Historic Structures

Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Date added: March 17, 2016 Categories: Pennsylvania House Mansion Greek Revival

Strawberry Mansion has also been known as Summerville and Somerton.

In 1783, Quaker lawyer William Lewis acquired a thirteen-acre tract that had been part of the Hood family's large Northern Liberties land holdings during the first half of the eighteenth century. By the time he made this purchase, Lewis had already written some of the nation's first anti-slavery legislation. Lewis went on to serve as Pennsylvania's federal attorney, a U.S. District Court judge, and an unofficial advisor to both Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. He lived in Philadelphia and, like many of his peers, shared the desire to establish a nearby rural retreat for himself and his family. About 1789 he commissioned Summerville, the future core of Strawberry Mansion, on the Northern Liberties lot (Platt, p.7). Like other villas in the area, the building overlooked the Schuylkill River and had similar entrance and river facades. However, Summerville's specific location was determined by a small stone farm house built sometime between 1757 and 1770 and greatly enlarged to create Lewis' villa.

Lewis died in 1819, and Congressman Joseph Hemphill bought Summerville at a Sheriff's sale two years later. Hemphill had studied law too, and in the course of his life was appointed Judge of Philadelphia's District Court, elected six times to Congress and served three terms in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives. In the 1820s or early 1830s he added the Greek Revival wings, encasing an early kitchen attached to the north side of the house. Hemphill's sister-in-law Harriet Coleman bought his country estate when he died in 1842. Sometime before 1844 and perhaps during Hemphill's tenure at the same time that the name Strawberry Mansion started being applied to the building new plumbing and heating systems were installed.

George Crock purchased the property from Harriet Coleman in 1846, using it as a dairy farm. Crock sold it to the City of Philadelphia twenty-five years later. At that time Strawberry Mansion became part of Fairmount Park and was soon rented out as a restaurant. In order to accommodate this function, a second story veranda seems to have been added to the west facade around 1872. During its restaurant years, Strawberry Mansion grew into such a popular institution that, by the turn of the century, the nearby neighborhood and newly-erected bridge were named after it.

In the early twentieth century, the Fairmount Park police established an office in the house and a large water tower was built next to the north wing. Fiske Kimball, a central figure in the Colonial Revival movement, took a keen interest in a number of the park's villas after assuming the directorship of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1925. He contacted a women's organization that had fancifully recreated an eighteenth-century Philadelphia streetscape for the city's Sesquicentennial Exposition and persuaded its members to raise funds for the "restoration" of Strawberry Mansion. Those involved in the campaign dubbed themselves the Committee of 1926; by 1930 they had accomplished their goal, and work on the building commenced. In accordance with plans conceived by Fiske Kimball and his assistant Erling Pederson, the north wing and all attic spaces were drastically remodelled and an early or original front porch was replaced by the present portico. Since the completion of the project, the Committee of 1926 has maintained Strawberry Mansion. The grounds were re-landscaped in the 1930s and no longer include the multiple outbuildings mentioned or visible in nineteenth century documents.