Conjuring "Delirious Philadelphia"

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Ury House   1880
In the village of Fox Chase we turn to the eastward, on the Pine Road, and in half a mile come to a place that in the last century was called Scotland. Opposite to it, on the east side of the road, is Ury, formerly the country seat of Miers Fisher, one of the exiles to Virginia. He had read law in the office of Chief Justice Chew prior to 1774, and in that year was married to Sarah, daughter of Wm. Redwood, of Newport, R.I. On the 7th of September following he entertained John Adams, who writes: we "dined with Mr. Fisher, a young Quaker and a lawyer. We saw his Library, which is clever. But this plain Friend, and his plain, tho pretty Wife, with her Thee's and Thou's, had provided us the most Costly Entertainment. Ducks, Hams, Chickens, Beef, Pigg, Tarts, Creams, Custards, Gellies, fools, Trifles, floating Islands, Beer, Porter, Punch, Wine and a long etc." After his exile he continued to live in Philadelphia, no doubt on the west side of Front Street the fifth house below Walnut. In the course of a few years he moved to Second Street below Dock. He enjoyed the fruits of a considerable practice, for he was, as DuPunceau writes, "a profound lawyer, and a man of solid sense, and of much acquired knowledge." He possessed the confidence of Washington, who, as tradition tells, presented his portrait to him. This was executed by Sharpless, and now belongs to a descendent, Mrs. Morton Lewis. In 1791-92 he was a member of the Asssembly. About the end of the century he withdrew from the active pursuit of his profession, appearing, however, annually in the courts with the view to maintain his connection with the law, but he devoted his leisure to revising the forms of conveyancing, by which he avoided a vast amount of the tautology of English precedents. In his retirement he resided the greater part of each year at Ury, which he bought of the Taylors in 1795. The old house on the place is supposed to have been erected prior to 1700, and this seems probable, not only from the great thickness of the walls, but also from the lowness of the ceilings which are but six and a half feet in height. The house remains, but Mr. Fisher added considerably to its dimensions and to its comfort. The upper window of his new part had no sash, but boards painted black in imitation of them, supplied their place. Thomas Gilpin, visiting there, was led to say, "Uncle Miers, thou hast a most inhospitable house, I see sham pane, but no glasses." It was, however, a most hospitable mansion, strangers and others often visiting there, William Penn, a son of Richard, being a guest there for several days in 1809. On one occasion the British Minister, with the members of his Legation, dined there, and to the mortification of the host, the fine strawberries from his garden appeared on the table well salted.

Among the children of Mr. Fisher there was one who in a distant land met an untimely end on the morrow of a brilliant marriage; an incident to which the enchantment of romance is ever attached. In 1813 this son, also named Miers, although but twenty-six years of age, was the head of a mercantile house in St. Petersburg. On the 4th of June of that year he was married to Helen Gregoroffsky, of a noble Russian family, by a minister of the English Church, the Emperor Alexander, in a autograph letter, dispensing with the ceremonies of the Greek Church. Two days after the wedding he was found dead, a victim as was said by some of jealousy and poison, but it was never certainly known.

A deed of 1728 recites that the Taylors had held the land at Ury for a time beyond the memory of man. Mr. Fisher bought it in 1795, and sold it to Mrs. Miller in 1819. She and her trustees sold to Captain James West in 1829, and he, to Dr. Holmes in 1835. Stephen R., a son of John Crawford, of Broadlands, Renfrewshire, Scotland, purchased the place in 1842. In that year an old lady aged ninety-seven years, the youngest of the Taylors, all of whom where born at Ury, came there desiring to take tea in the room in which she was born. On this interesting and acceptable visit she measured a sycamore tree, fifteen feet in girth, which in her childhood she had carried from the Pennepack and planted. In Mr. Crawford's time the late William Peter, British Consul in Philadelphia, was a frequent guest, and here he prepared a large portion of his scholarly "Specimens of the Poets and Poetry of Greece and Rome."

In their refined and cultivated usefulness the Crawfords followed Mr. Fisher in making additions, and more than once, to the old house, to accomodate an increasing school, and thus they have prepared it with many a winding way to be the scene of another "Long Story," when another poet Gray shall arise. I, however, aim not either a long story or a long walk, and therefore leave a pleasing scene.

