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Cedar Grove Mansion

Posted on Friday, August 7, 2020

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Cedar Grove

For centuries, Cedar Grove Mansion housed five generations of the joint Paschall-Morris families. Today this gives us an engaging lens to look back in time into everyday domestic life from the 18th and 19th Centuries.

In 1746, Elizabeth Coates Paschall purchased 15 acres of land adjacent to her father’s farming plot in the neighboring town of Harrowgate, which is now the Northeast section of Philadelphia, also known as Frankford. Four years previously, Elizabeth’s husband, Joseph Paschall, had passed away, leaving Elizabeth to run the family dry goods business and maintain their home in the city.

Thus, Elizabeth commissioned Cedar Grove as a summer getaway for herself and her three children in 1748. The original structure was a modest example of early Federal style, constructed of Wissahickon schist and featuring only a dining room and upper bedchambers. Paschall passed it to her daughter upon her death, who passed the house in turn to her niece. The niece then married into the Morris family, another prominent Quaker family. In 1799, the couple expanded the house by more than double its original size. This was used to house many informal and formal Quaker gatherings, not unlike those occurring at the Arch Street Friends Meeting House (which is a stop on The Constitutional Walking Tour). 

Though Cedar Grove was initially a simplistic Federal-style cottage, the successive generations enhanced the estate, adding a gambrel roof, a large semicircular lunette window, and a piazza wrapping around two sides of the stone house. A kitchen was added, which featured early plumbing innovations of the time such as a hot-water boiler, a rotisserie grill, and an indoor bake-oven. Even the styles of the rooms reflected the generations that inhabited them, hence why instead of uniformly Federal, certain areas of the house reflect Baroque and Rococo trends.

Cedar Grove

Cedar Grove both housed and reflected the five generations of the Paschall-Morris family from 1750 to 1888, when increasing industrialization caused a railway to be built near the house. The noise disturbed the family, ruining their idyllic rural retreat. Therefore, they relocated to Chestnut Hill, where they grew a garden that would eventually become the Morris Arboretum, one of the most popular botanical gardens in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Cedar Grove was left vacant until 1926, when the Morris family’s respect for Colonial heritage and history spurred them to gift the home to the City of Philadelphia. They paid for the mansion to be moved and rebuilt in its current location in Fairmount Park. Lydia Thompson Morris, who had given the house in the first place, also furnished the reconstructed estate with various family heirlooms. These included Elizabeth Coates Paschall’s medicinal recipe book and Lydia Thompson Morris’ 1809 wedding dress and trousseau receipts, all of which are on display to this day.

Cedar Grove may not carry dramatic tales of treason or famous Founding Fathers, but it provides a humble and engrossing lens into the everyday life of a long-lived family whose roots stretch over the centuries.

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