The Origin Story of Strawberry Mansion
Let’s start with a trip back in time. Imagine it’s 1789. Judge William Lewis builds a summer retreat and names it “Summerville.” Quite a fitting name for a place to escape. Fast forward to 1825, and the mansion has a new owner, Judge Joseph Hemphill. He adds Greek-revival-style wings, giving the estate a grander look.
But wait, when did “Summerville” become the Historic Strawberry Mansion we know today? Well, legend has it that the name change happened because the occupants, who were farmers, served strawberries and cream to the public. Sounds delicious, right?
So, the mansion got its current name, and it stuck. The City of Philadelphia eventually bought the property, which went through various uses. At one point, it was even a popular restaurant and picnic spot.
In 1930, a group of women, the Committee of 1926, decided the mansion needed some love. They began restoring it, and by 1931, it was open to the public as a historic house museum.
Since then, the mansion has welcomed over 250,000 visitors. From individual visits to park house tours, the villa has been a hub of history and culture.
And if you’re wondering, the mansion is in Fairmount Park, making it the largest of the park’s historic houses. Quite an honor, isn’t it?
The Committee of 1926 and the Mansion’s Restoration
Now, let’s talk about the heroes of our story—the Committee of 1926. These were public-spirited women who took it upon themselves to restore the mansion. They started in 1930 and opened it to the public the following year.
But time passed, and the mansion needed another facelift in the 21st century. In 2009, the Committee of 1926 began a major restoration in partnership with the City of Philadelphia. This was no small task. They repaired all 72 windows, replaced roofing, and installed a new climate control system.
By May 2013, the mansion was ready to welcome visitors again. The restoration was so thorough that it included a beautiful mural in the Banquet Room. This mural tells the story of Judge Joseph Hemphill and adds a touch of art to the mansion.
So, if you’re wondering about things to do in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, visiting this restored marvel should be on your list.
The restoration project was a big deal. It even got coverage in local newspapers and was the talk of the town for a while.
And guess what? The Committee of 1926 remains active today, ensuring the mansion remains a well-preserved piece of history.
A Walk Through the Rooms of Strawberry Mansion
Alright, let’s take an imaginary walk through the mansion. Each room here is like a mini-museum, curated by different women’s groups in 1931. The diversity in each room is something that visitors have loved since the mansion first opened its doors.
First stop, the Ballroom. It’s a blend of French and American taste, furnished in honor of Stephen Girard, a prominent merchant and philanthropist. The room even features a harp made in 1850.
Next, we have the Lewis Parlor, also known as the 18th Century Parlor. This room takes you back to the time of Judge William Lewis. The room features a beautiful mantle of King of Prussia marble, adding to its grandeur.
Last but not least, let’s visit the Library or Reception Room. The spouse of Cyrus Curtis, the man behind the Curtis Publishing Company, provided the room’s furnishings. The furniture was purchased from American Art Galleries in New York City in 1931.
Oh, and don’t forget the Indian Queen Room. It’s furnished in the same fashion as the Indian Queen Tavern, which operated as an “old-time restaurant” during the Sesquicentennial celebration.
The Banquet Room is another must-see. Initially adorned by the Good Housekeeping Studio, the room boasts a mural that showcases various scenes from Philadelphia and Fairmount Park.
You’ll find the Attic a haven if you’re a fan of vintage toys and unique artifacts. It’s filled with toys, relics, and items that reflect lifestyles from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Collections that Speak Volumes
Now, what’s a mansion without some treasures? Historic Strawberry Mansion houses a diverse range of collections. There’s something for everyone, from antiques and fine art to collectibles from the 18th and 19th centuries.
One of the highlights is the Sesquicentennial Doll Collection. The mansion received this collection as a gift when the Women’s Club of Temple University dissolved in 1950. Each doll represents a state in the Union, making it a unique exhibit.
But that’s not all. In 2000, the Committee of 1926 decided to add to this collection. They called it the Millennium Doll Collection. Letters were sent to representatives in all the states, and soon, new dolls began to arrive.
The Esther Ann McFarland Exhibition Room is another gem. It features Tucker and Hemphill Porcelain, produced only for six years from 1832–1838.
The mansion also has abundant antiques and fine art displayed throughout the house’s various rooms.
If you appreciate fine art, you’ll be interested to know that the mansion is home to a renowned doll collection, originating from the High Street Exhibit during the 1926 Sesquicentennial.
The Mansion’s Role in Community and Culture
The mansion is more than just a building; it’s a community hub. It has hosted various events, lectures, and even artist exhibitions. One of the recent highlights was the “A Freedom to Go Forth” exhibit. This focused on Judge William Lewis’ role in the abolition of slavery.
The mansion also offers public programming and community outreach. It’s not just a place to visit; it’s a place to learn and engage.
The mansion even welcomed musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra for a free neighborhood concert. Talk about bringing culture to the community!
In addition to hosting events, the mansion has educational programs for schools. Students get to learn about history in a fun and interactive way.
The mansion is also available for private events. Imagine having your wedding or a special celebration in such a historic setting!
And for those who want to contribute, the mansion has a volunteer program. You can be a part of preserving this historic gem.
Visiting Strawberry Mansion Today
So, you’re convinced and want to visit? Great! The mansion is open for walk-in tours from Thursday to Sunday. You can choose from multiple tour timings, and no reservations are needed for small groups.
Forms of payment? They accept cash, checks, and PayPal. And don’t worry about parking; it’s free. Just note that the mansion is closed on some holidays and during emergency weather conditions.
The mansion also offers that option for those who want a guided tour. You can schedule a tour and get an in-depth look at the mansion’s history and collections.
And if you’re a resident, you get a discount on the admission fee. Now that’s a sweet deal!
The mansion also has a gift shop. You can take home a piece of history or some unique souvenirs.
And for those who are into photography, the mansion offers a beautiful backdrop. Just remember to follow the photography guidelines.
From its early days as “Summerville” to its restoration and role in the community, this mansion is a treasure trove of history, art, and culture. Why read about it when you can experience it? Make sure to add Historic Strawberry Mansion to your list of must-visits. Trust us; it’s worth it.
But before we wrap up, let’s not forget the people who made it all possible. The Committee of 1926 and the City of Philadelphia have worked tirelessly to preserve this historic gem. Their efforts have transformed it into a living museum, where each room tells a story, and each collection has a tale to share.
And it’s not just about the past; the mansion continues to be a vibrant part of the community. From educational programs for schools to free concerts, it’s a place that brings people together. It’s not just a visit; it’s an experience.
Whether you’re keen on history, have a passion for art, or are simply searching for a one-of-a-kind adventure, Strawberry Mansion offers something to satisfy every curiosity. Don’t just take our word for it; see it yourself. After all, some things are best experienced firsthand.