The oldest part of the Keith-Penrose-Strawbridge House is, we believe, the basement under the part of the house we now call the Penrose Room or the East Parlor, and the northern wall of this room. These parts of the house date back to c1722 and are parts of what may be the first building constructed on the site. This structure may have been one or two rooms and was probably 2 stories high.
Governor Road was commissioned in 1722 by Sir William Keith. Our architectural historian, Herb Levy AIA, determined that the northern terminus to this road was not the Keith House, but right in front of what is now the Penrose Strawbridge House. So some sort of building was probably here at that time.
More evidence is a small window on what was likely the exterior wall of the basement under the Penrose Room. Further evidence is the northern wall of the Penrose Room where we found an opening for what was once probably a door or window which was later converted to shelving and then later plastered over. Our architectural team determined this to be a wall from the original c1722 structure. Read more under Basements.
The center part of the house came next and survives pretty much intact today. We call this room the 1721 Room or the Strawbridge Dining Room. This room was built with a typical 18th century cooking fireplace. There is no evidence that the original building had a cooking fireplace - the fireplaces in that part of the building and the arches below them are too small - so this room may have been added so perhaps a tenant could live here.
Much of the mystery surrounding the house lies in the basement under the Dining Room. The basement has a couple of unusual features. There are two large arches, one to support the fireplace and chimney, and another next to it that is taller and not as wide. The basement also contains a cistern. These features support the idea that this building may have been used as a distillery with the arch used to support heavy barrels and the cistern to store fresh water.
A small bank barn was built where Governor Road turns down the main drive to the house right near the milepost, and appears on a map from 1735. Three foundation walls still exist
Read more about the 1735 Barn.
What is now the front part of the house was built in 1810 by the Penroses. Samuel and Sarah Roberts Penrose had purchased Graeme Park from Dr. William Smith, the nephew of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, in 1801. The Penroses had 6 children move with them to the new farm and another was born shortly after. We're not sure exactly what kind of structure existed where the farmhouse stands today, whether it was a single cabin or a two story building with the cabin attached as perhaps a kitchen; and therefore really don't know where they lived whether in this structure, in the Keith House, another builidng on the property, or some combination. In 1810, however, we do know that they built a 3 story addition to make the building into what we now call the Penrose Strawbridge House. This 1810 addition is connected to the c1722-37 room and incorporated at least the foundation, basement, and northern wall of the original building.
Samuel’s son William and wife Hannah Jarrett Penrose made many improvements to Graeme Park. They built two barns, one in 1829 (what is now the Visitor's Center at Graeme Park) and the other in 1839 (destroyed by fire in 1956). They built the second floor above the pre-1810 cabin in 1830 and the 1858 kitchen addition. Through their hard work, Graeme Park became one of the most valuable pieces of land in Horsham Township as recorded in the 1850 census. William died intestate in 1863. The estate was not settled for two years, and then was divided among the children.
In April of 1865, Abel Penrose became the third Generation of the Penrose Family to own Graeme Park. With the introduction of new machinery and farming techniques, Abel and his wife continued to make Graeme Park a success. Like his father William, and his grand father Samuel, Abel continued to maintain the Keith House and gave tours of the house. Abel died in 1893. His sons, Morris and William owned the land jointly for the next 27 years. Morris continued to live in the house with his sister Mary Penrose Carothers. Continuing the Penrose tradition, Morris and his sister Mary opened Keith Manor to the public.
While Welsh Strawbridge and Margaret Ely Marshall were courting, they visited Graeme Park. Mrs. Strawbridge remembered that visit well. When they became engaged, Welsh asked her, “Would you like to live here, or would you rather have a castle in Spain? Because I have an opportunity to go into the wool business in Spain. And, if we lived in Spain, you could have a castle.” Margaret replied, “I would prefer living in Pennsylvania.” Welch Strawbridge purchased Graeme Park in 1920. He and Margaret were married in 1922 and after a 3 month honeymoon in Europe, they moved into the 1810 House at Graeme Park.
The entire house is constructed of rubble stone, which has been plastered. The house has four sections and is in the shape of an “L”. The 1810 addition is the largest, southern, section of the house - a five bay, one pile, end gable (40 ft. by 21 ft.) three story Georgian home. The house is entered through a central door, which is surrounded by both side lights and transom lights. The second story windows are 6 over 9, and there are 3 over 6 windows on the third floor.
The first floor of the southern façade has an attached 8ft stone porch supported by Doric order columns which was added to the home in the early 1920’s. The house is entered through a central door, which is surrounded by both side lights and transom lights. The second story windows are 6 over 9, and there are 3 over 6 windows on the third floor.
The eastern façade is composed of the gable end of the 1810 structure, which has one floor to ceiling window on the first floor. The third floor has a 4 by 4 window on each side to the chimney.
Herb Levy, a retired historical architect and a former board member of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, believes the center section of the eastern façade is the oldest section of the home and that it was constructed in two parts. The first floor is believed to have been a one-story, one-room pen plan cabin built before 1810 (possibly before Keith House, which dates to 1722). The first floor has a plain post and lintel entrance door. The three windows on the first floor are not the same. One is a 6 by 6 sash, the other two are 6 by 9 sash windows. The center window may be the window in the original cabin. The second floor of the center section was added to the cabin structure in 1830. The third section of the eastern facade is a small two and one half-story addition built in 1858.
Each section of the main house has a basement. Inspection of the basement of the possible pre-1810 section shows two large supports. One of the supports is for the large fireplace one the first floor. The other support is a mystery. It is almost identical to the fireplace support and is much larger than needed for any normal kitchen activities above. The basement also has a circular stone structure that may have been a well or a vat, used for water storage or possibly ice. Upon closer inspection of this basement, the remains of a winder were discovered directly below the winder in the dining room.
A (very) short video of the front of the house taken by Pete Choate in 2008...
William and Hannah Penrose bought Graeme Park from his father in 1820. BY 1830 they had 6 children living with them and expanded the farmhouse with a second floor addition above what is now the Dining Room. This room has two small fireplaces and was divided into two rooms with a small hallway at the southern end. This hallway allowed the two rooms access to a new winder staircase down to the first floor and another winder going up to the third floor bedroom in the 1810 addition and to the attic above in the addition. This attic may also have been used as a bedroom.
We removed the room dividers in this part of the house to create a living room for the caretaker
This structure is located to the east of the main house and to the south of the spring house. It is an open front series of rooms with sliding barn doors. There are 2 second floor rooms, one at each end of the building but these are not connected.
Marge Murphy granddaghter of Margaret's housekeeper, Mrs. Murphy tells us that one of the upper rooms was as an apartment by Sam, a hired hand. There is a fireplace for heat and behind the building are “his” and “hers” outhouses. The hired hands took their meals in Mrs. Murphy’s kitchen.
One of the bays or stalls on the ground floor of the building was likely used at one time to keep animals. There is a chute built into the rear wall that was probably used to dispose of manure.
Prior to plumbing, this stone and stucco outhouse was used by the Penrose family. It is now used for gardening.
The original banked barn burned down in 1956. Rebuilt as a one story barn, it houses tools and equipment and could (and did) contain chickens and cows. The barn museum presently contains old farm implements such as a copper apple butter kettle, a grinding wheel, hand tools, butter churns and related farm food production implements.
Used to house the steeplechase horses raised and raced by Welsh Strawbridge. These structures are in serious disrepair.
Used to store fodder for the animals and now used for garden equipment.
Used as a source of water for the animals in the adjacent barn. It was modified for use as a cleaning room for dairy products.