The Penrose-Strawbridge House is a farmhouse - built mostly from 1810-1860 and some modernization in the 1920s - with a center section dating to c1721. Its is located on what we now call the
Graeme Park originally consisted of 1200 acres that the colonial deputy governor of Pennsylvania,
Keith had built a number of buildings, one of which still stands intact. Now a National Historic Landmark, Keith House may have originally been an industrial building, some say a malt house. It was converted to a residence probably in the 1740s by Dr Graeme and became his summer residence. The mansion probably had its heyday in the 1760s-1773 when his daughter
The Penrose family acquired the property in 1801 and added a large addition to our farmhouse in 1810 and others in 1830 and 1858, 2 barns in 1839 and 1849, a springhouse and an equipment barn. There is alos a carriage house - in ruins - behind the equipment barn. Not sure when this was built.
The Strawbridges sold off other parts of their estate until it reached its current size of 103 acres. This land was given to the Natural Lands Trust who later sold it to Horsham Township. It is now a township park. Horsham has granted a 25 year lease of 10 of these acres - including all the buildings - to HPHA with the goal of restoring these buildings.
We began the restoration by commissioning Westfield Architects & Preservation Consultants to produce a
The first step in our restoration was to determine what we had, what we could do with it ... how and how much. HPHA commissioned a preservation plan and feasibility study for the 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, 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. Summary of the
The significance of the building (Penrose-Strawbridge House) lies with its evolution over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The building also has historical significance for its association with (Sir William) Keith's original plantation and as a representative example of an expanded colonial home that was modified over two centuries. Although the Strawbridges were good stewards of both houses on the property, their alterations to the Keith-Penrose-Strawbridge House (starting in the 1920s) were not nearly as extensive or significant in scope as those of the Penrose family (beginning in 1801). Therefore, it can be concluded that the building's primary significance lies with its eighteenth and nineteenth century history, while the significance of its preservation was recognized in the twentieth century. 41 p2.13
The Farm House
The Penrose-Strawbridge House, also known as the Keith-Penrose-Strawbridge House, is a farmhouse located on what was originally Sir William Keith's Fountain Low plantation which was renamed Graeme Park around 1740. Graeme Park was split in 1958, the farmhouse is now located in what is known as Penrose-Strawbridge Farm which is adjacent to the state park known as Graeme Park. The building has an inverted L shape with a 3 story front facade that was added in 1810 to an existing cabin that we date to c1721. The addition is built on a foundation that also may date to c1721, so there may have been some other structure there prior to this addition being built.
A second floor and attic was added to the existing cabin in 1830 and a rear kitchen in 1858.
The outer walls of the house are constructed of rubble stone and mortar. Beams for the floors are built into the stone. The 2 interior walls that define the foyer and stairway are built using vertical planks laid against horizontal planks. There is no framing.
The front facade of the building faces southeast and features a stone patio across the entire width covered by a roof. The patio was likely wooden until c1920.. The facade is symmetrical with a front door opening into a center foyer. There is a parlor on both sides of the foyer. These parlors both have 2 sets of french doors that open onto the patio. The doors all have full length shutters. The french doors are a victorian feature and are said to have been added for a Penrose wedding.
There is a bathroom at the far end of the foyer that was added to the home by the Strawbridges in the 1920s. There is a door under the stairs that initially opened to a small closet. This was also added by the Strawbridges but the closet extended into the stairway to the basement and was removed at some time, although the door still exists (and opens in to a drop onto the basement stairs).
Stairs rise from the foyer to a landing then to the 2nd floor. This is repeated to the 3rd floor. A single flight goes to the attic and is located behind a door.
We call the parlor to the left the Strawbridge Library. This room features the 2 sets of french doors plus corresponding windows on the opposite facade. A fireplace is located on the southwestern wall.
"An assessment of the existing house and other buildings was done by Jeff Clark, Sr Code Enforcement Officer for Horsham Township on August 13, 1997. His report indicates the exterior of the main house is in need of a great amount of repair to make it weatherproof. The windows, eaves, cornices and exposed wood sills are in need of repair or replacement. All three chimneys need re-pointing. Exterior walks, steps patios are uneven and hazardous for walking. Roof Shingles seem to be in good condition, but there are areas where leakage is occurring under the roof. Rain gutters are in poor to fair condition and need repair or replacing. Some exterior walls need re-stuccoing."
