Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Relatively few in Great Britain might think much about a house occupied by one family for nine generations, yet for many in the United States several generations seems an eternity. Wyck, in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, is a rare example; it is a residence inhabited continuously by a single family for nearly three centuries, from 1689 until 1973. Moreover, it’s furnished with pieces original to the house and is located in a suburban-style landscape, which includes an early nineteenth-century rose garden and park-like setting.

For three decades, since the last family member inhabited the historic house, Wyck has welcomed both students and scholars of history, especially visitors interested in architecture, antiques, and horticulture. For individuals interested in historic preservation, Wyck is an ingenious remodeling by the family of old buildings for adaptive reuse. Antiques enthusiasts enjoy furnishings of all kinds – ­chairs, tables, clocks, chamber pots, ceramics, porcelain, paintings, silver, pewter, and textile – owned by family members and dating to the early eighteenth through the late twentieth centuries. Hor­ticulturists encounter a garden that contains plants traceable to many of the originals sown nearly two centuries ago. For school teachers wanting to give their pupils a sense of how people lived in distant years, there are children’s clothes and toys, Native American artifacts, natural objects, such as feathers and eggs, and a seemingly bottomless cache of books, letters, and diaries through which filter the voices of the past. Through more than one hundred thousand pieces of correspondence, diaries, bills of sale, wills, deeds, and various documents, researchers can also analyze – literally in the family’s own words – the social history of Philadelphia, its suburbs, and upper class, most of whom were Quakers.

What may be most compelling about Wyck is that it does not reflect a unique way of life relevant only to the most famous. Members of the family were exceptional individuals, but they were not nationally prominent. They were innovators and entrepreneurs, horticul­turists and engineers, educators and social reformers. The house has attained its significance primarily through its survival. While wounded British soldiers may have been treated at Wyck during the Battle of Germantown in 1777, and the Marquis de Lafayette visited it in 1825, no momentous event occurred there. Instead, it resonates with the past through layers of accumulated objects, revealing a lesson in past lives and in the enduring values and social concerns of one Quaker family in a community of great diversity, changing over time from an eighteenth-century farming and milling town, to a prestigious Victorian-era suburb, to a gritty section of the nation’s fifth largest city.

Who called Wyck home? The sur­name associated with the property changed during the first few generations as daughters inherited it, a practice more common among Quakers than non­-Quakers in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania. Hans Millan, an illiterate German farmer purchased the forty-acre parcel of land about 1689. His daughter Margaret (d. 1753) and son-in-law Dirck Jansen (d. 1760), a weaver, were the next residents; in 1767 their daughter Catherine Jansen (1703-1793), widow of Caspar Wistar (1696-1752), a successful manufacturer of brass buttons and glass, moved in. Following the custom of affluent Philadelphians, the Wistar family moved its primary residence to the city and used Germantown as a summer retreat. The elegant mahogany furniture, fine silver, and exquisite needlework with which the family surrounded itself, may seem to contradict modern-­day perceptions of Quaker simplicity. By contemporary standards, however, the choices they made avoided ostentation.

In the 1760s, the Wistars’ daughter Margaret (1728-1793) married a brewer, Reuben Haines (1727-1793), a Quaker of English descent, and the estate devolved on them in the early 1770s. Reuben Haines tore down the old log house in the 1770s, replacing it with a sizable stone building which, when linked to adjacent structures, gave passers-by an impression of a series of cow houses. The three joined buildings, while encompass­ing different stonework and pointing techniques, were perfectly acceptable as a summer retreat for the family and living quarters for tenant farmers.

The family pros­pered in the post-Revo­lutionary War era and Reuben Raines enjoyed not only his brewery’s success but also benefited from a growing business in trade. In 1793, when the Yellow Fever Epidemic struck Philadelphia, (see “Plagued! Philadel­phia’s Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793” by William C. Kashatus III, Spring 1993) Margaret and Reuben Haines refused to join the exodus of the upper class from the city. They paid with their lives. Short­ly afterwards their son, Caspar Wistar Haines (1762-1801), and his wife, Han­nah Marshall Haines (1765-1828), relocat­ed their family to the farm in German­town. The country place was little more than a rambling farmhouse with a few old outbuildings; if it were to be the Haines family’s primary residence, it needed improvements.

