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Pottsgrove Manor



Pottsgrove Manor is located at 100 West King Street, Pottstown PA 19464.

Pottsgrove Manor

Part I

Pottsgrove Manor was the Colonial home of John Potts; descendant of England, founder of Pottstown, entrepreneur, businessman and perhaps the greatest Iron Master in all the Colonies.

In 1751, Mr. Potts purchased 995 acres of land from a one Mr. Samuel McCall. Mr. McCall had received this land (and much more) from William Penn as an original land grant. Shortly after his purchase, John Potts began construction on his early Georgian style manor home.

Begun in 1752, the Potts family moved into the residence in 1753, and construction was completed later that year. In 1761, John has the property surveyed, and lays out a grid system of roads and parcels, (similar to Ben Franklins design of Philadelphia), to form the town of 'Pottsgrove'. (The town is later re-named Pottstown in 1815)

In 1768, John Potts, Father of 13, Grandfather of 74, dies. The house and 250 acres are inherited by his oldest son Thomas.[1] At the time of his father's death, Thomas Potts resides in Coventryville, Pennsylvania, just a few miles south of Pottsgrove Manor. For the next 15 years, Thomas splits his time between the two homes until 1783, when he sells the plantation.[1] It is purchased by Col. Francis Nichols, Chief Marshall of Pennsylvania.[2]

The subsequent 150 years or so saw a myriad of owners, uses and misuses of the property. In 1820, Daniel Hintner remodeled the home in the prevailing Greek revival style of the time. After the Civil War, the Gable brothers purchased the home and turned it into a Hotel. By the 1920's, the home had been turned into multiple family housing. During the 1930's (read depression era), the home had been abandoned, and became the residence of homeless and wayward people.[3]

On the 26th day of May, 1936, "Mr. and Mrs. James Wendell invited citizens of Pottstown and vicinity to attend a meeting at The Hill School to discuss the formation of a Pottstown Historical Society." "The object of the organization was to gather and preserve records and historical landmarks for the community."[4] With over one Hundred attendees, it would appear the there was an interest and desire by many in the community to preserve and document the areas rich history.

Mrs. James Wendell, Maiden name Marjorie Potts, was a direct descendant of John Potts. Her lineage was through John's 2nd oldest son. Marjorie's husband James Wendell was the Director of The Hill School. A prestigious and well known Preparatory school (It remains so today) located on a hill, on the south end of Pottstown. Being of means, possessing societal status, and being related to the town's founding father, Marjorie Wendell was dedicated to this preservation effort.

In June, 1939, the Pottstown Historical Society purchased the Pottsgrove Manor along with four acres of land, for the sum of $6,000.00. Of which $4,461.00 was comprised of donations, $1000.00 was borrowed by Marjorie with the authorization of the Society Board of Directors,[4] and the remainder, presumably, made up with her own personal funds.

Restoration of the home began later in that year when Marjorie retained the services of G. Edwin Brumbaugh. Mr. Brumbaugh was an architect of some renown, and was greatly involved in another early preservation and restoration effort; that of the now famous village of Williamsburg, Va. The initial expense of this early restoration effort was $25,000.00. (Remember, this is 1939) Much of the cost of this early effort was covered by grants received from the WPA (Works Project Administration).[4]

Laurel Lodge, a home constructed and owned by one of John Potts children, and constructed in 1769, was set to be demolished. Thankfully, before this occurrence, much of the woodwork, which was similar to that of Pottsgrove Manor, was salvaged and used in the restoration effort. In early 1940, as much of Europe is engaged in conflict and war, the exterior restoration of the home is completed. On the 6th day of February, 1940, Pottsgrove Manor is sold to the Borough of Pottstown for the sum of $1.00.[4]/p>

G. Edwin Brumbaugh, though taking some liberties, working off of conjecture at times and misinterpreting some evidence's, was instrumental in stabilizing and restoring, to a certain extent, the once grand colonial home, constructed in a restrained early Georgian style, of the area's founding father, Mr. John Potts.

