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Laurel Hill Mansion

Posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2020

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Laurel Hill Mansion, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

In 1760, the land where the Laurel Hill Mansion now stands was purchased by a wealthy Quaker couple, Francis and Rebecca Rawle, who later constructed the house in 1767. After an ill-fated hunting accident, Rebecca Rawle was left widowed, having inherited their Georgian cottage estate. Rawle soon remarried another wealthy Quaker by the name of Samuel Shoemaker. Shoemaker and Rawle spent their summers in their Laurel Hill retreat, and Shoemaker went on to become the Mayor of Philadelphia from 1769-1771.

In the Winter of 1777, however, the British occupied the City of Philadelphia. A devoted Loyalist, Shoemaker assisted the British army as their Magistrate of Police. For this, the Pennsylvania Assembly declared Shoemaker guilty of treason in 1778, and seized Laurel Hill as soon when the British abandoned Philadelphia. While his summer home was confiscated and auctioned off, Shoemaker fled to London to escape punishment with his son Edward, as well as Rebecca’s son from her first marriage, William.

Laurel Hill Mansion, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

Rebecca Rawle tried to regain ownership Laurel Hill for years, but to little avail. She had argued that the property had belonged to her, not her husband. Yet the home’s new tenant, French minister Chevalier de la Luzerne, demanded compensation that Rebecca could not afford. Luzerne instead sold the property in 1782 to Major James Parr, who had served closely under George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

Two years later, however, Rebecca’s efforts paid off when she had finally been able to buy back her home, partially using the proceeds from the produce she grew at Laurel Hill, including strawberries and cabbage. Shoemaker and sons returned as well in 1788, having spent a decade abroad. Reunited, the family continued to spend their summers at Laurel Hill until Shoemaker’s death in 1800.

Shoemaker’s son Edward, a merchant, managed the home afterwards, and during this time, he added the small one-story wing that altered the home's symmetry in order to provide additional space for his nine children. When his business began to fail after the U.S. Congress passed the Embargo Act of 1807, Edward borrowed money from Rebecca Rawle’s cousin, Dr. Philip Syng Physick. Dr. Physick is known as the “Father of American surgery” and attended to the families of John Adams and James Madison.

Laurel Hill Mansion, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

When Rebecca Rawle passed away in 1819, her first son William Rawle inherited Laurel Hill. William Rawle had an illustrious legal career of his own, serving as U.S. District Attorney for Pennsylvania under George Washington. In that role, Rawle prosecuted the leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion. Rawle also went on to become the President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and founded the Philadelphia Bar Association, the Pennsylvania Historical Society, and Rawle Law Offices (today it is Rawle & Henderson), which is the oldest law firm in continuous practice in the United States. Additionally, he served as lawyer and counsel to the First Bank of the United States, which is a featured site along The Constitutional Walking Tour.

However, only a few years after inheriting Laurel Hill, William Rawle sold the property to Dr. Physick for Dr. Physick's own summer retreat. After Dr. Physick’s death in 1837, his daughter Sally and her husband, Jacob Randolph, inherited the house. This served as the inspiration as to why the mansion has become known as the Randolph House.

During this period in the mid-19th Century, the Randolph family added a two-story octagonal wing in the Federal Style on the North end of the house, dismantling the aesthetic of the traditional Georgian style cottage, but supplying a sizable music room. Sally Physick Randolph sold the property to the City of Philadelphia in 1869, and it was then used to house employees.

In 1900, the Laurel Hill Mansion was leased to the Colonial Dames of America, which restored it and opened it for public visitation, making it the first house museum in Fairmount Park. In 1976, the house was renamed Laurel Hill Mansion, and it was restored once more for the Bicentennial celebration in Philadelphia. The group who restored it, the Women of Greater Philadelphia, continues maintenance for Laurel Hill to this day, hosting tours, concerts, and educational programs. Laurel Hill is a property that has changed many hands several times over the years, from world-renowned physicians to French nobility to prominent lawyers to American traitors, but one thing is always certain: Laurel Hill has had quite a story to tell.

Additional Information

Laurel Hill Mansion
Randolph Drive East Fairmount Park
Philadelphia PA 19121
215.235.1776

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