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Woodford Mansion

Posted on Friday, August 7, 2020

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Woodford Mansion

Named for its juxtaposition between a forest around the house and a nearby ford in the Schuylkill River, Woodford Mansion has found itself embedded within Philadelphian history and American history as a whole, hence why it has been a National Historic Landmark for over half a century.

The home was initially constructed by Judge William Coleman (1704-1769), a successful merchant, Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, and notable Patriot. While spending their summers at Woodford, Coleman and his wife Hannah fostered their orphaned nephew, George Clymer.

Clymer would later become a renowned member of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, signing both The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. George Clymer is now immortalized as the statue of The Signer in Signers’ Garden, a stop on The Constitutional Walking Tour. When William Coleman passed away, his closest companion, Benjamin Franklin, described him at his funeral as having “the coolest, clearest head, the best heart, and the exactest morals of almost any man I ever met with.”

After Coleman’s death in 1769, the house was sold to Alexander Barclay, a Quaker who had served King George III as his Customs Comptroller for the port of Philadelphia. However, Barclay did not live much longer, and upon his death in 1771, the house was bought by Barclay’s brother-in-law, David Franks. Franks, member of a distinguished English Jewish family, served as an agent for King George III, and had been stationed in Philadelphia. However, he was also a prominent businessman, creating the firm Levy & Franks, the first Jewish business-house in Philadelphia.

David Franks Historical Marker located at 5th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia

While residing at Woodford, Franks transformed the comfortable country abode into the opulent late Georgian and partially Palladian mansion it is today in order to house his four children and entertain guests of high social standing.

A second floor was added with a Palladian window overlooking the front, as well as a long wing, a grand stair hall, new bedrooms, and a ballroom. Considering that his main occupation was being employed by the King, Franks was a Loyalist. When the British occupied Philadelphia in 1777, the leading British commander General William Howe visited Woodford nearly every single day to court the family’s youngest daughter, Tory socialite Rebecca Franks. Franks’ nephew, on the other hand, was David Salisbury Franks, who fought for the revolution as an aide to Benedict Arnold.

When the British abandoned Philadelphia in 1778, Congress sent Benedict Arnold to arrest David Franks for treason and to confiscate his property. When Arnold’s own treason would be revealed later, David Franks’ nephew assisting him would be implicated but later exonerated. Once Franks was imprisoned, his family was forced to flee to England where they fell into poverty. Woodford eventually came into the hands of the Wharton family in 1793, who introduced some modest alterations to the home, including an enlarged parlor.

The Whartons spent their summers at Woodford for decades until the end of the Civil War, when in 1869 they gave the estate to the City of Philadelphia. Under municipal control, it was used as the quarters for Fairmount Park’s chief engineer, the headquarters for park guards, a traffic court, and even a police station.

This changed in 1927, when the Naomi Wood Trust, named after a local heiress and historian, opted to use Woodford to publicly display their namesake’s Colonial antique collection, restoring the home to its former glory in the process. To this day, the Naomi Wood Trust maintains Woodford and their collection of historical objects, including bizarre clocks and English earthenware.

Woodford is a mansion where the only aspects more astounding than the grand estate itself area the fascinating lives of the colorful characters who had lived there.

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