"The interior of the house is in poor to fair condition. 'Main beams and support structures need to be upgraded or replaced in some locations. The south side of the main house has settled extensively, Settlement appears to have occurred many years ago with some repairs attempted... the structure appears to have remained in its existing state for quite some time... it is stable in its present state'. Other rooms need cosmetic repairs. Most difficult of these problems are the main stairs and sloping floors. The kitchen and plumbing systems are in poor condition. It will need quite an investment to make the building livable and code compliant" 134 p22
In 1992 an emergency remedial system was installed, started up in 1993 and shut down in 1994. Testing showed that the distance from the base that jet fuel components were detected was decreased to 575 feet northwest of the base.
The proximity of the air base to the south of the farm has caused some environmental issues: leaks and spills of JP-4 jet fuel from 5,000-30,000 gallons before 1979 and another 8,000 gallons in 1979 contaminated the aquifer on the northern border of the base and has affected both the Penrose-Strawbridge Farm and the adjacent Graeme Park. Testing in 1990 showed levels of Benzene, Xylene, Toluene, Ethyl-benzene and total petroleum hydrocarbons. Dissolved jet fuel components were detected approximately 1300 feet northwest of the base.134 p25-26
Water testing done at the main house and spring house in September 1997 by Analytical Laboratories show low levels of Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, O-Xylene,M-Xylene,TPH/GRO, and Napthalene. Although these all indicate petroleum contamination they are all within acceptable limits for drinking water. However the coliform bacteria count for the spring water exceeds safe limits and the water is not considered safe for drinking. We used bottled water at the farm until public water was installed to the farm around 2003.134 p23
The parlor to the right - which we call the Penrose Room - also features the 2 sets of french doors and a fireplace on the other outside wall. Next to the fireplace is another set of french doors that open to a side patio. On the wall next to the foyer is door leading to the basement. The back wall has a door opening into the c1721 room which was used by the Strawbridges as a dining room. Margaret Choate opened up this wall and discovered framing for what was either a window or a door into the c1721 room. This framing had shelving that was probably used by the Penroses. This opening had been plastered over, probably by the Strawbridges in the 1920s.
The door on the back wall of the Penrose Room, to the left of the old window/door that we uncovered, opens into the original c1721 cabin.This room has a closet to the left, post and lintel wooden doors on either side (eastern and western walls) opening to the outside, and a large hearth on the back wall. There are 3 windows on the eastern wall and 2 on the right, On the front wall - on the other side of the wall where we discovered the hidden window/door is a wooden 'box' with 2 doors. The left hand door opens to a winder staircase going to the 2nd floor. The door on the right opens into what is now a closet but previously had been a winder staircase to the basement. The current 2nd floor above this room we know was added in 1830 but we're not sure if something was there before but both sets of stairs were added sometime after the construction of the original cabin as evidenced by the window/door that these stairs were built in front of.
The large hearth takes up half the far wall and was probably used for cooking until the kitchen addition was built in 1858. The hearth has what appears to be the original crane as well as the opening to a bee hive oven which was probably removed in 1858. There is a mantel surround with a drawer.
To the right of the hearth is a door/hallway leading to the 1858 kitchen. There is a small 'room' or pantry to the right as you enter this hall which has an interesting feature of a brick floor. This brick floor is directly above a large arch in the basement. The arch dates to the original foundation so the brick floor and hall probably do too. The hall probably exited to the rear of the building prior to the kitchen being added although we can't be sure that another structure wasn't there before.
The basements of the farmhouse feature a number of interesting details. The front basement is under the 1810 part of the house and can be reached either from the eastern parlor (Penrose Room) on the first floor or through a storm cellar door on the northern wall on the inside of the L below the western parlor (Strawbridge Library). The storm cellar door was built without a solid lintel which allowed the wall above it to sag.
Both basements have arch supports to support fireplaces above them but the arch on the eastern wall is much larger indicating that maybe it, at one time, had a different purpose.
The basement under the original cabin is also very interesting featuring a large archway under the main hearth but also another large one under the brick floor described above. This could indicate that heavy materials were being stored above this arch? An even more interesting feature is a circular cistern on the eastern wall. This was covered in concrete. When the concrete was removed we discovered that it had been filled in with rocks. We have not excavated this stone due to safety concerns. Margaret Choate also discovered a trough in the wall leading to the cistern. The cistern could have been used to store fresh water or ice and may have been part of Keith's distillery or brewery.
