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The President's House in Philadelphia, Part II

Index | Part I | Part II | Revisited

II.

THE PRESIDENT'S HOUSE on Market Street was the residence of the Chief Executive from 1790 to 1800, while Philadelphia served as the temporary capital of the United States. During these years most of the business of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government was conducted in or from this building. Washington and Adams met here with their cabinets, generals, and other advisors; and the public business of the president was conducted in the office on the third floor. The official entertaining of the new nation took place within the house; thousands of people attended the levees, "drawingrooms," open houses and State dinners. Dozens of accounts of visits to and descriptions of the house exist in letters and diaries, but many of these were not published until the twentieth century, and so were unavailable to earlier historians.

Some of the most important documents about the property — the eighteenth-century deeds, the 1785 groundplan, the 1773 insurance survey, the 1798 insurance policies, and the George Washington-Tobias Lear correspondence — were either unknown to or ignored by early nineteenth-century historians. No view of the house from the eighteenth century is known to survive, and some of the earliest and most accurate views from the 1820s and 1830s remained in private hands and seem to have been unknown or dismissed. The void of information about the house was filled by personal reminiscences, sometimes the boyhood recollections of old men.

The earliest known view of the President's House (fig. 9) is a crude pen and ink drawing from the 1823 extra-illustrated manuscript of John Fanning Watson's "Annals of Philadelphia"115 Watson (1779-1860) was an antiquarian, an amateur historian who began studying colonial records and writing down the anecdotes and early recollections of elderly people in the first decade of the 1800s. He collected his information avidly over some fifty years, and published three editions of the Annals, first in 1830, then in expanded and corrected editions in 1844, and 1857. The later editions had multiple printings, including many of the 1857 edition made after Watson's death.

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Fig 9. "Genrl Washington's Residence [now nos 192 and 194 High St.]." The notations read, "built by — Masters [sic] before the Rev.n One of his daughters married Richard Penn, then Govnr." and "built for Wm Masters [sic] who mard Polly Lawrence. It was a rarity as having big panes of glafs ~." Ink drawing on paper by John Fanning Watson from his 1823 notes for Annals of Philadelphia, facing p.236-1/2. Library Company of Philadelphia.

This drawing is a conjectural view of the President's House and was probably done in or before 1823. Watson himself was the artist, and it shows a (slightly inaccurate) memory of how the building had looked some thirty years earlier. (If everything about Watson's sketch were accurate, the house must have been the only dwelling in Philadelphia without chimneys!) At the time it was drawn, the major architectural features of the first story — the front door and its frontispiece, the three windows and their pediments, the original stone (marble?) front steps, the bulkhead or covered entrance to the cellar — probably had all been removed. Had they still been present, it is likely that even an amateur artist such as Watson would have drawn them accurately.116

Philadelphia grew rapidly after the Revolution, expanding westward along the major streets. Land on Market Street became so valuable as commercial property that the lots between existing buildings were developed and the existing residences were converted into stores. The changes to the 500 block of Market Street were particularly rapid and dramatic. Watson wrote:

"When General Washington and Robert Morris, dignitaries of the nation, lived in the houses in High street, east of Sixth street, only little more than thirty years ago, no stores, save Sheaff's wine store [512 Market, the other side of the walled garden], were near them; and probably not an inhabitant could then have been found to guess that that square, and to the west of it to Broad street, would ever become a street of trade!"117

In the mid-1790s, during President Washington's tenancy, Robert Morris sold off all of his Market Street properties to raise cash for the grand mansion he was planning to build on the block bordered by Chestnut, Walnut, 7th and 8th Streets. The President's House and the wood yard on its eastern side were sold in March 1795 for $37,000 to Andrew Kennedy,118 a wealthy merchant, who continued to rent the property to the city as the executive mansion. The subdividing of the walled garden to the east of the wood yard caused a problem, since an insufficient number of street numbers had been reserved as addresses for the lots between the existing buildings. The street number of the main house and wood yard (524-30 Market Street) had been 190 High Street while Washington resided there, but it appears as 192 High Street on tax records in 1798 during Adams's presidency.119 The yard to the west between the President's House and the Stedman-Galloway House was sold in December 1794 to hairdresser Robert Kid,120 and a new dwelling was built there (532-34 Market Street), with a 4-foot alley separating the two buildings.121

The yellow fever epidemic of 1793, in which more than 10 percent of Philadelphia's population died, essentially dashed the residents' hopes for the city remaining the national (or even the state) capital. The cause of the disease was unknown, and, with additional outbreaks following almost annually, many in Congress (and elsewhere) suspected there was something unhealthy about Philadelphia's climate or water.

By the end of Washington's second term, and after an expenditure of more than $110,000, the Presidential Mansion on 9th Street was finally completed.122 The new building was enormous. In terms of square footage it was more than three times the size of the Market Street house, and more than twice the size of Independence Hall. The governor of Pennsylvania somewhat desperately tendered the mansion to President-elect Adams at whatever "the rent for which you might obtain any other suitable house in Philadelphia."123 Adams declined the offer, replying that "I entertain great doubts whether, by a candid construction of the Constitution of the United States, I am at liberty to accept it without the intention and authority of Congress . . ."124 Perhaps to increase the pressure on him to occupy the grand mansion — a move which might have buoyed Philadelphia's sinking chances of remaining the national capital — the city doubled the annual rent on the Market Street house to ú1,000 Pennsylvania currency (about $2,666). The new president stood firm, and moved into the Market Street house in mid-March 1797. The Adamses kept a smaller household staff than the Washingtons, and their entertaining seems to have been more modest. (Washington outspent his salary most of the years he was president, while his successor managed to save more than 15 percent of his.) The Residence Act of 1790 called for the District of Columbia to officially become the national capital on the first Monday of December 1800. After a stay on his farm in Massachusetts, Adams moved to the new Federal City on November 1.

Adams occupied the President's House in Philadelphia until late May 1800. Within weeks of his departure, it was leased to John Francis, the proprietor of a boardinghouse in which Adams and Jefferson had each lodged during their vice-presidencies, and the former President's House became Francis's Union Hotel. Mrs. Adams stayed at the house-cum-hotel on her way south from Massachusetts, following her husband to the new capital:

"I arrived in this City last Evening & came to the old House now occupied by Francis as a Hotel. Tho the furniture and arrangment of the House is changed I feel more at home here than I should any where else in the city, and when sitting with my son & other friends who call to see me, I can scarcly persuade myself that tomorrow I must quit it, for an unknown & an unseen abode."125

(That unknown and unseen abode was The White House.)

The Philadelphia Directory for 1801 lists the street numbers and occupants of this section of Market Street:

HIGH STREET
180 [512-14 Market]Henry Sheaff, wine merchant
184 [518 Market]Anthony and John Kennedy, merchants [The brothers and heirs of Andrew Kennedy who had died in 1800, now owners of the President's House.]
190 [524-30 Market]John Francis, hotel [The Union Hotel, occupying the President's House]
192 [532-34 Market]Robert Kid, copper merchant [no longer a hairdresser?]
194 [SE corner, 6th & Market]Jofhua B. Bond, merchant [the Stedman-Galloway House]126

Over the next decade, there would be changes almost every year in the occupants or the ownership of these properties and those around them.

The Market Street hotel appears not to have been a success, and Francis relinquished the lease after only three years. The once-grand house became a white elephant, out of place on a block which was rapidly becoming part of the commercial core of the growing city. The market sheds down the center of High Street were extended to 6th Street in 1810, and ran directly in front of the house.127 In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the fašade of the President's House was stripped of much of its architectural ornament, the first story broken up into stores, and its upper stories converted into a boardinghouse.

In 1823, John Fanning Watson attempted to recapture his memory of the building from before the changes to its exterior. Perhaps realizing his own limitations as an artist, he hired W. L. Breton to make illustrations for the first published edition of his Annals, including a view of the President's House as Watson remembered it.

William L. Breton (ca. 1772-1855) was an Englishman who had come to Philadelphia by 1824, an amateur artist who drew dozens of early views of the city.128 Breton, often at Watson's behest, recorded buildings that were still standing, sometimes just before their demolition, and buildings that were no longer extant based on the descriptions in the Annals manuscript and other sources.

There are three Breton watercolor sketches of the President's House. Two are identical — one in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the other at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. The third is in the collection of the Atwater Kent Museum.129 While all these views are conjectural and vary in minor details, the Atwater Kent sketch probably is the most accurate version since it best agrees with a contemporaneous watercolor of the house by another artist (see below), and it was the view copied by Breton for the lithographs that illustrated the first edition of Watson's Annals (1830) (see fig. 1).

