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...the Future of Horsham's Past

Abel and Sarah Penrose

Abel and Sarah Penrose

photo of Lincoln, McClellan, Pinkerton at Antietam

The settlement of William Penrose's estate took 2 years following his death in 1863 and when completed it was divided among the 5 children. On April 17, 1865 Abel Penrose purchased the farm from his brothers and sisters for $21,867.50 and he and his wife Sarah became the new owners of Graeme Park. (see Graeme Park Timeline) This was 2 days after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

April 1865 marked the beginning of the end of one of the worst periods in American history with the surrender of General Robert E Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S Grant at Appomattox on April 9, but the war would drag on for another year until President Andrew Johnson declared it over on April 20, 1866.

Some Quakers, despite their tenet of non-violence, had fought in the Revolutionary War with little reprisal from the Society of Friends. This continued in the Civil War, with some members, including some from Horsham Meeting, taking up arms. Aside from their uncle Everard's grandson William, however, who died at Shiloh fighting with Company D 8th Iowa Volunteer infantry, we have no record of the Penrose's opinion of or involvement with the war. Abel was described as someone

"...attending strictly to his own business, leaving the political affairs of the township to be looked after by those who have a taste in that direction, being content himself with the right of suffrage." (16 p907 )

Keeping to his own business, however, didn't mean that he was insulated from the world, he had actually traveled extensively when he was younger. Bean described him:

"Mr. Penrose, unlike many farmers in our country, attended not only to the routine duties of the farm, but has found time to devote to seeking a knowledge of public men of all nations, and a personal inspection of not only his own country, but portions of Europe as well. He has visited Europe twice, and in 1844 he spent eight months in England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, and is familiar with the everyday affairs of his own country to a degree beyond that of most men."

Abel married Sarah L. Beisel of Allentown on Christmas Day, 1856. He was 39 and she was 20. Sarah's father, Daniel Beisel, was a prominent farmer in the Lehigh Valley and a member of the Reformed Church. Sarah probably became a member of the Society of Friends since she is buried at the Horsham Friends Cemetery. (2 p42)

photo of Abel and Sarah Penrose on Rocking Chairs at Penrose Strawbridge House at Graeme Park

The second half of the 19th century was a turbulent time in the US. Although the civil war was over, the Indian wars continued in the west with over 1000 battles being fought between 1865 and 1891. (2 p39). Industrialization was changing cities and mechanization was changing farming, but the American farmer suffered a period of deflation during the Long Recession from 1873-79 which apparently hit farmers pretty hard, especially those who had borrowed. While we don't know specifically how this may have affected Abel and Sarah at Graeme Park, the general economic conditions during this period were not ideal for those working the land. Abel, "one of the progressive farmers of the period" (16 p907), seems to have successfully navigated the troubles of the times.

Sarah and Abel had 5 children. Hannah J was born on June 30, 1858. Her letters back and forth with her cousin, Sarah Hicks, have provided us a good view of what life was life in the late 19th century. She married Dr. Aurthur Donaldson of Hatboro on November 16, 1882 at the LaFayette Hotel in Philadelphia.

Morris was born on March 14, 1860. He did not marry but did become the 4th generation of Penroses to farm Graeme Park. William (Willy) was born 10 years later on May 12, 1870. He married Florence Simmons on April 21, 1897 and lived in Horsham till his death in 1933. And, Mary, the youngest was born 7 years later on July 31, 1877. Abel Penrose was 60 years old. Mary married William Carothers on April 16, 1913. Carothers was 23 years older and died 2 years later. Mary returned to Graeme park following his death. She died in 1953.

This generation of Penrose's continued to appreciated the historic significance of Graeme Park and the Keith House. Abel "took pains to preserve the old mansion though he lived in another house on the estate" and Sarah investigated the history of the Keith House, her research was published in Bean's History of Montgomery County in 1884. They welcomed visitors, displayed mementos, and gave tours of the mansion. (2 p43).

Reverend SF Hotchkin visited Graeme Park in 1885 and wrote an article about his visit that was published 20 years later in the Doylestown Democrat.

