The much-awaited Yuletide Tours of the historic houses of Fairmount Park will take visitors back through time with A Taste of Philadelphia Past from Friday, November 30, through Wednesday, December 5, 2001, when the public is invited to enjoy the houses fully decked in holiday splendor and decor. Regional garden clubs, florists, and school groups are currently at work developing lively decorations that promise to open a window on the history of these park treasures that endure today among the nation's most architecturally significant groups of 18th-century houses.An afternoon tea will take place at City Tavern, 138 South Second Street, Philadelphia, on October 17, 2001 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., where a cake representing Mount Pleasant, donated by the Art Institute of Philadelphia--Culinary Arts, will be served and savored in honor of participating organizations planning the tours. Members of the media are invited to attend.
Like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Memorial Hall, the historic houses of Fairmount Park are among the most cherished structures of Fairmount Park. On July 2, 2001, then-Governor Tom Ridge and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission announced that Fairmount Park has been named Commonwealth Treasure for 2001, an honor it now shares with the Brandywine Battlefield, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, and the Pennsylvania Capitol. Public ceremonies marking the park as a Commonwealth Treasure will take place on October 9, 2001 at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park, an event that is also expected to give notice to the important place in history occupied by the Park Houses.
The Fairmount Park Houses are widely appreciated not only as architecture but also for the remarkable context they provide for American cultural history. Each one served as a breathtaking rural retreat for prominent families of Philadelphia. From the kitchens to the parlors, the drawing rooms to the bedrooms, a tour through these houses provides visitors with a unique glimpse into Philadelphia's past, and offers insight into the personalities who enlivened every room. The houses are lovingly preserved and maintained today by dedicated civic organizations, including Colonial Dames of America, Chapter II (Lemon Hill), Women for Greater Philadelphia (Laurel Hill), Naomi Wood Trust (Woodford), Sweetbriar (Modern Club), and Committee of 1926 (Strawberry Mansion). The Philadelphia Museum of Art administers Mount Pleasant and Cedar Grove.
Each of the houses this year will be distinctively decorated, highlighting the spirit of an earlier time:
- Feasting and Celebrating with the Captain at Mount Pleasant, the exquisite Georgian mansion built for the swashbuckling Scottish sea captain John Macpherson and later owned (albeit briefly) by Benedict Arnold.
- Mr. Franklin Comes to Dinner at Woodford, the summer residence of Philadelphia merchant William Coleman, Benjamin Franklin's close confidant. The two men are thought to have had lively fireside discussions there.
- Family Thyme at Cedar Grove, summer home to five generations of Quakers, beginning with its builder Elizabeth Coates Paschall who was an avid herbalist ahead of her time. In addition to its furniture displays, the house contains a remarkable indoor bake oven and hot water boiler in the kitchen and an unusual two-sided wall of closets on the second floor--all considered innovative and state-of-the-art in their day.
- Eat, Drink, and Be Merry! at Lemon Hill, noteworthy in the horticultural world for its gardens in which the first gardenia bush, imported from England, took root in the United States.
- Sugar and Spice…The Gingerbread Cottage at Laurel Hill, built by Rebecca Rawle Shoemaker whose second husband was convicted of treason, leading to the confiscation of the house. Following Independence, the family re-purchased the home.
- Sweets Under the Mistletoe at Strawberry Mansion, the largest of the Park Houses, which contains a distinguished collection of Tucker porcelain and an inimitable grandmother's attic filled with dolls and toys.
- A Fête for Lafayette at Sweetbriar, the classic Federal-style house built as a gentleman's farm where its first owner escaped a yellow fever epidemic in the city.
Visitors may tour the seven historic houses by trolleys departing from Philadelphia's Horticulture Center (located in Fairmount Park) which will be transformed into a Winter Wonderland of holiday greens and gift boutiques. Trolley tours are $26 and can be purchased at the Horticulture Center or on the trolley. Tickets for trolley tours are valid for date of purchase only. Visitors may also opt to take a self-guided tour and enjoy their own scenic trip to the sites within a 10-minute drive of each other. Daytime admission tickets for self-guided tours are $18 for adults and $6 for children under 12, and can be purchased at the Horticulture Center, Lemon Hill, or Strawberry Mansion. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Museum or by calling (215) 235-SHOW. There is free parking at the Park Houses and at the Horticulture Center. Candlelight Evenings feature three of the historic houses lighted as they would have been in the 18th and 19th century. Light fare and wine are served prior to departure. These tours are from 5:45-8:15 p.m. or 6:30-9:00 p.m. Tickets are $40 and reservations are required.
A TASTE OF PHILADELPHIA PAST is made possible in part by Twinings Tea and Walkers Shortbread.