Lithographs are made by drawing on stone with crayon, a process which gives a more painterly image than a woodcut, but one which is impractical for repeated editions since the stones are usually wiped clean and reused for other illustrations. According to Martin Snyder, one of the lithographic stones cracked while printing the 1830 Annals, ruining four illustrations. It is likely that the view of the President's House was one of those ruined, since some copies of the first edition have one Breton lithograph of the building, and the rest have another. Perhaps because of this accident, Watson switched to woodcuts to illustrate later editions of the Annals.130

While Breton's lithographs were quite elegant, the 1844 woodcut of the house by Thomas H. Mumford which illustrated the second and all subsequent editions of the Annals was comparatively primitive, and made what probably had once been the largest house in Philadelphia look small. Efforts to correct the unprepossessing image shown in the Mumford woodcut, and the memory of a much grander building may have led to later fantastical views of the house.

Andrew Kennedy who bought the President's House from Robert Morris, owned it for fewer than five years. He died unmarried, in February 1800, leaving most of his estate to his brother Anthony.131 Anthony Kennedy built a four-story store on the eastern side of the house in what had been the Wood Yard, probably in 1804.132 The deed for this property included 4 1/2 inches (one brick's thickness) of the eastern wall of the President's House, which became a party wall shared by both structures.133 In the Philadelphia Directory Kennedy's newly-built store was listed as "next 188 High Street" in 1804, and "190 High Street" thereafter.134

By 1805, the south side of this block of Market Street seems to have been entirely built up. The following listings from The Philadelphia Directory for 1805 show how the area had changed in only four years:

180 High [512-14 Market]Sheaff Henry, wine merchant
[182 High (516 Market)no listing found, owned by Henry Pepper in 1805]
184 High [518 Market]Seegar David, confectioner
186 High [520 Market]Vanuxem James, merchant
188 High [522 Market]Thomson G. merchant
190 High [524 Market]Smith Wm. W. merchant [wood yard]
centre 190 High [526-30 Market]Turnbull William, merchant [eastern half of the President's House]
next 192 High [526-30 Market]Clifford Thomas, merchant [western half of the President's House]
192 High [532-34 Market]Henry Alexander, merchant [Kid House]
S E corner High & 6th [536 Market]Haga Godfrey & Co. merchants [Stedman-Galloway House]135

Anthony Kennedy died in 1828, and in April 1832 his heirs sold 526-30 Market Street to Nathaniel Burt,136 an Irish-born merchant who had run a dry-goods store at the southwest corner of 6th and Market Streets during the previous decade. Burt intended to tear down the building that had once been the President's House and replace it with stores. This threat of possibly imminent demolition may have inspired William G. Mason to make a watercolor sketch of the house.

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Fig. 10. "Washington's Residence, High Street, Philadelphia." The architectural features of the President's House's first story were removed as early as 1804 when the building was converted into stores. This view shows the building as it looked just prior to demolition. Watercolor by William G. Mason. Dated May 1, 1832. Private collection.

William G. Mason (1797-1872) was an artist, drawing teacher and wood engraver who ran a stationery store on Chestnut Street near 2d. His watercolor sketch (fig. 10) shows him to have been an excellent draftsman. This is the most important view of the President's House (or what became of it), and the closest thing to an elevation of the fašade known to exist. It is dated May 1, 1832, two-and-a-half weeks after Burt bought the property. The sketch shows the house in splendid isolation on an open plain. In reality it was part of a crowded row of stores on what may have been the most heavily-congested commercial street in Philadelphia.

Mason's sketch confirms many of the architectural features that one sees in Breton's views — the four-bay fašade, the boxed cornice with modillions, the "eared" window frames, the stone belt course coinciding with the sills of the second story windows, the parapets (low walls rising above and running parallel to the roof on the gable ends) — but there are other features on which the views differ. Mason shows the house with twin dormers, as do Watson's 1823 sketch, Breton's three watercolors, and one of his lithographs.137 Mason also shows the house with twin chimney stacks on each of the gable ends, and a decked gable roof — moderately steeply-pitched in the front, which then takes a step up to a roof deck behind the dormers. The Breton views show a single massive chimney stack on each gable end and a simple double-pitched roof rising to a high peak.

Breton and Mason made their views within no more than four and possibly as few as two years of each other, and it is unlikely that the chimneys and roof were changed in that time. The differences in the views make sense if the house possessed the two twin chimney stacks shown by Mason, and Breton (or Watson) made the erroneous assumption that the stacks closest to Market Street had been the house's original chimneys (marking the original peak of the roof), and that the stacks in the rear were a later (post-President's House) addition. If Watson or Breton indeed made this assumption, it would explain the shallow depth of the building in the HSP and Athenaeum sketches, especially if Breton had mistakenly thought (or been told) that the original house had been one-room deep, and the depth increased to two rooms when the building was altered for commercial purposes.

The motives of the artists must also be considered. Breton was being paid to portray the building as the President's House, or, more precisely, to represent Watson's recollection of how the President's House had looked some thirty-five years earlier. Mason seems to have drawn the building as he saw it, documenting it just before its demolition. Where differences occur, it is this writer's belief that the details of the Mason sketch should be given the more weight.

Nathaniel Burt did have the President's House torn down, and built three narrow, brick, four-story stores within the same frontage — 192, 192 1/2, and 194 High Street.138 Most of the information about the demolition comes from the 1875 address by his son, Nathaniel Burt II (1822-1893), to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Burt II states:

"The building had long been occupied in the upper part as a boarding house, and on the first floor by a confectioner and others. Everything was in decay, and of no pecuniary value, except for the ground. In the year 1833 the old buildings were razed to the ground: no vestige of them remains on the premises, excepting on the Minor street front a portion of the old coach-house wall was incorporated into the new stores erected on that street. On the Market street front the ground was occupied by three stores, now 526, 528, 530 Market. No. 530, the largest of these, extending through to Minor and including the wall just alluded to . . ."139

Many historians have relied upon this address for details regarding the house, but there are several points on which Burt II, who was remembering events which had taken place more than forty years earlier, was mistaken. For instance, the "demolition" of the President's House took place in 1832 rather than 1833, at a time when he was about ten years old.140 And his assertion that, "No vestige of [the buildings] remains on the premises . . ." is not quite true.

Nathaniel Burt I probably did not tear down the four-story exterior side walls of the main house.141 Save the peak of the gable, the eastern wall unquestionably remained since it was a party wall shared with, partially deeded to, and holding up the floors and roof of 524 Market Street. It is likely that almost all of the western wall also remained, since Kid's deed gave the owner of 532 the right to use it as a party wall, and the Market Street frontage described in Burt's deed included only 7 inches (one-and-a-half bricks) of the wall's 14-inch thickness.142 Alexander Henry had owned Robert Kid's house since 1804,143 and he bought the 4-foot alley between the properties from the Kennedy heirs in February 1832.144 No evidence has been found that Henry (or any of the previous owners) had exercised the right to build over the alley and use the western wall of the President's House as a shared party wall up until this time.

Nathaniel Burt had the President's House completely gutted — the fašade torn off; all three floors, the attic, and the roof removed; and the north-south brick wall down the middle of the main house demolished. The house's exterior foundation walls remained — except, perhaps, for the south wall — and became part of the foundations for the new stores. The cellar was expanded southward by nearly 50 percent by excavating into the old paved yard and where the piazza and kitchen had stood. The enlarged cellar was divided into thirds, front-to-back, by 14-inch brick walls which rose, on their north ends, to about the same height as the old cornice line. Three brick, four-story stores, each 15 feet in width (including the party walls) and 75 feet in depth, were squeezed into the same Market Street frontage as the old main house.145

Burt reportedly removed several items from the President's House before he had it gutted, including the mantel from the second floor front parlor, the front door locks, various doorknobs, and a fanlight. He had these items installed in the house he was building for himself at 1203 Walnut Street.146 This Walnut Street house remained in the Burt family for over a century.

The Market Street stores were also to remain in the Burt family's possession for more than a century. Alexander Henry tore down Kid's house and replaced it with two four-story stores (532 and 534 Market Street) similar to Burt's, and the western wall of the President's House became a shared party wall sometime before 1850.147

Not everyone agreed with Watson's memory of the President's House. Around 1850, about the time of the fiftieth anniversary of Washington's death, there were conflicting theories about exactly where it had stood, how large it had been, how it had looked, and what (if anything) remained of it.

Rufus Wilmot Griswold (1815-57) wrote a history of "Society" in New York and Philadelphia in the early republic. In it he described the President's House in Philadelphia (italics added):

"Mr. Morris's house was on the south side of High street, near Fifth street. It was three stories high, and about thirty-two feet wide, with a front displaying four windows in the second as well as in the third story, and three in the first — two on one side of the hall and one on the other — and a single door, approached by three heavy steps of gray stone. On each side of the house were vacant lots, used as a garden, and containing trees and shrubbery."148

On a first reading, Griswold's statement that the house had been only 32 feet wide seems unaccountable. He gives no source for his information, and he is the first person to make the claim in print. Griswold seems to have made the erroneous assumption that two of Burt's narrow stores (528 and 530 Market) represented the width of the original house, and that the third narrow store (526 Market) had been the wood yard. And indeed, the modest dwelling shown in the Mumford woodcut that illustrated the second edition of Watson's Annals (1844), looks much more like a 32-foot-wide building than a 45-foot-wide one. Griswold's error was repeated by later authors,149 and other historians would become similarly confused.

