Page images



HE front of 224 Pine Street arrests attention and compels the admiration of the passerby, if he has any eye for the beauties of our old Colonial architecture. Notwithstanding its mutilated and dingy

condition-it now serves for a tenement house for immigrants and some of the front chambers are rented to socialist clubs; squalour unspeakable prevails—there is beauty enough left to demand more than a passing glance.

Built of the red and black bricks so characteristic of Philadelphia, the wall is pierced with broad windows filled with small square panes set in very wide sash-bars. Pilasters and pediment adorn the door and the cornice and ornamentation beneath the eaves surpass in richness of design and nicety of finish anything of the sort in the city. Until a few years ago, when the interior was despoiled of its wonderful woodwork, nothing could have been more exquisite than the carving and panelling there to be found. From the ground to the top floor, hall and staircase were wainscotted with mahogany and there were mahogany doors. The doorways from the hall to the drawing-rooms were enriched with fluted pilasters and deeply moulded and carved broken pediments. Immediately above the fireplaces were narrow panels on which hunting scenes were wrought in mastic. The wall above

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

was panelled to the ceiling as was also the space on either side of the fireplace.

It was, past all question, one of the most elegant of the many elegant houses in Philadelphia. Here there was no reason for Quaker restraint or love of plainness that checked elaboration in such a number of instances. It was built for people whose every inclination was toward luxury of style in living and adornment in the objects about them and, as they had abundant means to gratify their tastes, nothing was stinted that might add comfort or elegance.

Here lived John Stamper, a wealthy English merchant who had been a councilman, alderman, and finally, mayor of the city in 1759, and had bought from Thomas and Richard Penn, in 1761, the whole south side of Pine Street from Second to Third and, at some time prior to the Revolution-probably about 1764 or 1765—built himself this house. It was surrounded by a fair garden filled with the choicest flowers, shrubbery, and fruit trees. At a later date, when Doctor Blackwell, into whose possession the property passed, built the house at 238 for his daughter on the occasion of her marriage to George Willing, the garden extended that far west and was enjoyed by both families in common.

John Stamper's daughter Mary married William Bingham the elder. Hannah, one of the daughters of William and Mary Stamper Bingham, married first John Benezet and secondly the Reverend Doctor Robert Blackwell. Doctor Blackwell was thus the brother-in-law of the Honourable William Bingham, who married the beautiful Ann Willing and later built and maintained a

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

princely establishment in Third Street when the “court life” of the early Republic found so brilliant a setting in Philadelphia.

Robert Blackwell, the son of Colonel Jacob Blackwell, was born in 1748 on Long Island where the family had long been prominent and possessed large estates along the East River. Blackwell's Island, opposite New York, was once a part of their property. Robert Blackwell graduated from Princeton in 1768. Before studying theology, he seems to have attained some proficiency in the science of medicine which he afterward made good use of. He apparently read divinity in New York either with Dr. Auchmuty, the rector of Trinity, or with Mr. Seabury, afterward Bishop Seabury. During that period he spent several years as tutor in the family of Colonel Frederick Philipse, the lord of Philipse Manor.

When his preparation for orders was completed, Doctor Auchmuty, in writing a letter of commendation to Doctor Peters, the then rector of Christ Church and St. Peter's, says of Blackwell, “ though showy, yet he will make a solid

minister. He is a lump of good nature and very diligent when he has anything to do.” In another letter he says, “He is a good lad, and will be useful,” a prediction that Dr. Blackwell fully justified—far better, after all, than being

showy.” After ordination he served the missions at Gloucester and St. Mary's, Colestown, in New Jersey, until the war completely scattered both congregations.

On leaving his two missions he went to Valley Forge and served in the double capacity of chaplain and surgeon. His connection with the Continental Army con

[ocr errors]

not very

[ocr errors]

tinued till the date of his first marriage in 1780. Not long after this, on the death of his father, he came into a large and valuable estate. In 1781 he was called to assist Doctor White in the joint cure of Christ Church and St. Peter's.

His first wife having died, he married Hannah Bingham in November, 1783, whose ample fortune, joined to his own, made him not only the richest clergyman in the country but one of the richest men in Philadelphia. Griswold in his “Republican Court" speaks of him as conspicuous in the society of Washington's time, and after referring to him as a man of large fortune, fine appearance and singularly pleasant temper and manner," he adds:

Being withal a man of unquestioned piety and great propriety of life, he maintained a dignified position, and was extensively deferred to by an opulent and worldly class, who would probably have deferred to no one else less blessed with adventitious influence.

In the division of duties, the ministrations at St. Peter's fell largely to his share. In a way, he may be said to have been a “court preacher,” for Washington was a member of the united parishes and frequently attended service at both churches as did also many of the Cabinet and members of Congress, for although, after the Revolution, there was considerable animus in some quarters against the Church because of its former connection with the State, there was still a good deal of the feeling that one might be a “ Christian in any church but couldn't be a gentleman outside of the Church of England.”

Not two squares away from Doctor Blackwell's house

was his brother-in-law William Bingham's spacious mansion where Mrs. Bingham reigned over a brilliant coterie in the day when she and Mrs. Robert Morris ruled Philadelphia society. During the time that Mr. and Mrs. Bingham spent abroad after the restoration of peace, they were busied with plans for the house they purposed erecting on their return home. In describing it in his “Republican Court,” Griswold says:

[ocr errors]

The domestic architecture of London and Paris was a sub ject of special study, and the mansion of the Duke of Manchester, in Manchester Square, London, was selected as the model of the contemplated structure in Philadelphia—the dimensions of the original being somewhat enlarged in the copy. Soon after they came back to America they built their palatial edifice, so well remembered

as the Mansion House, in Third Street above Spruce, which was unhappily destroyed

by fire. Its width was spacious, its height not extended above a third storey, and it stood perhaps forty feet from the ordinary line of the street, being approached by a circular carriage way of gravel, the access upon both ends of which opened by swinging gates of iron open tracery. A low wall, with an elegant course of baluster upon it, defended the immediate front, and connected the gates which gave admission. The grounds about the house, beautifully diversified with walks, statuary, shade and parterres, covered not less than three acres

its entrance was not raised at all, as is the modern style, to a kind of second storey, but it brought the visitor by a single step upon the wide pave of tessellated marble.

Its self-supporting broad stairway of fine white marble the first of that description, probably, ever known in America-leading to the second storey, gave a truly Roman elegance to the passage. On the left hand, as the visitor entered, were parlours; on the right, a room designed for a study; and


« PreviousContinue »