The Penrose-Strawbridge Farm is a 102-acre property located on the southwest side of County Line Rd. in Horsham Township, Montgomery County and is part of the Horsham Township Park System. It is located next to historic Graeme Park, the estate of colonial Governor Sir William Keith which is now a state park and museum.
The significance of the building (Penrose-Strawbridge House) lies with its evolution over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The building also has historical significance for its association with Keith's original plantation and as a representative example of an expanded colonial home that was modified over two centuries. Although the Strawbridges were good stewards of both houses on the property, their alterations to the Keith-Penrose-Strawbridge House were not nearly as extensive or significant in scope as those of the Penrose family. Therefore, it can be concluded that the building's primary significance lies with its eighteenth and nineteenth century history, while the significance of its preservation was recognized in the twentieth century. (41 p2.13
The property was owned by a colonial governor, who also became the 4th Baronet of Nova Scotia, a man who stranded a young Ben Franklin in London without promised papers of introduction, then died in poverty in the Old Bailey. It was home to his grand-daughter, called the most learned woman in America who had her heart broken by the son of the same Mr. Franklin. The farm became an encampment for several Revolutionary War armies including that of Mad Anthony Wayne, and is rumored to have been a place that General Washington was fond of visiting - until his hostess delivered a letter demanding his surrender. After surviving a threat from the new Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to confiscate the estate, Graeme Park was sold to a Quaker farmer, and his family, who worked and improved it till it was "one of the most valuable farms in Eastern Pennsylvania"(15). In the 20th century it was purchased by a retired stockbroker and his young wife, a gentleman farmer and horse breeder, a man who set an altitude record in a balloon and won 16 steeplechase races and was said by his wife to have broken every bone in his body doing it. They saw nearby fields first turned into an test field for aviation pioneer Harold Pitcairn, and then saw that field expanded by the US Navy onto their own land to accommodate jets after World War II.
A fascinating place just full of stories....
This property was originally part of Sir William Keith's Fountain Low Estate which he established in 1720 when he was Lt Governor of Pennsylvania under Hannah Penn, the widow of William Penn, and includes what may have been the first structure that Governor Keith built here. The most significant building on this estate is the Keith House, a Georgian mansion build by Keith but which had its heyday later in the 18th century under Dr Thomas Graeme, who renamed the estate Graeme Park, and his daughter Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson. This is the only existing residence of a colonial Pennsylvania Governor and has been preserved since 1801 by the Penroses and later the Strawbridges. The Strawbridges donated this part of the farm - which retained the name Graeme Park - to the Commonwealth of PA in 1958. This 42 acre park, to the right of the driveway coming in from County Line Road, is now maintained by the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission (PHMC) and the Friends of Graeme Park.
The Penrose family bought Graeme Park in 1801 and lived in the Keith House until at least 1810 when William and Hannah Penrose added a 3 story addition to an existing cabin just south of the Keith House. This building, which we call the Penrose-Strawbridge House, became home to successive generations of Penrose's followed by the Strawbridges in 1920. This home is historically important not only as a 19th century Quaker farmhouse, but also and, maybe most significantly, for the 1721 cabin the home was built around. The basements to this cabin also have intriguing features dating back to Sir William that we have not yet completely explained.
The goal of HPHA is to restore the property to its condition in the late 1800's, possibly as a Living History Farm. We currently have received designation as a farm, a museum, and a library. The restoration has not progressed to the point where the property is open to the public but we are happy to offer tours by appointment. The house and property are also open during special events.
Mrs. Margaret Strawbridge lived here until her death in 1996 - by which time many of the buildings, unfortunately, had fallen into a state of disrepair. Horsham Township acquired the property in 1997 and allowed HPHA to do research and develop a feasibility study for the restoration of the farm which was completed in 2001. In 2003 the Township granted a lease to a joint venture of HPHA and HPPI with the objective of restoration. The property includes the main Penrose-Strawbridge House and a number of other buildings, some in fairly good condition, and others that have required or will require a great deal of restoration.
HPHA has made major repairs to the main house and has improved its condition to the point where the house is used both as a residence for our onsite caretakers, and as an office and meeting place for the organization. We hope to open it to the public as a museum in the near future (Jan 2015).
The house and property have also been used as a set for Reparations, a Civil War era student film and for the film Apparition. in June, 2013. (Originally titled REMORSE, it was released on DVD as APPARITION in May 2015).
The farmstead consists of two houses (the Penrose-Strawbridge House and the Springhouse or Caretaker's Cottage, a large barn dating to 1839, a well/pump house, equipment barn, carriage shed, stables, silo and the foundations of a barn dating to 1735. The remaining acreage is either farmed by a local farmer, forested, or open space. The aerial photo below shows part of the current Graeme Park and part of the Penrose-Strawbridge Farm.
Governor Road, commissioned by Sir William Keith in 1722, bisects the property. At the orginal entrance to the property, there are several features. The first is a three walled ruin, which is believed to be the remains of a barn dating to 1735-37. The second feature is a stone marker carved with '18 M to P’, which probably indicates 18 miles to Philadelphia from that point on Governor Rd. It may be an early mail delivery marker. Directly past the ramp to this barn are 2 stone gate posts which likely date from the same period.
The first of the more 'modern' farm buildings, a small silo, is located approximately 125 feet east of Governor Rd. Nineteen feet from the silo are two wooden shed type structures used as stables. The back of the one stable is built into a ramp which used to lead to the 2nd floor of a large bank barn built by the Penroses in 1839. This barn burned down and was rebuilt as the smaller barn that we have today. The well/pump house was added c1939 and is located in front of the livestock barn. All of these buildings are of plastered rubble stone construction. The photo below shows the pump house with the original 1839 barn behind it, and the stables to the left. The fence is gone but the concrete fence posts still remain.
Additional buildings include the Equipment Barn, Carriage Shed, and Springhouse.
The main farmhouse includes the original structure from 1721, and additions by the Penroses through the 1800s. The second floor area is used as living quarters for the present caretaker’s family and includes a modern kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living room and HPHA office space. Most of our restoration work has been focused on this building, so far.
The people who have lived and worked and visited Graeme Park over the past (almost) 300 years are fascinating. Pages for some of them are shown in the menu to the right. We also have a timeline dating back to 1686 when Samuel Carpenter purchased the original 5000 acre tract from William Penn. This acreage included not only what would become Graeme Park but also most of what would become Horsham Township.
We owe a tremendous debt to the Penrose and Strawbridge families for preserving and maintaining this farm and especially the historic Keith House, with a special note to Welsh and Margaret Strawbridge for their generosity in essentially donating the property so it can be preserved forever.
The Strawbridges donated the portion of the estate now known as Graeme Park to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1957 to guarantee its preservation. Mr. Strawbridge passed away in 1969. Mrs. Strawbridge, in 1987, sold the remaining 102 acres to the National Lands Trust for $1.00 in an effort to preserve the farm and the surrounding land. This agreement allowed Mrs. Strawbridge to live in the house for as long as she liked, and she continued to call the farm home until she died in 1996. The Natural Lands Trust was not interested in maintaining or restoring the buildings, but Horsham Township was - so on January 8,1997 the Township purchased the Penrose-Strawbridge farm from the Natural Lands Trust, with the stipulation that the property be used for open space and will not be used for further development of the Township. Horsham Township, in 2003, entered into a lease for 10 acres of this property including the buildings to a joint venture of HPHA and HPPI for the purpose of restoration
The Strawbridge house is now on the National Register as a Contributing Resource to Keith House (a building, site, structure, or object adding to the historic significance of a property.)
Most of this information came from research by HPHA's founder and driving force, Margaret Choate. (40