Richard Rush (1780-1859), the author of the memoir Washington in Domestic Life (1857), wrote:

"Walking lately down Market street, from the western part of the city, I looked about, after passing Sixth street, for the former residence of General Washington. I thought I had discovered it, though greatly metamorphosed, in a house some half dozen doors below Sixth street, on the south side, which still retained a little of the old fashion in front, with dentels [sic] pendant from the cornice; but, on inquiry, I found that it was not. All is now gone. Not a trace is left of that once stately and venerable residence . . . I could find no vestige of the Philadelphia domicil[e] of Washington, relatively recent as was the day when his living presence sanctified it."150

The building that Rush initially mistook for the remains of the President's House probably was Anthony Kennedy's 1804 store at 524 Market Street, which had been built on a larger scale than the Burt stores, with higher ceilings, taller windows, more ornate decoration, and a dentilled cornice. Rush was not the only one to make this mistake.

Edward Everett (1794-1865) of Boston, a famous orator and former president of Harvard, gave an address on Washington, sponsored by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, at the Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia in April 1856. The purpose of the lecture was to raise money for the purchase of Mount Vernon by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, and the interest in it was so great that it was repeated twice the following year at the newly-opened Academy of Music.151 According to a Philadelphia newspaper report, in the address Everett either stated or implied that the President's House was still standing.152 Rush, who shared the stage with Everett, had written his lament about the house quoted above at least two years earlier, so it is unlikely that he was the source of this misinformation. But there were others who mistook the store at 524 Market Street for part of the President's House, and may have unwittingly misled Everett.

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Fig. 11. "Residence of Geo. Washington and R. Morris, south-east corner of Sixth and Market Streets, Philadelphia." The notation at the bottom left reads, "Drawn from memory by C.A. Poulson." Wood engraving by Charles A. Poulson and an unknown engraver. From William Brotherhead, ed., Sanderson's Biography of the Signers (Philadelphia: 1865), 337.

Charles A. Poulson (1789-1866), a writer, newspaper editor and antiquarian, was certain that the building at 524 Market Street — the store that Anthony Kennedy built in 1804 — had been an original part of the President's House, and that the house had been much grander than the Mumford woodcut and much larger than the Griswold description. Poulson worked for his father's newspaper, Poulson's American Daily Advertiser, the largest in Philadelphia, and wrote a column on American (especially Philadelphia) history. He was also the first librarian of HSP, a post he held for thirteen years (1835-48).153 Relying on the listings in the Philadelphia Directory, on his own memory and those of others, Poulson declared in 1850 that 524 Market Street had been the eastern section of the original house.154 Poulson's theory was that the President's House had been a traditional five-bay, center hall, double house; and that the original building had extended from 524 to 528 Market Street. This would have made its frontage about 56 feet.155

The modern street numbers were introduced just before the consolidation of the city and county of Philadelphia in 1854, and High Street was officially renamed Market Street at the same time. 524 Market Street had had the sole use of the number 190 High Street only since 1805, but Poulson concocted an elaborate proof which seemed to show that the old street numbers on the block had not changed since Washington's time.156 Poulson was considered an expert on Philadelphia history, and it seems likely that it was he who misled Everett about the house. Poulson's theory contradicted Watson, and, while the former made his own private drawings of the President's House, he waited until after the annalist's death to publish his vision of the building (fig. 11).157 Poulson himself died soon after this sketch was published, and no evidence has been found in the years immediately following of any effort to prove his five-bay house (or Watson's four-bay one) wrong or right. But in the 1870s, as the approach of the Centennial inspired a burgeoning interest in American history, the erroneous Poulson sketch received a tremendous and unexpected boost in visibility, if not credibility, from an unlikely source — the merchant John Wanamaker.

Wanamaker, the founder of the great department store that later bore his name, opened his first store, "Oak Hall," in 1861 in the McNeille Building at the southeast corner of 6th and Market, built on the site of the old Stedman-Galloway House. He and his partner Nathan Brown soon occupied all six stories of the building and expanded it southward to Minor Street. In 1871, Wanamaker more than doubled the size of Oak Hall by expanding it eastward into Alexander Henry's stores at 532-34 Market Street, building them up to six stories and back to Minor Street. He unified the buildings by erecting a new stone fašade along all 65 feet of Market Street frontage.158 Circumstantial evidence indicates that Wanamaker built two additional stories atop the party wall between 530 and 532 Market, incorporating the existing four-story western wall of the President's House into the new six-story eastern wall of Oak Hall.159

In 1873, when Wanamaker wished to expand the store eastward again into 526-30 Market Street, the Burts either refused to sell, or held out for more than he was willing to pay.160 The following year, Wanamaker bought the recently-abandoned freight depot of the Pennsylvania Railroad at 13th and Market Streets, and in 1876 he opened it as his "Grand Depot." Wanamaker's world-famous department store, completed in 1910, was built on that same site.

Wanamaker, probably unintentionally, added to the confusion about the President's House. With great patriotic zeal, he announced to the world that Oak Hall (532-36 Market Street) stood on the very site of Washington's "White House." Wanamaker embraced and heavily promoted the Poulson sketch, perhaps without really understanding it — Poulson's theory that the house had stood at 524-28 Market Street actually contradicted the claim that Oak Hall stood on the exact site of the President's House. Regardless of the facts, associating the Wanamaker name with that of Washington was good for business, and the Poulson sketch was used in store promotions for more than thirty years.161

Amidst the confusion, attempts were made to get at the truth about the President's House. In 1875, the councilors of HSP solicited Nathaniel Burt II to give an address on the house, writing in their invitation:

"Some confusion of idea, as you are aware, has prevailed of late among antiquaries, as to the exact situation and history of the house, in Market street, below Sixth, occupied by Washington, while the seat of Government was in this city. Mr. Everett, in his discourse delivered here, not many years since, seemed, according to a printed report of it, to have considered the house as then standing. . . . We question the accuracy of that impression. Claims are now made for different sites, below Sixth street, as the honored spot. . . . We suppose you to be now the owner of the lot on which the house formerly stood, and if this is so, no one can know the history better than you."162

Nathaniel Burt II accepted the invitation to speak. His address was modest and well-intentioned, but it may have been more inspirational than educational. Burt II relied heavily upon and unfortunately repeated many of the errors of Griswold's The Republican Court, to which he added a healthy dose of his own patriotic blather. Burt's most important contribution was to bring to light the 1785 groundplan of the property (fig. 3), the history of the Burt family's association with the house, the list of items in the 1795 Robert Morris-Andrew Kennedy contract, and the news that the second-story front drawing room mantel and the front door locks had survived. The Historical Society published his address (which included a facsimile of the groundplan) later that year.

Nathaniel Burt II resolved the debate over the location and size of the President's House, but he did not address the question of whether it had had four or five bays. In Centennial publications, illustrations of the five-bay Poulson sketch were almost as prevalent as the four-bay Watson-based views.163 Perhaps in reaction to the growing popularity of the Poulson sketch, Philadelphia historians rallied around the Watson-based views. Thompson Westcott used the Mumford woodcut to illustrate the chapter on the President's House in his 1877 book on Philadelphia buildings,164 and Westcott and J. Thomas Scharf, together, used a new four-bay illustration by an unknown artist for their 1884 three-volume History of Philadelphia.165 Charles Henry Hart wrote a multi-paged description of the house for one of the first issues of this magazine, and got almost everything right, including the four-bay fašade.166 An illustration of a four-bay house, based on Mumford's woodcut, appeared on the front page of the issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper commemorating the centennial of the Constitution.167

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Fig. 12. "Market Street between Fifith & Sixth Streets, south side." Photograph, ca. 1903-08. Philadelphia Rapid Transit Photo Albums. Gift of Clarence D. Jones, 1966. Society Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

At the close of the nineteenth century, there seems to have been a consensus among Philadelphia historians on where the President's House had stood, and that its fašade had had four bays. A committee from the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution, that included the great Washington expert William Spohn Baker, correctly concluded that the President's House had stood at 526-30 Market Street. The "Sons" erected a large bronze plaque on 528 Market Street in 1897 — the centenary of the end of Washington's presidency (fig. 12).168 All of the major books on the city's history were in agreement, and there was a large new printing of Watson's Annals. Unfortunately, Poulson's erroneous five-bay vision of the house was about to get a major boost from outside Philadelphia.

December 14, 1899 was the one-hundredth anniversary of the death of George Washington. Perhaps in anticipation of the event, Leila Herbert, a vice-regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, wrote a chatty new book about the President and his houses — The First American, His Homes and His Households (1899). Most of what Herbert wrote about the President's House in Philadelphia was correct. The problems arose from the illustration created for the book, an especially beguiling ink-and-wash drawing by English illustrator Harry Fenn, showing the house with a five-bay fašade (fig. 13).169 Fenn's drawing was basically a highly-polished version of Poulson's 1850 watercolor (see above, n.154), but with the apparent imprimatur of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association behind it, the Fenn illustration was accepted as an accurate view of the President's House.

fenn
Fig. 13. "The Morris House, Philadelphia." Ink and wash on paper by Harry Fenn, ca. 1899. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union.

