Preliminary Report – Distributed to historians, May 13 and 17, 2002
Background and preliminary planning for interpreting the site at 190 High Street – now the SE corner of 6th and Market Streets:
History of the house:
- The house site is said to have been a pond when John Kinsey owned most of the frontage of Market St. prior to 1750.
- Mary Masters, sister of John Lawrence, built the house c. 1760 and gave it to her daughter who married Richard Penn, John Penn's brother and for a few years, governor of Pennsylvania. He took his wife and mother-in-law off to England in 1775 and gave Tench Francis authority to lease it.
- During the Revolution the house had notable occupants: General William Howe during the British occupation of Philadelphia and Major General Benedict Arnold, military commander of Philadelphia, before his reassignment to West Point and treason.
- A fire in January 1780 destroyed much of the house, but it is thought the masonry walls remained. Robert Morris purchased the property (first by agreement in 1781, then by deed, 1785) from Richard Penn et al.
- Morris rebuilt the mansion for his own family and moved to the property in 1781 or early 1782. He then purchased several lots to the east, and created a walled garden.
- George Washington visited Morris at his new house soon after he moved there. He wrote to Morris asking him to explain the design for the new icehouse that Morris had built at the Market Street property. Morris wrote Washington back in June 1784 with a detailed explanation of its construction, because Washington wanted to have one just like it at Mount Vernon.
- Washington stayed at the Morris' house when he attended the Federal Convention during the summer of 1787.
- In 1790 Morris agreed to move next door to the Stedman-Galloway house (1765) at the corner of Sixth Street, which he had bought in 1786, so that the president could use his house as Philadelphia was to be the temporary capital of the new United States.
- Washington identified several alterations to the Morris house which were needed to accommodate his family, staff and servants. This included a servants' hall, a large two-story bow on the south end of the original house, and the removal of the well from the west paved yard to the wood lot on the east side. The servants' hall was to be constructed along the east side of the back wing, adjoining the kitchen. Another small structure was added south of the wash house for housing servants.
- Washington converted the upstairs bathing room that Morris had added to the house, as his study.
- Washington did bring enslaved people from Mount Vernon, but usually not more than seven. In 1794: Oney, Molly, Austin, Martin, Hercules, Henry and John. Two escaped. Thus most of those who worked for him were white, often indentured, straight off the Philadelphia docks.
- Quotes from the writings of Washington and his wife reveal their attitudes toward those that they employed and those that they enslaved. Washington was a tough taskmaster, considered himself a humane owner, pledged never to invest in human beings again if at all possible, doubted the efficiency of slavery, desired to free those he owned when he died and tried never to sell family members separately. His wife was critical of the performance of those who served her but regretted the popular Hercules' disappearance.
- Washington specified where he wanted his servants to live. He had enslaved and free mixed together in different parts of the house. The garret, wash house smokehouse and stables were all placed considered in his planning. He specified locations according to whether there were couples and how they served the household needs. Thus, if they worked in the kitchen, wash house, etc., they likely lived over it.
- Both Washington and John Adams, his successor as President, held state dinners and special events at the house. Washington often entertained visiting Native American chiefs and their retinue. Martha Washington also hosted Friday night parties, said to be more informal than her husband's.
- Martha's grandchildren George Washington Parke Custis, age 9 in 1790, and Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis, age 11, were part of the family. Both were educated here in Philadelphia, Wash at the Philadelphia College and Nelly by piano, sewing, and other home lessons.
- All the family went to the theater and other cultural events.
- Second President John Adams also chose to use 190 High Street as his residence before he and the federal government moved to the new capital, the District of Columbia. Therefore the house at 190 Highj Street served as the executive mansion from December, 1790 until May, 1800.
- After the beginning of the 19th century, the building became a hotel and was also used for shops until it was demolished in 1832.
Historical research using primary and secondary sources and, when possible archeological investigations, provides the data – as, in this case, the above facts – and the potential images and illustrations for the first step in the planning process for any interpretive program or media choice. Next steps include determining what aspects of the information are most relevant to the historical period and themes the park was established to interpret. Then a decision is made about how and where to convey the material – for instance, whether it will be conveyed in a publication or a periodic walking tour or wayside exhibit and if it is already available at other locations within the park.
Our planning led to the conclusion that this specific story – the history of this building and those who lived and labored within it – can be most compellingly told right at its site, now the SE corner of 6th and Market Street, by the use of wayside exhibits because of their site-specific and readily accessible qualities.
General overview of waysides:
Interpretive waysides are outdoor exhibits which use text, quotes and illustrations to convey the history of a specific place to visitors exploring the whole park or to passers-by simply using a park route to reach another destination. Waysides may often be used, too, as interpretive aids by park rangers and others who are conducting walking tours for groups of visitors. These tour leaders may gather the visitors around the wayside and then expand on the topics and information presented in the wayside at length as they choose or their schedule allows.
Waysides are available 24 hours a day, focused to convey very precisely the most important historical information about a site, carefully placed in the most relevant, accessible, safe and sensitive locations and are more easily updated than other exhibits as research reveals more information about the topics they interpret. A wayside might consist of one panel or a cluster of panels depending upon the amount of material they are meant to convey.
When a wayside is determined to be the most appropriate interpretive approach, final objectives are planned and then text, quotes and illustrations are carefully developed/selected to support those objectives.
Potential objectives for waysides at the location of the house at 6th and Market Streets:
- To identify the specific site of the first President George Washington's Philadelphia residence at the time when the city was the temporary capital of the new United States and to describe the residence and its out buildings. And to say, too, that the second President, John Adams, also lived here until his move to what is now the White House in Washington, DC.
- To indicate who else lived at the site before Washington and Adams and how the building was used after Adams' departure.
- To indicate that Washington conducted official business (cabinet meeting, receptions, dinners, and celebrations) within the house while he was in residence and to indicate that he was breaking new ground in establishing the institution of the presidency while he lived here.
- To explore the lives, roles and histories of others who had accompanied Washington from his home in Virginia and those who lived with him in this place. These people included his family, servants and those he held in slavery (two of whom fled from him while they lived here in Philadelphia.) A discussion of Washington's attitudes toward the practice of slavery itself is relevant here in the context of determining the dynamics of the daily environment within which these people labored.
- To tie this site to another within the park, the fully restored and refurnished Deshler Morris House – or Germantown White House – used periodically by Washington and his entourage during his presidency and now the earliest extent residence of an American President. In that elegant building, visitors can learn more about the man himself and those who surrounded him.
- To explain that Pennsylvania sought to keep the capital of the country in Philadelphia and offered a finer residence for the presidents but both Washington and Adams refused the offer. They continued to use the house at 6th and what was then called High Street until the move in 1800 to the new city on the banks of the Potomac River. The house they left behind here was then used for other purposes – including as a hotel – until it was torn down and almost all traces of it were demolished in 1832.
Potential locations for the waysides:
We will examine the area to determine the precise location for this wayside exhibit. We will want to insure that its placement is site-specific, that its installation will have no detrimental effect on the underground resources there, that it is in the safest and most assessable location for visitor use and that the important compelling story interpreted by the President's House wayside exhibit is not overpowered by the near-by outdoor exhibits interpreting the Liberty Bell.