The Philadelphia Museum of Art announces a new schedule of trolley tours of Philadelphia’s historic Fairmount Park Houses, a gracious group of seven 18th- and early 19th-century historic houses established by wealthy landowners as refuge from the pressures of daily urban life. Wednesday through Sunday at 10:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. from April 1, 2005, through December 11, 2005, riders can board a Victorian-style trolley at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s West Entrance and be whisked away for an informative and enthralling trip through Philadelphia’s Colonial history. Trolleys also depart and return to Sixth and Market streets in Philadelphia, across from the Independence Visitor’s Center.
Tickets for the trolley tour, which includes a guided tour led by a trained Park House Guide and admission to the houses visited (two houses will be featured on a rotating schedule) are $20 for adults and $13 for seniors, children and Museum members. Day-of tickets are available at the Museum’s admission desks and on the trolley. Advanced tickets may be purchased by calling Philadelphia Trolley Works at (215) 925-TOUR.
The Fairmount Park Houses, located to the north and west of Center City along the Schuylkill River, were built within a leisurely horseback ride from the commercial center of one of the most prosperous cities in the American Colonies. Some of the properties functioned as working farms, while others provided elegant, fashionable retreats.
Fiske Kimball (1888-1955), the distinguished architectural historian who became director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1925, was the prime mover behind establishing these rare architectural treasures as house museums. In the 1920s, Kimball fostered relationships with many civic organizations, encouraging them to support and preserve the historic houses for posterity. Under his auspices, the Museum assumed administration of Mount Pleasant (built 1762-1765 and currently closed for restoration), which had been built for a Scottish sea captain and privateer and was briefly owned by Benedict Arnold, and Cedar Grove (built 1748), a simpler structure that is fascinating for its innovative interior features and its original furnishings that remain in pristine condition. Both houses offer rare and authentic contexts in which to present works from the Museum’s collections of American and decorative arts and extend into the park Kimball’s vision of the Museum as a place to "walk through time."
"The handsome homes that dot the landscape of Fairmount Park offer a unique opportunity for visitors to travel through time and experience Philadelphia's rich history with distinct immediacy," said Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "These tours offer a lucid view of the city as a cultural epicenter during the Colonial period and a greater understanding of the role Philadelphia played in shaping our nation."
The Park House Guides of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, organized in 1960 and now numbering some 60 highly trained volunteers, offer detailed tours of seven Fairmount Park homes, all located within a 10-minute drive of each other. In addition to Mount Pleasant and Cedar Grove, other historic homes include:
- Laurel Hill (1764-1767), located on a rise high above the banks of the Schuylkill River at Edgeley Drive and Fairmount Avenue, is the most visible of the houses when driving through the park on West River Drive. The original central section of Laurel Hill reflects the Middle Georgian influence of nearby Mount Pleasant. Two additions enlarged the house in the 19th century: a simple one-story wing on the south side and an octagonal two-story wing on the north side. In addition to administering the house, Women for Greater Philadelphia annually hosts a summer concert series with candlelight receptions on the porch facing the river.
- Lemon Hill (1800), a grand Neoclassical villa, features oval-shaped rooms with curved doors and fireplaces on each of its of three levels. Situated at Kelly Drive and Sedgley Avenue, Lemon Hill was the first of the Park Houses to be purchased by the City of Philadelphia in 1844 and it is administered today by Colonial Dames of America, Chapter II.
- Strawberry Mansion (1788-1789), the largest of the Park houses, is Federal in style with a large Greek Revival wings on either side. Located at 33rd and Dauphin Streets, the site of what was once a steamboat landing, Strawberry Mansion served not only as a country home, but also as a popular restaurant. In the late 19th century, the Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins was known to play "shinny," a form of street hockey, on its grounds with his friends. Today, the mansion's attic houses a fine collection of 19th-century toys and dolls, which can be enjoyed on a tour. It is administered by The Committee of 1926.
- Sweetbriar (1797) was built in a Neoclassical style as a year-round residence for Samuel Breck, an acquaintance of the French General Marquis de Lafayette, who fought alongside George Washington in the Revolutionary War. Standing on what is today Lansdowne Avenue, the house features a colonnade in the entry hallway and large Italianate windows. It is administered by The Modern Club.
- Woodford's (1756) original owner, the merchant William Coleman, was praised by his close confidant Benjamin Franklin for having the "coolest, clearest head, best heart, and the exactest morals of any man." Not far from Strawberry Mansion on 33rd and Dauphin Streets, Woodford presents an excellent Philadelphia interpretation of Georgian architecture, and its parlor contains one of the most finely carved overmantles and chimneybreasts in the city. It is administered by the Naomi Wood Trust.