photo of barn with stone facade and 2 red doors
East facade of barn built by William Penrose in 1839. Barn was reduced in size after fire in 1949. Well room shown to right built in 1939
photo of barn with stone facade and 2 red doors

Barns at Penrose-Strawbridge Farm

Farm Buildings

Like any farm there are a number of out-buildings here at the Penrose Strawbridge Farm - some are still in use, some in ruins,others that have disappeared - and there is at least one Mystery.

  • 1839 Barn - now Graeme Park Visitor Center
  • 1839 Barn on current Strawbridge site
  • c1735 Barn (ruins)
  • Equipment Barn - still in use
  • Carriage House - in need of restoration
  • Springhouse - private residence
  • 1939 Pump/Milk Room
  • c1920s Horse Stables - recently taken down
  • post 1949 Stables - in need of restoration
  • Sheds/Coops - found in what is now woods
  • c1920s Grain Silo
  • Mysterious Scottish Arch

The aerial view shown here indicates where each structure is, both at the Penrose Strawbridge Farm and the adjacent Graeme Park. The cars parked in the field indicate that an event is being held.

aerial view of the present day Penrose Strawbridge Farm and Graeme Park
aerial view of the present day Penrose Strawbridge Farm and Graeme Park

1839 Barns

William Penrose built 2 barns in 1839 - possibly to replace or enlarge other structures. Both barns were originally typical Pennsylvania Bank Barns. One is currently being used by Graeme Park as their visitor center and has a single forebay on the side (east) which now faces it's parking lot. Its ramp goes to the second floor on the opposite side. The second barn originally had forebays on both the northern and southern sides with a ramp going to to the southern forebay. This barn was rebuilt to a smaller size after a fire in 1949 and at the time the forebays were removed resulting in a much smaller structure.

The barn on the Penrose-Strawbridge property was also built by William Penrose in 1839 but this was originally a much larger building with 3 gabled ends and 2 ridge beams perpendicular to each other. This barn was rebuilt to its present size following a fire in 1949. It may have had modifications prior to this - between the 1920s and 1949 in which the size was reduced also.

photo of barn at night with forebay in front supported by columns and ramp in rear
Barn at Graeme Park built in 1839 by Penroses and now used as their visitor center,. Barn shows classic Pennsylvania Barn features with a forebay in front and ramp in the rear.
"The Pennsylvania Barn's main diagnostic feature is the projecting 7-8 foot forebay, or overshoot. The barn is banked, and organized such that the upper level consists of central threshing floor(s), flanked by mows, and a granary (sometimes in the forebay, sometimes next to a mow on the bank side). The Pennsylvania Barn almost always has a gable roof. On the lower level, stable and stalls (organized crosswise to the roof ridge, separated by alleyways for humans) housed horses, milk cows, beef cattle, and sometimes sheep or hogs. ... The Pennsylvania Barn appeared late in the 18th century and flourished from about 1820 to about 1900. It is most common in the southeast and central parts of the state (although it can be found in many parts of the state). The Pennsylvania Barn exemplifies a highly mechanized, diversified grain-and-livestock agriculture. With its rational, centralized organization and gravity-fed multi-level arrangement, it also represents a response to an increased need for labor efficiency. The agricultural systems associated with the Pennsylvania Barn tended to produce cash grain (usually wheat), feed grain (mainly oats and corn), and hay; and livestock and livestock products - beef, dairy, hogs and pork. Provision for horses reflects mechanization."

Graeme Park Visitor Center

One of the 1839 barns is located on the 42 acres that the Strawbridges gave to the Commonwealth of PA in 1958. This land is now a state park known as Graeme Park and also includes the National Historic Landmark Sir William Keith House.. The barn here is to the west of the Penrose-Strawbridge farmhouse and to the south of the Keith House and is used as the Visitor Center for Graeme Park. This barn is typical of a Pennsylvania Bank barn with its earthen ramp to the 2nd floor located on its western side, and a forebay supported by stone columns on it eastern side. The lower floor and columns are of rubble stone and the upper section is framed and clad with long boards.

The photo shows the east facing forebay which is supported by stone columns.