"In the beautifully undulating country which abounds in eastern Pennsylvania in the Township of Horsham, on the county line road, about three miles above Hatboro, lies Graeme Park, the ancient residence of Lieutenant Governor Keith. As I rode by the antique mansion with a friend on a dull cloudy day, it seemed to be mourning its former grandeur, and having been deprived of the outbuildings which formerly surrounded it, it naturally feels a little lonesome. Still the property has fallen into good hands, and Mr Abel Penrose, to whom it has descended through his father, has placed a new roof on the building and kept it in fair repair, so that this historical spirit has preserved one of the most interesting relics in this section of the country.
We are pleasantly welcomed at the modern farmhouse near by, and Mrs Penrose kindly and cheerfully displays the mementos of former days. Here is a fine oil painting of Mrs. Fergusson .. the bunch of keys which guarded the stores of the old mansion ... an old high-backed chair, having formerly contained a cushion embroidered by Mrs. Fergusson ... the bill of transfer, filled with special items, which marks the passage of the property from the hands of Governor Keith ... Governor Keith's coat of arms on a large iron plate...
photo of Sheep grazing at Keith House
We now proceed from the farm house to the old mansion with its hipped roof, which is close at hand. The fishpond is passed where Lady Fergusson used to feed the finny tribe. The fine chimneys of the house are worthy of notice, and they have been kept in repair. The long, narrow windows of the reddish stone building have an ancient look. Do they long after the beautiful faces who gazed out of them in the days long ago? The approach at present is to the rear of the building. As the remains of one side of the jail (26) wall are visible from the house let us hurry in lest we fall into danger. As the aged lady* who now occupies the mansion kindly permits us to wander over it, guided by Mrs. Penrose, we meet with many wonders. The very high ceilings astonish one. The fine parlor is wainscotted with pine to the very ceiling, while an ornamental wooden cornice surmounts the wainscoting. The carpenters of today might admire this woodwork. The parlor floor is the same that was first laid. Some ornamental bits of woodwork have been torn away by curiosity hunters, who have also carried off the tiles from an old chimney place. There are inside paneled shutters of wood. There is a noble old fireplace in the parlor, encased with marble, and there are fireplaces in the second story. The hearths of the fireplaces are composed of surface bricks. The balustrades of the stairs are composed of fine strong woodwork, and do not seem to feel the hand of time. Indeed, the whole building hardly indicates that the contract for its construction was given in AD 1721. Eighteen panes of glass adorn the lower windows, while the upper ones boast of twenty-one panes each. The fine chamber above the parlor is said to have had tapestry hung on its walls in olden time. A bit of broken wall in the attic roof discloses thick mortar and laths which were split with an axe. Having glanced through the trap-door on the roof, and descended to look over the dining room, we step out of the front door over the fine old stones which from the steps, and observe the quaint bull's eye panes over the door. A little granddaughter of the Penrose family presents some daffodils she has kindly plucked, and the historic mansion is left" (27)
photo of Keith House 1910

* The aged lady occupying the Keith House mentioned by Hotchkin was probably the wife of Joseph Kirkbride Craven. Joseph was a cabinet-maker/carpenter/coffin-maker by trade and was a tenant in the Keith House in the 1880s. Their grandson, William Craven, lived at the Keith House with his grandparents from 1883-86 and claimed to have written his name on one of the old nursery rooms. (2 p33)

Abel's daughter maintained a long correspondence with her "Coz Sally" Hicks (daughter of Hannah Penrose Hicks) who lived in Newtown, and Jennie Davis (daughter of Tacy Penrose Davis). These letters describe family outings to the circus, the 1876 Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia (this was led by John Welsh, the grandfather of Welsh Strawbridge who would buy Graeme park in 1920), and other fun things. They also mention the failing health of Abel, Tacy and Hannah over time although each lived well past 70. One letter from November 27, 1875 describes an accident that Abel suffered:

"Pap was in town with hay on 3rd day -- and coming up he got very cold - he was not very well either. He sprained his knee some time ago he stepped off the porch and went down full force - and I guess broke something. It did not hurt him much at the time but is very painful now. (28)"

Other letters mention Hannah's mischievous 16 year old brother Morris, her 8 year old brother Willy taking sick, or her 10 month old sister Mary teething. One letter describes the death of 3 children of the Connards family of diptheria, two little ones and a 20 year old dying within 2 weeks.(28)

Jennie Davis, daughter of Tacy Penrose Davis, correspondent with Hannah Penrose, and author of "The Penrose Family - Written for First Reunion" which provided much of the source material for this article, became a teacher in Philadelphia and in 1890 was named Most Valuable Teacher in Philadelphia earning a trip to Europe, with a letter of introduction by then Philadelphia Mayor Edwin H Fittles (2 p52).

Abel died in 1893. His obituary honored him as

"highly respected in the community, a man of sterling character, a good neighbor, and a kind friend." (Public Spirit 1893.)

His son, Morris Penrose, took over the property.

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Lincoln, McClellan, Pinkerton
Allan Pinkerton, President Abraham Lincoln, and Major General John A. McClernand at the battle-field of Antietam,
photo of Lincoln, McClellan, Pinkerton at Antietam
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Abel and Sarah Penrose?
Abel and Sarah Penrose?? on the front porch of the Penrose-Strawbridge House, probably between 1875 and 1893 - or is this Morris Penrose?
photo of Abel and Sarah Penrose on Rocking Chairs at Penrose Strawbridge House at Graeme Park
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Sheep grazing at Keith House
undated photo showing sheep grazing om front of the Keith House near what is probably now the parking lot.
photo of Sheep grazing at Keith House
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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
Horsham Preservation and Historical Association
The Future of Horsham's Past
900 Governors Rd | Horsham, PA USA 19044
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