Stenton's Landscape

 

Stenton begins with James Logan’s “Plantation” in 1730.  Since then, the site has transformed throughout the decades and into the present by family descendents, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (NSCDA-PA), museum staff, and dedicated volunteers.  After being left to neglect in the latter part of the 19th Century, Letitia Wright of NSCDA-PA and John Wister set their sites on landscape and garden rehabilitation to accompany the public house museum: Stenton.

 

Today, Stenton sits on just under three acres of land, and is located in a dense urban and industrialized community.  An early 20th-century perimeter screen of native trees and shrubs obscures the modern cityscape.  In the 18th century, Stenton was situated in the country between Philadelphia and the Germantown Township, in what was then known as the “Liberty Lands” as well as Bristol Township.

While much of Stenton’s acreage was cultivated, the house was almost certainly surrounded by a formal landscape, an essential component of early Georgian country houses.  No images of Stenton’s early landscape survive, but a 19th-century print of Isaac Norris’s Fairhill offers an example of how James Logan’s estate might have looked.  The image depicts a carriage road lined by an allée of trees, bordered by enclosed fields and orchards, and neatly maintained grounds immediately around Fairhill House, including an enclosed forecourt.

 

 

 

Stenton estate c. 1870 with its array of outbuildings and sheds between the barn and service wing. Most of these buildings no longer stand. Probably photographed from the raised railroad embankment nearby.

An 18th-century map, other documents and archeological excavations indicate a similar landscape existed at Stenton. In 2011 and 2012, archaeologists located substantial stone foundations on either side of the house, which supported brickwalls.  These walls enclosed large symmetrical rectangular areas to the north and south of the house, and projected out in front of the mansion.  Archaeologists also uncovered evidence of gates where the walls met with the front corners of the house.  For 18th-century visitors approaching Stenton, these brick walls framed the house and gave it a recessed appearance.  The forecourt created by the walls would have added to the overall grandeur and setting of the house.

 

Stenton’s landscape and gardens may have reflected Logan’s interest in botany.  Before moving to Stenton, he maintained a 40’ x 80’ garden at his townhouse in Philadelphia, where he experimented with plant seeds, especially corn.  Both James Logan, and to a greater extent his son William, ordered large quantities of plant and flower seeds and fruit trees from England and Europe.

 

 

 

Outbuildings

 

Walking the property, visitors encounter a number of extant outbuildings.

 

Service Wing: The service wing is a series of structures built and altered over time.  The far end of the complex was built as a carriage house about 1730.  The brick structure closest to the main house is a c.1790 kitchen and wash house, built by George and Deborah Logan.  Kitchens and wash houses were messy places that were almost always separate from the house, to keep the commotion of work and the heat and smells from cooking at bay, and to reduce risk of fire.  The central portion of the wing is a c. 1811 greenhouse, also built by George and Deborah Logan, originally heated by a stove.

 

Privy: Across the courtyard from the service wing is a c.1800 three-hole brick privy, or outhouse.  Two walls of this privy were constructed on the foundations of earlier garden walls.

 

 

Looking across the piazza to the c.1800 privy. The pump to the left sits over a well, once part of the original kitchen. Photo by Jim Garrison.

Barn, winter 2006, photo by Laureen Griffin

Log house rounding the corner at Windrim Ave & N 18th St.

Barn: The stone bank barn was built  in 1787 by George Logan.  The barn sheltered animals on the lower level, while the upper floor was hay storage. The upper floor now houses an exhibition of historic farm tools and implements.  The bricks used in the interior walls of the barn are said to have been salvaged from the original garden walls.  One 1780s visitor noted that George Logan improved the property by removing the walls around the house that made the place look “rather gloomy,” and dispensed with old gardens.

 

Icehouse: The stone ice house was also built about 1787 and has been converted to a lawn and garden tool shed.

 

Log House: The 18th-century Log House is not original to Stenton’s landscape, but was rescued from demolition by the NSCDA/PA in 1969.  The house was moved up Broad Street from its original location at 16th and Race Streets in Center City Philadelphia.  It is a private residence for Stenton’s Caretakers. 

Evolution of the Landscape

 

By the end of the 18th century, George Logan put his own mark on Stenton’s landscape.  George believed in progressive agriculture and transformed Stenton into a model farm.  He demolished James Logan’s brick garden walls, removed a large garden on the south side of the house, and changing the approach.  The overall effect was a naturalistic landscape described as having a beautiful lawn interspersed with clumps of trees.  Visitors in the 19th century remarked on an allée of large old hemlock trees that led from the rear of the house to a family cemetery established by George and Deborah Logan.  These trees were gone by the end of the 19th century.  The family burial ground is now located in Stenton Park.