But as I leave I reflect upon the pigeons there, which are as tame as those of St. Marks in Venice, and also upon the name Ury. It was given in consequence of the great veneration on which Mr. Fisher held the memory of Robert Barclay, of Ury, Scotland. He was in some degree connected with this country, and has always been so highly esteemed among Friends that a few words may be given to his noted family. The books give the Barclays a descent of near eight hundred years. Colonel David Barclay was in the mighty wars of the great Gustavus Adolphus; it is easy, therefore, to believe that he had seen enough of fighting to be able to appreciate the opposite principles of George Fox, who about that time began to preach them in England. Pleased with the mildness of his new views he succeeded in persuading his Son also to adopt them, and so Robert Barclay with the advantage of a liberal education, turned it to a great account by writing his celebrated "Apology for the Quakers." As was the case with William Penn, he also was treated with marked respect by Charles II.
Townsend Ward "Second Street and the Second Street Road and their Associates" in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. IV (Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1880), pp. 427-429.

Ury House   1892
Ury House is situated upon the Pine Road, on the hill crest of the divide between the Pennypack and the Tacony Creek waters. This venerable mansion, antedating Penn's time, surrounded by an estate of one hundred acres, was purchased by Miers Fisher from the Taylor family at the close of the War of Independence.

Originally a fort built by Swedish Refugees in 1645, it was enlarged both by the Taylors and Miers Fisher, who bought the place in 1790. The great antiquity of this mansion is shown by its construction and architecture. Two old chimney back plates of iron, one ornamented with the English coat-of-arms and the legend "Dieu et mon Droit," and the other with a plain scrool bearing the date of 1728 are objects of interest to the antiquarian, The latter plate was not taken from the oldest part of the mansion. A plate similar to this is in Gorvernor Keith's house.

The approach to Ury House is by a broad avenue four hundred feet in length, of venerable pines upward of one hundred years of age. The visitor enters through a pillared porch and broad low hall with heavy rafters, which is heated by a large open fireplace surmounted by a mantle of antique design.

There remained a square stone tower, built, as has been testified by comparison, of stone quarried close by. This tower consisted of a curious cellar, approached by solid stone steps leading to a door of wrought iron, supported on either side by tremendous stone drillings. Over the cellar was a square room, from which a steep stairway led to another, and over it, with sloping roofs and reached by a very rickety ladder, was a garret.

It is supposed that this tower was built by those Swedes who sailed up the Pennypack, and was used as a sort of fort and government house, the people living in huts scattered about in the forest, and only coming into the fort in case of an attack from neighboring Indians.

George Washington is said to have dined in the old hall.

Miers Fisher gave Ury its name, from the country-seat of Barclay, the famous Scotch Friend and the author of The Apology--"Urie" or "Uri," in Scotland.

About ninety years ago [1802] Mr. Fisher was visited by the daughter of an eminent minister. She thus described her drive from Philadelphia: "We drove through forests from Spring Garden Street to Fox Chase, which consisted of a log tavern with an English sign, on which was painted a picture of mounted huntsmen in red coats, and Nathan Hicks, the proprietor, holding up the foxes that the hounds had killed."

Mr. Miller, who bought "Ury" in 1800 [sic--Miers Fisher owned Ury House until at least 1818], is said to have planted the avenue of pine trees.

Mr. West became owner of "Ury" eight years later [sic], and finally in 1842 Mr. Stephen R. Crawford bought "Ury" of Dr. D. R. Holmes.

In the following year "they" were visited by a queer old woman, who arrived in a very old-fashoned chaise. She said she was ninety years old and a grand-daughter of the Mr. Taylor whose name first appeared on "Ury's" title-deeds. She had come to drink a cup of tea in the old Swede Hall, where she was born. This old woman told Mrs. Crawford that when she was a little girl ten years old [1763], Ury was the center of an immense peach-orchard, with cows feeding up to the very doors of the house.

The mansion is surrounded by spacious lawns and a grove of noble trees of great girth and towering height; while an old-fashioned garden, with its numerous beds bordered by boxwood hedges, is most attractive.

Mrs. Jane Crawford, whose name is so intimately associated with Ury House, and whom many who read this article will recall with loving and grateful remembrance, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and came to this country in 1841. After her husband's financial reverses and death in 1863, Mrs. Crawford devoted her life to the instruction of youth, and Ury House became an institution of education, at which many of our leading men received the careful training which fitted them for their future responsibilities.

Mrs. Crawford's rare intellectual attainments, her great executive ability, her refinement and charming grace of manner eminently fitted her for her position as the head of a large and prosperous school. Only those who knew her well can appreciate the beauty of her character, the gentle firmness and loving care with which see guided those under her instruction. After a successful exiatence of twenty-one years, Mrs. Crawford gave up her school, and Ury House passed into the hands of her son, Mr. Joseph U. Crawford, an officier in the Pennsylfvania Railroad, who now occupies as a private residence the old mansion in which he was born.
Rev. S. F. Hotchkin, M.A., The York Road, Old and New (Philadelphia: Binder & Kelly, Publishers, 1892), pp. 406-10.

Ury House   2017



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