" Penrose-Strawbridge Restoration Feasibility Study

Penrose-Strawbridge Restoration Feasibility Study

Feasibility Study

HPHA commissioned a preservation plan and feasibility study for the Penrose-Strawbridge property in 2001 to guide the association, as leaseholders, and Horsham Township, as owners in determining the direction that the historic farm complex should go. HPHA selected Westfield Architects & Preservation Consultants of Haddon Heights, New Jersey to research and prepare the study. The result was the Keith-Penrose-Strawbridge Preservation Plan & Feasibility Study. This is a two volume report that provides documentation of the existing structures and their history, recommendations for future uses, preservation recommendations and preliminary cost estimates for the alternative recommendations. Also included were structural engineering information, living history farm information and materials recommendations.

Portions of this report are featured throughout this section on the Penrose-Strawrbridge House. The original report is in our library and is available for review by appointment. A summary is provided below:




Our charge to the consulting company was to provide the owners of the Strawbridge property, Horsham Township, with the following information:

  • Background On Historical Significance
  • Evaluation of the main building
  • Recommendations for future uses
  • Recommendations for preservation
  • Cost estimates for preservation


The information in attachment “A” presents the recent background and the currently accepted history of the Strawbridge house. However, Westfield Associates has validated several theories that further increase the historic importance of the house and outbuildings. The association with Sir William Keith is much stronger than originally believed. The study concludes that the significance of the property lies with both its evolution from a colonial home of the 1720’s through the 1900’s and its association with Keith’s original plantation.


EXTERIOR Pages 3.1 to 3.12

The exterior of the Strawbridge house is described and drawn from each compass point. The general appearance and significant problem areas are discussed. All architectural features are noted and described in detail. Where known, individual features are dated. In general, the stucco on all sides needs repair. Many windows and doors need to have repairs to their wooden elements and all need repainting. The most serious problems are noted in the following text.

The roof was replaced and gutters were installed in 1994. They are in good shape except that the gutters need to be cleaned and painted and the water needs to be directed farther away from the house.

The front, or southern exposure, shows the effect of deferred maintenance. Some stucco needs repair and several shutters are missing, (These are undergoing repair). The porch columns need repair and/or replacement. The porch ceiling needs repair. The southeastern chimney needs to be repaired and flue closed. The eastern side of the building has the same general needs. The added need on this side is to remove the patio due to its deterioration. The patio was added by Margaret Strawbridge and has caused moisture problems in the window wells, foundation and basement. The northern side of the 1810 section shows the most visible damage. The rear portion of the 1810 building has suffered cracks up the wall stemming from the construction of an outdoor entrance to the basement. The windows are distorted due to structural movement of a support beam in the basement. The western view shows several problems. The pent roof has sagged due to the powder room addition. The 1722 chimney that was extended in 1830 has sagged and may be unstable. The newest chimney, currently in use for the oil burner, has separated from the wall due to the uncontrolled growth of a firethorn bush, but appears to be stable.

INTERIOR Pages 3.13 to 3.34

The interior is described on an individual room basis. All architectural features such as trim, flooring and doors are described and dated when known. The most serious problems are well known and relate to the deterioration of the main support beam in the basement of the 1810 building. This settlement has occurred gradually over many years, but has affected the rear windows and central staircase. The floor sagged, plaster has cracked and the windows have become distorted as the trim was adjusted over the years to accommodate the settlement. The repairs needed will differ based upon the decision for the end use. Estimated cost are presented in a later portion of the study.


The study identifies a number of uses suggested by individuals and the Parks and Recreation Board. Most of these are not recommended due to the isolated site, proximity to the noise of the naval air station and the need for compatibility with Graeme Park. Three uses are singled out as most compatible with the history and the current location.


The integration of the township owned buildings and ten acres with the existing 41-acre Keith House historic site is one recommendation. It is based upon increased knowledge of original buildings at the site. The original structure under the 1810 building apparently predates the Keith house. The scope of Graeme Park could be expanded to encompass a larger park that would be integrated over a larger site. This would provide a better park site for the state, but would entail expenditures for restoration by the state that are not now contemplated. This path also presumes that the township gives the buildings plus some acreage as a gift. However, the township would incur no building restoration costs or upkeep, have a larger state park in the township and still end up with most of the acreage as passive recreation for the residents.

PRIVATE RESIDENCE Pages 5.8 to 5.9

The house and surrounding ten acres could be sold or leased as a private residence. This was the use over the past several hundred years. This use would not require most of the expensive upgrades needed for public use. A preservation-minded buyer who agrees to deed restrictions could restore the exterior, while upgrading the interior to their taste. This would maintain the historic fabric and cost the township little. The noise problems could be offset by the attractiveness of the surroundings and the promise that the area will not be developed. The remaining acreage would remain in the township park system. There is a variation of this that provides a private lease option. The township could retain ownership and control, while allowing the leaseholder to restore and maintain the immediate buildings. The study recommends that the house be restored to the 1875 era and provides details and estimated costs on this.

