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Mount Pleasant Mansion

Posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2020

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Mount Pleasant was built by Scottish privateer John Macpherson in 1762 with a precise eye towards symmetry and proportion. The style is the classical Georgian architecture that is reminiscent of Independence Hall, a site along The Constitutional Walking Tour. Mount Pleasant Mansion was designed by architect Thomas Nevell, the apprentice of Edmund Woolley, the architect of the Pennsylvania State House as it was originally known before it became known as Independence Hall. Originally designed to be a plantation, which were not common in the Philadelphia area, the property contained over 100 acres of land and had laborers including both indentured servants and four slaves.

Mount Pleasant Mansion, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

On a 1775 visit to Philadelphia, John Adams called the Mount Pleasant Mansion the “most elegant seat in Pennsylvania.” However, Macpherson was scarcely able to enjoy its bounty. Though he had made his comfortable living by plundering ships for the British during the French and Indian War, a series of bad investments had chipped away at his fortune. When his son in the Continental Army died at the Battle of Quebec, Macpherson became a recluse and no longer spent time at this elegant abode, leasing it to the Spanish minister for the cause of the American Revolution, Don Juan de Miralles.

Mount Pleasant Mansion, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

The property was eventually sold to Benedict Arnold in 1779, who is most famous today for his decision to betray America and join the British Army during the Revolutionary War. Arnold’s famous act of treason did not occur until 1780 however, and in 1779, Arnold served as the military commander of the City of Philadelphia.

Appointed by General George Washington after the British withdrew from the city, Arnold had used his position to enrich himself, and during his stay, he married a local Philadelphian aristocrat and the highest paid spy in the American revolution, Peggy Shippen.

Arnold purchased the grand Mount Pleasant Mansion as a gift for his new bride. After Arnold’s act of treason was discovered, however, the property changed hands multiple times, once even being owned by Baron von Steuben, the Prussian general who helped train Continental troops at Valley Forge.

In 1792, the Mount Pleasant Mansion was purchased by Benjamin Franklin’s great nephew Jonathan Williams, who would later become the first Superintendent of West Point. Williams’ family sold pieces of the estate in the 1840s to different industries, from breweries to ice harvesters. In 1869, however, the family sold Mount Pleasant to the City of Philadelphia to add to the growing acreage of Fairmount Park. Multiple private interests petitioned Philadelphia to use pieces of this vast estate until the City budged and granted licenses for dairy farmers and a ladies’ automobile club in 1906. Throughout the years, Mount Pleasant has remained remarkably intact, and its fortunate preservation has allowed modern eyes to absorb its grandeur. Mount Pleasant Mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Additional Information

Mount Pleasant Mansion
3800 Mt. Pleasant Drive
Philadelphia, PA 19121

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