During the next five years, Caspar built a large stone barn, a coach house, a smoke house, and, on the perimeter of the property, the Germantown Brewery. Workers painted interior win­dowsills in hues of yel­lowish pink, and grained the doors to look like mahogany, but the exterior of the house looked rough and rather old-fashioned. Haines’s remedy was relatively inexpensive, as his sister-in-law Sarah Marshall wrote to his son Reuben, “we have been very busy plastering the outside of the house white. It looks really beautiful.” Stylishly stuc­coed and scored in the best-rusticated, neoclassical manner, Wyck had been transformed into an elegant country place.

Caspar Wistar Haines died suddenly in 1801 and his fifteen-year-old son, Reuben Haines III (1786-1831), withdrew from Westtown (Friends) School to return home and help manage the family holdings. Reuben had been a precocious student, fascinated and romantically drawn to the natural world around him. “This morning I took a walk in the woods,” he had written in 1799, “and was delighted very much, when I saw the birds; hopping about, in so much love, as there appeared to be amongst them, and could but admire, what a beauty there is in harmony.”

As he grew more enamored of intellectual pursuits, he lost interest in the career he had begun in business and retired in his early twenties, “in the pur­suit of knowledge [and] the society of genuine friends,” relying on income from brewing, real estate, and assorted invest­ments. Among the subjects in which he took an interest were his English ancestors. In 1809, he acquired an engraving of a stately house near Bath, England, entitled Wyck, The Seat of Richard Haines, Esq. Believing the house to be the original seat of his family, he adopted the name for his Germantown residence. Years later he discovered he was not related to Richard Haines and Wyck was not his ancestral home, but the name was so well identified with the house that it continued in use.

In 1812, Reuben Haines married Jane Bowne (1790-1843) of Flushing, New York. She shared with him a Quaker background, wealth, and a sense of the importance of education. Like many Quaker women, she was far more independent than other women of comparable station, yet she was also a typical nineteenth-century wife, bearing her husband nine children in nineteen years, and living within the bonds of domesticity.

The young couple lived in Philadel­phia, only summering in Germantown, but in 1820 Reuben Haines, like his father before him, packed up their Chest­nut Street possessions – “without a single feeling of regret!” – and moved his family to Wyck permanently. While Jane tried to shape a home for her growing family, Reuben focused his energies on scientific agriculture, trading at home and abroad for seeds, and importing the first Guernsey cow into America. Concerned about his children, he gave each a cow to milk as part of his or her daily chores.

Haines seems to have paid little atten­tion to the com.forts of daily life, but Jane was growing increasingly unhappy with a house that was bitter cold in the winter months, prompting her to comment, “we shall all be congealed to statues.” The Haineses were the second wealthiest family in Germantown, and there was no reason for such deprivation. In 1824, Reuben finally relented and agreed to repairs for their old house, which, by this time, had floorboards so rotten that it was fortunate “there was no cellar under that [part of the house] as we should have been in it long ago.” Jane packed up the children and took them to her parents’ home in New York while the renovations took place.

Reuben Haines rarely did anything in small measure. “Thee very well knows few if any ever begin a career of vi.eel or commence the repair of an old building that stop exactly at the point they intend­ed,” he wrote Jane during the repairs. He called on his friend, Philadelphia’s noted architect William Strickland (1788-1854), and together they began a complete transformation of Wyck’s first floor rooms in the fashionable Greek Revival­ style. The most innovative and dramatic alteration was Strickland’s installation of three pairs of pivoted-folding doors. Open, they created a public space sixty­-five feet long; closed, they returned Wyck to its intimate family ambiance.

Although Jane was satisfied with the results, she remained distressed by Reuben’s disregard for her feelings and desires for her home. To make amends, he entrusted her with the care of the garden on the north side of the house where his father’s parterre of the 1790s had become overgrown. The plant lists in Jane’s garden book make it dear that roses were her great love: the Apothe­cary, Damask, Pink Leda, Blush Noisette, and Champneys. Eventually, more than twenty varieties flourished in the garden, and on the trellises of the facade where honeysuckle and Virginia creeper had once grown, Jane trained ramblers and climbers.

