The Penrose-Strawbridge Farm at Graeme Park
The Penrose-Strawbridge Farm is located on the southwest side of County Line Rd. in Horsham Township, Montgomery County and is part of the Horsham Township Park System. It is located next to Graeme Park, the estate of colonial Governor Sir William Keith which is now a state park and museum. The farm is sometimes referred to as the Keith-Penrose-Strawbridge Farm. The Keith House is a National Historic Landmark. The Penrose-Strawbridge house is now on the National Register as a Contributing Resource to Keith House (a building, site, structure, or object adding to the historic significance of a property.)
The farm encompasses 102 acres and is adjacent to the present 42 acre Graeme Park - although both properties were originally part of Sir William Keith's 1200 acre Fountain Low Estate. Keith began developing the property around 1720. It was later rename Graeme Park by Keith's son-in-law Dr Thomas Graeme around 1737,
A fascinating place just full of stories....
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 goal of HPHA is to restore the property to its condition in the late 1800's, possibly as a Living History Farm. We currently have received designation as a farm, a museum, and a library. The restoration has not progressed to the point where the property is open to the public but we are happy to offer tours by appointment. The house and property are also open during special events.
The farmstead consists of two houses (the Penrose-Strawbridge House and the Springhouse or Caretaker's Cottage, a large barn dating to 1839, a well/pump house, equipment barn, carriage shed, stables, silo and the foundations of a barn dating to 1735. The remaining acreage is either farmed by a local farmer, forested, or open space. The aerial photo shows part of the current Graeme Park and part of the Penrose-Strawbridge Farm.
The stables shown on this map were in danger of collapsing and had to be taken down in 2017.
The Strawbridge house is now on the National Register as a Contributing Resource to Keith House (a building, site, structure, or object adding to the historic significance of a property.)
The Penrose-Strawbridge Farm is currently owned by Horsham Township and was originally part of Sir William Keith's Fountain Low Estate, which he established in 1720 when he was Lt Governor of Pennsylvania under Hannah Penn, the widow of William Penn. It includes what may have been the first structure that Governor Keith built here. The most significant building on this estate is the Keith House, a Georgian mansion build by Keith but which had its heyday later in the 18th century under Dr Thomas Graeme, who renamed the estate Graeme Park, and his daughter Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson. The Keith House is a National Historic Landmark and the only existing residence of a colonial Pennsylvania Governor, It has been preserved since 1801 by the Penroses and later the Strawbridges. The Strawbridges donated this part of the farm - which retained the name Graeme Park - to the Commonwealth of PA in 1958. This 42 acre park, to the right of the driveway coming in from County Line Road, is now maintained by the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission (PHMC) and the Friends of Graeme Park.
Graeme Park has a long history. It was initially developed by colonial deputy governor Sir William Keith and then by Keith's son-in-law Dr. Thomas Graeme. Graeme's daughter Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson was called the most learned woman in America and had her heart broken by the son of the Benjamin Franklin. She is said to have brought the European Literary Salon to the colonies. The farm became an encampment for several Revolutionary War armies including that of Mad Anthony Wayne, and is rumored to have been a place that General Washington was fond of visiting - at least until Elizabeth delivered a letter demanding his surrender. After surviving a threat from the new Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to confiscate the estate (based on Elizabeth's husband having been on the English side and her role in the letter to Washingto), her nephew sold the estate to a the Penrose family, who were Quaker farmers. They worked and improved it till it was "one of the most valuable farms in Eastern Pennsylvania"(15). In the 20th century it was purchased by a retired stockbroker Welsh Strawbridge and his young wife Margaret Marshall Strawbridge, a gentleman farmer and horse breeder, a man who set an altitude record in a balloon, won 16 steeplechase races and was said by his wife to have broken every bone in his body doing it. They saw nearby fields first turned into an test field for aviation pioneer Harold Pitcairn, and then saw that field expanded by the US Navy onto their own land to accommodate jets after World War II.
