Powel House

The Powel House is a historic house museum located at 244 South 3rd Street, between Willings Alley and Spruce Street, in the Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Built in 1765 in the Georgian style,[1] and embellished by second owner Samuel Powel (1738–1793), it has been called "the finest Georgian row house in the city."[2] As with other houses of this type, the exterior facade was, but the interior was elaborately appointed.[1]

Powel House
Powel House 244 S. 3rd Street
Location244 S. Third St.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coordinates39°56′46″N 75°08′48″W / 39.9461°N 75.1468°WCoordinates: 39°56′46″N 75°08′48″W / 39.9461°N 75.1468°W
Typehouse museum
Public transit accessBus transport SEPTA.svg SEPTA bus: 12, 21, 42, 57
WebsiteOfficial website


The elegant brick city house was built for Charles Stedman, a merchant and shipmaster. Before he had the chance to live in it, Stedman fell into financial trouble – eventually winding up in debtors' prison.[2] The house was purchased for £3,150 on August 2, 1769 by Samuel Powel, who would become the last mayor of Philadelphia under British rule and the city's first mayor following independence. A Quaker who converted to Anglicanism, he supported the American Revolution and was dubbed the "Patriot Mayor."[2]

Third Street from Spruce Birch's Views Plate 18
View in Third Street, from Spruce Street, Philadelphia (1799) by William Birch. The Powel House is the building right of center. Note the 3-story half-turret addition.

The building is attributed to architect/builder Robert Smith.[3] Powel and his wife Elizabeth (née Willing) lavishly redecorated, creating some of the most ornate interiors in the Colonies. The Rococo plastered ceilings are attributed to James Clow, and the architectural woodwork is attributed to carvers Hercules Courtnay and Martin Jugiez.[4]

The Powels entertained such notable guests as Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and the Marquis de Lafayette. Following the 1781 victory at Yorktown, George and Martha Washington occupied the confiscated Governor John Penn house next door for several months,[5] and became close friends with the Powels.

Philadelphia served as temporary national capital from 1790 to 1800, and President Washington occupied a house on Market Street for more than six years. Prior to moving in, he built a two-story, semicircular "Bow Window" addition to the south wall of the President's House, enlarging the State Dining Room and the State Drawing Room above it. This may have inspired the Powels to build the three-story half-turret addition to their city house. While its exterior was canted (like a bay window), the interior wall seems to have been bowed (curved),[6] enlarging the rear parlors on the first and second floors and the rear bedroom on the third,[7] and adding windows overlooking the garden. The half-turret addition is visible in a 1799 print by William Birch and an 1817 print attributed to William Strickland.[8] Some time in the mid-19th century, the half-turret addition was demolished and the south wall of the Powel House became a party wall shared with a new building.[9][10]

Samuel Powel died in the 1793 yellow fever epidemic that killed about 10% of the city's population. After President-Elect John Adams passed on buying them, Mrs. Powel bought a number of items from soon-to-be-ex-President Washington in early 1797.[11] These included his presidential coach and horses (the coach is now at Mount Vernon),[12][13] his presidential desk (now at the Philadelphia History Museum),[14] and a pair of girandole mirrors (now at Mount Vernon). Elizabeth Willing Powel sold this house in November of 1798, to William Bingham, the husband of her niece Ann Willing Bingham[15].

The Marquis de Lafayette gave the Powels a set of china that is on display in the Powel House.[16] A 1793 portrait of Mrs. Powel attributed to Matthew Pratt is on long-term loan from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.[17]

Saved from demolition

Chandelier MET DP223338
Powel House Parlor, as installed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Early in the 20th century, the house served as a warehouse for a business that imported and exported Russian and Siberian horse hair and bristles. In 1918, the owners sold the second floor rear parlor's architectural woodwork to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it is now a period room in the American Wing.[18] The ballroom's plaster ceiling and architectural woodwork was sold to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1925.[4] By 1930, the Powel House was slated for demolition, with the property to be converted into a parking lot.

Antiquarian Frances Wister saved the house, forming the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks and raising the funds to purchase the property in 1931. Over the next decade, Wister and the Society bought and demolished the 19th-century building that covered the east end of the walled garden, and hired architect H. Louis Duhring, Jr. to restore the house to its appearance during Powel's residency and re-create its lost interiors. The Society opened the restored house as a museum interpreting the daily lives of wealthy Philadelphians at the time of the American Revolution.

Today, the rich history of the Powel House may be seen in its decorative arts collection, its portraits of Powels and Willings, and its formal, walled garden so typical of Colonial Philadelphia. Its beautiful entryway, ballroom with bas-relief plasterwork, and mahogany wainscoting give the house its reputation as perhaps America's finest existing Georgian Colonial townhouse.


ENTRANCE DETAIL - Samuel Powel House, 244 South Third Street, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA HABS PA,51-PHILA,25-4

Front door.

