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Belmont Mansion & The Underground Railroad Museum

Posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2020

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Belmont Mansion, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

Overview

Belmont Mansion is one of only three surviving Fairmount Park Mansions that belonged to men associated with the founder of Philadelphia, William Penn. Built in 1745 by William Peters, the English land manager to the Penn family, Belmont Mansion was the first example of Palladian architecture in Pennsylvania. The Belmont Mansion property became part of Fairmount Park in 1869.

Hannah Callender

Hannah Callender, a Philadelphia socialite, visited the estate in 1762 and remarked upon its lavishness, detailing its large hall as being “well furnished, the top adorned with instruments of music, coats of arms, crests and other ornaments in stucco, its sides by paintings and statues in bronze.” Callender further described an obelisk, a hedge labyrinth, and statues of Roman Gods decorating the edenic gardens. Not only was the estate fashionable, but it was innovative. William’s son, Richard Peters, made their home a model of science-based agriculture, burning limestone in kilns to create lime fertilizer for their fields. (Note:  Sometimes Richard Peters was referred to as "Richard Peters, Jr., to distinguish from his uncle, though this can also mean his son Richard.")

Belmont Mansion and the British

When the British occupied Philadelphia, they confiscated and destroyed property belonging to those connected with fighting for independence. Belmont Mansion may have remained safe due to its distinctly English design style. However, once the British Redcoats were pushed back and the city fell into revolutionary fervor, that same fashionably European Palladian style raised some eyebrows. Fortunately for the home, Richard Peters had served as George Washington’s Secretary of War in the Continental Army, and he was a member of the Continental Congress, entertaining many highly esteemed guests at Belmont Mansion such as George WashingtonJohn Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Marquis de Lafayette.

View from Belmont Mansion, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

Judge Richard Peters & Cornelia Wells

Peters’ legacy did not end with the Revolutionary War, however. Richard Peters, often known as “Judge Peters” due to his career serving in the U.S. District Court, was an adamant abolitionist. As an Episcopalian, Peters was the first non-Quaker member of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, which was later run by Benjamin Franklin, whose home serves as one of the stops along The Constitutional Walking Tour. Though Peters fought against the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, by the turn of century, he began to take matters into his own hands. Peters and his family purchased several slaves in order to free them, including future black entrepreneur Cornelia Wells in 1811, and Peters used Belmont Mansion as a safehouse for those traveling the Underground Railroad to freedom.

The Underground Railroad

Richard’s son of the same name designed the Philadelphia and Columbian Railroad that traveled near the Belmont Mansion. It is believed by experts that Judge Peters’ son designed the tracks so that they would slow near the home, giving stowaway slaves enough time to jump from the train and meet agents with the Underground Railroad, who would then escort the runaway slaves to Belmont Mansion. Whether it be for American independence or the emancipation of slaves, Belmont Mansion has always stood for freedom, and now its site has operated as the Underground Railroad Museum in Philadelphia since 2007.

Visitors to Belmont Mansion can experience 18th and 19th Century history through the events and lives of people associated with Belmont Mansion in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. The site’s museum is dedicated to Colonial history and the 19th Century network of people and places which comprised the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia. 

Additional Information

Belmont Mansion
2000 Belmont Mansion Drive
Philadelphia, PA 19131
215.878.8844

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