Ury House

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2013.08.26 13:19
19 January

AD2012, uncannily, I found myself asking the same question late last night. This is not the first time a thought popped into my head and then independently materialized somewhere else very soon thereafter. I, personally, have not done any further research regarding Latrobe at Ury, but I did communicate with Cohen (via a total of five back and forth emails) toward the end of January. Cohen never responded to my last email, and I haven't heard from him since. As my three emails below make clear, I provided Cohen with several leads regarding further research.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe at Ury House
2013.01.27 13:01
Jeffrey A. Cohen:
I'll come straight to the point. It appears that the Latrobe watercolor, 'landscape with country house', that is tentatively connected with Burwell's house Long Branch, is actually a sketch of Ury House, Philadelphia.
Since October 2006, I've been living in a house that is about 60 yards from where Ury House stood, and in 2007 I did much research on the history of Ury House and the place where I now live -- . I was aware that Latrobe had exhibited a sketch of Ury House, and likewise speculated as to Latrobe's possible role with the house's redesign under Miers Fisher, but not until last weekend did I see the Latrobe sketch published within your definitive work on Latrobe's architectural drawings.
I hope you find my discovery to be indeed correct because it would make me very happy to see the Latrobe watercolor attributed correctly.
Stephen Lauf

I have Cohen's response email, but do not feel comfortable fully publishing it here. Nonetherless, he was completely intriqued, asked lots of questions regarding possible further evidence of Latrobe's possible designer role at Ury, and, "Yes, I always wondered about the penciled Long Branch ID on the watercolor, as my text probably betrays. Encouraged that your research might starighten things out. Looking forward to hearing more."

Benjamin Henry Latrobe at Ury House
2013.01.27 21:39
Hello Jeff,
Thank you for responding so quickly. This "Ury stuff" has become very exciting for me again, and it sounds like you now feel the same way. I'll endeavor to be as helpful as possible in any further research that may confirm Latrobe's connection to Ury House.
I think Ury House looked like the historical photographs up until the time it was demolished circa 1973-75. The Medical Mission Sisters were the last occupants/owners of the house, and some of the sisters who lived there as novices may still be alive and living just across Pine Road from where Ury House used to be. The Sisters have a small archive of Ury material, and that is where I photographed most of the historical images and the measured architectural drawings and contour map (that you see online). I don't think I overlooked anything of importance when I went through the archive, and perhaps the only other information still to be gleamed from the Sisters are personal remembrances.
Miers Fisher died in March 1819 and Ury House was sold (I think) not long after that. I would surmise that Ury House in its 'Latrobe' state lasted until the Crawford's bought the property in 1842; the house stayed in the Crawford family for just over 100 years, and they did the extensive renovations that resulted in Ury's final state. I haven't paid too much attention the Ury House history during the Crawford ownership, but I some photocopies of information and a number of saved internet files. Plus, the Medical Mission Sisters bought Ury from the Crawfords.
For me, the most discernable 'Latrobe' features of Ury House in its final form are the recessed columned entry, the two flat rectangular windows above the entry, and the thin cornice also above the entry. Peale's sketch being unquestionably of Ury House makes it clear that Ury was much altered post 1824, but it also provides the (visual) link to Latrobe's 1811(?) watercolor.
Aside from the notice of Latrobe exhibiting a watercolor of Ury House in 1812, I have yet to find any other textual historical evidence linking Miers Fisher, Ury House, and Latrobe. Miers Fisher's retirement journals (1805-1819) are presently at the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College, and that is where I acquired a photocopy of the 1812 journal in 2007. I have not been to the FHL since, but they have all the original journals and a set of photocopies of each journal which they in turn allow to be photocopied. Miers' script is for the most part readable, but still takes a good bit of time to get used to; the daily entries of 1812 comprise 41 double-sided 8.5x11 pages. Miers' content is generally of interest. He knew, entertained and/or met a surprising number of 'historical' figures. For example, in late 1812 Miers twice met architect Joseph Jacques Ramée--Miers' son Redwood and Ramée sailed to America earlier that year on the same ship. So far, I have not made any plans to go back to the FHL to acquire more copies of Miers' journals--I'm ongoing caregiver for my schizophrenic (though now much stable) older brother, and my being out and about for extended periods of time is not an easy thing to do.
There are also Miers Fisher papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, but, as of yet, I have not been there.
I'll end with that for now, I'm curious to hear what your thoughts are as to what a next step might be. Of course, if you ever want to visit where Ury House once was and perhaps even stand where Latrobe did the watercolor, I'm happy to be your host. Furthermore, if you ever want to talk over the phone, I'm for sure reachable most any evening.
All the best,
One thing I can do (which no one else right now could) is construct a schematic architectural computer model of Ury House as depicted in the Latrobe watercolor and place it within the ground contour model. Then I'd be able to see if Latrobe's view of the house can be matched, and even see if Peale's view can matched. Actually, if I put my mind to it and gave myself some time, I could probably have some results by this time next week.