At least one author tailored the facts to suit the fiction, or, rather, to the Poulson and Fenn versions of the house. John T. Faris, a Philadelphia writer on gardens and colonial buildings, while purporting to quote Charles Henry Hart, altered Hart's description of the house, (italics added): "The mansion occupied by the President has been described by Charles Henry Hart thus: 'It was built of brick, three stories high, and the main building was fifty-five feet six inches wide by fifty-two deep . . .' "170 Forty years earlier, Hart had actually written in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography that the house was "forty-five feet six inches wide,"171 but that measurement matched neither the Poulson sketch nor the Fenn illustration. Faris's "correction" would be repeated by others, most notably thirty years later in the report to the U. S. Congress recommending the creation of what became Independence National Historical Park.172

The Poulson sketch made enormous headway in the early twentieth century, being published in such books as Rhoades's The Story of Philadelphia, Oberholtzer's Robert Morris, Patriot and Financier, his massive, four-volume Philadelphia: A History of the City and Its People, and his Official Pictorial and Descriptive Souvenir Book of the Historical Pageant, Matos's Official Historical SouvenirPhiladelphia, Lippincott's Early Philadelphia, Its People, Life & Progress, Jackson's Market Street, Philadelphia, Joyce's Story of Philadelphia, and Brandt & Gummere's Byways and Boulevards in and about Historic Philadelphia.173

(The writer has found only one book published in the first quarter of the twentieth century which used a four-bay, Watson-based illustration of the President's House. Ironically, it was a 1911 book published by John Wanamaker, the former champion of the five-bay Poulson sketch.)174

These authors were among the premier Philadelphia historians in the early twentieth century. Why did they, en masse, abandon the Watson- based views — the consensus of the generation before them — for the erroneous Poulson sketch? The answer may lie in a new and what might be termed a "comprehensive" theory, which seemed to reconcile the four-bay Watson-based views and the five-bay Poulson sketch, the different frontages of Griswold and Burt II, and (what appeared to have been) the three street numbers for the main house in the early nineteenth-century Philadelphia directories. The theory went something like this:175 (1) The house that Mrs. Masters built in the 1760s had been 32 feet wide (Griswold), and had had a four-bay fašade (Watson). The house had taken up two thirds of the frontage of the original 48-foot lot, and had stood at 528-30 Market Street (Jordan). (2) After the 1780 fire, Robert Morris rebuilt Mrs. Masters's house and expanded the whole building eastward by almost 50 percent to occupy the frontage of 526 Market. (3) The resulting house was 45 feet 6 inches wide (Burt II), had a five-bay fašade (Poulson), and stood at 526-30 Market Street (Pa. Sons). This was the house in which Washington and Adams each lived as President. (4) Poulson may have been mistaken about the exact location and dimensions of the house, but his five-bay sketch came the closest to depicting the appearance of the building when it served as the President's House.

The advantages of this comprehensive theory were numerous and irresistible. It provided a logical explanation for everything, and like Pish- Tush in The Mikado, the conciliatory "I am right, and you are right, and everything is quite correct!" aspect of it was very appealing. It also resulted in a symmetrical President's House — an ideal of the flourishing Colonial Revival movement. Unfortunately, the historians and their comprehensive theory were wrong.

The repeated use of the erroneous Poulson sketch by these Philadelphia historians (not to mention historians elsewhere) had a snowball effect, turning it, over the course of less than a generation, into the generally accepted view for both the professionals and the public. Confidence in a five-bay version of the President's House probably reached its zenith in 1932 with the two-hundredth anniversary of Washington's birth, when the Poulson sketch was reprinted in numerous books and articles nationwide. It was the only illustration of the Philadelphia house used in the mammoth, five-volume History of the George Washington Bicentennial Celebration.176

Watson's four-bay President's House had what might have appeared would be its last hurrah at the 1926 World's Fair, the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia (fig. 14). R. Brognard Okie, an architect best remembered for the restoration of the Betsy Ross House and the re-creation of Pennsbury Manor (William Penn's mansion and estate), designed a re-creation of the President's House for an exhibit of demolished Philadelphia colonial buildings. It was built on the fairgrounds in South Philadelphia, at two- thirds scale, with a four-bay facade, and was based on one of the Breton watercolor sketches.177 The Daughters of the American Revolution made "The Washington House," as they called it, their headquarters at the fair from June to December 1926. It was demolished after the Sesquicentennial Exposition was over.

figure14
from "The Book of the Street, High Street 1776" by Sarah Lowry & Mabel Stewart Ludlum, 1926
Figure 14. R. Brognard Okie, Sketch of the President's House Replica for the Sesquicentennial Exposition, 1925.

Charles Abell Murphy (1865-1943), an amateur historian originally from Baltimore, was unconvinced by the re-creation of the President's House built for the Sesquicentennial. He, like many others, continued to believe in the Poulson sketch and the Fenn illustration. In the early 1930s, the idea of creating an appropriate setting for Independence Hall and clearing land to the north of it for a park — what eventually became Independence Mall — began to gain momentum. Murphy had the idea that a re-creation of the President's House should be the centerpiece of the proposed park. And he really did mean it to be in the center. Based on a superficial and misguided reading of the 1801 Philadelphia Directory, Murphy claimed that the main house had stood at 518-20 Market Street and the wood yard at 516, which would have put the property almost on axis with Independence Hall.178 The main house had actually been about 88 feet west of the axis of Independence Hall, the centerline of the block.

Murphy may not have known much about history, but he did know something about publicity and building public support for a project — and about politics. It was the middle of the Depression, and President Roosevelt was up for reelection. In the summer of 1936, Murphy wrapped himself in the flag and launched a publicity campaign. His stated goal was to create a project which would hire unemployed architects and woodworkers under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to make scale models of the President's House and the other early "White Houses" for educational purposes. His unstated goal was to rebuild the house as he envisioned it full-sized on Market Street, and an expert scale model would be a useful tool in raising money toward this end. Murphy made repeated appeals to Roosevelt's patriotism in the press,179 and, not long before the election, the project was approved.

David Howell Morgan (1886-1983) was brought in to manage the tongue-twisting Philadelphia Federal Historical Buildings Models Project. A Welsh-born architect who had worked in the offices of the Philadelphia firm of Cope and Stewardson, he had been the assistant director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1934 to 1936. He was active in the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and later served as its President (1955-56). Morgan seemed to be a good choice for the project head both for his artistic skills and his professional connections.

Historical research began at the end of June 1937, with three workers gathering all they could find on the house. Initially only six weeks were allotted for research. A large amount of data was amassed, and almost-daily progress reports were filed, so it is easy to track what the researchers knew and when.180 Little original research was done; the workers mostly relied on published sources, which were often wrong, and the researchers failed to find some of the most important documents (such as the 1773 insurance survey, the Breton views, and the Mason watercolor sketch). The research was filtered through Morgan, whose preliminary design for the model is dated August 10, 1937. After the allotted time for research had run out, Morgan joined in researching the house, which may have been a cost-saving measure. In the course of a little over a year, the cost estimate for the "Models Project" had ballooned from $5,777.64181 to $26,625.14,182 even as the number of models to be built had been reduced from six to four.

Morgan made a comprehensive survey of design books, measured colonial houses around Philadelphia and elsewhere, and read (and wrote up progress reports on) everything he could find about Georgian buildings. He and his assistants reportedly prepared one hundred-fourteen pages of architectural drawings, with practically every detail based on a referenced eighteenth-century source.183 Woodworkers were hired, and construction of the model was begun, even though the research on the building had not been completed. Morgan himself became the primary researcher on the house, and he is listed as the author of more than 40 percent of the progress reports in the volume of research data.

Morgan believed in the "comprehensive theory," and all of the physical evidence that he and the WPA workers found seemed to support it. Nathaniel Burt had divided the main house's perimeter foundations into thirds by the two brick party walls he had built between his stores; but Morgan assumed that Burt's 1832 walls had been original to the house, and dated back to Mrs. Masters.184 The early nineteenth-century editions of the Philadelphia Directory had (or appeared to have had) three listings for the house — 190 High, centre 190 High, and next 192 High.185 By an almost cruel coincidence, the 1798 insurance policies divided the main house into thirds, front-to-back, with a single policy for each third, much as the 1773 insurance survey had divided it into quarters.186 These divisions were made with imaginary lines, but Morgan took them literally. Mumford's woodcut, Griswold's 32-foot width, the three listings in the Philadelphia Directory, the "thirds" described in the 1798 insurance policies, and the measurements Morgan himself took in the basement of 530 Market Street all seemed to add up to an airtight case in support of the comprehensive theory.

