Woodford Mansion — A Fairmount Mansion
Just after lunch on a summer day in July 2003, the attic of Historic Woodford Mansion in Fairmount Park caught on fire, spreading throughout the house. The fire reached the second and third floor, and it took about an hour to get it under control. Immediately after the fire was put out, the Fire Department members and park employees worked tirelessly to carry out priceless artifacts including furniture, paintings, and loyalist newspapers from the Revolutionary War era that had been housed at the Woodford Mansion. Could these items be restored? Or were they damaged and lost to the fire forever?
Woodford Mansion was built in 1756 as a summer country home near the Schuylkill River. It was the first of six Georgian style country houses to be built in this area by wealthy families during the 17- and 1800s. These country homes were built by members of the rising merchant class as a refuge from the summer heat and various epidemics experienced in the center of Philadelphia and to display social status and wealth. Summer homes also provided a place for leisure activities, such as gardening, reading, and sporting. Its owner, William Coleman was a wealthy merchant and justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, as well as a friend to Benjamin Franklin.
Coleman died in 1769, and before the property was sold to Alexander Barclay, it was advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette as having a thriving orchard featuring an apple tree. Barclay died in 1771, and the house was bought by his brother-in-law, David Franks. Franks was a loyalist during the American Revolutionary War, and often entertained many British officers, including General Howe. In 1778, Franks was arrested for treason by the infamous Benedict Arnold and forced to leave Philadelphia. He eventually moved to England, where his family experienced great poverty, but not before transferring Woodford Mansion to Thomas Paschall to settle a debt. Thomas Paschall never lived in Woodford Mansion, but instead rented out the property. In 1793, Paschall sold the mansion to Isaac Wharton, who used Woodford Mansion as his family’s summer home for nearly 75 years. Just after the Civil War in 1869, the Wharton family sold Woodford Mansion to the City of Philadelphia. The mansion was used by the city in a variety of different ways; for example, it was the Fairmount Parks Guard headquarters and traffic court in 1912.
Naomi Wood was born in the summer of 1871 into Philadelphia’s elite society. The family prosperity supported her hobby of collecting antiques. After Wood’s death in 1926, her close friend and a fellow antique collector, Daniel Huntoon, became the first Trustee of the Naomi Wood Trust. In 1927, Woodford Mansion was selected by Daniel Huntoon as a suitable home to house her collection of colonial household gear. The Trust entered into a long term lease with the City of Philadelphia and restored the mansion. In1930, the Woodford Mansion opened to the public as a house museum, which it remains to this day. By 1967, the Woodford Mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The July 2003 fire was caused by an electric heat gun that was being used to remove paint. While little of the collection was lost, Woodford Mansion had to be closed for two years. One million dollars later, the Woodford Mansion re-opened to the public, completely restored. An orchard was added to ensure the historical accuracy of the property. Historic Woodford Mansion is now considered one of the charms of Fairmount Park and is opening for touring Tuesday through Saturday.
- By, WILLIAM WEART. "MANSIONS TELL PHILADELPHIA STORY." New York Times (1923-Current File), Jun 18, 1961. http://0- search.proquest.com.read.cnu.edu/docview/115283077?accountid=10100.
- Gibbons,Thomas J.,,Jr. "Fairmount Park Mansion Badly Damaged by Blaze Woodford, a Three- Story Brick Structure, Housed a Collection of Colonial Household Furniture. Fire Damages Antiques in Fairmount Park Mansion." Philadelphia Inquirer, Jul 12, 2003. http://0-search.proquest.com.read.cnu.edu/docview/287332313?accountid=10100.
- Reinberger, Mark. 1997. “The Evolution of Woodford, an Eighteenth-century "retirement"”. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 121 (1/2). Historical Society of Pennsylvania: 27–51. http://0-www.jstor.org.read.cnu.edu/stable/20093102.
- Salisbury, Stephan. "A Historic Mansion Will Open Doors again Two Years After Fire, Restoration nearly Complete." Philadelphia Inquirer, Apr 21, 2005. http://0- search.proquest.com.read.cnu.edu/docview/287436034?accountid=10100.
- Woodford Mansion Charms of Fairmount Park