George Washington's family and slaves lived here. New exhibits will examine their lives.
The Germantown house where George Washington rode out Philadelphia's 1793 yellow fever epidemic and summered the following year will be closed for at least a year for upgrades, renovations and installation of new exhibitions, the National Park Service has announced. The Deshler-Morris House will close sometime after the first week in October, said Jane Cowley, spokeswoman for Independence National Historical Park, which owns and operates the house.
Deshler-Morris and an adjoining building are slated to receive new heating and cooling systems and other systems improvements, Cowley said. Original wood and masonry will also be refurbished.
A major reason for the closure will be the installation of three new exhibits focusing on house occupants: Martha Washington, her granddaughter Nellie Park Custis, and Oney Judge, an enslaved African who served as Martha Washington's personal servant before escaping in 1796.
The Deshler-Morris House, located at 5442 Germantown Ave., has not been a major park attraction, drawing fewer than 1,000 visitors in 2006. But in the wake of public interest this summer in the archaeological work on the site of the main presidential mansion on Independence Mall, park officials are hoping for a bump at Deshler-Morris.
Toward that end, officials reconsidered how to present the Germantown site and determined that a more comprehensive look at the Washington family was in order. Washington kept nine slaves in Philadelphia, and Deshler-Morris exhibitions will be used to shed more light on their lives.
Independence Park has records indicating that at least four of Washington's slaves spent time at Deshler-Morris — Oney Judge; Moll (or Molley), who may have been Nellie Park Custis' nanny and also served as Martha's personal servant; Hercules, Washington's well-known chef, who escaped in 1797; and Austin, who worked with the presidential horses and died in 1794.
Gen. William Howe, commander of the British forces during the Revolution, also used the house as temporary headquarters after the Battle of Germantown in 1777. It was built in 1772 by merchant David Deshler, sold several times, and purchased by Samuel B. Morris in the mid-19th century. The Morris family occupied the house until giving it to the park service in 1948.
The renovation and exhibition project is expected to cost well over $1 million, according to park documents.
The house will be open (Friday through Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.) until it is closed soon after the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Germantown on Oct. 6. It will remain closed until at least November of next year, officials said.