Reuben immersed himself in the exhilarating world of ideas and discoveries and in the many new organizations specifically established for sharing such interests. He became, in 1812, the first corresponding secretary of the Academy of Natural Sciences, which introduced him to the groundbreaking scientists of the day, both at home and abroad. He befriended leading naturalists Thomas Say, Thomas Nuttall, and John James Audubon (see “John James Audubon, Squire of Mill Grove and Genius of Art and Science” by Stephen May, Summer 1996). A founding member of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society, he concentrated on the practical needs of gardeners and farmers, including fertilization and pest control (see “Growing Bigger and Better Year By Year” by Liz Ball, Spring 2001). As an extension of his interest in science and domestic manufac­ture, he was also a founder of the Franklin Institute (see “Noble Ambi­tions: The Found­ing of the Franklin Institute” by Ker­shaw Burbank, Summer 1992) and supported the Philadelphia Museum operated by Charles Willson Peale. Reuben’s interests in his children’s upbringing made their lives unconventional. They spent several mem­orable days, for example, during the summer of 1830 in the lower mead­ow at Wyck, helping Tit­ian and Franklin Peale boil elephant bones for exhibition.

While ways to benefit society absorbed much of Reuben Haines’s ener­gy and he was support­ing Robert Owen and his utopian community in New Harmony, Indiana, his main interest lay in education. He brought educator and author Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888) to Germantown to set up a school for his own children as well as for youngsters in the community. Alcott’s daughter, writer Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) was born a few blocks from Wyck: as a baby she was often called for by the women of Wyck.

Reuben eloquently summarized his deep belief in the ability of education to improve the lot of humankind.

What is education – it is all that makes a mans mind more active, and the ideas which enter it nobler and more beautiful is a great addition to his happiness whenever he is alone and to the pleasure which others derive from his company when he is in society. Therefore it is most useful, to learn to love and understand what is beautiful, whether in the works of God, or in those of man; whether in the flowers and fields, and rocks and woods, and rivers, and sun and sky; or in fine buildings, or fine pictures, or fine music; and in the noble thoughts and glorious images of poetry … This is the education which will make people good, and wise, and happy.

After Reuben’s sudden death in 1831, his widow went into deep depression, which may have been precipitated by the birth of a daughter nearly nine months after her husband’s death. The family even had to step in, naming the baby Jane Reuben Haines. Jane, herself, increasingly left the care of the children to Reuben’s cousin, Ann Haines (c.1793-1869), and a governess.

Jane Reuben Haines (1832-1911) became Wyck’s next caretaker. She never married and spent her entire life looking after the property – preserving its treasures and tending to her mother’s rose garden. She became so inextricably identified with the house that her family affectionately called her “Aunt Wyck Jane.” In her twenties, a shipboard acci­dent had left Jane with chronic pain and limited mobility and she partially withdrew from the world, but when she was feeling well, she lavished great attention on the garden. Aunt Wyck Jane’s siblings were delighted to have her as the custodian of their family house, which they owned in common, and returned many of the important furnishings they had inherited to her.

In the 1870s, Jane Reuben Haines made her first major venture in the redecoration of the house. She added many objects that reflected the spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement-Japan­ese prints, eclectic majolica, English tiles. A visit to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia led to her purchase of a large Norwegian sideboard heavily carved with Biblical scenes. In the face of architectural changes all around Wyck, Jane maintained the old-fashioned exterior appearance, despite the prodding of neighbors. Her persistence prevailed. By 1902, architects, historians, and designers had come to venerate the house as a pure example of colonial architecture and old Quaker simplicity. House & Garden featured Wyck in one of its earliest issues and many architects came to adapt its distinctive, long, white trellis-covered facade. Aunt Wyck Jane enjoyed Wyck’s popular image, but she refused admission to visitors whom she deemed inappropriate, or who arrived in too large numbers.

When she died in 1911, she bequeathed the house and furnishings to her great-grand nephew Robert B. Haines III (1893-1967) but gave life ten­ancy to her unmarried nephew Caspar Wistar Haines II (1853-1935) and his two spinster sisters, Jane B. Haines (1860-1937) and Mary M Haines (1860-1928). In her will she requested that they not alter Wyck’s exterior appearance and keep the interiors and furnishings intact as much as possible. She had even bolted Caspar Wistar’s tall-case clock, made for him in the 1750s, to the dining room wall, specifying that it was never to leave the room.