Governor Road, commissioned by Sir William Keith in 1722, bisects the property. At the orginal entrance to the property, there are several features. The first is a three walled ruin, which is believed to be the remains of a barn dating to 1735-37. The second feature is a stone marker carved with '18 M to P’, which probably indicates 18 miles to Philadelphia from that point on Governor Rd. It may be an early mail delivery marker. Directly past the ramp to this barn are 2 stone gate posts which likely date from the same period.
Governor Road was commissioned to run from Willow Grove directly to Keith's Estate. This road followed the path of what is know Rt 611 (Easton Road and formerly the Doylestown Turnpike) then made a left near what became the village of Hallowell and ran through what would become the village of Davis Grove, then turned toward the estate. Davis Grove disappeared when the WGNAS was created. The road exists today as a gravel road from the intersection of the driveway to Graeme Park from County Line Road, past the Penrose-Strawbridge farm house, then to the gate at the WGNAS. An extension runs down to Keith Valley Road.
The Penroses also built 2 barns around 1848. Both still stand. One is now the Graeme Park Visitor's center. The other suffered a fire in 1949 and was rebuilt, but smaller. The Penroses also built a springhouse with an attached caretaker's cottage, a smaller 5 bay barn with workers rooms in a second floor above the end bays, and a carriage shed behind this building.
Welsh and Margaret Marshall Strawbridge purchased the property in 1920 and made major improvements to the farmhouse including adding indoor plumbing and central heating, stables and a pump house. Both Mr and Mrs Strawbridge came from well-established Philadelphia families. Mr Strawbridge, at the age of 40, was a retired financier. They raised thoroughbreds on the farm and he raced in steeplechases, winning 16.
The US Navy had taken over the nearby Pitcairn Field, swallowing up the village of Davis Grove and most of the neighboring Hallowell Farm in the 1940s and after World War II expanded the base and extended the runway to accommodate jets. The Strawbridges gave up some land for this expansion and were afraid of the base encroaching on the historic Keith House - which they and the Penroses had preserved.
The Strawbridges donated the portion of the estate now known as Graeme Park to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1957 to guarantee its preservation. Mr. Strawbridge passed away in 1969. Mrs. Strawbridge, in 1987, sold the remaining 102 acres to the National Lands Trust for $1.00 in an effort to preserve the farm and the surrounding land. This agreement allowed Mrs. Strawbridge to live in the house for as long as she liked, and she continued to call the farm home until she died in 1996. The Natural Lands Trust was not interested in maintaining or restoring the buildings, but Horsham Township was - so on January 8,1997 the Township purchased the Penrose-Strawbridge farm from the Natural Lands Trust, with the stipulation that the property be used for open space and will not be used for further development of the Township. Horsham Township, in 2003, entered into a lease for 10 acres of this property including the buildings to a joint venture of HPHA and HPPI for the purpose of restoration
Many of the buildings, unfortunately, had fallen into a state of disrepair by the time of Mrs Strawbridge's death. Horsham Township acquired the property in 1997 and allowed HPHA to do research and develop a feasibility study for the restoration of the farm which was completed in 2001. HPHA's interest in establishing the lease with the township was in restoring the buildings. The lease includes the main Penrose-Strawbridge House and a number of other buildings, some in fairly good condition, and others that have required or will require a great deal of restoration.
The independent movie Apparition was filmed on location at the Penrose Strawbridge House for about 3 weeks in June 2013. About 85% of the story is set at the farmhouse with the rest in the Horsham/Hatboro area including Mann Road and at Village Hardware in Hatboro. The film has been available on Amazon Prime and on DVD.
The farm has also been used for a set for a film by students from Drexel University.
The grounds are also popular with photographers and painters. The statue of River Breeze and our Scottish Arch are often used for wedding party photos (Graeme Park next door is a great place for holding your reception!)
... and we've hosted a couple WWII Reenactments where our farm has found itself being freed by the good guys in occupied France,
The people who have lived and worked and visited Graeme Park over the past (almost) 300 years are fascinating. Pages for some of them are shown on this site (History/People on the menu). We also have a timeline dating back to 1686 when Samuel Carpenter purchased the original 5000 acre tract from William Penn. This acreage included not only what would become Graeme Park but also most of what would become Horsham Township.
See more about the Penrose-Strawbridge House Restoration