If your social status were such that you were likely to receive an invitation to visit and take tea with Margaret Macpherson in her drawing room at Mount Pleasant, your journey in the 1760’s would have been much different than one made today. After three miles on the Wissahickon Road heading northwest out of the city of Philadelphia, your carriage would turn off onto Forty-foot Lane, and head towards the Schuylkill River.
Before long you would be on the edge of the Macpherson’s large farm with fields in “good grass” and “red clover”. Passing the “large frame Hay house”, the main house and pavilions would come into view.
Approaching from the northeast, you would pass through orchards of the “best inoculated and grafted fruit trees” on either side of the road. Before your arrival at the main house you would have spied the large stone walled kitchen garden and an ice-house filled with tons of ice cut from the Schuylkill in late winter.
A left turn off Forty-foot Lane would situate your carriage between the stables and the pavilions. Here you are presented with a series of choices. Would there be cause to enter either of the two pavilions flanking the main house? Would these spaces be part of the experience of a guest who would ultimately be having tea in the drawing room or were they working spaces where clothes were washed and food prepared? Were they for the use of tenant farmers with offices and living quarters or were the pavilions exclusively used by the Macpherson’s extended family?
Today, trees and brush have grown up to the sides of the pavilions, but in the eighteenth century might there have been paths directing you around the outside of the pavilions to the back of the main house to experience the terraced garden and the river prospect before entering the main house?
With two possible points of entry, or as Thomas Nevell termed them, the “Front frontish Piece Door” and the “Frontish Piece Door in the Back front towards Schoulkill”, here was another choice. Would all guests enter only through the front door? Would they also be welcome entering at the back or was that used primarily by the family? Would guests use it as a passage only after they had formally been admitted through the front door and had moved through the interior?
Your procession through the fecund scenery of the surrounding landscape, as described by John Macpherson – apple, peach, pear, cheery, plum and quince trees bearing fruit, 50 beds of strawberries and as many of asparagus, chestnut and shellbark trees – would have set the stage for what you were about to encounter upon entering the main house.
7 thoughts on “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. Henry James, “The Portrait of a Lady””
I am fascinated by the way in which approaches have changed over the years. I think the historic concept of variant entry ways has been lost ~ particularly with houses with a water face. I am thinking of Mount Vernon for example.
Does anyone know of a map that shows Forty Foot Rd?
On the 1868 map of Farms and Lots of Fairmount Park shown above in this post (click to enlarge), Forty Foot Road is identified as “Williams or Edgeley Road.”
And Carter’s Grove also has a terraced landscape on the river side. The changes in the landscape that were made when converting the Park’s landscape, which included building a large reservoir not far to the east of Mount Pleasant definitely changed the approach. However, if you click on the Phila. aerial photos at this site you can make out a feature running through the ball-fields that may be a faint witness of Forty-foot Road.
I see the road in red. Was Ridge Ave called Wissahickon Early on?
Hi tthanks for posting this