In April 1938, about ten months into the research and almost six months into the model's final design and construction, Morgan traveled to the Library of Congress to read the George Washington-Tobias Lear correspondence about the house.187 It was then that he should have realized that he and the WPA project were woefully on the wrong track. Until Morgan read the Washington-Lear letters, he had no real evidence for a four- bay fašade — only the tradition passed down from Watson. Had he or his researchers read these letters early in the process, or had they found the 1773 insurance survey or the Mason watercolor sketch, Morgan might have realized that the comprehensive theory was spurious in time to change his design for the model (fig. 15).

figure15
Fig. 15. "Robert Morris House (known as Washington Mansion) 190 High Street." Photostat of drawing by Harry W. Neff and Charles Abell Murphy (based on the designs of David H. Morgan). Dated "[19]38." Free Library of Philadelphia.

Morgan's decision to give the model five bays meant that every room within the main house had the wrong dimensions. The formal rooms were less than 16 feet wide (instead of 21+ feet), and the bow was substantially smaller than it had actually been. According to the WPA notes, by July 26, 1937, the researchers possessed a copy of Nathaniel Burt II's 1875 HSP address188 — which included the facsimile of the 1785 groundplan of the property (fig. 3) — so Morgan had the map showing where the backbuildings had stood. He wrote that "we determined to give the map order of priority in authenticity,"189 but he actually disregarded it. Instead, Morgan kept the dimensions the same but changed the location of every backbuilding for the model: The kitchen ell was moved 7 feet closer to the main house and the piazza was rotated by 90 degrees and moved 6 feet west. The coachhouse and stable were moved 24 feet west, and the bath house and servants' hall were separated from the kitchen ell and placed on the eastern side of the wood yard. The icehouse was located 38 feet north of where it had actually been, and the well was placed in the wood yard (instead of the paved yard). The wash house was rotated by 90 degrees, and Morgan erroneously made the room over it into Washington's study.190

Calling things to a halt and starting over in late-April 1938 might have resulted in the whole project's cancellation, since it was already wildly over budget and not popular with local WPA officials. The project's mission was to research and build models of four historic buildings and the President's House was only the first of these. Blowing the whistle or admitting mistakes probably would have thrown dozens of people back onto the relief rolls and been an enormous professional embarrassment. Privately, Morgan prepared cost estimates for building a full-sized re-creation of the house based on his design for the model.191 A new national park was being proposed for the area surrounding Independence Hall, and the endorsement of the AIA's Philadelphia chapter (perhaps, through Morgan's influence) was secured for building a full-sized re-creation of the President's House on its original site.192

Based on his many months of work, it is not much of a conjecture to presume that Morgan hoped to be the architect of the re-creation. It would have been the most prestigious commission of his career. His WPA model may have been a fantasy with little or no historical value, but it was exquisite — beautifully crafted and thoroughly convincing. For a while, it fooled almost everyone. Whether Morgan was aware of how wrong he had been about the house and decided to brazen it out, or whether he put on blinders and simply ignored the contradictory evidence in the Washington-Lear letters is a question which may never be answered.193 Morgan left the WPA project before the President's House model was completed.

The Models Project continued under Morgan's successor as project head, Charles Abell Murphy; and models of the Presidential Mansion on 9th Street (where no president ever lived) and the Dove House in Germantown (where Washington lived during the 1793 yellow fever epidemic prior to moving to the Deshler-Morris House) were completed. The WPA President's House model was greeted with great fanfare when it was unveiled in June 1939. It was exhibited in Washington, D. C., and then was given to the Atwater Kent Museum in Philadelphia, where it remained on display for more than forty years (fig, 16).

Murphy
Fig. 16. Charles Abell Murphy with the WPA President's House Model at the Atwater Kent Museum. Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, July 13, 1939.

Murphy became a member of the Independence Hall Association, presided over by Judge Edwin O. Lewis, the organization that worked to create what is now Independence National Historical Park (INHP). He continued to lobby for building a full-sized re-creation of the President's House, and launched several schemes toward that end, but he was never able to secure private funding or to find a sponsor for his proposals. Murphy attempted to create an "Independence Park Ladies' Association", patterned after the organization at Mount Vernon, to spearhead the effort,195 but nothing ever came of it. The drive to build a re-creation of the house largely ended with Murphy's death in 1943.

Figure 17 shows the relative size, location, and the number of bays for five conjectural views of the President's House from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.194

figure15
Fig. 17. Comparison of the Market Street elevations for five conjectural views of the President's House from the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. By the author.

The long confusion about the President's House was the key factor contributing to the destruction of what was left of the building. Both of the brick side walls of the President's House had been exposed by the demolition of Burt's stores in 1935 and stood visible for several years.196 Had anyone recognized the walls for what they were (and been able to prove what they were), it is likely that they never would have been demolished. Documenting what remained of the President's House may not have been the mission of the Models Project, but almost all of the primary sources necessary to correctly identify the side walls (or to create an accurate model) were available to Morgan and his researchers — they just did not find them, did not understand what they had, or did not follow the facts.

Oak Hall was demolished by 1941, and replaced by a large, single-story building — Devitt's Hardware Store. One story of the western wall of the original house remained as the party wall shared by what was left of the westernmost of Burt's 1832 stores, now called Washington Hall (530 Market), and the hardware store (532-36 Market). Almost all of the eastern wall of the original house also remained, and was visible as the western wall of Anthony Kennedy's 1804 store, now called Zorn's Store (524 Market).

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Fig. 18. Demolition of 524-36 Market Street. Photo dated November 1, 1951. Evening Bulletin Newspaper Collection, Urban Archives, Temple University.

These buildings were demolished in October and November 1951 to create Independence Mall (fig. 18).197 The idea of clearing land north of Independence Hall for a park had been around since before World War I. Interest in it increased in anticipation of the Sesquicentennial, but no action was taken. Drawings of a vast three-block mall were unveiled in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but many saw that plan as more of a Philadelphia urban renewal project than as an integral part of what had become a proposed national park. There was little action on the national park during World War II, and, after more than two years of waiting for federal legislation, the supporters of the mall took their proposal to the Pennsylvania governor and legislature in 1945. Independence Mall State Park, promoted as "a State Memorial to our war heroes,"198 was created with the intention that the land would be turned over to the national park when the development bonds that funded the acquisition and demolition of the buildings and the park's construction were retired. The AIA's Philadelphia chapter publicly urged that some sort of archaeological record be made of the President's House site,199 but nothing official was done. The grandiose vision of the mall seems to have superseded any commemoration of the President's House beyond placing a bronze plaque on a wall. In adherence to the symmetry of the plan (and through the ignorance or indifference of the mall's designers), a public toilet was erected squarely wihin the footprint of the main house in 1954.

The WPA study and model turned out to be an embarrassment for everyone involved, and the opportunity to preserve the surviving walls of the house was squandered. Had the WPA done a competent job the results could have been much different. Given the cultural values of the period and the precedent set in the 1920s and 1930s by the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, a re-created President's House probably would have been built on Market Street between the building's original brick side walls and upon (most of) its original stone foundations. The re-creation would have become an attraction within the proposed national park, and today the President's House might be as familiar a sight (and a site) as the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg.

On the other hand, had Morgan's five-bay, center-hall model been reproduced full-sized, fiction would have triumphed over fact. The side walls of the original house would have been preserved, but the building between them would have been a total fantasy.

Despite the blunder of the model, the WPA research notes themselves contain some important pieces of information. Morgan and his team examined the cellars of 524 and 530 Market Street (fig. 19).200 In the cellar of 524 — now "Zorn's Store" — they recorded a depression in the cement floor. George Zorn, Jr. told the WPA that the sinking was caused by "the old Washington well," which he remembered from before the floor was laid as "round, about three or four feet in diameter and fifty feet deep."201

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Fig. 19. "The Present-day Appearance of the Site upon Which the Presidential Mansion Stood, One Block North of Independence Hall." Photo, ca. 1947. From Charles E. Peterson, Final Report to the United States Congress by the Philadelphia National Shrines Park Commission (December 1947), vol. 7, facing p. 270. Independence National Historical Park Archives.

Morgan placed the well for the WPA model in this location. (This probably was what inspired him to move the bath house/servants' hall to the opposite side of the wood yard from the kitchen ell.) But it is likely that Mr. Zorn had been wrong, and that this well belonged to the store built in the wood yard in 1804.202 Had it predated the President's House, this well would have been covered by the bath house as early as 1781.203 Since Mrs. Masters's house was the first recorded structure built by European-Americans on the property, it seems likely that Zorn's well was from 1804. Presumably, its original wellhead had been at the old grade level; the section the WPA recorded under the cellar floor would have been missing its top 8 to 10 feet. Morgan (later) located this well about 15 feet east of the property line with 526 Market, and about 55 feet south of the building line of Market Street.204

This raises the question of whether the bath house had had a cellar. No conclusive evidence has been found one way or the other, although Morris's wine cellar seems to have been in a place isolated from the cellars of the main house. Lear wrote to Washington that "[Mr Wallace] is directed by Mr. Morris to make drains in the cellars [of the main house] to carry off the water which is found troublesome there in wet seasons. — This Job he says will take him a week or ten days..."205 Two weeks later, Lear wrote, "[W]e cannot put a single barrel into the Cellar. Mr. Morris still occupies the wine Cellar which is the only one in which the Masons will suffer anything to be put."206 If the bath house was built a cellar, it would mean that the well probably was cut down in the eighteenth century. (In the conjectural floor plan it has been assumed that the bath house did have a cellar, and a cellarway leading to the wood yard.)

