Just Listed: Historic Colonial in Germantown
This house in Germantown’s heart was built by one of its most prominent families in 1851. Changes over the years have made it a living history lesson.
Germantown is, in my opinion, the most eclectic neighborhood in the city. Aging hippies, avant-garde jazz musicians, academics, social activists, everyday working folk, this writer and even an old blueblood or two all call it home, coexisting peaceably.
Its housing stock is likewise eclectic, as befits the city’s second most historic neighborhood. You can walk down a street and encounter everything from modest two-story “workingman’s” rowhouses to mid-century Airlites to grand Victorian mansions in the course of a three-block walk.
This Germantown Colonial house for sale is one of the last of those, surrounded by all the former and more. And it offers a living history of how we lived, and live, entirely within it.
But first, a little about its provenance and location. It sits on a two-thirds-acre lot that was once part of the farm of John Coulter, whose family once owned land stretching from Main Street (now Germantown Avenue) to City Line Road (not to be confused with City Avenue) and from School House Lane, one block north of here, to Bowman’s Road (no longer extant, but there is a street in East Falls called Bowman Street). And, of course, this house sits on the street named for Coulter.
It was built in 1851 by the scion of an old Philadelphia Quaker family that also has a street up this way named for them: Samuel Emlen III, who lived in it with his wife Sarah Williams.
And speaking of family, the house Emlen built had plenty of room to raise one. And raise one they did: The couple had seven children. (I suspect that this Samuel Emlen, who represented Germantown in the Pennsylvania House for one term, may have been one of them, given his birthdate.)
And thus it has plenty of room for you to raise your own family, not to mention do lots of other stuff.
The porch that wraps around three sides of this house got added to it sometime in the early 1900s. You can still find the original stone steps leading up to the front door under the porch, which also has a glassed-in section next to a walk-out window.
The front door opens into a classic center-hall Colonial foyer. The difference between this one and most center entrance halls is that one is greeted not by symmetrical large archways but by three large archways (two of which serve as windows instead) on the side with the living room and regular doors on the side with the billiard room.
The extra-large living room has plenty of wall space on which you can hang artwork, as this house’s present owner (a somewhat notorious religious cult leader who may no longer actually live here — see, I told you you can find almost anyone in Germantown) has done.
It’s quite likely that the room that now functions as a billiard room was originally a formal dining room. Note that it has a modern ceiling fan installed; you will find this juxtaposition of old and new in several other places in this house. I won’t swear this, but those appear to be Mercer tiles on the fireplace of this room, which means that those were one of the many small alterations that have left the stamp of several different periods in time on this house.
Behind the living room is this room whose trim looks less Colonial and more turn-of-the-20th-century. According to the listing copy, this served as the dining room when it was redone sometime in the 1880s or afterward. It clearly functions as a home office, and maybe even a boardroom given the size of the table, now. And this house is spacious enough that a work-from-home professional could both work and look after the little ones during the day here.
The kitchen lies behind the billiard room. Both its cabinetry and its equipment are more modern than the rest of this house. Of course, the modern makeover gave it an island with bar seating, wine coolers and a Sub-Zero refrigerator/freezer, but it went above and beyond with its Vulcan professional-grade range. That beauty boasts six gas burners, two large ovens, a griddle and a salamander.
The listing copy here notes the presence of evidence of what may have been an indoor outhouse for garden workers in the rear of the house — specifically, a glass door leading outside with steps leading to it. Some ancient plumbing also still resides in its basement.
A bright and airy breakfast room sits behind the kitchen. The listing speculates that the glazed brick in one corner signals that this room functioned as a kitchen after the original kitchen was moved out of the basement.
This room also benefits from Germantown’s 45-degree-off-true-north street grid. That skew is a possible reason why its owners can state in the listing copy that they enjoy both the morning sun at breakfast and the evening sun at dinner when dining in this room.
The other half of this room functions as a den. Here you will find a brick fireplace with a wood stove insert that appears to be of more recent origin than the others in this house.
At the first landing on the stairs, a hallway leads into the primary bedroom, which also has a fireplace. Keep in mind that central heating was still a radical new invention in 1851. The door at the left leads to a private balcony overlooking the backyard.
Off the hallway lies the primary bathroom. Its wainscoting and trim also indicate that it got made over in the late 19th century. If you like clawfoot tubs, you will love this Germantown Colonial house for sale, for you will find them in at least two of this house’s three full bathrooms.
Three of its other five bedrooms have decorative stenciling just below their crown moldings. One of the other second-floor bedrooms has an all-wood en-suite powder room.
I’m guessing that the third floor counts as a bedroom, or at least part of it does. It would seem to function better as a bonus room, playroom, studio space or something similar. But if you had seven kids in your family, you could certainly put some of them up here.
Many of the other historical changes come in the guts of the house. Marble mantels in two of the bedrooms look like they may once have been fireplaces but are actually elaborate showcases for that late-19th-century technological advance, forced-air central heating, as both contain vents. The house now has a zoned high-efficiency heating system.
The grounds may have once been more lushly landscaped than they are now if the Emlens hired gardeners to tend to their property. But they are ample, with plenty of room to roam or whatever else you might want to do, and they still have enough greenery to keep a gardener busy.
And this brings us back to its location. This Germantown Colonial house for sale sits in the heart of the neighborhood, two-and-a-half blocks from Market Square. The campus of the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf — the former Germantown Academy, the school that gave School House Lane its name — surrounds it on two sides, and it has Germantown Friends School (home to the Germantown Friends Meetinghouse) and Greene Street Friends School for neighbors.
Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books, the city’s dopest coffee shop and bookstore, is also two-and-a-half blocks away, and Ultimo Coffee, a great place to people-watch and Get Stuff Done, is five blocks away, just past the Chelten Market supermarket. Both offer a change of pace to working from home. And you will find plenty more convenient neighborhood shopping within walking distance.
Not to mention lots more history, including Grumblethorpe, the Germantown White House, Wyck and more. Are you ready to be a steward of a piece of it?
THE FINE PRINT
BATHS: 3 full, 2 half
SQUARE FEET: 7,424
SALE PRICE: $850,000
121 W. Coulter St., Philadelphia, PA 19144 [Suzie Swisher | The Dominic Fuscia Team | Coldwell Banker Realty]: Coldwell Banker Realty listing | Fuscia Team listing (this article mentions information in the Fuseia Team listing that does not appear in the listing on the brokerage website)
Updated Aug. 22nd, 5:14 p.m., to correct the brokerage information and at 5:47 p.m. to update the name of the listing agent.
Updated Aug. 23rd, 1:10 p.m., to add links to information about the house’s current owner.