What do we know about the drawing room at Mount Pleasant and how do we know it? What changes to the space have occurred over time? If there have been changes, how might they hamper our ability to understand the maker’s intent and the original owner’s desires?
Mount Pleasant has been celebrated as an historic site for more than a century. On the heels of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, Thompson Westcott presented the outline of Captain John Macpherson and his family’s lives in his monumental The Historic Mansions and Buildings of Philadelphia with Some Notice of Their Owners and Occupants, Porter and Coates, Philadelphia, 1877. The contemporary importance of Mount Pleasant is suggested by the use of a detail of the engraving illustrating the chapter on the Macpherson’s and their country seat, as part of the design of the elaborate Aesthetic Movement cover.
Notwithstanding the book’s title, the text primarily consists of biographies of the mansion’s inhabitants while only six sentences of the seventeen page Mount Pleasant chapter deal with the buildings on the site. Westcott is not particularly impressed with the fabric of the house, describing the “not very handsome” chimneypieces “with pretentious panels above”, and the woodwork “in the old fashion”. The entire effect is said to be “of the old times.”
Borrowing heavily from Westcott, Thomas Allen Glenn also provides family biographies with little mention of the house as artifact in Some Colonial Mansions and Those Who Lived in Them, Henry T. Coates & Company, Philadelphia, 1900. He does however illustrate his chapter on Mount Pleasant with the earliest known photographs of the interiors. There are no images of the drawing room, however the photograph of the dining room shows it being used as it was for much of the second half of the nineteenth century, as a refreshment hall.
More weight and many more words, are given to the architecture of Mount Pleasant in Harold Donaldson Eberlein and Horace Mather Lippincott’s The Colonial Homes of Philadelphia and Its Neighborhood, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and London, 1912. Their descriptions of the exterior and interior spaces of Mount Pleasant are more detailed and nuanced and their chapter includes the earliest photographic image of the drawing room. A close study of this image suggests that there have been only minor changes to the chimneypiece wall since 1912.
During the twentieth century, images of the drawing room at Mount Pleasant appear with increasing frequency. Changes occur primarily in the furnishing plans and color schemes of the woodwork and plaster walls. The photographic record tells us as much, if not more, about the varying interpretations of the room than about any physical changes that have occurred.