Artist, designer and inventor, Robert Fulton, was born in this house in 1765. Best known for creating the first commercially viable steamboat, Fulton was also an accomplished artist and built and designed submarines and torpedoes. The farm on which Fulton was born passed to the Swift family and then to the state of Pennsylvania in 1969. It is now owned, maintained and operated as a historic house museum by the Southern Lancaster County Historical Society which opens it to the public during summer weekends. The Robert Fulton Birthplace was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
family arrived in Lancaster, from Ireland, in 1735 and later purchased the 400-acre
farm on which Robert Fulton was born in 1765.
However, the farming venture proved less than fruitful and the family
moved back to Lancaster soon after young Robert was born. By 1782, Fulton was living in Philadelphia
where he earned a living as a painter of miniatures (small paintings for lockets
or display) and landscapes. He
eventually tired of this endeavor and sought greater challenges in Europe.
in London in 1786 and stayed with a famous artist and friend of the family,
Benjamin West. He continued to paint to
earn money and indulged his hobby of mechanical exploration. The canal craze had just hit England and
Fulton designed and patented an inclined plane for canal boats and a dredging
machine. He also met textile magnate and
utopian engineer, Robert Owen, who listened to Fulton’s ideas on steam power
and agreed to fund his experiments. In
the late 18th century, Fulton moved on to Paris where he designed
and built a submarine called the Nautilus
which plied the waters of the Seine.
He also built an initially successful steamboat which later sank.
to the U.S. in 1806 and, financed by Robert Livingston, who he met in Paris,
continued to experiment with steam powered watercraft. In 1807, he successfully launched the Clermont on the Hudson River in New
York. However, this was not the first
steamboat launched in America, John Fitch had successfully tested one in
1787. What Fulton gets credit for, and
deservedly so, is creating the first commercially successful steamboat, as the Clermont continued to ferry passengers
between New York City and Albany. He
went on to build the first steam powered war ship, the Demologos, and built the first steamboat that travelled from
Pittsburgh to New Orleans. Fulton died
in 1815 after contracting pneumonia after saving a friend from the icy Hudson
River. He is buried in the Trinity
Church Cemetery in New York City.
As for his
birthplace, the 2.5 story rubblestone and mortar farmhouse and acreage was
purchased by the Swift family who retained possession until the 1960s. The farmhouse was destroyed by fire in 1822
and rebuilt from the remaining rubble.
The state acquired the property in 1969 and it was restored to its 18th
century appearance by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. It was then deeded to the Southern Lancaster County
Historical Society in 2017. The site,
aside from the stone farmhouse, also contains the society’s archives warehouse,
a former tobacco barn that now houses a small gift shop, a granary, and a newer
building that contains restrooms and a garden shed.