Tuomi’s Time Machine

Going back in time with Tuomi Forrest, Executive Director of Historic Germantown, as he picks some of his favorite images from the Germantown Historical Society’s extensive collection.

For the first installment of the Time Machine, there’s no better starting place than the Fromberger-Harkness House, current site of Historic Germantown. At the other end of Schoolhouse Lane in East Falls, we get a glimpse of Ravenhill Mansion.

Fromberger-Harkness House
On May 2, 1887, Marriot C. Morris, a photographer and descendant of the Morris family, snapped a photograph from a front room of the Deshler Morris House at 5442 Germantown Avenue. He captured the Fromberger-Harkness House — now the home of the Germantown Historical Society and Historic Germantown at 5501 Germantown Avenue. (Market Square is in the foreground.)

The Fromberger-Harkness House was actually three row houses when it was built by John Fromberger around 1795. In 1873, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) bought the southern portion and converted it to dormitory space. The northern portion was donated to the YWCA in 1917 by Sarah Warden McLean in honor of her sister, Mary Warden Harkness. The building continued to be used as dormitory rooms up to the start of World War II.

Current home of Historic Germantown

In 1946, Arthur O. Roselund bought the building and hired G. Edwin Brumbaugh to “restore” it to a colonial appearance. The Germantown Mutual Fire Insurance Company occupied the building until 1986 when it was bought by the Philadelphia Contributionship (the oldest property insurance company in the U.S. It was organized by Benjamin Franklin in 1752). In 1988, the Germantown Historical Society bought the building and has been located there ever since.

View of Ravenhill/ Weightman estate, with greenhouse in the foreground, and main house in the background, circa 1909. (Photo courtesy of Germantown Historical Society/Historic Germantown)

The old “Ravenhill” estate — shown here circa 1909 — has long since been absorbed into the campus of now Jefferson University. This photo shows a conservatory and greenhouse in the foreground and the main house in the background.

At one time, the wealthiest woman in the world lived here! William Weightman made a fortune on quinine during the Civil War, bequeathing it all to his daughter upon his death at Ravenhill in 1904.

Thanks to Tuomi and Historic Germantown for the great pics!

About Historic Germantown

Historic Germantown is a partnership of 18 historic houses, destinations, and museums that have joined together to protect, preserve, and share some of the area’s prized historical assets.

5501 Germantown Avenue

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.