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...the Future of Horsham's Past

Morris Penrose

Morris Penrose

photo of Roads-to-Graeme-Park-map

Morris Penrose, the second child of Abel and Sarah Penrose, was born on March 14, 1860, shortly before the start of the Civil War. He was born and raised at Graeme Park, and lived there for the first 60 years of his life.

Abel Penrose died in 1893. His will offered Morris and his brother William the option of buying Graeme Park from his estate for $25,000 either jointly or independently, or the farm could stay under the control of Sarah Penrose until their youngest daughter, Mary (16 at the time) turned 21 at which time it was to put up for public sale.

When Abel's estate was finally settled it was found to be in debt by $5,025, probably due to a loan he had made to his daughter Hannah which was considered uncollectable. The nation was also entering a major financial downturn started by what we now call the Panic of 1893. The Reading Railroad went into receivership and hundreds of banks and businesses that depended on the Reading failed. Apparently Morris and William did not have the funds to buy the estate or pay off their father's debt, and the economy made it a very bad time to try to sell the farm.

On January 28, 1895, Sarah and Morris petitioned the court to change Abel's will and and allow them to remortgage the property. The court agreed and Morris and his brother William obtained a new mortgage and cleared the estate.

William married in 1897 and moved away from Graeme Park. Morris did not marry and continued to manage the farm. An ad he placed in the Public Spirit of February, 25 1911 offers crops from Graeme Park for sale:

On the premises of Morris B. Penrose known as Graeme Park Farm, fronting on the Governor's Road and County Line Road near Davis Grove, in Horsham Township, Montgomery County, PA.
50 tons of nice timothy and mixed hay, 6 tons of baled wheat straw, 3 tons of straight rye straw, 3000 bundles corn fodder, 500 bushels of oats, recleaned, 300 bushels good corn on the cob, 50 bushels potatoes, first and second size, 8 bushels seed sugar corn. hand shelled.
These crops are in excellent condition, having been harvested with care by a practical farmer, to all of which former customers at his sales bear testimony. (30)

Mary Penrose, we believe, also remained at Graeme Park with her brother and mother, who would pass away on July 23, 1908. Mary is shown as living at Graeme Park on the 1910 and 1920 census. She would marry at age 32 in 1913 to William Carothers who was quite a bit older. His 1915 death notice lists his age as 52 but his birth date is also shown as 1854 which would make him 61-62 in 1915. In either case, Carothers' death notice (below) indicates he died at Graeme Park, ... so Mary maybe never left.

CAROTHERS - At Graeme Park, Davis Grove, Pa, on the Fifth-day, Tenth Month, 28th, 1915. WILLIAM S. CAROTHERS, in his 52d year. Relatives and friends are invited to attend the funeral, in the Second-day, Eleventh Month, 1st, at 2 p.m., from Horsham Friends' Meeting House. Interment at adjoining burial ground. (31)

Morris and Mary, like the Penroses in the 100 years precediing them, had an appreciation for the historic significance of Graeme Park and the Keith House, and led many tours though the mansion. Local newspapers such as the Ambler Gazette, The Newtown Enterprise, and the Evening Bulletin from Philadelphia wrote articles and historic clubs and associations paid visits. The City History Club of Philadelphia called its tour "decidedly the most interesting of its recent jaunts" while another group said "The present owners treasure every landmark and relic of the historic estate and it is now one of the most widely known of the Pennsylvania farm homes with a history".

Whether an increase in people's interest in history or the ease of transportation in the early 20th century, the popularity of Graeme Park grew and the Penroses happily shared it with the world. In the summer of 1914, between 400-500 people "wound their way along the road leading from the trolley line, distance a mile and a quarter to visit the Keith Mansion."

photo of Keith House 1910

The Keith House and Graeme Park were also featured in the book The Colonial Homes of Philadelphia and Its Neighborhood (36 p298) published in 1912:

"Inseperable from the very atmosphere of every old house is a pathos which every person feels whether they be fully conscious of it or not. It is the pathos of the generations of human lives lived therein. It is a sense of the human tragedies and comedies that have there been enacted in the continuous drama of existence, the tragic side, perhaps, being the most apparent. The sum total of all the follies and frailties of the men and women who have dwelt within it walls, their graces and virtues, their joys and sorrows, their loves and hates - all these we grasp by a kind of intuitive perception.
Of no old house can this be said more truly than of Graeme Park. Its successive owners have had careers of unusual dramatic interest."

There was also, at this time, an interest in having the Commonwealth purchase and preserve buildings like the Keith House, and a possible sale of the Keith House in 1907 led to an article in the Washington Evening Star.