HALL AND STAIL, LOOKING WEST FROM ENTRANCE DOOR (1962) - Samuel Powel House, 244 South Third Street, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA HABS PA,51-PHILA,25-6

Entrance hall.

STAIR DETAIL, LOOKING NORTHEAST (1967) - Samuel Powel House, 244 South Third Street, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA HABS PA,51-PHILA,25-9

Mahogany staircase.

PARLOR (OR DRAWING ROOM), LOOKING NORTHWEST (1967) - Samuel Powel House, 244 South Third Street, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA HABS PA,51-PHILA,25-7

First floor front parlor.

In popular culture

See also



  1. ^ a b Teitelman, Edward & Longstreth, Richard W. (1981), Architecture in Philadelphia: A Guide, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, ISBN 0262700212, p.46
  2. ^ a b c Gallery, John Andrew, ed. (2004), Philadelphia Architecture: A Guide to the City (2nd ed.), Philadelphia: Foundation for Architecture, ISBN 0962290815, p.28
  3. ^ Historic marker on site
  4. ^ a b Powel House Room, from Philadelphia Museum of Art.
  5. ^ "Residence of Ex. Mayor Powell," from Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  6. ^ Historian David Dashiell discovered references to a "Bow room" in the Powel papers. He believes this to have been the 2nd floor rear parlor (the room now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). See Edward Lawler, Jr. (2002), The President's House in Philadelphia.
  7. ^ Re-created 2nd floor rear parlor, from Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The south wall (where the bookcase now stands) would have thrust out in a semicircular or semi-oval "Bow."
  8. ^ Washington Hall, Philadelphia, from New York Public Library.
  9. ^ Plate 7 of Heximer & Locher's Maps of the City of Philadelphia (1862) shows the new building occupying the 3rd Street frontage of the walled garden.[1]
  10. ^ "Residence of Ex. Mayor Powell," from Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Kennedy watercolor is undated, but part of a group painted circa 1870.
  11. ^ Elizabeth Willing Powel, from George Washington's Mount Vernon.
  12. ^ Washington's coach.
  13. ^ "As the Coach would be lonesome without the horses– and the horses might repine for want of their Coach (having been wedded together Seven years) you had better take both." — George Washington to Elizabeth Powel, February 6, 1797.
  14. ^ Washington's presidential desk, from Independence Hall Association.
  15. ^ Powel Family Papers (#1582) from Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  16. ^ Lafayette China, from History Detectives.
  17. ^ Portrait of Elizabeth Willing Powel (1793) by Matthew Pratt, from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
  18. ^ Room from the Powel House, from Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Further reading

  • Eberlein, H.D. and Lippincott, H.M., The Colonial Homes of Philadelphia and Its Neighborhoods, J.B. Lippincott Co., Phila. and London, 1912.
  • Tatum, George B., Philadelphia Georgian: The City House of Samuel Powel and Some of Its 18th Century Neighbors, Wesleyan, 1976. ISBN 978-0819560445

External links

Bathsheba's spring and bower

Bathsheba's spring and bower, also known as Bathsheba's bath and bower, was the name of a well-known eighteenth-century property in Philadelphia's Society Hill neighborhood and said to be the first spa of the area. It had a natural spring well with water that was considered to be of exceptional quality and to have curative properties.

Drinker's Court

The Drinker's Court, also known as Bandbox Court Houses, is located in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The houses were built in 1764 by John Drinker (1716–1787), father of noted American portrait artist John Drinker (1760–1826).They were added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 27, 1971.

H. Louis Duhring Jr.

Herman Louis Duhring Jr. (March 24, 1874 - July 18, 1953) was an American architect from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He designed several buildings that are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Old Pine Street Church

Old Pine Street Church is a Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania built in 1768.

Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks

The Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks (aka Landmarks) founded in 1931, maintains and preserves four historic house museums in the region around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. These are:


Hill-Physick-Keith House

Powel House

WaynesboroughThese are open for the education and enjoyment of the public and its members.

Samuel Powel

Samuel Powel (1738—September 29, 1793) was a colonial and post-revolutionary mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduated in 1759 from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). He served as mayor from 1775–1776 and 1789–1790, the office having been abolished under the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. He was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1790 to 1793.Powel was an early member of the American Philosophical Society and a trustee of the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania).

Washington Square (Philadelphia)

Washington Square, originally designated in 1682 as Southeast Square, is a 6.4 acres (2.6 ha) open-space park in Center City Philadelphia's southeast quadrant and one of the five original planned squares laid out on the city grid by William Penn's surveyor, Thomas Holme. It is part of both the Washington Square West and Society Hill neighborhoods. In 2005, the National Park Service took over ownership and management of Washington Square, through an easement from the City of Philadelphia. It is now part of Independence National Historical Park.

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