News presents briefs about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

Pennypacker Mills

Pennypacker Mills possesses a lengthy history dating to about 1720 when Hans Jost Hite built the fieldstone house and a gristmill near the Perkiomen Creek, Schwenksville, Montgomery County. Purchased in 1747 by Peter Pennypacker (1710-1770), the house was enlarged and a saw mill and a fulling mill were constructed. The property acquired its name for the three mills.

Peter Pennypacker sold the mills and kept the house which retained the name Pennypacker Mills. In autumn 1777 the house and grounds served as one of General George Washington’s headquarters for the Germantown Campaign during the Revolutionary War.

Samuel W. Pennypacker purchased the house from a distant cousin for use as a summer home in 1900 and during his term as governor it was called the “summer capitol.” The property surrounding the mansion was landscaped with more than 2,000 native trees by Thomas Meehan and Sons in 1901. The house was extensively renovated and enlarged that year by Philadelphia architect Arthur Howell Brockie, making it the Colonial Revival-style mansion visitors see today. The additions included new parlors, a modern kitchen, laundry room and areas for servants. The servants’ spaces – among them a cook’s bedroom and workroom and a butler’s pantry – have been recently restored and are now featured on tours.

While in office for only one term, Pennypacker made his mark on the Commonwealth which still affects residents. In establishing many of the state departments and agencies which continue to serve the public he created the structure of present-day Pennsylvania government. His decision to establish the Pennsylvania State Police went hand-in-hand with new laws requiring citizens to obtain drivers’ licenses, register their vehicles and acquire license plates. His most impressive efforts were in education, child labor and health. He was one of the first political leaders to advocate that children should remain in school instead of working at such an early age. He signed the Commonwealth’s first child labor laws specifically aimed at protecting minors who worked in coal mines. Together with laws on food safety and the reporting of illnesses, Pennypacker’s initiatives helped save lives.

After he left the governor’s office in 1907 Pennypacker Mills became his permanent, year-round residence. The house brims with antiques, objects, books, and mementoes collected by the governor and his family.

In 1981 Montgomery County acquired the house and grounds from the estate of Margaret H. Pennypacker (1906-1980), widow of the governor’s son Samuel W. Pennypacker II (1911-1968), whom she married in 1936. Inhabited by eight generations of the family, Pennypacker Mills is one of several historic sites operated by Montgomery County’s Division of Parks, Trails and Historic Sites. The National Park Service added the mansion to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Pennsbury Manor

Pennsbury Manor, the reconstructed personal country estate and residence of Pennsylvania’s first chief executive William Penn (1644-1718), is located in Morrisville, Bucks County, approximately 26 miles northeast of Philadelphia. With sweeping views of the Delaware River, the house is furnished with handsome period furniture, objects and decorative accessories, including a pewter charger (a large shallow platter) once owned by the proprietor. Also on the 43-acre site are a joyner’s (woodworker’s) shop, icehouse, worker’s cottage, smokehouse, necessary house (a 17th-century equivalent of a privy), bake and brew house, kitchen gardens, cemetery and barn.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the historic site to visitors. Pennsbury Manor is one of 25 historic sites and museums along the Pennsylvania Trails of History® and is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) in association with The Pennsbury Society.

Keith House at Graeme Park

Also administered by PHMC, Graeme Park, Horsham, Montgomery County, features the only surviving home of a colonial Pennsylvania governor, the Keith House. In 1723 Sir William Keith (1669-1749), appointed deputy governor of the proprietary colony by Hannah Callowhill Penn, the founder’s second wife while he was ill, began building a house on the property which he called Fountain Low. Before constructing the stately residence he had erected a malt house and structures in an industrial complex intended to be used as a distillery. The year the mansion was completed, 1726, was marked by great misfortune for the family. Keith had alienated Hannah Penn who relieved him of his position. His dismissal forced him into bankruptcy and the property was purchased by his son-in-law, physician Thomas Graeme, as a summer estate.

The Keith House is noted for its stylish Georgian period architecture and interior details such as paneling, fireplaces, pediments, window reveals and high ceilings.

Grey Towers

Built as a summer retreat in 1886 for James W. and Mary Eno Pinchot, parents of Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), who served two nonconsecutive terms as governor, from 1923 to 1927 and from 1931-1935, Grey Towers in Milford, Pike County, is an imposing chateau that looks as if it could have been plucked from the Loire Valley and placed, as if by magic, high in the hills above the picturesque Delaware River in northeastern Pennsylvania. Preeminent 19th-century architect Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895) – acclaimed in 1986 by New York Times design critic Paul Goldberger as “American architecture’s first and in many ways its greatest statesman” – designed the house to reflect the Pinchot family’s French heritage. The fieldstone mansion takes its name from conical roofed towers at three of its corners.

With his wife, the flamboyant suffragettist and feminist Cornelia Bryce Pinchot (1881-1960), the governor (who previously served as the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service under two presidents) used Grey Towers to entertain the nation’s leading conservationists and members of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. Cornelia was politically astute and active and waged three unsuccessful bids to represent the state’s 15th District in Congress.

Upon the death of his mother, Gifford Bryce Pinchot (1915-1989) donated the estate to the U.S. Forest Service as the family had planned. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy dedicated the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, which plays a role in administering the property, and the National Park Service designated the house a National Historic Landmark.

Grey Towers hosts events and activities throughout the year.

Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg

The Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg is the fourth official residence to house the Keystone State’s first families. Erected on the banks of the Susquehanna River, the 28,600-square foot house containing 32 rooms was designed by Philadelphia architect George M. Ewing Jr. (1917-1993) in the Georgian style. The first floor, accommodating commodious public spaces – state entrance, reception and dining rooms, among others – also serves as galleries in which works of art reflecting the Commonwealth’s history and heritage are displayed.

Until the mid-19th century, chief executives and their families were expected to find their own lodgings in the capital city. In 1858, just before leaving office, Gov. James M. Pollock purchased the first governor’s house on South Second St. “War Governor” Andrew Gregg Curtin, an intimate and loyal supporter of President Abraham Lincoln, deemed the house too small to conduct the many meetings necessitated by the American Civil War. To remedy the problem, a second official residence, Keystone Hall, 313 North Front St., was acquired in 1864. Keystone Hall was large, awkwardly laid out and drafty, but it intermittently served as home to governors for 96 years until it was demolished in 1960.

In 1941 Gov. Arthur H. James signed legislation authorizing the construction of a new residence, as well as the eventual disposition of Keystone Hall, but the onset of World War II stalled plans for 25 years, until 1966, when ground was broken for the present-day residence. From 1943 to 1955 Govs. Edward Martin, John C. Bell and James H. Duff lived at the State House, a handsome fieldstone farmhouse built for the adjutant general of the Pennsylvania National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap. Gov. George M. Leader chose to reside at Keystone Hall. He was followed by Gov. David L. Lawrence who, after one year, directed that Keystone Hall be sold at auction and moved his family to the State House. In 1968 Governor and Mrs. Raymond P. Shafer were the first to occupy the residence expressly built for a governor.

The Governor’s Residence offers public tours during the months of April, May, June, September and October. Docents conduct special holiday tours in December. Tours are free but reservations are required.