Category: Historic Philadelphia

Splendiferous Interiors: Magnificent Objects From Vaux Hill Mansion Go Up for Auction Tomorrow


The phenomenal Vaux Hill in Phoenixville should rightly be a Winterthur-style tourist attraction with a Gettsyburg spin. According to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, it was originally a 300-acre farm purchased by James Vaux in 1772. Vaux was an amateur scientist, but a successful and influential one:

At his farm, James carried out scientific experiments in agriculture, becoming the first person to cultivate red clover in America, and also pioneered the use of anthracite coal for heating and cooking purposes. Accounts of his experiments can be found in early editions of the Franklin Institute Journal.

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Bill Cosby Will Host Fundraiser for Historic Bushfire Theatre

bushfire theatre

Photo: Susan Babbitt on Flickr

At 52nd and Locust in West Philadelphia, there’s a beautiful old vaudeville house, built in 1909, that is a model example of what happens when a vacant building gets adapted by the best person for the job — a person who really cares.

Bushfire Theatre founder and executive director Al Simpkins rescued the building from dilapidation in the early 1980s, when 52nd Street was losing its glow as an active commercial corridor and well after the originally named Locust Theater had stopped showing movies. When he bought the building, writes Nicole Contosta of UC Review, “others looked at him with disbelief.”

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No One Puts the Northeast in the Corner!

Photo by Laura Kicey

Photo by Laura Kicey

It’s a bummer when your own part of town gets the cold shoulder from its neighboring sections. Honestly, I love all of Philly. If I could write one giant love note praising every single aspect, ugly and beautiful, I would. But when it comes to Northeast Philadelphia, where I grew up, it often seems to [...]

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Now on the Market: A Flag Stop on the Underground Railroad

This photo shows the secret staircase to the fourth-floor hiding room. Photo by Sandy Smith.

This photo shows the secret staircase to the fourth-floor hiding room. Photo by Sandy Smith.

lee904f44-w0xEvery structure has a story behind it, no matter how humble. But some have more fascinating stories than others. We found one with a great story on the market in Society Hill.

415 Pine Street is a handsome four-story Colonial directly across from Old Pine Street Church (the church is seen through the house’s window, at left). There’s a reason why.

The house was built in 1795 by James Moyes and his wife Mary Tatum Moyes, who purchased the lot in 1787. James, who owned several buildings on the next block, was a sailmaker and ropemaker for the American forces during the Revolution. The Moyses were Quakers and ardent foes of slavery, which is why they bought the lot across from Old Pine: In addition to building a house for themselves, they used it to stash slaves fleeing to freedom.

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Morning Headlines: Like Center City, the Main Line Is Exploding With Rentals

old photo chestnut street

Detail of a daguerreotype photograph "No. 46 to No. 52, Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania" 1843. Image courtesy Library of Congress via The Atlantic Cities.

The question, put somewhat Shakespearean-ly: From whence will come these eager hoards of renters, these express and admirable souls who in apprehension look not upon home ownership as an investment, a money-saver, a sound notion uttered in mellifluous cadence by parents burdened by great concern for the future? From whence do they derive, either in Center City or on the Main Line? Because, like, there are a lot, lot, lot of new apartments going up and a not unwarranted skepticism about who will live in them.

In plain language from the Inquirer’s ever sensible Joseph N. DiStefano: “Who’s going to live in all those new Main Line apartments?” He then enumerates the various projects that are going up, and it’s not unlike the situation in Center City, where each project may have merit and each developer feels confident, but when put all together, does the sum total of development make sense for the numbers in the future? We shall see.

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Morning Headlines: Remember That Shocking House Fire? No, Not THAT One. The Other One. It’s Being Cleaned Up

It is kind of sad when you live in a city whose headlines about house explosions and massive fires demand clarification, but so it is. We speak not, today, of the South Philly row home explosion, or even of MOVE (plumb those memories–it’s good for the synapses) but of the tragic house fire that gutted the historic Main Line mansion known as Bloomfield.

The fire took place in April of last year and the residents escaped without injury–which is more than can be said of the building itself, a grand Victorian built in the late 1880s and refashioned by Horace Trumbauer in the early 1920s.

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Lunchtime Obsession: The Benjamin Franklin Museum

franklin museum

The newly revitalized Benjamin Franklin Museum, formerly the Franklin Underground Museum, is set to open August 24th after a $20 million renovation. The opening will be part of a two-day celebration with free admission on the 24th and 25th.

According to recent press, the museum gets personal with artifacts from Ben’s private life, interactive displays, and computer animations not unlike those at the President’s House at the Liberty Bell Center. Memorializing him as a printer, scientist, diplomat, founder, as well as a private citizen, the museum plans to educate and entertain visitors by way of Ben’s life and personality. There will be rooms dedicated to different aspects of his dynamic character, from charming to strategic.

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Philadelphia Hat Maker John B. Stetson’s Beautifully Lit Mansion for Sale

stetson mansion

Hat maker and educational namesake John B. Stetson lived in Philadelphia but, like so many who’d come after, wintered in Florida. Now the sale of his almost 10,000-square-foot mansion in DeLand in Volusia County (“the Athens of Florida”) has inspired the formation of a nonprofit group dedicated to keeping the mansion accessible to the public. That means the Stetson Mansion Foundation’s members will have to raise money to purchase the vast home before an individual owner–who might well want some privacy–does it first.

The mansion’s highlights? Nine bedrooms, 13 bathrooms and a wealth of historical artifacts. So far the Foundation has raised only a small portion of the $4.7 million asking price, but the property has been on the market in this multimillion-dollar price range since 2010, on and off, without success. And that’s despite the sparkles and the phenomenal interior.

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Former Chestnut Hill Home of Joseph Clark (of Dilworth and Clark) Listed for Sale

joe clark chestnut hill house

Dilworth and Clark: In Philadelphia, that pairing is as well-known as Batman and Robin, Hall and Oates, Bogart and Bacall. Richardson Dilworth and Joseph Clark were Democratic reformers who, beginning in 1947, fought to dismantle 67 years of corrupt Republican rule. In 1951 Clark was the first Democrat elected mayor since 1884; starting in 1956, he served two terms in the U.S. Senate.

As can be seen in the New York Times obit (linked below), Clark was a hugely influential politician who shaped reform at the local and national level. But the real estate listing for his former home–where he died, actually–says only this about him:

The deceased owner, The late Senator Joseph Clark, was instrumental in making Tennis the sport in has become in USA, hence the amazing tennis court!

All right then.

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Fourth of July Housing Report: Elfreth’s Alley “Half House” Finally Sold


It’s not too often that houses come up for sale or rent on Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously occupied residential street in the the nation. This three-bedroom 18th-century home is as enormous as Alley houses get, though its nickname is Half House because it’s so narrow. Prior owners apparently tired of the 18th-century footprint, as they built a two-story addition in 2007. The systems, thankfully, were modernized as well: The house has radiant, zoned heat and A/C.


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