text: seven walking tours through historic Philadelphia


Sweetbriar exterior Sweetbriar interior Sweetbriar interior

When Samuel Breck built Sweetbriar in 1797 on the west bank of the Schuylkill, it was two miles from the western end of the city. Today the Schuylkill Expressway is just below the east windows and the towers of the city can be seen in the distance. Breck (1771-1862) was Boston-born, educated there and in France. In 1792 his father, unhappy about Boston taxation, removed his family to Philadelphia. After Samuel's marriage to Jean Ross on Christmas Eve, 1795, he began to build Sweetbriar. The grounds and planting were beautiful and lawns stretched to the river. Breck even owned an island in the Schuylkill which he could see from his window.

A wealthy merchant, Breck was very public spirited and his benefactions included gifts to the Library Company and the Athenaeum. He was a member of the Pennsylvania legislature and sat in the State House from 1817-1821. He introduced a bill for the emancipation of slaves in Pennsylvania and was elected in 1823 to the 18th Congress. In 1824 he sat in the State Senate again. In 1838 Breck sold Sweetbriar and moved into town, where he lived until his death. In 1867 the house and grounds were incorporated into the park.

The elegant Federal-style house fortunately escaped any Victorian improvements and retains the sheer elegance of the late 18th century when it was one of the showplaces of the nation's capital. The south drawing room, whose windows look across the river toward the waterworks beneath the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is a superb example of the French influence at its best. Breck was a friend of Lafayette, Louis Philippe, and Talleyrand. The room is airy and light and vertical in feel. Long windows to the floor contribute to this feeling as do the delicate chairs and sofa, the long, graceful draperies and valances, the French clock and candelabra, and the opulent chandelier (bought from a palace owned by the Aga Khan).

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Continue northwest on Sweetbriar Ln. and take the first right onto Cedar Grove Dr. to reach Cedar Grove

Fairmount Park