Dining Room - 18th Century Cabin
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 generations of the Penrose family, 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.
"The earliest section appears to have been a building of one, or more likely, two rooms, at the first floor level with a basement beneath. It cannot be determined from available physical evidence whether this was a one-story or two-story structure but the 1798 direct tax evidence supports the supposition of a shorter second story .... Shortly after the initial construction (between c1722 and c1737), the building was expanded ...This expansion consisted of the dining room and the basement beneath." 41p2.6
The center section of the current building is one of those rooms. A foundation to the south of this room and remnants of a possible door on the southern wall of the existing room give some physical evidence of a second room. The 1810 addition was built using this southern foundation. The remaining original room with its large kitchen hearth exists today in the center of the house and was most recently used as Mrs. Strawbridge's dining room.
One of the more striking features of this room is the large fireplace (shown above) which was likely used for cooking until at least 1858 when the Penroses made their last major addition, a more 'modern' kitchen on the rear (north) side of house. The cooking fireplace previously had a beehive bake oven that extended into what became the new kitchen space. The oven was removed when the kitchen was added, 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.
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 given their wages.
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
The basement below this room has 2 large vaults or arches. The first vault, on the left or western side of the north wall, is used to support the hearth and chimney. The 2nd vault is more of a mystery. This is used as a doorway into the basement and has a brick floor above it but we're not sure why since it isn't supporting a large load. Speculation is that this arch may have been used in the past to support something heavy like barrels or distillation equipment. This, and the presence of an unusual cistern in this basement leads 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).
What remains of this possible 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.
The room has two plain post and lintel entrance doors - on the east and west sides. The three windows 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.
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).
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
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
The 1721 Room is fully restored. It is shown here decorated for Christmas 2017.