The death of Aunt Wyck Jane in 1911 left a temporary void in the stewardship of the house and prompted a local newspaper to worry it might be torn down. Such worry was unfounded, as the eighth gen­eration was quite willing to maintain the family home. Caspar Wistar Haines (1853-1935) had not been raised at Wyck, but he shared the family’s long- time devotion to horticulture and made it an integral part of his life, although for his career he chose to explore the more tech­nological side of the family’s broad inter­ests. A graduate of Lehigh University, “Cappy” Haines moved to Mexico to serve as a chief engineer for the coun­try’s evolving railway system. Upon his aunt’s death in 1911, he traveled to Philadelphia to settle her estate. His diaries clearly reveal that he did not plan to stay long, but the old house, its fur­nishings, and the stacks of early letters, diaries, and documents intrigued him.

Cappy Haines hired carpenters to make repairs that met his exacting specifications. At first, he did not add electricity or gas, preferring an ambiance lighted by the glow of candles and fireplaces. A gardener tended white asparagus and other delicacies in the lower garden. Although much of the original property had long been sold, including the ground on which the brewery had been built, and the plantation was reduced to just two and a half acres, it still contained a park-like setting and Cappy’s grandmother’s rose garden, in a corner of which he planted hot peppers, cilantro, and other herbs, souvenirs of his adventuresome life in Mexico.

Cappy inevitably became immersed in historical and civic affairs, serving on the board of the Germantown Site and Relic Society, as well as on the boards of Philadelphia institutions such as the Wis­tar Institute, the nation’s first interdependent medical research facility, founded in 1892. He was both charming and irasci­ble. He provoked his neighbors’ wrath when his Irish terriers chased their cats, and he was courted by many who admired both his colonial period home and his ancestry. This period witnessed the zenith of Colonial Revival enthusiasm for all things American and pedi­greed, whether a Queen Anne chair or a Philadel­phia gentle­man with an impres­sive lineage. More than eleven hundred people visited Wyck in 1913 for a fete commemorating the Mar­quis de Lafayette’s visit in 1825, in hopes of an opportunity to mingle with the old guard of Philadelphia society.

During the twenties and thirties, Cappy Haines continued work on Wyck. He and his younger sister Jane, called Jenny by family members, lavished much attention on the heirloom roses, carefully taking cuttings from declining plants to ensure the continuity of rare types, including the Germantown Damask. Neither Jenny nor any of the other siblings chose to live there, although they visited often. Worried about the future of the house when they were gone, they set up a fund to help towards its future maintenance. While Cappy was the central figure of the eighth generation in the preservation of Wyck, Jenny carried on the family’s emphasis on horticulture, and the part women could play in it, into the wider world. A graduate of Bryn Mawr Col­lege, true to her Quaker roots she immersed herself in social issues. From her love of horticulture evolved what she envisioned as an alternative occupation for women, providing them increased independence and career opportunities. On a farm in Ambler, Montgomery County, she joined with several friends in establishing the School of Horticulture for Women. Her plan was to create a broader curriculum than the study of plants and design: students would learn how to lay a brick walk, build a stone wall, and supervise a large working estate. The school trained many of the country’s leading horticulturists and landscape designers, and it achieved international recognition. Today, it oper­ates as part of Temple University.

After Cappy’s death, Robert B. Haines III (1893-1967) took possession of Wyck. Robert found the house and garden in excellent condition. Because of his uncle’s antiquarian interests, the collec­tions and papers were well preserved and documented. Electricity (added in 1918), central heating (installed in 1926), and new plumbing enhanced Wyck’s comfort without detracting from its historic character. Robert and his wife, Mary Troth Haines (1892-1983), married in 1934, reversed the old family pattern of summering at Wyck, using it as a winter residence instead.

Each year on (or near) New Year’s Day, Robert and Mary Haines invited family members for what they called the Cousins’s Tea. They served a cake, a type of spice cookie, baked in the same mold used by Jane Bowne Haines when she first served them in the opening decade of the nineteenth century. While chintz covers made the antique furniture more cozy and comfortable, the most notewor­thy pieces, including Rembrandt Peale’s 1831 portrait of Reuben Haines, were placed for safety in the front parlor, where they were shown only on special occasions.

Six years after Robert Haines’s death, the last occupant left the old homestead for good when, in 1973, his widow Mary signed papers deeding Wyck out of the family for the first time in nine generations. For several decades, family members had explored ways of ensuring Wyck’s future, but no one of the tenth generation was willing or able to assume the responsibility. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and the National Trust for His­toric Preservation declined acceptance of the property, although both offered help in planning for its transfer to the public domain. In the years since, the PHMC has awarded several grants – totaling more than two hundred thousand dollars – to Wyck for collections care, architectural conservation, and a new slate roof.