Alas, I have yet to construct a computer model of Ury House. Cohen responded the next day and said he would try to seek out Miers Fisher's earlier journals, and was interested in how Latrobe's watercolor might relate to the plans of Ury House featured at Quondam. Also, he almost came here--"Curiously enough, there was another house just around the corner that I almost went up to investigate today: the L. S. Filbert house, "Hilton," altered by Hazlehurst & Huckel about 1889. It's discussed in Hotchkin too, pp. 400-05."

Benjamin Henry Latrobe at Ury House
2013.01.28 21:39
Hi Jeff,
'Hilton' does not exist anymore. Since at least the 1950s, the Filbert land was owned and occupied by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, with lots of fields surrounding where the house was. There was a large, multi-storey convent building(?) that you could see from the road, plus what looked like some farm buildings. Hilton would have been part of this compound, but I don't know for sure if it was even there then. Sometime late-1990s, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd sold the land to the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer, and the new owners demolished the old compound in its entirety and have developed pretty much all the land into a (moderately expensive) retirement community.
As to matching the schematic plan of Ury to Latrobe's sketch, almost all the information I have is what you see online, plus I did trace the various plans available at the Medical Mission Sisters, so I do have data 'to scale'. From all that, the best I can do is coordinate all the available plan, elevational and land contour data into a 3-dimensional CAD model file. I envision an outcome very much like Venturi and Rauch's Franklin Court with wireframe ghost house.
If you haven't already done so, read again the entry on Ury within PMHB--google search "sham pane but no glasses" gilpin. The notion of false windows as part of the new design of Ury is most intriguing. Is there a precedent for such detailing within any other Latrobe designs?
Finally, a small part of me wishes I could be the one reading Miers' earlier journals, if only for the thrill of a hoped-for discovery, which I'm sure you can well understand. If you do attain copies any time soon, please keep me informed as to what you find, plus, I might be able to clarify whatever local information may not be clear. Also, I'd like to borrow whatever copies you acquire to make copies for myself.
In all, however, I already feel assured that something quite positive will come out of all this effort.
Do you live anywhere near this area?

Like I already said, I have yet to hear from Cohen again (unless you're secretly Cohen).
I suspect an 'official' history/documentation of Latrobe at Ury House will materialize someday, most likely written by Cohen. Hopefully, I am not written out of this particular history, especially since it is one of the most legitimizing aspects of Quondam as a virtual museum of architecture.

2014.01.19 14:05
19 January

Greg and Hank are two retired gentlemen, brothers-in-law actually, that I occassionally cross paths with while taking walks along Pennypack Creek. Greg is an avid mushroom hunter, while Greg is on the look-out for snakes, and whenever I see them I ask for a report of their latest finds, which are always much more interesting than I might otherwise expect. Last Wednesday, for example, I learned that there were some oyster mushrooms over in Lorimer Park that unfortunately died during the recent spell of sub-freezing days. In exchange, and related to their own park activities, I told Greg and Hank that John James Audubon lived for about six months up on the next hill, at Ury Farm, exactly now 210 years ago. I basically told them:

"On landing at New York [August 1803] I caught the yellow fever by walking to the bank at Greenwich to get the money to which my father's letter of credit entitled me. The kind man who commanded the ship that brought me from France, whose name was a common one, John Smith, took particular care of me, removed me to Morristown, N.J., and placed me under the care of two Quaker ladies who kept a boarding-house. To their skillful and untiring ministrations I may safely say I owe the prolongation of my life. Letters were forwarded by them to my father's agent, Miers Fisher of Philadelphia, of whom I have more to say hereafter. He came for me in his carriage and removed me to his villa, at a short distance from Philadelphia and on the road toward Trenton. There I would have found myself quite comfortable had not incidents taken place which are so connected with the change in my life as to call immediate attention to them.

Miers Fisher had been my father's trusted agent for about eighteen years, and the old gentlemen entertained great mutual friendship; indeed it would seem that Mr. Fisher was actually desirious that I should become a member of his family, and this was evinced within a few days by the manner in which the good Quaker presented me to a daughter of no mean appearance, but toward whom I happened to take an unconquerable dislike. Then he was opposed to music of all descriptions, as well as to dancing, could not bear me to carry a gun, or fishing-rod, and, indeed, condemned most of my amusements. All these things were difficulties toward accomplishing a plan which, for aught I know to the contrary, had been premeditated between him and my father, and rankled the heart of the kindly, if somewhat strict Quaker. They troubled me much also; at times I wished myself anywhere but under the roof of Miers Fisher, and at last I reminded him that it was his duty to install me on the estate to which my father had sent me.

One morning, therefore, I was told that the carriage was ready to carry me there, and toward my future home he and I went."
--John James Audubon, "Myself" in Audubon and His Journals (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1897), pp. 15-16.

If you read any of the biographies of John James Audubon, you can tell that the biographers really have no idea of where Miers Fisher's villa actually was, which is a little unfortunate, because a greater portion of the natural surroundings of the 'villa' have not changed much at all since Audubon was here, thus offering a real glimpse of the American landscape that Audubon first came into real contact with. And speaking of glimpses, if I looked out my living room window and was able to look back in time exactly 210 years ago, chances are that I would see John James Audubon himself.

