The Penrose Strawbridge House has a long history: for most of the 20th century it was the home to retired investment banker and horseman Welsh Strawbridge and his 2nd wife Margaret, and for 110 years before that it served as the home for several generation of the Penroses, but the first 90 years or so its history is less clear. We are pretty certain that the center portion of the home was likely built c1722-1737, by Governor Keith and probably before construction of the Keith House. There is some speculation that this structure may have originally been used as a distillery.
The earliest part of the Penrose Strawbridge House likely pre-dates the construction of the 1722 Keith House and may have originally been a distillery
What remains of this one-time 18th century distillery is a one room cabin at the center of the house that we now call the 1721 Room or the Strawbridge Dining Room, and the basements. Mrs Strawbridge loved this room and used it as her formal dining room.
One of the more striking features of this room is the large hearth which was likely used for cooking until at least 1856 when the final addition, which included a more 'modern' kitchen, was made to the rear of house. The mantle around the hearth includes small drawers - one for a bible and another to keep the gun powder dry. This hearth had been closed up by the Penroses, but Mrs Strawbridge is said to have had a fire going in this hearth every day, even during the summer.
The basement below this room has 2 large vaults or arches. The first vault, on the left or western side, is used to support the hearth and chimney. The 2nd vault is more of a mystery. This is used a doorway into the basement and has a brick floor above it, but isn't supporting a large load. Speculation is that this arch may have been used in the past to support something heavy like loaded barrels or distillation equipment. This, and the presence of an unusual cistern in this basement lead to speculation that this building may have one time been used as a distillery. There is an arch similar to, but smaller that the western arch in the basement under the 1810 part of the house (Penrose Room).
Mrs Strawbridge was also fond of one of the doors to this room because it supposedly has 365 nails (we're taking her word for it) in the sign of the cross, and hinges which look like the letters "HL", often thought to meant "Holy Lord" and said to ward off evil spirits or the devil. (The Colonial Williamsburg Journal says the HL hinges served a more practical purpose, they are stronger than regular "H" type hinges and were needed to hold heavy wooden doors. (97))
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 from the original cabin.
On the southern wall, adjoining the front of the house, is a closet under a winder staircase going to the 2nd floor. This staircase was probably added in 1830 when the 2nd floor addition was built. There had also been a winder staircase going down to the basement but this was removed and replaced with the closet, probably at the same time. Evidence of this staircase can still be seen in the basement.
The closet and winder are built in front of what was probably a window, or at one time a door. This can be seen more clearly from the adjoining room, the Penrose Room. It is believed that the basement under this room, and perhaps this wall, are the oldest parts of the house, c1722. The 1810 addition on the front of the house was probably built on an existing foundation and may have used part of an existing structure, which this wall would be part of.
On the western wall there is a drawer under one of the windows. This was likely used as a cash drawer when paying the farmhands. The workers would come to the window and be give their wages.
This room, ironically since is nearly 300 years old, needed little restoration. We had the plaster repaired on the ceiling and walls and then repainted it