The WPA researchers found the remains of a privy, a brick platform and trough upon which a (wooden?) outhouse would have stood. This was at the old grade level in a crawlspace under the backbuilding of Zorn's Store, along the eastern property line of 524 Market, 112 feet 5 inches south of the Market Street building line.207 If this structure dated from the eighteenth century, the privy would have been located in the alley between the servants' hall and the walled garden.

Morgan's team also measured a section of the stone foundations of the President's House itself in the cellar of 530 Market Street — then called "Washington Hall" — the westernmost of Nathaniel Burt's three 1832 stores.208 They found what once seemed to have been a doorway in the Market Street wall. The opening had been filled in, but it was located exactly where one would expect to find a cellarway, or stairway to the street (and where Breton drew a bulkhead in the HSP and Athenaeum watercolors). The "closed opening in stone wall" recorded by Morgan was 55 inches wide, and the centerline of it was 92-1/2 inches from the outside edge of the western wall. (In the conjectural floorplans and elevation drawn for this article, it has been assumed that the windows of the westernmost bay were centered on this cellarway. The centerlines of the outer bays of the fašade have been drawn 92-1/2 inches in from the outside edges of the eastern and western walls.)

On January 4, 1952, thirteen years after he left the WPA, Morgan returned to the President's House site, and did his own one-day "dig," measuring and recording what he found.209 His measurements show the overall width of the building to have been 45 feet 8-1/2 inches.

Given this width of the main house, one can get a good idea of the probable size and spacing of the openings in the fašade by comparing what is documented about the President's House with the Powel House, built in 1765, at 244 South 3rd Street, and other contemporaneous buildings. (It is assumed that the front door and windows of the President's House were arranged equidistantly across the width of the facade, and that the openings in each bay were centered vertically on each other.) The 1773 insurance survey lists the first-story windows as having pediments, although Watson's 1823 sketch (fig. 8) shows six-over-six-light sash windows (six panes over six panes) with no pediments. Watson shows the second story with much taller nine-over-six-light sash windows, which could lead one to mistakenly conclude that the ceilings of the second story had been significantly (16 to 18 inches) higher than those of the first. The 1832 Mason watercolor sketch (fig. 9) shows the fašade with the original architectural features of the first story obliterated. Mason's sketch confirms the arrangement of the windows of the second story, but it also shows the "ghosts" of the missing first-story pediments, two of them rising from behind the frontispiece of the new twin front doors. These "ghost" pediments are much too tall for the 6-over-6 light sash windows drawn by Watson. One could argue that the original windows (with 12 x 16-inch panes, according to the 1773 insurance survey) could have been replaced by windows with taller panes, except that Watson's sketch shows all of the fašade windows with panes of similar size and proportions. Mason's much more detailed sketch (drawn nine years later) also shows the upper windows on the fašade with panes of similar size and proportions — again about 12 x 16 inches. The first story of the fašade of the President's House was stripped of its architectural ornamentation by Anthony Kennedy, perhaps as early as 1804. The most likely explanation for the inconsistencies in Watson's sketch and its disagreements with the 1773 insurance survey is that Kennedy altered the building before Watson drew the sketch — up to nineteen years before — and the annalist misremembered the fašade. In the opinion of this writer, the architectural details of the first story in the 1823 Watson sketch are almost certainly conjectural, and probably erroneous.

Based on these views and the 1773 insurance survey, it is the conjecture of this writer that the windows of the first and second stories of the fašade of Mrs. Masters's house were the same size — nine-over-six-light sash windows with 12 x 16-inch panes of glass — and that both stories had similar ceiling heights.

The Stamper-Blackwell House (224 Pine Street, built in 1764, demolished ca. 1930) had similar nine-over-six-light sash windows on the fašade of its first and second stories, and both stories had similar ceiling heights.210 (The front room of the first story — the Stamper-Blackwell parlor — was installed in the Winterthur Museum. The windows of this re-creation are not original, and have smaller-paned twelve-over-twelve-light sashes.)

The first and second stories of the facade of the Powel House have windows of the same size. Before the restoration of the Powel House in the 1930s, the windows of the first two stories had six-over-six-light sashes with 12 x 19-inch panes of glass.211 In terms of just the glass surface, the nine- over-six-light sash windows with 12 x 16-inch panes of Mrs. Masters's house would have been four inches taller than these windows of the Powel House — 36 x 80 inches of glass versus 36 x 76 inches of glass. The Powel House windows are recessed into the fašade, with openings in the brick 49-1/2 x 88 inches. Its bricks are a standard 2-1/2 inches tall, and densely-laid with only about a tenth of an inch of mortar between courses. In Mrs. Masters's house, the ornamental window frames and their pediments or entablatures were applied to the fašade, but the openings in the brick behind them must have been about the same width as those of the Powel House, or narrower. If these openings in Mrs. Masters's house were 5 inches taller — the height of two standard bricks — it would allow for the taller glass surface, plus the additional muntin between the panes of glass. In the Mason sketch, one can see shallow brick arches over the old bricked-in windows of the first story, a detail which would have been hidden by the pediments and entablatures.

The ceiling heights of the first and second stories of the Powel House are similar, 149 inches and 153-1/2 inches respectively (essentially two bricks' difference between them), and the thickness of the floors is 13 inches. The Powel House has twenty-four steps between its first and second stories, each 6-3/4 inches tall, which makes the distance floor-to-floor 162 inches. Given the similar proportions of mid-eighteenth-century Philadelphia city houses, the ceiling heights of the first two stories of Mrs. Masters's house probably would have been slightly taller than those of the Powel House — somewhere between 154 inches and 159 inches. Assuming that the thickness of the floors in Mrs. Masters's house also was 13 inches, the distance from floor to floor would have been somewhere between 167 inches and 172 inches. (It has been assumed that the ceiling heights of both the first and second stories of the President's House were 155-3/4 inches — just under 13 feet — and that the distance floor-to-floor was 1683/4 inches, which works out to a staircase of twenty-five steps, each 6-3/4 inches tall.)212

The exact height of the fašade of the President's House was documented in the eighteenth century. Washington, who may have been contemplating alterations to the building, wrote to Lear (from Mount Vernon), asking him to measure the height of the Philadelphia house.213 Lear's response:

"I have measured the walls of the house in conformity to your desires — and find them to be in the front of the house forty-one feet six inches — and back, thirty-nine feet six inches — the difference owing to the ground being higher in the yard than in the street . . . The measuration was taken with a piece of line — one end of which was held up to the edge of the cornice, directly under the ends of the shingles which project at the eaves — and falling to the pavement, was drawn tolerably tight by a person beneath..."214

Assuming that the four front steps of the house were each 7 inches tall (as at the Powel House), and that all the floors were 13 inches thick (as at the Powel House); subtracting the conjectural floor-to-floor measurement of 168-3/4 inches for each of the first and second stories from the 498-inch total height of the fašade (41 feet 6 inches) yields a ceiling height for the third story of slightly less than 10 feet. (The ceiling height of the third story of the Powel House is 9 feet 7 inches.) These are the dimensions used in the conjectural elevation of the President's House (fig. 20).

revelevation
Fig. 20. Revised Conjectural Elevation of the President's House in Philadelphia. Evidence for the third floor room atop the President's Office and the change in the icehouse roof is presented in the October 2005 sequel to this article in PMHB. Copyright ©2001-2005 Edward Lawler, Jr. All rights reserved.

Three details of this are strictly the writer's conjecture: First, there is no documentation for the columns of the frontispiece and the fanlight over the front door (the fanlight is further discussed in the October 2005 sequel to this article). Contemporaneous (and comparable) city houses such as the Powel House, the Stamper-Blackwell House, the John Cadwalader House, and the Thomas Willing House all had frontispieces with engaged columns. Watson's 1823 drawing of the house shows no columns (nor do the five Breton views which were themselves based upon his sketch), but the reliability of the Watson view is questionable due to the reasons described above. The "ghost" of the pediment of the doorway in Mason's 1832 watercolor sketch is slightly larger than those of the first-story windows, which indicates that the frontispiece had been wider than the ornamental windowframes (as it is in all five of the Breton views). [NOTE: A 1767 bill for the boring of columns, possibly for the frontispiece of this house, is discussed in the October 2005 sequel to this article.]

