Built from 1799-1801, Lemon Hill Mansion and its grounds were originally part of a 300-acre estate owned by Robert Morris. A 43-acre section, known as “The Hills,” was purchased by wealthy Philadelphia merchant, Henry Pratt, in 1799. This section included a greenhouse that contained lemon trees, and it is from those trees that Lemon Hill derived its name. The house and gardens were purchased by the city in 1844 and the house served as the home of Fiske Kimball, first director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, from 1925-1955. It is now a historic house museum maintained by the Colonial Dames of America and the Friends of Lemon Hill.
Morris, signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution,
fell into severe debt by the end of the 18th century and was forced
to sell off his land holdings, which included an extensive estate along the Schuylkill
River. Part of this estate was purchased
at a sheriff’s auction by Henry Pratt.
Pratt was a wealthy importer/exporter who owned his own shipping line. He also amassed a significant fortune as a
Philadelphia land developer. He designed
Lemon Hill and oversaw its construction.
It was completed in 1800 on a bluff overlooking the river and historical
Boathouse Row. Pratt improved the
gardens on his land and opened them up to the public. He used Lemon Hill as a summer retreat until
he sold it for the princely sum of $225,000 in 1836, two years prior to his
was then occupied by various owners until it became one of the earliest
properties purchased by the city, in 1844, in order to create Fairmount Park. The city then leased it out to various entities
over the ensuing decades, to include a beer garden, restaurant, candy shop and
ice cream parlor. Needless to say, these
tenants, and the city, did little to maintain the historic home and grounds,
and both fell into disrepair by the start of the 20th century.
home came to be occupied by architectural historian and director of the
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fiske Kimball, in 1925. He and his wife, Marie, spent the better part
of the next two years restoring the home and then maintaining it while they
lived there for the next thirty years.
In 1957, the commissioners of Fairmount Park gave license to the
Colonial Dames of America to use Lemon Hill as their headquarters and a place for
public exhibitions. They raised funds
and took Lemon Hill through another extensive renovation in 1976 and were
joined in their efforts by the Friends of Lemon Hill in 1987. The process of improving the grounds and
gardens began in 2002 and is a continuing endeavor.
itself features three oval parlors, stacked one atop the other. These parlors were constructed with curved
fireplace mantles and doors. The home
also possesses detailed woodwork, a grand curving staircase, Chinese
Chippendale railings and a large, second-floor Palladian window. The Dames have also established themed
tours. They include, but are not limited
to, “Life and Death in the Early 19th Century” and “Risky Business:
Creating (and Losing) Fortunes in America.”