Historic Preservation Feature is a series of articles on the efforts to save and reuse historic buildings, districts and sites in Pennsylvania.

On the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River in southeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles west of Lancaster, Wright’s Ferry Man­sion was built in 1738 for a remarkable English Quaker, Susanna Wright. In 1726, when Susanna was twenty-nine, she purchased one hundred acres in this region on the fringes of Pennsylvania wilderness, then inhabited by a small tribe of Indians and known as Shaw­anahtown-on-Susquehanna.

Bright, unmarried, possibly using money from her dowry for the purchase of the land, this dynamic eighteenth­-century lady was aware of the needs and potentials – not only political, agricul­tural and commercial, but also spiritual and intellectual – for the development of this area. Strong ideals were a driving force behind her call to the wilderness, as one of her Philadelphia friends wrote to her, “I shall not fail to mention you with a great regard [in a history of Pennsylvania he was preparing] …. To propagate civility, good Sense, Rea­son & Good Maners, to propagate Moral Justice, & Erect a Church In a Land till then Barbarous is a Revolution of some Importance …. ”

With not even a road to the area, her two brothers and her father, along with a small group of other English Quakers who had been Jiving outside of Philadel­phia in the towns of Chester and Darby, succeeded in opening the region for fur­ther expansion. The Wrights obtained a patent for a road and, on the banks of Susanna’s land, established a ferry serv­ice across the Susquehanna which was extremely important for trade and west­ward expansion.

The settlement, which came to be called Wright’s Ferry, was perched on the remote edge of Chester County, an enormous area extending from outside of Philadelphia. The need to divide this huge territory was obvious from the time that Wright’s Ferry was estab­lished, and John Wright, Susanna’s father, was instrumental in the formation of a new county, named Lancaster after his native Lancashire in England. Re­gardless of this fact and that John Wright was the county’s first Justice of the Peace, that many of his close neigh­bors held other county posts and that the ferry settlement had from its incep­tion been considered a prime site for the seat of government, the small town of Lancaster rather than Wright’s Ferry became the county seat.

Despite her location in virtual wilderness, the close ties that Susanna Wright maintained with Phila­delphia are vividly reflected in her home, Wright’s Ferry Mansion. Proba­bly built for her by her youngest brother James, who with his small family lived in the house with Susanna from the years 1738 to 1756, Wright’s Ferry Mansion exemplifies the elegant sim­plicity of the early Georgian style as produced by affluent English Quakers living in Pennsylvania. The long, nar­row stone structure of the house, a typi­cal English plan, is just one room deep; the elongated windows, which are placed directly opposite one another, give a feeling of light and clarity to the interiors. Because of these features of window placement and room depth, it is possible to see directly through the house at many points.

Between the first and second stories, a pent roof encircles the building, and above it, at the roof line and continuing across the gable end of the house, runs a very bold plaster cove cornice. Al­though the house is English in style, the shingling used represents one of the few Germanic features, a reminder of the Germanic population close by. The red oak shingles are side-lapped against the prevailing wind and are butt-nailed with a single rose-headed nail.

Because so few alterations had been made to the building since its construc­tion in 1738, Wright’s Ferry Mansion proved to be an excellent “document” house. The exterior walls of native lime­stone had been virtually unaltered, and the original pointing was in excellent condition. Almost all the door and win­dow frames were original, and the oak beams of the cellar, which are the joists for the first floor, were virtually all in­tact. The brick chimneys were also in ex­cellent condition and needed only minor repairs. On the south gable end of the building, a porch, which later became a garage, had been constructed in the nineteenth century. Consequently, the bake oven projecting from this side of the house had been removed. The oven, however, has since been restored, ac­cording to evidence provided by the vestige of a stone foundation.

The restoration, furnishing and maintenance of Wright’s Ferry Mansion as a house museum has been accom­plished entirely by a private, non-profit organization, The Louise Steinman von Hess Foundation, which purchased the house in 1973. Prior to that, the Wright family held continuous ownership until 1922, when the house was sold to an­other family who used it as a residence up to the time of the restoration.

The attitude taken in restoring the house was to remove any later addi­tions, such as several nineteenth-century porches, in order to restore the appear­ance the house had when it was built in 1738. Evidence of structural elements that had originally been present but which subsequently had disappeared was carefully examined in order to re­place those missing features, such as the pent eave and the cove cornice.

For the project, The Louise Steinman von Hess Foundation engaged the noted restoration architect G. Edwin Brum­baugh of Gwynedd Valley, who has re­stored hundreds of early buildings throughout Pennsylvania in his very long and distinguished career. The fur­nishings of the house to the period of Susanna Wright’s occupancy from 1738 to 1756 was done by the eminent anti­quarian Joseph Kindig III of York, ac­claimed for his superlative knowledge and sensitivity to the history and dec­orative arts of eighteenth-century Amer­ica. Thus, The Louise Steinman von Hess Foundation has created a rare and perfect marriage of early eighteenth­-century architecture and furnishings.

As in the architecture, so in the furnishings, the English Quaker taste of Philadelphia reigns. The collec­tion of rare, early eighteenth-century furniture has been drawn together to re­flect the gradual accumulation of a household over several decades, in­corporating the two styles available to Susanna in the first half of the eight­eenth century – the William and Mary and the Queen Anne. The Wrights pa­tronized fine Philadelphia cabinetmak­ers such as Stephen Armitt, and their tastes were in accord with many of the affluent Quaker families of Philadel­phia with whom they had close friend­ships.

These friendships had been estab­lished when the Wrights first arrived in Pennsylvania in 1714 and settled just outside of Philadelphia at Chester. Susanna very quickly became part of the vibrant intellectual milieu of early eight­eenth-century Philadelphia.

