Penrose Strawbridge Restoration

black and white photo of front of Penrose Strawbridge farm house

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 Penrose-Strawbridge Farm but until 1958 was part of a larger estate called Graeme Park. The farm was last owned by the Strawbridge Family but in Mrs Strawbridge's later years the house and other buildings fell into a state of disrepair. HPHA has been restoring these buildings.

Graeme Park originally consisted of 1200 acres that the colonial deputy governor of Pennsylvania, Sir William Keith, acquired from the estate of Samuel Carpenter. Keith called his plantation Fountain Low and his initial purpose in developing the property was the "distilling of spirits and brewing of beer".. Some small quantity of gin was produced and sent to England as gifts but overall the plan failed. There is physical evidence that the c1721 cabin may have been involved in this endeavor. The property was then acquired by Keith's son-in-law, Dr Thomas Graeme who renamed it Graeme Park.

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The Penrose family acquired the property in 1801 and added a large addition to our farmhouse in 1810 and others in 1830 and 1858.

Welsh and Margaret Strawbridge added indoor plumbing and central heating to the farmhouse in the 1920s. When the US Navy expanded the nearby Willow Grove Naval Air Station after WWII, the Strawbridges feared that Keith House might be absorbed by the base or knocked down so in 1958 they gave 42 acres or their estate, including Keith House and a large barn (now the Visitor Center) to to Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This 42 acres retained the name Graeme Park which is now a state park under the control of the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PMHC) and managed by the Friends of Graeme Park

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 Feasibility Study which provided a road map for the project.

drawing showing dates of construction for different sections of the Penrose Strawbridge House

Feasibility Study

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 Feasibility Study here, complete study available for review through HPHA.

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
Penrose Strawbridge House Elevations

Original Condition

"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

Environmental Issues

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

Restoration Updates

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.

1858 Kitchen - 1st floor of the 1858 Penrose Addition

  • 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
  • Repaint
  • Re-lay brick

Foyer + Powder Room - Front Stairwell

  • 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

1721 Cabin / Dining Room despite being almost 300 years old this room required little work

  • Restored plaster on the walls and ceiling
  • Restored windows
  • Modern electric added inside closet

Penrose Living Room - this room is to the right of the foyer as you enter the farmhouse.

  • 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

Strawbridge Library - this room is to the left of the foyer as you enter the farmhouse.

  • 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

2nd Floor

  • 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.

3rd floor

  • 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

1810 Attic

  • 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

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