Square lights or fanlights over the front doors of Philadelphia city houses were common even before the Federal period. An illustration of the Thomas Willing House (perhaps the Philadelphia house closest in design to Mrs. Masters's house) shows a frontispiece with engaged columns and square lights.215 The assumption made is that some sort of above-door window would have been necessary to light the passage. If the fanlight mentioned by Struthers Burt in 1945 (see above n.146) had been over the front door of the President's House, it would have been removed when Anthony Kennedy stripped the first story of the fašade and moved the doorway (as early as 1804). The 1832 Mason watercolor sketch (fig. 10) shows two fanlights, one over each of Kennedy's new twin doors. The Burt fanlight may have been one of these (especially if an original fanlight was reused), or may have been from another part of the house. If Burt's fanlight did date from the eighteenth century, it may be more likely to have been part of Morris's 1781 rebuilding than the original 1768 house. In 1773, it would have been an unusual and expensive item, but it does not appear in the insurance survey made that year. [NOTE: At least one contemporaneous insurance survey by the same appraiser does not mention a fanlight in the frontispiece of a neighboring city house when the construction documents record its existence. This strengthens the case for the Burt fanlight having been over the President's House's front door, and is discussed in the October 2005 sequel to this article in PMHB.]

Second, there is no documentation for the roof balustrade or widow's walk. This is another item that probably would have appeared in the 1773 insurance survey had it been part of Mrs. Masters's house. Eberlein makes the conjecture that after the 1780 fire Morris rebuilt the house with "A roof of steeper pitch, [which] gave a loftier attic than formerly."216 The Mason sketch does not show a balustrade, but it was drawn more than fifty years after Morris rebuilt the house — plenty of time for a widow's walk to rot away or be removed. Stylistically, a roof balustrade is appropriate to the altered house. Similar ones can be seen in contemporaneous views of other buildings with decked-gable roofs, and one would be very much in keeping with Morris's taste for high-style ornament. This roof balustrade is modeled after that of Independence Hall.

Third, there is no documentation for the porch in front of the bath house. Deliveries to the house probably would have been made through the wood yard, and, if so, the door to the first story of the bath house would have been the likely entrance for tradesmen and the household staff. Some sort of roofed structure to give protection in this area seems logical. [NOTE: The alleyway through the bath house shown on the revised fašade elevation (fig. 20) and first floor plan (fig. 4) is discussed in the October 2005 sequel to this article. Evidence for the third-story summer room, built over the bath house in 1784, is also presented.]

The one-story building peeking out from behind the main house on the west side is the icehouse (described in detail below), which stood about 160 feet south of the building line of Market Street. The wooden gates are based on those shown in the Breton views, as are the front steps. The console brackets or scrolls on either side of the dormers are based on those shown in Watson's 1823 sketch. One undated document recorded by the WPA states that the house was "built of 'blue ender' brick," which probably describes glazed "headers" laid in Flemish bond (as at the Stamper-Blackwell House).217 Richard Rush wrote that the brickwork had been "dark with age," and remembered there having been "two ancient lamp posts, furnished with large lamps" in front of the President's House.218

Most of the architectural detail shown in the conjectural elevation comes from the 1832 Mason watercolor sketch (fig. 11). The rusticated base (visible on the western half of the fašade beneath the shop window) appears to be faced with cut stone (as on the Stamper-Blackwell and Powel Houses). The stone belt course coincides with the sills of the second story windows.219 The cornice has twenty-two modillions or brackets, with a striated wooden frieze below them. The uppermost section of the cornice (cymatium), wraps around the corners of the building and continues on the gable walls, rising parallel to the parapets (a highly unusual feature). The parapets have white coping with pedestals in the front (for urns?), as on Independence Hall. The rainwater conductor heads and downspouts almost certainly date from Robert Morris's rebuilding since the initials "R M" appear on the rain heads. The pediments of the first-story windows are based on the "ghosts," and the entablatures (with pulvinated friezes) above the second-story windows can be seen in detail.220

The 1832 watercolor sketch was a free-hand rendering of the building, not a measured elevation, and Mason, who would have been sketching from the market stalls in the middle of High Street, gets the proportions of the building slightly wrong, overestimating the height of the facade by about 20 percent.221 There seem to be similar distortions in the heights of the windows and some of the other vertical elements. Still, because of the architectural detail it documents, the Mason watercolor sketch remains the most valuable image of the President's House.

The five-bay WPA model became a popular exhibit at the Atwater Kent Museum, and it wasn't until July 1952 that anyone challenged it in print. The first to do so was Hannah Benner Roach, an architect and genealogist hired to research the history of the buildings which had been torn down to create the first block of Independence Mall. She was unconvinced by the data that the WPA had used to justify the model, and wrote:

"An extensive documented study of this house was made under the auspices of the Federal Government in 1934-1936 [sic, read 1937-1939]. On the basis of the findings of this study a model was later executed which can be seen in the Atwater Kent Museum. While the model portrays the Presidential Mansion as having a symmetrical street elevation, this writer could find no solid basis for that conclusion in the material of the governmental study . . . One old print, of which there are numerous copies extant, shows the symmetrical elevation, but if the Tobias Lear letters, quoted below, can be accepted as true, to this writer there seems no question but that the elevation was as here described [a four-bay, asymmetrical fašade]."222

At about the same time that Roach completed her report, Harold Eberlein was researching the President's House for an essay he would write the following year for inclusion in the book Historic Philadelphia. He contacted Morgan, the former Models Project head, to enlist his help and the two had a friendly correspondence. Eberlein strongly condemned the Poulson sketch in his monograph,223 but he lobbed Morgan and the WPA a real softball when he suggested that perhaps the house had had a five-bay fašade before the 1780 fire and that Morris had rebuilt it with a four-bay fašade.224 Ironically, this far-fetched, but undeniably generous conjecture was the exact opposite of the well-reasoned, but ultimately spurious comprehensive theory.

The final knockout punch to the Poulson sketch, the WPA model, and more than a century of misinformation was delivered by Nicholas B. Wainwright, research librarian (and later director) of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and editor of this magazine (1950-1980). He found, and published for the first time, the 1773 insurance survey. In response to Eberlein, he wrote:

"Poulson's sketch, however, can be rejected as a likeness of the mansion either before or after the fire on evidence not hitherto considered. After the fire the house was surveyed for insurance by the Mutual Assurance Company, and that survey has been studied. Before that, it had been insured by the Contributionship, whose insurance was eliminated by the severity of the fire. The Contributionship's survey plainly states 'a frontispiece at door, 3 pediments to windows,' in other words a front door with two windows on one side and one on the other."225

In November 2000, archaeologists from John Milner Associates, Inc. uncovered the pit of the icehouse that Robert Morris had built behind his Market Street house (fig. 21).226 The research for this article helped identify and date the pit. A new Liberty Bell Center (LBC) is to be built on the western side of the first block of Independence Mall, and a complete archaeological survey was made within the LBC's footprint. The pit is octagonal in shape, about 13 feet across, with stone walls about 18 inches thick. It is truncated: only the bottom 9 feet of it remain.

icehouse
Fig. 21. Excavation of the icehouse pit from the President's House in Philadelphia. Photo by NPS archaeologist Jed Levin, December 2001.

A fascinating description of this very icehouse and its pit survives from from the eighteenth century. Washington, who was a regular houseguest of the Morrises when in Philadelphia and was no doubt familiar with their icehouse, converted a dry well at Mount Vernon into an icehouse pit in the winter of 1783-84. He had it packed with snow, which melted by June, and he wrote to Morris asking for advice on what he had done wrong. Morris, whose icehouse may have been the most elaborate built in America to that date, replied with instructions on how his had been constructed, and his experiences with it over the previous couple of years::

"My Ice House is about 18 feet deep and 16 square [interior dimension?], the bottom is a Coarse Gravell & the water which drains from the ice soaks into it as fast as the Ice melts, this prevents the necessity of a Drain . . . The Walls of my Ice House are built of stone without Mortar (which is called Dry Wall) untill within a foot and a half of the Surface of the Earth when Mortar was used from thence to the Surface to make the top more binding and Solid. When this Wall was brought up even with the Surface of the Earth, I stopped there and then dug the foundation for another Wall, two foot back from the first and about two foot deep, this done the foundation was laid so as to enclose the whole of the Walls built on the inside of the Hole where the Ice is put and on this foundation is built the Walls which appear above ground and in mine they are ten foot high. On these the Roof is fixed, and these walls are very thick, built of Stone and Mortar, afterwards rough Cast [stuccoed] on the outside. I nailed a Ceiling of Boards under the Roof flat from Wall to Wall, and filled all the Space between the Ceiling and the Shingling of the Roof with Straw so that the heat of the Sun Cannot possibly have any Effect.

"In the Bottom of the Ice House I placed some Blocks of Wood about two foot long and on these I laid a Plat form of Common Fence Rails Close enough to hold the Ice open enough to let the Water pass through, thus the Ice lays two foot from [above] the Gravel and of Course gives room for the Water to soak away gradually without being in contact with the Ice, which if it was for any time would waste it amazingly. The upper Floor is laid on joists placed across the top of the Inner well and for greater security I nailed a Ceiling under those Joists and filled the Space between the Ceiling and Floor with Straw.