The agreement signed by Mary T. Haines conveyed the property in trust to the First Pennsylvania Banking and Trust Company (now Wachovia Bank)-the oldest bank in the country, appropriately enough – establishing the Wyck Charita­ble Trust. The trust has proven to be an unusual but effective way of preserving and funding the property as a historic site, while allowing later generations of the family to retain a relationship with the house. The Wyck Association sets policy and oversees day-to-day management. Its members include experts in the fields most vital to Wyck’s mission­ – preservation, conservation, horticulture, social history, and education – together with family descendants and the inter­ested individuals from the community.

In 2004, Wyck, now one of Philadel­phia’s premier visitor attractions, will observe its thirtieth anniversary as a public institution. It has garnered awards for its model projects of architectural conservation and is highly regarded by scholars and members of the public alike. Some of the old family traditions have continued, as well: the Cousin’s Tea is still held every New Year’s and the cakes are still made in the old cookie mold from the original recipe.

It has become a historic house muse­um like no other. Wyck is welcoming, thought provoking, surprising, worn in places, but authentic. It’s a garden oasis in a frenetic urban area, a building which is “very ancient,” as writers remarked in the early twentieth century, and yet, at the same time, quite contemporary. It strikes a balance that does not freeze the house and its stories at one particular point in time. With the support of family and friends, Wyck is still evolving-from its earliest days as a farm to an unusual house museum – with one foot firmly planted in the past, the other striding boldly into the future.

 

Wyck, open from April to December each year, offers a number of special activities and events for the entire family, including lectures, exhibitions, and holiday tours. For more information, including visiting hours and directions, write: Wyck, 6026 German­town Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19144; tele­phone (215) 848-1690; or visit the Wyck website. Admission is charged.

 

For Further Reading

Claussen, W. Edmunds. Wyck: The Story of an Historic House, 1690-1970. Philadel­phia: Mary T. Haines, 1970.

Groff, John M. and Marigene H. Butler. The Architectural Conservation of the Wyck House. Philadelphia: Wyck Association, 2002.

____. “All That Makes a Man’s Mind More Active: Jane and Reuben Haines at Wyck, 1812-1831,” in Quaker Aesthet­ics: Reflections on a Quaker Ethic in American Design and Consumption. Edit­ed by Emma Jones Lapsansky and Anne A. Verplanck. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

Moss, Roger W. Historic Houses of Philadelphia: A Tour of the Region’s Museum Houses. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Tinkcom, Harry M., Margaret B. Tinkcom, and Grant Miles Simon. Historic German­town, From the Founding to the Early Part of the Nineteenth Century: A Survey of the German Township. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1955.

Wolf, Stephanie Grauman. Urban Village: Population, Community, and Family Structure in Germantown, Pennsylvania, 1683-1800. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976.

 

John M. Groff has served as executive direc­tor of Wyck since 1990. He holds a master of arts degree from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture of the University of Delaware. He was also registrar/assistant curator of the Philadelphia Maritime Muse­um (now Independence Seaport Museum) and director of the Osterville Historical Soci­ety in Massachusetts. For ten years he served as co-chair of the Tri-State Coalition of His­toric Places. He writes and lectures on the country place era around Philadelphia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Stephanie Grauman Wolf is a senior fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Stud­ies of the University of Pennsylvania. Her teaching affiliations have included the Uni­versity of Delaware, where she was Director of the Winterthur Program in Early Ameri­can Culture. She served for thirteen years as vice chairman of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, as well as on the boards of many historical institutions. She is the author of Urban Village: Population, Community, and Family Structure in Germantown, Pennsylvania, 1683-1800 (1976) and As Various as Their Land: The Everyday Lives of Eighteenth-Century Americans (1994), among other published works. She is an honorary director of Wyck.

Sandra Mackenzie Lloyd is an independent museum consultant and has assisted sites including Pennsbury Manor, the Betsy Ross House, and Washington Crossing Historic Park. She holds a master of arts degree from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture of the University of Delaware. She was the first curator of Wyck, and curator of education at Cliveden, in Germantown, a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She is co-author of Great Tours: Thematic Tours and Guide Training in Historic Sites (2002), and serves as a director of Wyck.