James Logan needed to get out of town. At forty, William Penn’s secretary had grown “heartily out of love with the world.” Planning his escape, Logan bought 500 acres five miles from the center of Philadelphia. In a retreat built in the 1720s, this “bookman extraordinary,” (he amassed a library of astronomy, mathematics, physics, linguistics, botany, history and the Greek and Latin classics) would get some serious time to read, to reflect and, finally, some peace and quiet.
Despite Logan’s Quaker restraint, “Stenton” would become one of the most genteel homes in the colonies.
The place stayed in family hands for the better part of two centuries. In 1899, the Logan family offered The Society of Colonial Dames “the privilege of restoring and preserving the fine old house as a historic memorial” if they’d also cover the annual taxes. The Dames agreed. And this arrangement proved workable for a dozen years, before the family sold the house and property to the City.
What would become of the house and grounds, which was now in the center of a fast growing neighborhood of rowhouses, mills and factories?
As one of two dozen green, open spaces remaining in the built-up sections of Philadelphia, the City Parks Association proposed that “Stenton” be included in a network of spaces and boulevards knitting the growing city together. These small parks in neighborhoods, totaling about 130 acres, would offer breathing room for everyone, but especially, as advocates put it, for “children who have no place except the dirty streets to roam in…”
That might be a solution for the open space, but what would become of “the most perfect colonial building in America” where the Dames had spent more than $2,500 (equal to more than $60,000 today) for restoration and had been committed to an additional $800 per year (more than $19,000 today) for ongoing maintenance?
In 1910, a City ordinance gave permanent “custody and control” of “Stenton” to the Society of the Colonial Dames” who were to maintain the buildings “in their original condition as historic object lessons”—exactly what they had been doing over a decade of stewardship. Today, more than a century later, the Society still preserves and still interprets. (Earlier this year, they issued a new and informative 64-page guidebook: Stenton: A Visitor’s Guide to the Site, History and Collections.)
There’s nothing like a good book (or guidebook), especially at a place designed for reading, unless, of course, it’s a visit to the real thing. This Friday, July 4th, provides the opportunity. Stenton’s Independence Day Celebration begins at 11:30 and continues to 1:30. It’s free, and RSVPs are requested: call 215-329-7312 or email email@example.com.
Never been to “Stenton”? Getting to 18th and Courtland is more convenient than you’d think. The nearby Wayne Junction Station (itself recently restored and listed on The National Register of Historic Places) serves five regional rail lines, two bus routes and a trackless trolley. Even better: it’s only two stops (about 10 minutes) from SEPTA’s Market East Station, the station nearest the Liberty Bell. And from the Wayne Junction Station, it’s an 8-minute walk to a place of history, books, and on the Fourth, free hot dogs and ice cream.
(Sources include: “The Demand for Parks.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 3, 1895 and “City Ordinances,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 4, 1910.)