"The Door for entering this Ice House faces the north, a Trap Door is made in the middle of the Floor through which the Ice is put in and taken out. I find it best to fill with Ice which as it is put in should be broke into small pieces and pounded down with heavy Clubs or Battons such as Pavers use, if well beat it will after a while consolidate into one solid mass and require to be cut out with a Chizell or Axe. I tried Snow one year and lost it in June. The Ice keeps until October or November and I believe if the Hole was larger so as to hold more it would keep untill Christmass . . ."227

Morris's icehouse pit has been reburied and protected; and it will lie beneath the new Liberty Bell Center. The section of the President's House site that will be covered by the LBC was excavated to about 7 or 8 feet below street level in the fall of 2000. Nothing identifiable was found of the foundations of the stone icehouse (which once surrounded and covered the pit) or of the foundations of the stables.

How much more of the property remains under Independence Mall? It is likely that something of the two wells from the paved yard are there. The brick platform and trough that the WPA found are gone, but the privy yard between the servants' hall and the walled garden would be the logical place to look for remnants of an eighteenth century privy pit. The foundation of the front wall of the main house probably survives, and should be located about a dozen feet south of the curb of Market Street, and, if the 1950s demolition specifications were followed, about 4 or 5 feet below the sidewalk.228 [NOTE: Market Street was narrowed in 2003, the location of the front wall is about 20 feet south of the current curb.] It is possible that the foundations of the eastern and western walls of the main house survive, although these may have been demolished to a greater depth to accommodate the rootballs of the trees that were planted on either side of the public toilet. The foundation of the rear wall of the main house may have been removed in 1832 when the cellar was expanded southward by 50 percent for Burt's stores, and there is no indication that any trace of the bow added by Washington survived. None of the backbuildings — save, perhaps, Morris's bath house — seems to have had a cellar, so even if original walls had been incorporated into later structures, it is likely that their foundations would have been less than 4 feet deep, and they would have been obliterated in the 1951 demolition.

In 1984, the public toilet was doubled in size. This section of Independence Mall was still under state ownership, although responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the mall had been transferred to INHP before the Bicentennial.229 No archaeological study was made of the site by either the State or INHP prior to (or during) the expansion of the building. As one can see, the 30 x 17-foot public toilet and the exterior stairway to its basement lie squarely within the footprint of the main house (fig. 22).230

figure20
Fig. 22. Groundplan of the first block of Independence Mall, northwest corner (prior to November 2000), with additions by the author. ©2001 Edward Lawler, Jr. All rights reserved. North is to the bottom. Existing features based on Anna Coxe Toogood et al., Cultural Landscape Report: Independence Mall (June 1994), figs. 29, 41. Independence National Historical Park Archives; and the writer's own measurements.

The new Liberty Bell Center will be longer than a football field. It will consist of three parts: a large two-story overhang or "porch" at its north end where visitors will enter, a long narrow exhibit area in the middle, and the Bell Chamber at its south end, angled to face the tower of Independence Hall. Most of the building will be about the same width as and, coincidentally, almost exactly centered (east-west) on the main house and alley of the President's House. The main entrance to the LBC will be set back more than 150 feet from Market Street, and will straddle the line between the brick stable and the cowhouse. The "porch" will extend north from there to the kitchen, just covering the wash house. The discovery of the icehouse pit came as a surprise to INHP, and it is unfortunate that no accommodation has been made in the design of the LBC to display the artifact. The pit will lie about a dozen feet into the exhibit area, buried 8 or 9 feet below the floor.

An extraordinary juxtaposition will be in place when the LBC is completed, one which seems to have occurred by accident. The Liberty Bell is universally recognized as a representation of American freedom, but the bell once had a slightly different and very specific meaning. Until the mid- nineteenth century it was a relatively obscure object, simply called the "Tower Bell" or "State House Bell." It did not become famous or gain the name "Liberty Bell" until the 1840s, after it was adopted as the emblem of the abolitionist movement, and its inscription, "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof," as that movement's watchword. The Liberty Bell became then the powerful rallying symbol of the struggle to end slavery in America. This ancient meaning will echo as one approaches the new building on Independence Mall. The last thing that a visitor will walk across or pass before entering the Liberty Bell Center will be the slave quarters that George Washington ordered added to the President's House.

It may be said with justice that the President's House has been the victim of the misinformation spread about it. The various players no doubt had the best of intentions: they were trying to honor Washington and promote patriotism. But the conflicting voices and opposing camps of Watson and Poulson in the mid-nineteenth century created enormous confusion. Nathaniel Burt II's 1875 address to HSP added valuable new information, but he also repeated and reinforced many of the errors of Griswold. Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historians made logical deductions about the house based on the information they possessed, but no one amassed enough evidence to set the record straight. Their comprehensive theory seemed to offer an answer for everything, but the Washington-Lear correspondence proved it wrong.

Until about 1941, a re-created President's House could have been built between the building's original side walls and upon most of its original foundations. The block was demolished in the early 1950s in the creation of Independence Mall, but no formal archaeological study was made of the President's House site, and any meaningful commemoration of the building was sacrificed to the symmetry of the mall and the comfort of the visitors. The blunder of the WPA study and 1938 model only increased the confusion, and Eberlein's 1953 essay, while more accurate than the WPA's work, still contained major errors about the house. Wainwright corrected some of Eberlein's excesses in 1964, but everyone since then who has attempted a serious study of the house seems to have gotten hopelessly lost in the jungle of misinformation.

In recent decades, the President's House has fallen deeper and deeper into obscurity, until now even the experts are unsure of what is true about it. Nearly a third of the footprint of the main house lies under the Market Street sidewalk, and thousands of people unknowingly walk across it each day. The site was prominently featured in Philadelphia visitor guidebooks of the 1920s through 1950s, and the house merited a half- page description, an illustration, and a citation on the map in the major guidebook of the 1960s,231 but there is no mention of the President's House in current tourist literature.

Over the past four years, this writer has shared his research with Independence National Historical Park in the hope that an appropriate way of commemorating the President's House can be found. The discovery of the icehouse pit in November 2000 raised the profile of the property somewhat, but the announced plans for Independence Mall call for the pit to be entombed beneath the new Liberty Bell Center, inaccessible until some (possible) future reconfiguration of the mall, who-knows-how-many decades from now. Remnants of the foundations of the main house and other features of the property survive, but, as in 1952 and 1984, there are no plans to make an archaeological study of them.

The President's House has been woefully neglected — whether out of embarrassment, uncertainty, or indifference — but it is not too late to remedy the situation. In January 1952, a committee of the Philadelphia chapter of the AIA publicly urged that the design for the proposed Independence Mall, "should be made to include full size markers" — outlines in the paving of the Market Street house and other important historic buildings — "to indicate the locations and extent of the original structures."232 The recommendation was ignored, but even now, a half century later, it remains a good idea. A "President's House Plaza" in the open space north of the new Liberty Bell Center, with a full-sized floor plan marked in the paving or a bronze model of the house, would seem to be a fitting way to remember this lost landmark. Currently, the only indication of one of the most important buildings in Philadelphia history, and a structure of major significance in the nation's history — the Executive Mansion of the United States from 1790 to 1800 — is a slightly-inaccurate plaque outside the public toilet.

Fifty years ago (on Washington's Birthday), a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer warned: "Unless someone hurries up and notes the location, the site [of the President's House] will become an indistinguishable part of an open space in the Mall."233 Who then would have guessed to what extent this prediction would come true?

Postscript: In November 2001, a 5-foot-wide trench was dug through the whole 180-foot length of the President's House site to lay conduit for the Liberty Bell Center. An underground crypt (with manhole) was constructed beside the foundations of the main house in what had been the wood yard, and the trench was cut south from the Market Street sidewalk toward Independence Hall. Except for the crypt, the excavations do not seem to have been dug any deeper than the foundations remaining after the 1951 demolition. But, in laying the conduit directly over eighteenth-century features such as the well, Independence National Historical Park has substantially complicated the task of doing archaeological work on the President's House in the near future.

Plymouth Meeting EDWARD LAWLER, JR.

[NOTE: The October 2005 sequel to this article pays tribute to the late architectural historian Charles E. Peterson (founder of the Historic American Buildings Survey) who endorsed this scholarship. Peterson saw the President's House as the missing piece of his beloved Independence Park, but did not live to see it appropriately commemorated. The sequel incorporates evidence on the physical building that has come to light over the past 3-1/2 years, new information that overwhelmingly confirms the conjectures made above. It examines how Washington struggled with slavery while living in Philadelphia, and contains biographical sketches of all nine enslaved Africans he brought to the President's House. It also chronicles the difficult, but ultimately-successful effort to pressure INHP into acknowledging and marking the "slave quarters."

Footnotes file

Index | Part I | Part II | Revisited

historic documents, declaration, constitution, more