New Sites, Old Favorites

Centuries of local history to explore — right in our own backyard!

Every 2nd Saturday thru October, all of Historic Germantown’s 18 fascinating sites are open to the public from noon to 4pm.  Just added: The Black Writers’ Museum and The Lest We Forget Museum of Slavery, which officially joined the list this year.

These two sites help provide some much-needed information and context for African American history in Philadelphia.

  • The Black Writers Museum is a unique institution, providing exhibits of classic and contemporary Black Literature and its authors. Its collection includes first edition and autographed books, rare newspapers and documents, photographs, paintings, journals, magazines, manuscripts, recordings, and more. 5800 Germantown Avenue (map)
  • Lest We Forget Slavery Museum is the only museum of its kind in Philadelphia, exhibiting authentic slavery artifacts which include hundreds of shackles, chains, coffles, branding irons and other forms of punishing ironware. Authentic documents show how enslaved Africans were bought and sold as chattel. Incredible African works of art – sculpture, oil paintings and vintage photographs line the walls of the museum. 5501 Germantown Avenue  (map)

All the sites are fascinating, though — especially for anyone living in this part of Northwest Philly historically known as Germantown Township in Colonial times. Indeed, the Germantown Historical Society‘s collection includes images, documents and artifacts from many neighborhoods including East Falls, Wissahickon… to the most rural parts of Chestnut Hill.

Take a peek into our past  every 2nd Thursday for a free community mixer at Historic Germantown’s stately Headquarters and Colonial courtyard. And then plan your Saturday wisely…. Most of these sites are within walking distance to great little shops and cafes you’ve probably never noticed driving by.

Thanks to Tuomi Forrest, the (relatively) new executive director of Historic Germantown, for his handy rundown of sites and highlights. Click on the links! Many of these places hold unique events: galas, supper clubs, farmers markets, festivals, re-enactments, special tours and more.

  1. The Aces Museum tells the story of minority veterans of WWII. 5801 Germantown Avenue (opposite Vernon Park).
  2. Awbury Arboretum is a 55-acre landscaped sanctuary in the middle of Germantown that was originally the private estate of the Cope-Haines family, an extended clan of wealthy Quaker shipping merchants. One Awbury Road.
  3. Cliveden is known for the part it played in the Battle of Germantown during the Revolutionary War. The walls of Cliveden sheltered British troops from American attack during the battle, as well as seven generations of Philadelphia’s Chew family in the years that followed. 6401 Germantown Avenue.
  4. Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground  Established in 1692, The Upper Burying Ground is one of the two oldest in Germantown. There, laid to rest are blacks, whites, Native Americans, Germans, English, Irish, Catholics, Protestants, adults, children, and over fifty Revolutionary War soldiers. The charming one-room Concord School House sits on a corner of the Burying Ground and was opened in 1775. It is one of the only intact schoolhouses of its kind in the country. 6309 Germantown Avenue.
  5. Deshler-Morris House  The so-called Germantown “White House” is where George Washington and his family lived twice – to seek refuge from the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia and as a summer retreat for the First Family in 1794. 5442 Germantown Avenue.
  6. Ebenezer Maxwell mansion is Philadelphia’s only house museum that focuses on the Victorian period. The restored mid-nineteenth century house and gardens exemplify the domestic life of the rising middle class between 1860 and 1880. 200 West Tulpehocken Street.
  7. The Mennonite Meetinghouse is the site of the country’s 1st first permanent Mennonite settlement. The meetinghouse features the table upon which the first protest against slavery in the New World was signed in 1688. 6133 Germantown Avenue.
  8. The Germantown Historical Society (which merged with Historic Germantown) is an educational and research center dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of Germantown from its founding to the present day. 5501 Germantown Avenue.
  9. Grumblethorpe, “John Wister’s Big House,” is a 1744 Colonial German country seat. Its two-acre garden serves as a laboratory for neighborhood schools and provides a source of organic vegetables for its farm stand. 5267 Germantown Avenue.
  10. Historic Fairhill Cemetery is a 300-year old Quaker burial ground, the final resting place of important Abolitionists, Reformers and Women’s Rights activists including Robert Purvis and Lucretia Mott. 2901 Germantown Avenue (at Cambria Street).
  11. Historic RittenhouseTown is the site of British North America’s first paper mill, built in 1690. It stood at the heart of the thriving early industrial village known as RittenhouseTown. 206 Lincoln Drive (at Wissahickon Avenue).
  12. Hood Cemetery  Originally known as the Lower Burial Ground, the cemetery was a secular burial ground for residents of lower Germantown and contains the graves of several prominent Philadelphians, as well as those of 41 Revolutionary War soldiers, and veterans of subsequent conflicts, including the War of 1812 and the Civil War. 4901 Germantown Avenue.
  13. Johnson House Historic Site is one of the few remaining Underground Railroad Stations in Philadelphia open to the public. The Johnson House was home to three generations of a Quaker family who worked with European Americans and African Americans, freed and enslaved, to abolish slavery and improve living conditions for freed African Americans. 6306 Germantown Avenue.
  14. La Salle University Art Museum houses a collection of important works from 1400 to the present. 1900 West Olney Avenue.
  15. Stenton, formerly the site of James Logan’s mansion in lower Germantown, is known as one of the earliest and best-preserved historic houses in Philadelphia. Its Georgian architecture and outstanding historic collection make it one of the most authentic house museums in the region. 4601 North 18th Street.
  16. Wyck was home to nine generations of the same Quaker family, the Wistars and the Haines, who owned and lived on this “farm” in Germantown. Today the colonial house and its historic gardens invite visitors to view remarkable collections of 100,000 papers and over 10,000 objects. 6026 Germantown Avenue.

A Special Schoolhouse

Although he doesn’t play favorites with the sites, Tuomi has a soft spot for the Concord Schoolhouse.

“It’s a small one-room schoolhouse. Kind of a magical feel – you walk in and you’re instantly transported back into the 19th Century. I think it’s interesting in a number of ways regarding the history of Germantown because of the struggle to live up to its ideals. It was founded as a kind of community cemetery (not a religious one) that welcomed those of different faiths, and ethnic and racial backgrounds.”

But this openness changed at times in its history, Tuomi said, when certain groups would be banned from the cemetery and school, only to be allowed back in when the school returned to its more inclusive roots. “This switching between integration and segregation over its history speaks to the on-going struggle for equality and freedom that I think is one of the threads that runs through all of Germantown, and American, history.”

Find out more about Germantown’s Historic sites at FreedomsBackyard.com.

See the Sites on Second Saturdays

Don’t forget! Second Saturdays May through October, all 18 historic sites throw open their doors at the same time – noon to 4PM. Many sites are clustered around each other, so visitors can hit a number of attractions in a single afternoon.

Admission fees and donations apply from site to site. Save time & money with a Historic Germantown Passport, which provides access to all 18 attractions for a single price ($25/pp, $45/family).

About Tuomi Forrest 3 Articles
Tuomi Forrest has been Executive Director of Historic Germantown since August 2018. He has many years of experience bringing the power of history to community organizations and institutions. Having most recently served as Executive Vice President of the nationally known Partners for Sacred Places, Forrest brings an extensive background in administration, fundraising, research and public policy to Historic Germantown.

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