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Strawberry Mansion in 2014
|Architectural style(s)||Federal with Greek Revival wings|
Historic Strawberry Mansion is a summer home originally named Summerville by Judge William Lewis who had it built sometime between 1783 and 1789. It is located in East Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States.
During the period from 1846 to 1867, when farmers renting the mansion served strawberries and cream to the public, Strawberry Mansion received its current name. The house was restored between 1927 and 1931 by a nonprofit called The Committee of 1926 for use as a historic house museum and place of hospitality.
William Lewis was born in 1751 in Edgmont, Pennsylvania to a Quaker family of Welsh ancestry. As a lawyer during revolutionary times, he consistently defended other Quakers against charges of treason after they refused to fight in battle or pay taxes. In doing so, he helped create the foundations of Conscientious Objection.
Lewis was appointed to federal judicial positions by George Washington and also advised Alexander Hamilton on the first national bank. His most important achievement was his role in the drafting and passage of An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1780. This legislation was the first legal action towards the abolition of slavery in the United States.
Lewis purchased land in what is now Fairmount Park, including some existing buildings, and proceeded to built the mansion—which he called Summerville—sometime between 1783 and 1789. Lewis lived there until his death in 1819 at the age of 68.
Joseph Hemphill was born in 1770 in Chester County, now Delaware County. He purchased Strawberry Mansion in 1821, two years after Lewis's death. His family was responsible for adding the Greek Revival wings to the Federal style structure erected by Lewis, ca. 1828. He served as a member of the House of Representatives, in addition to being a prominent lawyer and judge. Hemphill is, perhaps, more well known among antique collectors for his role in the limited manufacture of Hemphill and Tucker porcelain. His collaborative effort with Philadelphia porcelain maker William Ellis Tucker lasted only 6 years, from 1832 to 1838.
In 1867 Strawberry Mansion was sold to the city by a landowner who had been in possession of it since Judge Hemphill's death in 1842. The purchase of the mansion, along with a great deal of the surrounding land, was part of an effort to protect the source of the city's drinking water, the Schuylkill River. The area was named East Fairmount Park, under the supervision of the Fairmount Park Commission.
In 1926, several women's clubs combined efforts with Mayor W. Freeland Kendrick to create a Sesquicentennial Exposition in South Philadelphia in honor of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Several women from the event did not want to disband, and instead sought an area to move many of the antique furniture collections to another location. Under the supervision of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fairmount Park Commission, the new Committee of 1926 renovated Strawberry Mansion to be used as a museum and place of hospitality. Funds for the renovation were donated by Joseph Horn, of Horn and Hardart's automats. Horn grew up in the Philadelphia area and was fond of playing in the park as a child. Decor and furnishings were the charge of various women's societies throughout the city who filled the rooms with exceptional period furnishings. The house officially reopened in 1931 with Mrs. J. Willis Martin (Elizabeth Price) as the first president of the Committee of 1926. Today the Committee of 1926 continues to preserve the historic house museum and the principles of hospitality on which it was founded.
Strawberry Mansion was renovated again in the early 21st century.
Historic Strawberry Mansion is open February-December. During February the house is open for tours 10am-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays by appointment only. During March the house is open 10am-4pm Thursday through Saturday and Sundays by appointment only. Mid-April through December the house is open Wednesday through Sunday 10am-4pm. The last tour leaves promptly at 3pm.
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