En Route Marketing for inviting me to photograph the homes, and to the tour guides who welcomed my mother and me with great hospitality!