2006.02.06 18:28
Thesis Semester [blog] 25 years ago
Because of Roma Interrotta and related genius loci issues, I've been doing a lot of reading/research, and thus I now know that when I look out my mother's living room windows I'm looking at the site where the oldest house in Pennsylvania once stood.
URY HOUSE -- Originally a fort, and once the oldest house in Pennsylvania was located at 8403 Pine Road. Ury House was reputed to have been built by Swedish refugees who sailed up the Delaware River and Pennypack Creek, circa 1645.[sic] William Penn did not arrive and found Philadelphia until 1682.
John Adams was a guest at the house during the First Continental Congress. Thomas Jefferson too was a guest and planted a pecan tree on the lawn. And George Washington once ate (mistakenly) salted strawberries there.[sic]
Ury House was demolished in 1973.
My parents moved to what was part of the Ury House estate in 1981, and thus I only have earlier vague memories of an old house on Pine Road, and until yesterday I had completely forgotten that there even once was a house at 8403 Pine Road.

2006.02.07 12:09
Thesis Semester [blog] 25 years ago
I'm still in kind of in shock over the fact that my mother owns a piece of one of the oldest white man settlements of Pennsylvania, and that the men who ultimately became the first three presidents of the United States had actually been there.[sic] Did they visit the place because of its historical significance? I mean, how often does one get the chance to visit a 17th century Swedish fort in North America? "Even Edward VII may have stopped overnight on his visits to Philadelphia while he was Prince of Wales, for the Fishers were Loyalists to the Crown.[sic] Benjamin Franklin was also a special guest."[sic] But it's thinking about the original Swedes that manifests the most 'chills and thrills'. Since I'm now very familiar with the site, I'm pretty sure I know why it was chosen, and trying to imagine living at the fort is not all that difficult--at least I personally know what it's like to see a herd of deer there, or the footprints some of them left in my mother's front garden after they eat her flowers.
Most of the information (so far) about Ury House comes from Fox Chase: 300 Years of Memories by Johanna Frueh Gaupp, 1976, and there is also good information about the early Swedish colony[sic] and Ury House in Architecture in Philadelphia: A Guide by Edward Teitelman and Richard W. Longstreth, 1974.
"But the settlement of the Delaware Valley had begun over forty years previously [i.e., before William Penn] with the founding of a Swedish trading post at Fort Christina (now Wilmington, Delaware) in 1638. Five years later Governor Johan Printz established a post further up the Delaware at Tinicum, just below the southwest border of present-day Philadelphia [--the Swedish fort at Pennypack Creek, Ury House, is right on a northwestern border of present-day Philadelphia]. Other concentrations of settlers began to form at Upland (now Chester) and Kingsessing, and, although Swedish rule ended in 1655, the people remained and continued to thrive, extending over a fair portion of the region."[sic]
Nowadays, on a typical Saturday evening, I leave my home in a 17th century Lenni-Lenape camp and head toward a 17th century Swedish fort for dinner. For most of the way I follow the path of Tacony Creek and then one of its tributaries until I reach the ancient trail that is now Oxford Avenue, and then go a little further on Pine Road until I reach the fort. After dinner, I take my brother for a ride, part of which takes us through Bryn Athyn whose 'center', the Academy of the New Church, is what I call "a little Land of Reenactment"--Mitchell/Giurgola Architects designed a Campus Plan, and the Administration Building and Men's Dormitory in 1962-63.
This part weekend it was my thinking about the position of the Academy of the New Church Administration Building along Huntington Pike, which is the northern extension of Oxford Avenue, that got me to read Fox Chase: 300 Years of History on Sunday night. Saturday morning I was reading some of Christian Norberg-Schulz's "The Genius Loci of Rome" in Architectural Design Profiles 20: Roma Interrotta.
My parents moved to Fox Chase mid-May 1981, a couple of weeks after my thesis jury. I never particularly liked where my parents moved because of the undeniable bland design of the 1970s housing development. Now, suddenly, there is even a reason for me to consider becoming a real architect again.
"Ury House: Perhaps one of the oldest surviving structures in the city. It is now wrapped in a Regency "Grecian Villa" somewhat reminiscent of the residential commissions of John Haviland."

2006.12.29 13:17
Any archinecters from Philadelphia?
...I found out this morning that I now live on "the hill crest of the divide between the Pennypack and the Tacony Creek waters," and where I'm sitting now was in 1763 "an immense peach-orchard, with cows feeding up to the very doors of the [quondam 1645 Swedish fort turned[sic]] house." No cows here right now, but I can go see grazing cows anytime at the farm just over the crest and down the in valley.

Ury House
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[sic], 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 [1795].
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 [actually 1795]. 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 scroll 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.[sic]
George Washington is said to have dined in the old hall.[sic]
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 thehouse.
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 Pennsylvania 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.



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