Architecture post Semiquincentennial

19 January

2014.01.19 14:05

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 Hank 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 least 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.




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