Marjorie (Mrs. James) Potts Wendell was a visionary, pioneer and true early preservationist. If not for her efforts, we very well may know of the Pottsgrove Manor in stories and early drawings only. Instead of the grand manor home which continues to exist today, as a cultural and living arts museum, as a study in architecture, and lesson's in colonial life, we may simply have a marker that reads 'on this site stood the home of John Potts; descendant of England, founder of Pottstown, entrepreneur, businessman and perhaps the greatest Iron Master in all the Colonies.'

Partially because of her privileged circumstance in life, and certainly for her relation, but mostly for her vision, insight, character and good old fashion action, Marjorie Potts Wendell was the Savoir of Pottsgrove Manor. Honored with the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania award in 1969, 5 Marjorie (Mrs. James) Potts Wendell is a true American preservationist who now transcends our nation's young, but ever so important history.

Part II

On the 6th day of February, 1940, Pottsgrove Manor was sold to the Borough of Pottstown for the sum of $1. (Pottstown Historical Society) During the next 2 years, under ownership of the Borough, virtually nothing was done to the property. Then, on the 6th day of May, 1942, while the World was in the throws of War, the property was transferred from the Borough of Pottstown to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the sum of $1. (Montgomery County Deed Book 1466, p. 20) The directive of the State, under administration of the County of Montgomery's Parks and Heritage Services, was to operate the property as a museum and historic site. (D. Roger Mower, Jr., Former Administrator, Pottsgrove Manor)

Instrumental in the initial site analysis, stabilization and exterior restoration was Mr. G. Edwin Brumbaugh. As previously stated, this effort was largely funded by the W.P.A. (Works Project Administration) Mr. Brumbaugh did not have a great trust for this depression era organizations ability to provide the project with qualified and skilled craftsmen. After the conclusion of WW II, through his persistent skepticism, he was assured and supplied with the quality craftsmen to continue the restoration effort. (William A. Brobst. Administrator, Pottsgrove Manor)

Work on the manor continued for the better part of the next decade. A discovery made during this time period was the evidence of a previously existing stairwell in the N. room off of the kitchen. Brumbaugh decides to note this discovery, but not to restore the stairwell or the rooms above. It is now believed that this decision may have been made due to the misinterpretation of the rooms use. It was then believed that the North rooms function was that of a children's dinning room, and the quarter's above, that of a children's bedroom rooms.

It is now known that this room was in fact the office of Mr. John Potts, and the room above was that of his slaves' quarters. Hence the separate stairwell and isolation of the above rooms.

Concurrently during this post WWII restoration period, the 'Ladies' of the Pottstown Historical Society both aided in the restoration process and used the home for events and fund raisers. Such activities as tea parties, meetings and holiday gatherings were common. One such activity that occurred was paint scraping parties. During one such 'party', a faux finish in a 'marbleized' technique, resembling King of Prussia marble was uncovered on the wood paneling of the second floor's N. W. room. Realizing that this was something unique, and potentially of historic importance to the homes past, the scraping of this room was discontinued.

In the year 1952, in coordination with the Bi-Centennial Celebration of the founding of Pottstown, Pottsgrove Manor was opened to the public. For the next 32 years it remained as an attraction, when in 1985 it was unfortunately closed to public access.

On the First day of September, 1988, the property is acquired, with full jurisdiction, by the County of Montgomery. A 99 year lease is signed, and administration of the site is conducted by the Department of History and Cultural Arts. It is at this time that a thorough title search is conducted. (D. Roger Mower, Jr., Former Administrator, Pottsgrove Manor)

Yet again, (re) restoration of the property begins. With consultation by renowned local Architect John Milner, structural damage is discovered in the roof rafters and floor joists of some sections of the home, jeopardizing the integrity of the building. (William A. Brobst. Administrator, Pottsgrove Manor). During the next 3 years (1988-1991), approximately $500,000.00 plus are spent restoring the home. Then, on the 27th day of September, 1991, Pottsgrove Manor once again is open the public.

