The Penrose-Strawbridge House is a farmhouse - built mostly from 1810-1860 plus 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. 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 to malt grain, distill spirits and brew beer. We believe some small quantity of whiskey was produced but overall this 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.
Keith had built a number of buildings, one of which still stands. Now a National Historic Landmark, Keith House was originally an industrial building, (some say a malt house but the malt house could also be associated with the scottish arches closer to the farmhouse), 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 Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson hosted many of the more renowned figures of the Amercan Revolutionary period. The Penrose family acquired the property in 1801 and added a large addition to our farmhouse in 1810. Within the next 10 years or so we believe the Penroses moved out of the Keith House and used it for special occasions and other uses, but largely preserved it, This practice was continued by the Strawbridges who bought Graeme Park in 1920.
Welsh and Margaret Strawbridge added indoor plumbing and central heating to the farmhouse in the 1920s and continued the Penrose tradition of preserving the Keith House. 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 101 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 and HPPI with the goal of restoring them. We have been busy with just that - updates below...
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
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.
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.
At the rear of the building is the addition built in 1858. As you enter from the c1721 room there is a door with a ship's ladder to the basement on the right. Above this, with a door on the on the other side, is a winder stair going to the 2nd floor. On the east and west walls are large doors to the outside. The western door opens to a sun room that was added in the 1920s. On the front wall was a coal burning range that unfortunately fell apart when we needed to move it early in the project. On the north eastern corner of the room is a stone sink that drains to the outside.
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.
This page includes periodic progress reports on the restoration of the Penrose-Strawbridge House and other structures on the property. Most of the topics listed below also have their own pages with much more detail and additional photos.
The front door to the house opens into the entry foyer. Like most of the house, the plaster here was either cracked, falling off, or missing. We also had to redo some of the plumbing in the 2nd floor bath immediately above the foyer so we removed most of the plaster and some of the lath in order to do the plumbing. The foyer was then replastered and painted in 2011..
The Strawbridge Library, or the West Parlor, is the room to the left when you enter the Penrose-Strawbridge House through the front door. This room features a large fireplace and was a favorite place for Mr. Strawbridge.
When we began the restoration, this room was suffering mainly from structural issues in the foundation below. In the early 1920s, the Strawbridges created a bulkhead door in the basement on the north wall below this room. This opening was not done correctly and caused the north wall to sag, and a problem with a beam on the east wall caused that to sag. This resulted in a lot of cracked plaster and problems with the windows and french doors. We also had a problem with the floor in the bedroom above that was causing the ceiling to sag.
We corrected the foundation problems back in 2005 by adding steel beams throughout the basement, repaired the plaster cracks, reinforced the floor in the 2nd floor bedroom and replaced the ceiling in this room. We stripped and repainted all the woodwork and refinished the floor. As of November 2014 this room is finished.
Ironically, this almost 300 year old room did not need much work. We had the plaster repaired on the ceiling and walls and then repainted it.
The sun room has been in poor condition since we began the restoration. It was added to the house by the Strawbridges in the 1920s and therefore really doesn't fit our goal of restoring the house to the 1890s. But it has utility while we do the rest of the restoration: storing firewood and equipment, painting shutters and doors, etc. At this point we have not yet decided whether to restore this room, tear it down, or remake it into something else... stay tuned. Read more about the
Two pent roofs were added to the house probably c1875 on the east and west elevations above the first floor. The pent roof on the eastern facade was torn off by Horsham Township in 1997. The roof on the western facade was reshingled when Mrs. Strawbridge's executor replaced the roof on the house in 1996. HPHA replaced the roof on the eastern facade in 2008 with a new cedar-shake roof.
The pent roof on the western facade is in bad shape and needs to be replaced as soon as we can raise the funds. Read more on the
The 2nd floor of the structure was remodeled as a caretaker's apartment early in the project. All work, with the exception of the main stairway and the room above the Strawbridge Library, was completed by 2005.
The bathroom, above the entrance foyer in the 1810 section of the house, was remodeled into a modern bathroom. The entrance door was moved from the stair landing to opening into the room above the Penrose Living Room. The window on this room was not replaced since it is on the front facade.
The room above the Penrose Living Room in the 1810 section of the house has been converted into a bedroom. Renovations to this room mainly included painting.
The room above the 1721 Dining Room was added by the Penroses in 1830 and was probably originally constructed to be 2 rooms with a small hallway, as it was while the Strawbridges lived here. We removed (but saved) the interior walls and converted these rooms to a single living room for the caretaker. The original ceiling beams have been left exposed. We replaced the windows on the western facade in this room with historically accurate replacement windows. The windows on the eastern facade were repaired.
The back room was probably originally a closet that was converted into a servants bathroom by the Strawbridges. This was remodeled into a modern kitchen/laundry as part of the caretaker's apartment.
Work on the stairway and walls leading from the main floor to the upper floors is complete up almost to the 3rd floor as of May 2015.
The bedroom above the Strawbridge Library had a very serious sag in the floor. We removed the ceiling in the library in December, 2013 and reinforced the original rough hewn beams and then replaced the ceiling. This room still needs some work but is now being used as the office for HPHA' s executive director.
The third floor bathroom, located at the top of the main stairs and above the entrance foyer, was remodeled in 2010. This room had originally been a closet during the Penrose era and was converted to a bathroom by the Strawbridges, possibly before they moved it. The Strawbridges retained the clothes pegs on the wall and so did we. We replaced the commode and sink with modern pieces, and the tub with a vintage claw-foot tub.
This room has one window on the front facade of the building so we did not replace it.
This room is considered remodeled as of 2010.