"MILLIONS for grafters, but nothing for patriotic sentiment."
In these words a Pennsylvania historian summed up, somewhat bitterly, the situation in the Keystone state after trying for many years to interest his commonwealth In the purchase and preservation of a number of revolutionary and colonial relics, around which the early history of the United Stales was made, and after another of these mementos had Just been sold at public auction without a bid from the authorities at Harrisburg.
The sale which inspired the remark was that of the Keith homestead, in Bucks county. Pennsylvania, a mansion of colonial Interest as the home of Gov Keith from 1722 to 1727 and of revolutionary importance as the house which Washington found so comfortable during his encampment near Whitemarsh that he virtually made it his headquarters. It has just gone under the hammer, and doubtless will meet the fate of many another historical landmark which has been razed to make way for modern development.
And the historian who spoke so bitterly had In mind the repeated efforts which patriotic citizens had made to interest his state In the purchase of the many relics of the sort which are found all over the southeastern end of Pennsylvania, and the repeated rebuffs with which these advances had been met. He recalled how the men who built and "trimmed" the new state capitol at Harrisburg got $13,000,000 for their work. $5,000,000 of which according to the estimates of experts, was "graft." And the thought that this monev which - despite the indictment of the alleged grafters. will probably never be recovered - might have been spent for the patriotic purpose of buying and perpetuating the state's many sacred relics which are now crumbling to decay prompted him to make the sensational comparison quoted above.
A General Sentiment (35)
The sentiment has been echoed by many Pennsylvanians, who feel that the commonwealth Is responsible to the nation for the safekeeping of the mementos of the republic's birth and who resent the tendency to shirk this duty.

It appears from this article that Morris - and Sarah - may have been looking to sell all or part of Graeme Park as early as 1907. We do know that it was not sold at this point and as far as we know the commonwealth did not show any interest in purchasing the Keith House or helping with its upkeep.

And, the Penroses may have had trouble with the its upkeep, the Philadelphia Inquirer, in 1905, described the mansion as "dilapidated":

"It seems rather surprising in these days to find that of the two main buildings on the place, the "Governor's Mansion" once far the handsomer is now quite dilapidated, while the old farm house of Graeme Park is well preserved and is now serving as the home of the present owners; and here many of the relics of Governor Keith and the Fergussons are still preserved. Inside the chimney is Governor Keith's coat-of-arms on a large iron plate imbedded in the rear wall. It was brought from the mansion house and placed here many years ago. The motto is "Remember Thy End".
On the post of the houseyard fence is an immense stone which tradition says the Governor required his men to lift as high as the knee as a test of their strength and fitness for his service. Supported by the branches of one of the old forest trees of the park, a few of which are still standing - hangs the Governor's old slave bell, and back of the mansion the stone walls of the old slave prison have, during recent years, been slowly crumbling into a mere pile of stones without form or meaning to the sight-seer without a knowledge of the place.
Between the farmhouse and the mansion is the ancient fish pond, where Lady Fergusson used to take special delight in feeding the finny tribe. Many traces of old-time glory are still discernible in the ruined interior of the hipped-roof mansion. The long, narrow windows of the reddish stone building have an ancient appearance, and the very high ceilings of the interior are especially noticeable.
Originally, the fine parlor was noted for its wainscoting, reaching to the ceiling with an ornamental wooden cornice surrounding the wainscoting. The entire interior is now in ruin, and much of the fine wood work of the walls and balustrades of the stairs have been broken away and carried off by relic hunters. Eighteen panes of glass adorn the lower windows, while those in the second story boast of twenty-one panes each. These quaint window sashes, as well as a bit of broken wall - which discloses thick mortar and laths that were split with an axe, indicate that the date, 1721, is correct, in which the contract is said to be given for its construction for the old mansion has every appearance of having stood for nearly two centuries." (84)

Morris, along with his sister Mary would remain at the farm for another 14 years. While we don't know exactly why he finally decided to sell Graeme Park, in 1920 he would turn 60 and neither he nor his sister Mary had children to help run or take over the farm. In any case he began advertising the farm for sale in 1919.

The following notice appeared in the Evening Public Ledger 11/24/1919:

GRAEME PARK FARM of 191 acres in Horsham township, Montgomery County . 18 miles from Philadelphia containing Keith Mansion, built 1722. with walnscoted walls and open fireplaces, large farmhouse, also tenant house, 2 large barns and other buildings all of stone; 47 acres timberland: stream
M. B. PENROSE Hatboro, R.F.D Pa. (31)

Similar ads were run on January 26,192 (32) and February 2, 1920.(33)

Welsh Strawbridge, a retired investment banker and avid horseman from Philadelphia, purchased the 190 acre farm from the estate of Abel Penrose on May 29, 1920 and split the proceeds of the sale with his brother and two sisters. Morris and his widowed sister Mary moved to the nearby village of Davis Grove (shown on the Roads to Graeme Park map above). Morris was 84 when he died in 1944 and Mary lived to the age of 76 and passed away in 1953.

photo of west side of Keith House with large tree

Four generations of the Penrose family were 'practical' farmers at Graeme Park and faithful stewards of the historic Keith House for almost 120 years. The Penroses appreciation of history is what allows us to have the treasure of the now almost 300 year old Keith House, and the many stories and artifacts that they saved and passed down.

Next ... Welsh and Margaret Strawbridge.

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Roads to Graeme Park map
map of roads to Graeme Park by Marc? Reynolds Brothers Designers and Publishers Doylestown, PA. Map shows Pitcairn Aviation so it was probably produced between 1924-45. Also show the village of Davis Grove which was comsumed by the Willow Grove NAS
photo of Roads-to-Graeme-Park-map
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Keith House 1910
photo of Keith House from "The Colonial Homes of Philadelphia and Its Neighborhood" p299 published 1912
photo of Keith House 1910
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Keith House from the West 2011
The Keith House as seen from the west. Scaffolding is in place for some maintenance being performed
photo of west side of Keith House with large tree
Horsham Preservation and Historical Association
The Future of Horsham's Past
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