LIVING HISTORY FARM Pages 5.10 to 5.12

The highest and best reuse of the property is as a living history farm. This would require the removal of most of the changes that the Strawbridge’s made in the 1920’s and 30’s. There are several approaches that vary from the very simple to the complex. A farmer can run the farm and a non-profit group can run the house providing exhibits, programs, demonstrations and workshops to show the life of a nineteenth century Quaker farm family. The audience would be school children and/or the general public. Other types can be more sophisticated, with the visitors involved in the farm. Non-profits, the township or county can run them. These type charge fees for their programs.The proximity to Graeme Park makes this option easier because resources such as parking lots can be shared. Many variations are discussed concerning caretakers, interns and public access. The restoration requirements are detailed. They describe removal of post-1900 improvements, required upgrades for public access and even road access. There are examples of current living history farms that exist in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey area provided in the second volume of the study.


This section of the study focuses on the repair and adaptation of the exterior, the interior and the site for new use. For use as a private residence and as a living farm, the work includes: repair of the chimney and stucco, gutters and downspouts, restoration of the windows and doors, removal of the Strawbridge additions, reinstallation of certain c. 1875 features, restoration of the interior finishes, and, structural and mechanical upgrades. Additional work for the Living History Farm could include outbuilding restorations, new buildings, new bathrooms and paved parking.

The specification for the work that needs to be done is set out in three levels of priority. The first or highest level of work is that which covers safety and deterioration issues. The second level items are for long term preservation and maintenance. The third, or lowest level, items are for esthetic or historical reasons only.


The attached two summary sheets, attachments “B” and “C”, show the estimated cost breakdown by five categories for the residence option as well as the living history farm option. It also shows the estimated costs by priorities for both potential uses.


We believe that Westfield Associates did a careful and thorough job on this study. They validated the theories advanced by Herb Levy and John Milner concerning the earliest portion of the house. They validated the importance of this house and its outbuildings to the overall sequence of events from 1721 to 1810. Their conclusions regarding future uses are helpful in determining the best way to preserve and protect this historic site.

Although we believe that the cost estimates are higher than necessary, we have no professional basis to provide lower estimates. The amounts allocated for contingency and professional services do not provide for volunteer services or donated work by professional firms. There is no provision for work-study programs by Buck County Community College or the universities in the area that can help our project through intern or on-site studies. Still, it is obvious that this is a large task that will take some careful consideration before investing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We see an immediate need for key tasks to be completed. Certain tasks that relate to prevention of deterioration and to archeological work need to be done regardless of the path that Horsham Council decides to take. Our organization desires to continue working on this project. We are willing and capable of going further based on Horsham Councils decision, direction and support.

Attachment A


Horsham Township purchased a 102-acre tract of land adjacent to Graeme Park and the Keith Mansion in 1997. As a part of the settlement, the township agreed to maintain the 60 acres, which border Graeme Park as passive open space. Any development on this portion must also compliment the land of Graeme Park. The Penrose/Strawbridge House is situated on this 60-acre portion. In 1999, Horsham Council agreed to allow the Horsham Preservation and Historical Association (HPHA) three years to research and develop a potential preservation and restoration plan for the house.

When the Penrose family bought a 204-acre parcel from Elizabeth Graeme Ferguson in 1801 they began to preserve “Keith Mansion”. Abel and Sarah Penrose considered the mansion “a sacred relic of antiquity worthy of being preserved and handed down to posterity”. In 1810 rather than making major changes to Keith Mansion, the Penrose’s built a new house. For the next 120 years three generations of Penrose’s lived in this house and farmed the land. In 1920 Morris Penrose sold the property to Mr. Welch Strawbridge. He purchased the property as a wedding present to his bride, Margaret. Welch and Margaret Strawbridge continued to preserve Keith Mansion until 1957. At that time they donated the 41 acres to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That land is now known as Graeme Park and the Keith Mansion. Keith Mansion and Graeme Park are designated as a National Historic Landmark Site, one of only 600 sites in the entire United States.

A portion of the Strawbridge building predates Keith House, probably being built in 1721-22. The dining room portion containing the walk-in fireplace was probably the first building at the site. This location was probably the distillery mentioned in early letters rather than the Keith house. The ruins at the intersection of Governor’s road and the driveway probably was the original barn. That location still has the original 1720’s stone marker stating “18 m to P” or 18 miles to Philadelphia. One of the stone structures with the large arched opening next to the current barn may be the malt house. The Keith House was built after these buildings. (Pg. 2.1 –2.5)

From 1810 through the 1890’s, the evolution of the house and outbuildings is well documented and not disputed. The significant dates are the construction of the main portion of the three-story house in 1810 and the additions made in 1830 and 1856. (Pg. 2.10 – 11) The last significant change by the Penrose family appears to be the addition of the french windows in 1875. (Pg. 2.12) Welch and Margaret Strawbridge completed the modernization of the property in 1921. This was when electric, hot water heat and plumbing were added. Also at this time several exterior changes were made, including the porch, patio, sunroom and powder room. (Pg. 2.12)

The Strawbridge house is now on the National Register as an adjoining structure to Keith House.

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