Since being acquired by the County of Montgomery with full jurisdiction in 1988, more than 3 million dollars (and counting) has been expended on restoration, maintenance, and administration and staffing of the site. In fact, the day that this paper is due for submission, October 3rd, 2005, master painters are scheduled to begin work on the homes exterior woodwork.

From it's inception as Mr. John Potts manor home in 1752, through many subsequent owners, uses, restorations and re-restorations and the passage of more than two and a half centuries of time, Pottsgrove Manor stands today as fine of a home as it ever was.

To quote from a letter written by Mr. G. Edwin Brumbaugh to Marjorie Potts Wendell; "When I pass by the Pottsgrove Manor, I see a dignified old Mansion, presiding over the beautiful lawns and gardens. I can even glimpse the gracious hallway with its fine old Mahogany and Walnut. I know that you, too, have seen all this, and someday, the pictures will need no imagination."

Part III

"Keeping the Legacy Alive." These are the words that grace the heading of the Montgomery County Pennsylvania's Historic sites pamphlet. A living legacy of John Potts and family is what you will find when you visit Pottsgrove Manor.

The Colonial home of Mr. John Potts, (descendent of England, founder of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, entrepreneur, businessman, and perhaps the greatest Iron Master in all the Colonies), has been restored, and is now preserved as a Historic House Museum. The interpretive focus of this home is multi-faceted. It is a study in history and culture, architecture and period furnishings, preservation and restoration. Former site Administrator, D. Roger Mower, Jr., in his writing's of Historic Pottsgrove Manor: From Manor to Museum, writes; "Montgomery County's chief aim is to display and interpret Pottsgrove as it was during the 18th century, and the lifestyle of those persons who worked and lived there."

This truly remarkable home has been extensively studied and interpreted, and has been open to the public on a nearly continual basis since September, 1991. Pottsgrove Manor has been under full jurisdiction of Montgomery County, Department of History and Cultural Arts, since receiving the property on a 99 year lease from the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission in 1988. The administrative hierarchy is under leadership from the County Commissioners, (James R. Matthews, Chairman, Thomas Jay Ellis, Esq, and Ruth S. Damsker). The Department of History and Cultural Arts is Directed by Howard W. Gross, while the site is administered by William A. Brobst, and his staff of part time employee's and volunteers. Montgomery County has been involved with this property in one capacity or another since 1942.

In speaking with Mr. William Brobst on several occasions, he expressed a keen respect for the County by being very aware of its historical resources. (Pottsgrove Manor is one of five sites currently operated by this department). Mr. Brobst also noted that Historical Preservation seems to go in waves as a movement of importance, and felt that the current environment, on both a public and private level, was currently on an upswing.

The homes collection of artifacts is comprised primarily of authentic 18th and 19th century pieces in many aspects of the functions and uses of the homes interior. Thanks in large part to Mr. John Potts' personal ledger, (owned by the Pottstown Historical Society); nearly all facets of the home can be traced. From its construction, materials and craftsmen, through its hardware and interior details, to the room-by-room probate inventory of nearly all furnishings. This ledger has been invaluable to the re-creation of this fine 18th century home.

The homes furnishings are on loan from various sources, including the Pottstown Historical Society, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and pieces from several private collections. Some of the homes original antiquities exist in the collection housed at the du Pont families museum of Winterthur, Delaware.

Since 1988, over 3 million dollars has been spent by the County of Montgomery, on the sites restoration, maintenance, and administration and staffing. Public tours are offered year round (closed Mondays and Holidays), and frequent events and exhibits are scheduled regularly on many Colonial era appropriate subjects.

References

  1. Brobst, William A. Administrator, Orator County of Montgomery Department of History and Cultural Arts 25 Sept. 2005
  2. Pottsgrove Manor. Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Pamphlet.
  3. Wood, Robert. President New Hanover Township Historical Society, Pennsylvania Telephone interview. 24 Sept. 2005
  4. "Pottstown Historical Society, Pottstown, Pennsylvania" Pottstown Historical Society Web Site, www.pottstownhistory.org
  5. Pennsylvania. Governors Office "Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania Awards" 23 Sept. 2005

See Map

Street Names: High Street

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