Ury House mistakes...
...as presented at Ury House Demo In The 1970s Erased Oldest Home In PA:
The mansion and adjoining estate were sold in 1973 to a real estate developer who demolished the historic home for a large tract of duplex apartments.
Ury House was built of stone quarried nearby by Swedish refugees who had sailed up the Delaware River and then the Pennypack in the early 1640s. It was said that the settlers arrived there by accident because they were sailing on the Delaware River during the evening and mistook the Pennypack Creek for their intended landing at Christiana, Delaware.
The Swedes quickly constructed a building of stone to protect themselves from the Lenni-Lenape, although they generally maintained friendly relations with local Native Americans. The stronghold also provided refuge when interloping Dutchmen from the Hudson Valley came down to the region to cause trouble. The Swedes used the structure as a fort, trading-post, and government house, since the settlers were scattered in huts and log cabins all around the dense forest that became Northeast Philadelphia.
The blockhouse was the core of what eventually became the Ury House mansion. The approach from Pine Road was by a 400-foot long winding driveway with old-growth pine trees on both sides. A large peach orchard surrounded the concrete shelter, with cows and other livestock grazing about the grounds. Visitors entered through a monumental pillared porch and broad room, called Swedes Hall, with low rafters and a large fireplace. The mansion contained a square stone tower, under which was a cellar supported by stone supports. Swedes living in the surrounding woodlands would use a forge in the fort’s cellar to weld farm tools, mold lead bullets, and shoe horses. Ury House was so solidly built that when changes were made in 1899, dynamite had to be used to make even a dent in the masonry.
English colonists later took over the settlement and its blockhouse. Jacob Taylor, the surveyor general of Pennsylvania from 1725 to 1737, bought the estate in 1728 and added another wing to the house. He later sold the dwelling to Miers Fisher, a Quaker lawyer. It was Fisher who gave Ury (or Urie) House its name from the Scotch country seat of Robert Barclay, the Quaker theologian and author. Around 1795, Fisher made subsequent additions to the house, building parlors on the west side with new bedrooms above them. Ury House eventually had 23 rooms, making the former fort a genuine mansion in the woods.
A list of guests who arrived on horseback and were entertained by Miers Fisher and his wife included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. On the front lawn, Fisher planted a pecan tree given to him by Jefferson, which lasted until 1928 when it was felled by a storm. George Washington was another guest of the young couple. He slept in the mansion shortly after the evacuation of Valley Forge. One maid was so flustered by Washington’s presence that she accidentally sprinkled salt instead of sugar on a bowl of strawberries. The general ate them without saying a word. Benjamin Henry Latrobe also visited Ury House, as did painter Charles Willson Peale, who sketched the estate. Even John Audubon spent time at Ury in the early 1800s, beginning his famous artistic career by painting birds of the Pennypack Valley.
The Ury House had a succession of owners in the 1800s. A Mr. Miller purchased the country seat in 1800. Captain James West later became the owner. Dr. Thompson Holmes bought the estate in 1835 for $14,000. Seven years later, it was purchased by Stephen Rowan Crawford for $15,500. He and his wife made further changes and additions to the residence, and their Scottish gardener laid out a labyrinth in the garden that was bordered by boxwood hedges. A great stone barn was on the property, and a tunnel linked Ury House to the Pennypack Creek. It was said that the tunnel facilitated the escape of runaway slaves, as the estate was also a station on the Underground Railroad.
By the 1960s, the Medical Mission Sisters could no longer pay to maintain Ury House or the surrounding estate. The old mansion needed constant repairs. The nuns sold off the eastern 40 acres of the property facing Verree Road. Some 400 twin homes were constructed there in the mid-1960s. This was around the peak of Northeast Philadelphia’s development, which was a prime example of post-WWII growth. In 1970, the remaining 24.8 acres of the Ury estate were vacated and put up for sale. Despite modest efforts to protect the mansion, it suffered vandalism and was ultimately torn down in 1973 for a large residential community, the Montclair Duplex Apartments.
The Ury House could have been converted back into an immersive educational facility set deep in the woods of Northeast Philadelphia. Alas, the prominent hill upon which mansion stood is the only thing left of the Ury estate. While an original wall still might still peek up here and there within the Montclair development, not even a historical marker denotes this once-storied mansion that was known by so many important, influential Americans and underwent so many noteworthy uses.
corrections from Joseph J. Menkevich:
Beginning with your interpretation of the deed between Jacob Taylor and Miers Fisher, you are wrong.
You state that “Jacob Taylor, the surveyor general of Pennsylvania from 1725 to 1737, bought the estate in 1728.” That is wrong, as one Peter Taylor owned this estate and sold it to his son John Taylor, who in turn sold it to his son Jacob Taylor.
The deed executed 17th August 1795, “…between Jacob Taylor of the Township of Lower Dublin in the County of Philadelphia, Blacksmith and Sarah his Wife of one Part and Miers Fisher of the City of Philadelphia, Merchant of the other Part …
Whereas Peter Taylor heretofore of the said Township and County aforesaid deceased in his life: Was seised in his Demesne as of Fee of and in a Certain Plantation and Tract of Land … from the great Length of Possession in his Family beyond the memory of Men now living, it is unnecessary to recite and so being seised the said Peter Taylor together with Sarah his Wife by indenture dated the second Day of April 1728 did give, grant and convey unto their son John Taylor and his Heirs and assigns forever forever a certain Messuage Plantation and Tract of Land … containing 150 acres…”
1st July 1750, A deed was made and between John Taylor, Blacksmith (then an aged widower) of one part and his Son Jacob Taylor, Yeoman. Apparently after his father’s death, Jacob Taylor became a Blacksmith. He was not the surveyor.
suggestion from Beasiex:
It seems a fair bit of the information in this piece can be found in The Colonial Homes of Philadelphia by Eberlain and Lippincott.