The basement under the cabin is connected to a small basement under part of the 1858 addition. This basement can be reached by the ship's ladder from the kitchen or through an opening at the rear. This opening is currently below ground but we believe it may have been on grade originally.
The 2nd floor layout follows that of the 1st floor. Bedrooms are located above each 1st floor parlor on both the 2nd and 3rd floors. The 2nd floor has been renovated to be used as a caretaker's apartment. Above the foyer on both floors had been closets. These have both been converted to modern bathrooms. On the 2nd floor the bedroom on the eastern side has a door way opening into the 1830 addition above the original cabin.
The 2nd floor above the cabin was added in 1830 and originally was divided into 2 rooms and a small hallway that ran along the southern wall. It is now one room. The southern wall has doors to winder stairs going up to the 3rd floor and down to the cabin. There was a wall running parallel to the southern wall making a small hallway. Another wall ran down the center of the building, then diagonally to the west at the far end. On the western wall was a double fireplace and this wall was set in between them. When the 1858 addition was built a doorway was created next to the fireplace opening into what once originally a bedroom but in the 1900s was a small apartment for the Strawbridge's housekeeper. This area was converted into a kitchen and laundry room for the current caretaker. The 1858 section has a winder going down to the kitchen and another winder going up to a small attic room. The former exterior wall of the 1830 addition shows a date marker that can be seen from this attic room.
The third floor in the front of the building is similar to the 2nd floor. The new bathroom on the 2nd floor, however, opens into the eastern bedroom while the 3rd floor bath opens into the center hall. The height of the ceilings also decreases with each floor. The eastern bedroom on the 3rd floor has a door to the winder going down to the 2nd floor above the cabin. You can also reach a door into the attic above the 1830 addition from here. This attic, until 1994, had dormers and may have been used as bedrooms at one point. The roof line of this attic covers half the window on the northern wall of this bedroom.
There is another door in the hallway leading to a single flight of stairs to the front attic. This is a large attic with no walls offering a room the full width of the house. This room may have been used as living quarters at one point.
Foyer + Powder Room
More to come
Here's how we're doing on the restoration of the Penrose-Strawbridge House. Click on the links for more info and pictures/
Penrose Living Room
1721 Dining Room
1920s Sun Room
3rd Floor Bathroom
This is a summary of our restoration project as of August 2018. Click on the links to see more details and photos of each room.
- Donation of a coal stove similar to - but of a later vintage than - the one that was originally here. The original crumbled when we had to move it while doing some plumbing and electrical work a long time ago
- Stove is missing a couple hinges
- 2 windows have been restored
- 2 windows on north were beyond restoration and were replaced
- 1920s Kitchen Cabinet stripped and primed - ready for final paint
- 1920s Kitchen sink need replacement
- Walls and woodwork stripped and primed - ready for final paint
- We have removed the linoleum and exposed the original pine floor
- Refinish Pine Floor
- All electrical updated
Pantry - this is a small room that is part of the 1721 Cabin and was used as a pantry by the Strawbridges. Its unique feature is the section of brick floor above a large vault in the basement
- Strip Paint and prime
- Re-lay brick
- Restored the plaster in foyer and stairwell
- Removed all the old paint and repainted the foyer, stairway and stairwell
- Renovated the 1920s powder room.
- Replaced and insulated plumbing
- All electrical updated
- Restored plaster on the walls and ceiling
- Restored windows
- Modern electric added inside closet
- Stripped and repainted floor and woodwork
- Repaired plaster
- Restored the windows in the 3 french doors
- Early in the project we removed the plaster and lath from a part of the northern wall in this room to expose windows/doors that had at some point been covered up. This section has been purposely be left as-is.
- All electrical updated
- Stripped and repainted all surfaces
- Removed the ceiling - reinforced the original rough-hewn beams and added a new drywall and plaster ceiling
- Refinished the hard wood floor
- Restored french doors.
- Restored windows - north wall had settled and windows were stuck
- All electrical updated
- Reinforced the foundation of the building by installing steel beams in the basement under the 1721 dining room and under the 1810 addition
- Repointed the stone in the front (south) part of the original basements, under the Penrose Room
- Opened up the concrete cover on the cistern in the other 1721 basement but stopped excavation of the stones in this cistern due to safety concerns.