The Keith House cannot be seen in this photo but is just off to the right.

photo of Graeme Park Visitor Center with colonial flags out for 4th Julu 2018
Pennsylvania Bank Barn built by William Penrose in 1849 now used as the Visitor's Center at Graeme Park with flags out for 4th of July 2018

Penrose-Strawbridge Barn

The other barn built by William Penrose in 1839 is located on the current Penrose-Strawbridge Farm just south of the farmhouse and about 200 yards to the southeast of the barn at Graeme Park. This barn was originally much larger but was rebuilt after a fire in 1949 as a smaller structure with no forebay and the ramp no longer reaching the threshing floor on the upper level.. The original design was a bit unusual since the ramp lead to the forebay on the south side - ramps were often on the north with "..the forebay extend(ing) south in a cantilever fashion over the stable wall below to provide a ventilated area for a granary on the upper level and protection from snow and rain for the animals on the south side of the barn at the lower level; the entrance/exit for the lower level (the front) faced south"121. The forebay on the other barn here (Visitor's Center) faces east.

Both barns had/have forebays maybe larger than usual - they were supported by columns, not cantilevered. The southern forebay on this barn was supported by columns and a retaining wall against the ramp which led to the second level on this side. Stables were later built into the eastern side of the ramp - probably by the Strawbridges c1920. The alleyway between the ramp and barn underneath this forebay led from the paddock in front of the stables to the pasture on the other side of the barn.

One visitor reported that Riverbreeze, Mr. Strawbridge's favorite horse, would remain completely calm and manageable until reaching the other side of this alley and would then run wildly out into the pasture.

photo Welsh Strawbridge to the left holding rein to thoroughbred Riverbreeze to right.  Both standing in front of gable end of barn showing forebays to the right and left
Welsh Strawbridge and Riverbreeze on the east side of the 1839 barn. Photo (c1939 shows apent roof on the gabled end, and the north and south forebays which were destroyed by fire in 1949 and not rebuilt

This barn was originally very large with gabled ends on all sides but the south, and 2 ridge lines running perpendicular to each other. The northern wall incorporated a stone archway that is believed to have existed prior to 1839 and probably dates back to Governor Keith's time c1720.

The photo above shows the barn c1939 from the east and a northern forebay can be seen pretty clearly behind Riverbreeze. Compared with the c1923 photo taken from near the Keith House looking southeast, it appears that the western wall shown in 1923 is much larger than the eastern wall shown in 1939, so the barn may also have been modified sometime between 1923 and 1939.

photo of original 1939 barn with 3 gabled ends and 2 ridge lines
detail of 1839 Penrsose Strawbridge barn from about 1923 taken from near the Keith House. This shows the original barn which then burned down in 1949. The replacement barn was built smaller than the original.

The photo here shows the current northern wall of the barn, a small stable and 2 columns connected with a steel beam. These would all have been inside the original barn as seen in the 1923 photo. The stable would have been added after the fire in 1949 and the wall was probably built at that time also. The columns may have pre-existed the barn but the I-beam would be a more modern addition. I-Beams were not patented until 1849123 in Belgium so they were not available when the barn was originally built in 1839 so the beam would be a later addition but its purpose is not known.

photo of side of barn and small stables wit columns in front
Rebuilt 1839 Barn and Columns at Penrose-Strawbridge Farm. The northern forebay on the Original Barn - typical of a Pennsylvania Bank Barn, extended to and was supported by these columns but barn was rebuilt smaller after 1949 fire

Fire in 1949

The barn nearest the farmhouse caught fire on the evening of Monday June 6, 1949 and was discovered around 10:30 PM by Laurence Henry, the dairyman for the Strawbridges. A stable of race horses and 20 head of dairy cows were out in the fields and were not injured in the blaze, but the building was a total loss except for the stone walls. Firefighters were hampered by poor water pressure and traffic by gawkers on County Line Road.

Mr Strawbridge estimated the cost of the damage at $20,000.

From Philadelphia Inquirer, June 7, 1949, Page 27, column 4

During the Strawbridge's time here this barn was used for dairy cows- they had 20 cows in 1949 122. A well house was constructed a short distance to the east c1939 (it would be located in the lower right of this photo). The well water was used to cool the milk before being taken to the trolley on Doylestown Pike for the trip to the dairy. The farm was likely not growing grain by the late 1940s so the ramp to the threshing floor was no longer needed - so the barn was rebuilt smaller,.

photo of newspaper clipping with headline Fire Perils Mansion in Graeme Park
Philadelphia Inquirer, Tuesday June 7, 1949 page 27 column 4

Scottish Arches

One of the more unusual - and mysterious - features at the farm are the arches between the farmhouse and barn. The photo above from 1923 shows that the north wall of the barn incorporated th Our architectural historian, Herb Levy, tells us these are similar to arches used in Scottish architecture in the early 18th century - contemporary with Governor Keith.

photo of stone archway and wall
Stone archway on the north side of the barn at the Penrose-Strawbridge Farm. This very similar to arches found in Scottish architecture in the early 18th century - this may have been part of a distillery here

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