Clio Logo

The Edwin Forrest House was built in the 1850s for William Gaul, a successful brewer. Today, the home is most associated with Edwin Forrest, an actor who was regarded as one of the finest performers of his era. Forrest bought the home shortly after it was completed and lived there until his death in 1872. For many years afterward, the building housed the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is currently home to the New Freedom Theatre, an African American theater company established in 1966.


  • The Edwin Forrest House
  • The mansion as it appeared in 1863
  • Photo of Edwin Forrest by Matthew Brady
Built in the mid-1850s, the Edwin Forrest House is one of the first mansions built along Broad Street in Philadelphia. The home was built for William Gaul, who became wealthy as a brewer. Edwin Forrest purchased the home shortly after it was completed.

Forrest was regarded as one of the finest tragedians of his day. By the standards of the mid-nineteenth century, Forrest was a celebrity. Much like the celebrities of the twenty-first century, he was the object of gossip and he generated more than a few controversies regarding both his personal and public life. Forrest was also involved in politics and was regarded as an American patriot. The rivalry between Forrest and English-born actor William Macready led to the Astor Place riot in 1849, in which 22 people were killed.

Forrest lived in the mansion until his death in 1872. The home on Broad Street remained vacant until 1880 when it was purchased by the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. The school added a significant addition to the rear of the building to house art studios. The school continued to occupy the building until 1960, when it began to be used as a youth community center.

Since 1968, the building has housed the New Freedom Theatre, founded in 1966 and the oldest African American theater in Philadelphia. Numerous classes and performances are offered in the building each year. 
Freedom Theatre Historical Marker. Explore PA History. . Accessed February 03, 2019. http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-25D.

Cohen, Steve. Edwin Forrest, actor & super-patriot. The Cultural Critic. . Accessed February 03, 2019. https://theculturalcritic.com/edwin-forrest-actor-and-super-patriot/.

Boyer, Deborah. Edwin Forrest: A Legend of American Theater. The Philly History Blog. March 14, 2009. Accessed February 03, 2019. https://www.phillyhistory.org/blog/index.php/2009/03/edwin-forrest-a-legend-of-american-theater/.

0