Her mentor was the brilliant James Logan, William Penn’s secretary and one of the most influential public figures in early Pennsylvania. He en­couraged her in various studies, particu­larly languages, and would lend her books from his extensive library of al­most three thousand volumes. Logan’s library, which encompassed the classics as well as the most contemporary au­thors and the latest scientific works, can now be seen at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Logan had made special provision in his will for the library, and long before his death, he made every attempt to gather in any volume that had strayed from the fold. On June 18, 1728, he wrote to Susanna:

It is now above six months since thou took with thee three volumes of a work of which I have 15 more & by my will given amongst others all the 18 to the Library of Philadia …. As for Voltaire I must refer it to thy own goodness and for Colliers Dictny I suppose thou has prescription on thy side for it viz considerably above twice 7 years.

Despite these stern scoldings, this “Gentleman of universal Learning” said that he valued the opinion of Susie Wright above that of many judges, and he delighted in her brilliance and charm.

She gained not only James Logan’s respect but also that of Benjamin Franklin. During the French and Indian War, when Franklin needed deft as­sistance in fulfilling his promise to Gen­eral Braddock to supply crucially needed wagons and horses for the troops, he went to Susanna for advice on the best means of alerting the public to provide these necessities. They assist­ed each other not only on political ques­tions but also as friends, for Franklin and his wife would send Susanna all sons of articles difficult to obtain in her remote home – a thermometer; candles; needles and pins; sad irons and teaket­tles, books and pamphlets; and, of course, almanacs.

Franklin also encouraged Susanna to pursue an interest that was rapidly growing throughout Pennsylvania – the raising of silkworms. Susanna was avid­ly involved with this home industry for over twenty years, and when she was in her seventies, she was winning various premiums set by the government. She produced the first pair of silk stockings made entirely in Pennsylvania. These are mentioned in a letter from the prominent Philadelphia Quaker mer­chant Charles Norris to Susanna Wright, April 19, 1759:

… I cannot omit mentioning that when Gent Amherst was in Town, one Day his Brothr was drinking Tea with us when as a Curiosity thy Silk Stockings was produced & my Brother taking notice that he seemed much pleased with them propos’d presenting them to the Genl, as the 1st. pr made here, the Eggs hatched, Balls wound, Silk twisted, & Stockings wove in the province of Pensilva, and on the occasion he express’d Surprise at the perfection of the first and de­clared he would not put them on Till he had the pleasure of waiting on His Majesty on his Return (if please God he sho’d live to see that day) when he did Protest he would display them to the full, and shd write Mists Amherst he was already fixed with Stockings for that occa­sion such as was not in her power to procure & drank the Lady’s health who made them.

In addition to this interest, she had a great fascination with horticulture and botany. She ordered books on these sub­jects from London, and her friends sent her various seeds. She also used plants in medicines which she would com­pound as they were needed by her neigh­bors. Under the direction of Quaker doctors in Philadelphia, she helped to provide medical care for her neighbors in the isolated settlement. The Wrights’ interest in medicine is well documented, for they were generous contributors to the Pennsylvania Hospital established in Philadelphia in 1752.

The Wrights were respected for their many philanthropic works, and they particularly strove to establish sound relationships with the Indians. Susanna studied their language, while her brother James attended important Indian treaty meetings. Undoubtedly, one of their reasons for settling along the Susquehanna was to help stabilize Indian territory which was being en­croached upon by immigrant squatters. In addition, Maryland was claiming the land as well because of an inaccuracy in the delineation of boundaries in the original charter.

No one was more aware of these problems than the astute politician James Logan. Logan owned a tract of land in this area (adjacent to the hun­dred acres that Susanna had purchased) which he sold to Samuel Blunston, a surveyor, who settled there and helped control settlement by carefully defining proper boundaries.

Samuel Blunston built a large and very elegant house on his property, which he willed to Susanna for use during her lifetime. It was to this house, later called Mount Bethel, that Susanna Wright moved with her brother James and his growing family in 1756 or 1757. Located less than half a mile away, the larger house provided more room for them and for Susanna’s successful silk­making activities. Following Susanna’s move to Mount Bethel, where she lived until she died in 1784 at the age of eighty-seven, Wright’s Ferry Mansion served as an elegant home for Susanna’s young niece and her husband.

Although no portraits of Susanna Wright have so far surfaced, a descrip­tion of her by Deborah Norris Logan does still exist:

I had the pleasure when very young of seeing her and can remember something of the vivacity and spirit of her conversation, which I have since heard some of the best judges of such merit, affirm, they had sel­dom known to be equalled.

She lived to be upwards of 80, pre­serving her senses & faculties. She had been educated in the Religious society of Friends, and died a most humble, sincere, christian.

She was small in person, & had never been handsome but had a very penetrating, sensible counte­nance, and was truly polite & courteous in her address & be­haviour.

Today, the presence of the “cele­brated Susanna Wright” is once again reflected in her home, Wright’s Ferry Mansion. Through meticulous care in restoration and furnishing, The Louise Steinman von Hess Foundation has pro­duced a rare combination: a house per­meated with the atmosphere of another age and a rich academic milieu from which emanates the artistic, cultural and spiritual aspirations of early eighteenth­-century America.


Wright’s Ferry Mansion is open May through October on Tuesdays, Wednes­days, Fridays and Saturdays, from 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M.


Elizabeth Meg Schaefer is assistant curator of Wright’s Ferry Mansion for The Louise Steinman von Hess Founda­tion and also serves as secretary-treas­urer of the Museum Council of Lancas­ter County, a professional organization of non-profit museums. Currently, she is assisting in the preparation of a cata­log for Wright’s Ferry Mansion which will include her research into the life and writings of Susanna Wright.