- There is evidence of an old well in southeast basement but we currently have no plans to investigate
- All electrical updated - new panel in 1858 basement
- Renovated and modernized early in the project to create a caretaker's apartment
- Replaced bathroom in the 1858 section with a modern kitchen
- Changing the space in the 1830 addition from 2 bedrooms into a single living room
- Added a modern bathroom where there had been a closet in the space over the front door
- The floor in the room above the library on the southeast corner of the house had been sagging but was corrected when we reinforced the original beams in the room below. This room is being used as HPHA's office
- Removed some windows on the inside of the "L" and on the western side of the center section and replaced them with historically accurate replacement windows. The windows on the front (south) facade were restored
- Paint in all areas was removed and these areas repainted.
- Renovated an existing bathroom and restored the claw foot tub - new plumbing
- Replaced the 2 windows on the inside of the "L" shape of the house
- Restored windows on the front of the house
- All paint was removed
- Stripped surfaces were repainted
- Plaster was repaired where needed
- Repainting to be done in upper stairwell
- Insulation was added to the attic spaces above the 1830 and 1858 additions
- The attic space in the 1830 addition originally had 1 dormer on the eastern side but this was removed in 1996 when the slate roof was replaced.
- Ceilings on the 3rd floor may need to be repainted but not a priority
- All electrical updated
- Floorboards were taken up and insulation was installed - floorboards then replaced
- All electrical updated
- Rendering/Stucco on the exterior was repaired in a number of places
- Exterior walls repainted
- All the shutters have been restored
- Original pent roof above the 1st had been removed at some point, probably in the 1990s but has been replaced with a new one with a cedar shake roof
- Chimney on west side needs repointing
- Chimney on northern end (kitchen hearth and 2nd floor fireplaces) was repaired and pointed
- Pent Roof removed from western facade inside "L" - awaiting funding for replacement
- 1920s Sun room on western side is in bad shape - undecided as to remove/replace/restore
- A stone patio on the west side of the house - probably installed by Penroses - needs restoration
- Stone wall on the west and south sides of the house - most of this has been restored.
- Roof on front porch repaired
1849 Equipment Barn - this building is just to the west of the house
- Cedar shake roof that needs to be replaced
- Poured a new concrete floor in the center bays of this building
- Restored the sliding barn door.
- Remove large tree hanging over barn
- All electrical updated
Carriage Shed - this open structure is behind the Equipment Barn - not sure when built but probably around same time as the equipment barn 1849)
- Really bad shape - needs new timber frame and cedar shake roof.
- Threatened by same tree that threatens equipment barn
1839 Barn - this barn had been rebuilt in 1948 to a smaller size than it was originally. We do not have any immediate plans for this building but it is in pretty good shape
- Restored some windows
- Restored gate using original hardware
- Repainted doors
- Other windows to be restored or replaced
- Run underground electric to replace overhead wire damaged in storm
1920s Stables - these stables were built by the Strawbridges likely in the 1920s.
- They were in bad shape (in danger of collapse) and were de-constucted in 2017. Wood was saved for re-use (some used in renovation of 1st floor powder room)
- Rebuild the stables
1735 Barn / Ice House - this structure located where Governor Road turns toward the house is only 3 stone walls built into a hillside.
- Remove excessive vegetation around these walls in the winter
- What next?
1939 Well Room
- Replaced Roof
- Restored Windows and Screens
- Replaced Doors
- Added Screens
- Added Electricity - but lost after 2018 storms and fallen mulberry tree - will restore with underground cable at same time as barn
Masonry Outhouse - not sure when built but could be contemporary with the 1721 cabin - located to west of farmhouse near the Scottish Arch
- This structure would need to be de-constructed and then rebuilt stone by stone - not a current priority
2 wood outhouses behind carriage shed
- Seem to be in decent shape - any work would be after work on the carriage shed
1920s Silo - between the 2 barns
- In pretty good shape - no immediate plans
- Chicken Coop - ruins of chicken coop across creek to the east of the carriage shed - no plans to restore
- Shed in woods - ruins of some type of structure far to the west of the 1735 barn just inside the wood - no plans to restore