The Powel House, now owned and operated as a period house museum by the Philadelphia Society of the Preservation of Landmarks, is a Georgian row house that was built in 1765. It is located in the Society Hill neighborhood of the city and its most famous resident was Samuel Powel who served as Philadelphia’s mayor both before and after the Revolutionary War. The house was saved from demolition and then fully restored by the society in the 1930s. It has been restored with period furnishings and decorative arts from the Revolutionary War era and is now open to the public for guided tours and available for rental as a wedding or other special event venue.
The Powel House
is thought to have been designed by Scottish born architect, Robert Smith, who
also designed Carpenters’ Hall. It was
originally built for wealthy merchant Charles Stedman. However, Stedman never lived in the home as
he fell into financial difficulties and ended up in debtor’s prison as a
result. Four years after it was built,
the home was purchased by Samuel Powel and his wife Elizabeth, in 1769. Due to his loyalty to the colonies during the
Revolutionary War, Powel is often referred to as the “patriot mayor.”
The Powels made
some dramatic alterations to the house by adding a second-floor ballroom,
ornate plaster ceilings and intricately carved woodwork. They also added windows that over looked the
garden and a 3-story half-turret (a bay window style addition) to the home’s
exterior. However, it was removed
sometime during the mid-19th century.
Powel House is
perhaps best known for those who dined and were entertained within its walls as
it was frequented by many members of Philadelphia’s glitterati (or is that
illuminati?) both before, during and after the Revolutionary War. The list of visitor’s that passed through its
threshold is a who’s who of the Revolutionary era. They include: Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin
Rush, John Adams, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George and Martha
Washington. In fact, the Washingtons
wintered next door to the Powel House after the Battle of Yorktown, from November
of 1781 through March of 1782. During that
time, they were frequent guests of the Powels.
The home was also temporarily “visited” by the British during their
occupation of Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War.
died during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 and his wife, Elizabeth, lived in
the home until her death in 1830. It
then passed to her nephew, John Hare Powell who served in the War of 1812,
founded the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society in 1823, and was a Pennsylvania
State Senator from 1827-1830. By the
early 20th century, after the area around it had industrialized, the
home served as a warehouse and manufacturing center for Wolf Klebanksy. During this time, parts of the interior were
sold off to other museums, to include the architectural woodwork of the second-floor
parlor and ballroom, as well as its plaster ceiling.
was then scheduled for demolition to make way for an “open air garage” in
1930. It was saved, largely by the
efforts of Frances Wister and his Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of
Landmarks, when they purchased it in 1931.
The society then hired architect H. Louis Duhring Jr. to restore the
house to its Revolutionary era grandeur.
He fully restored the gutted house and the society then opened it to the
public as a means to glimpse the daily lives of wealthy Philadelphians from the
late 18th and early 19th centuries.