A house of learning, past and present.
Stenton’s “period of interpretation” is 1730-1830, with emphasis on the first three generations of Logans who lived there in the 18th century, when the surrounding area consisted of relatively large landholdings interspersed with smaller, subsistence farms. This pattern generally prevailed until the railroad came in 1832.
First Generation: In 1714, James Logan began to purchase land that would eventually total more than 500 acres in the “Liberty Lands” between the City of Philadelphia and the German Township. He named the plantation (i.e., a large farm that was intended to produce income) “Stenton”, after the family estate in Scotland. The house was entirely complete by 1730, and remained his primary residence until his death in 1751. James Logan was a botanist, communicating his observations on the sexual reproduction of Indian corn to the Royal Society.
Second Generation: James’s older son William (1718-1776), maintained the property as a country seat rather than a full-time residence. William and his wife Hannah died just before the Revolution, having sent their sons off to Edinburgh to study medicine, and endowed their daughter Sally and her husband Thomas Fisher with a substantial acreage in the northern part of the plantation. William was a horticulturalist, ordering many exotic plants from the American south.
Third Generation: After his return to the newly fledged United States, William’s son George moved to Stenton with his bride Deborah (Norris) in 1781 and made it their full-time residence. Stenton became a model farm, since George was particularly interested in progressive agriculture, and a vocal proponent of agrarianism in its early republican rhetorical guise as an avenue to national self-sufficiency. George Logan lived at Stenton until his death in 1820; Deborah continued there until her own death almost twenty years later.
The Philadelphia, Germantown, and Norristown Railroad (PG&N), the first in the region, was completed to Norristown in 1835. Thomas Fisher, George and Deborah Logan’s brother-in-law, was responsible for locating the track between Stenton and his own property, Wakefield, to Deborah’s great distress, since the tracks were raised above Germantown Avenue and the trestle and later embankment became a significant feature of the Stenton landscape and forever impinged on its pastoral appearance.
During Deborah’s long widowhood we begin to find written descriptions of the Stenton landscape. In contrast to glowing reports on other great houses such as Bush Hill or Springettsbury, the most reliable 19th century published sources are conspicuously quiet on the subject of an ornamental garden at Stenton, particularly in the 18th century. John Fanning Watson mentions no garden at Stenton but remarks that “at one time the fields were cultivated in tobacco”.
Watson does, however, express a strong emotional response to the house and grounds, approaching “the secluded shades of Stenton, in which [James Logan] sought retirement from the cares and concerns of public life, with such emotions as might inspire poetry or soothe and enlarge the imagination.” The association of an idea or value with a place, intimately associated with the self-conscious process of nation building, was in full swing, and by 1830 Stenton had become a “picturesque” site connected with American, especially Pennsylvanian, history. One suspects that Deborah had a hand in this.
Fourth Generation: Albanus Charles, (1783-1854) the only child of George and Deborah Logan to survive his parents, inherited Stenton on his mother’s death, although he and his family seem to have moved in some years earlier. After Albanus’ death, his widow, Maria Dickinson Logan, a woman of considerable wealth in her own right, lived on at Stenton for several years. One of the best 19th century descriptions comes to us from a Logan descendant, the idiosyncratic and opinionated Sidney George Fisher. In August, 1860, he visited Cousin Maria and noted: "The legend was building towards completion, and just in time, for the next two generations of Logans were to leave this ancestral property to return to another, and then disappear from the American scene."
Fifth Generation: Albanus and Maria had several children. After Albanus's death, the remaining Stenton ground was split among them, but their oldest son Gustavus George (1815-1876) inherited the portion of the property containing the house. He married Anna Armatt of Loudoun, nearby on Germantown Avenue at the top of Naglee’s Hill. Shortly after their marriage, the two moved to a newly completed home called Restalrig, built on land that was still part of the Stenton estate. Saddened by a very unhappy marriage, she and their children – Albanus, Maria, Frances, and Jane – moved back to Loudoun shortly after the Civil War. After Maria's death in 1860, Stenton remained vacant for large periods of time. There is also evidence to suggest there were tenants using the property during this time as well.
The PG&N railroad had already had a strong effect on access to Germantown and adjacent areas, and completely altered their character. As development, both industrial and residential, increased, Stenton was subdivided. Germantown had always been a center of manufacturing, and the rail line became an increasingly densely built spine of large industrial buildings, especially around Wayne Junction, as other railroads, either established or taken over by the Reading, passed through this hub.
When the original Germantown line was extended to Chestnut Hill in the middle of the nineteenth century, both towns developed into commuting suburbs. The former German Township – Germantown, Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill – remained a largely residential zone well into the twentieth century, and significant portions have continued so to the present. To the south and east of Stenton, the residential and industrial development of North Philadelphia grew, particularly after the Civil War. As the decades passed, densely built row houses interspersed with factories along the rail lines, seemed to march inexorably north, with Broad Street as one of the major arteries.
Sixth Generation: Gustavus George and Anna Armatt had four children, but only the youngest, Jane Caroline, produced heirs. She married a distant English connection, Edward Luxmoore, and emigrated to England. Their grandchildren and great grandchildren (eighth and ninth generations, all living in England) are the only remaining representatives of the line of Logans that actually lived at Stenton.
By 1888 the property had shrunk to the block bounded by North 18th Street, Windrim Avenue, West Wyoming Avenue, North 16th Street, and Courtland Street. In 1891, the surviving children of Gustavus George and Anna Armatt deeded the eastern two-thirds of this block to the City of Philadelphia in order to protect the family graveyard, which was located east of the house and its outbuildings. The City proposed to run Wyoming Avenue through the graveyard, but reconfigured it to the north in exchange for the property. (Even so, during the 1950′s the City paved the graveyard over, with no notification.)
In 1909, the City purchased the remaining three acres with the house and outbuildings for the substantial sum of $70,225 and contracted with The National Society of Colonial Dames of America in The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to maintain and operate it as “an historic object lesson.”
This article by Lil Chance was broadly based on Stenton Colonial Revivial Garden 1910-1917 Cultural Landscape Inventory by Emily Cooperman, Ph.D. 2000
Stenton's Cultural Landscape, Part 1: 1730 - 1900