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Amos Palmer House

Lower Makefield Twp, Bucks County, PA


Amos Palmer House

Photo: Amos Palmer House, circa 1760 with at least 4 additions through the 19th and 20th centuries. Located just south of Yardley-Langhorne Road. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Recorded as the Kirkbride-Palmer House in Lower Makefield Township's Historic Landmarks Guide. Photographed by User:Shuvaev (own work), 2012, [cc-by-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed July, 2022.


The Amos Palmer House [†] is an early Georgian farmhouse in lower Bucks County. It incorporates quality brickwork, a formal facade, a plaster cove cornice and a double pile plan with such vernacular features as a box winding main staircase and the absence of a separate stairhall. Nearly all of its original features are either intact or quite readable. The subsequent additions to the house demonstrate the growing needs of farm households in Lower Makefield Township.

The Palmer House was built for Amos Palmer on land his father, Daniel, acquired in 1758. In 1770, Amos Palmer died and it is through the inventory of his estate (which gives a detailed description of the brick section of the house) that his ownership of the house at the time of its construction can be justified. The construction of the house can also be dated by the Georgian and pre-Georgian construction techniques found throughout this small, semi-formal, early house. First, the brickwork, which is of high quality, combines the use of the old English bond on the gable ends of the house with the more contemporary Flemish bond, on the front (also with glazed headers) and rear elevations. The brickwork, with its original scored pointing, demonstrates collective masonry traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries by its use of a molded water table, a belt course at the second floor level and segmental relieving arches over the windows. Of particular note is the enhancement of the beltcourse above the north and south entrance d~ors into a continuous, raised label. This treatment recalls English Tudor traditions and was generally abandoned by the Georgian period when a continuous straight beltcourse was used. Physical evidence currently being uncovered suggests that a projecting bracketed hood may have been set into the outlined rectangle above the north entrance door while a full portico, to protect the south door, was set within the southern facade rectangle.

Second, the cove cornice used on the Palmer House is found only on isolated examples of 18th century architecture in Bucks County. Several known examples of the cove cornice include the Parry Building (1763) in Langhorne Borough, the Buckingham Friends Meeting (1768) and the Cross Keys Inn (ca. 1758), both in Buckingham Township. Its use on the Palmer House adds refinement and sophistication to the exterior presentation of the building emphasizing the classical pediment form of the west gable.

A feature quite unique for the 18th century Bucks County architecture and found on the Palmer House is the formal north facade. Almost exclusively, 18th century farmhouses oriented their primary or formal facade to the south.Only in town architecture did street orientation prevail over southern exposure. On the Palmer House, the north and south facades were basically identical in design but distinguished by formal and every day function. This distinction is primarily evidenced by the use of the glazed headers in the Flemish bond of the north facade. Further evidence of the segregation of the formal and everyday facades is seen in the bricks flanking the south door, which indicate benches were originally built into the brick on either side of the door which was flanked with pilasters (this is not apparent on the north facade). Beyond these distinctions, the facades.are identical; three bays wide with a center door and a blank center bay above. According to the inventory of Amos Palmer, 1770, the back room downstairs, or north room, was used as the parlor where items of value, such as books, money scales and weights, silver buckles, etc., were kept. The front, or south, room was the hall. Each room had a separate outside entrance with the north facade articulated to indicate the formal entrance directly into the parlor. The verbal distinction in the inventory of front and back indicates the traditional perception of the south as the front and the north as the back of a house and contrasts with the fact that the north is the formal entrance to the Palmer House.

Third. the Palmer House, as a modest, two room house, is unusual in mid-18th century Bucks County architecture in demonstrating the double pile floor plan. This plan is essentially a two room, front-to-back plan. Those houses of mid-18th century Bucks County which have the double pile construction generally have a full Georgian plan with parlors flanking the center hall or a separate side hall with the staircase (Trevose (Manor), Bensalem Township; Summerseat, Morrisville Borough; The Alias Strickland House, Newtown Borough; and Jenks Hall, Middletown Township). The Palmer House is unusual in that it has no separate stairhall; instead, the staircase appears to have been located in the south room and was a boxed partial winder.

The use of brick in house construction in 18th century lower Bucks County was not uncommon, but was generally found on better than average farmhouses or in areas where fieldstone was not readily available. Of extant houses in lower Bucks County (Bristol, Falls, Middletown, Lower Makefield and Newtown Township) dating prior to ca. 1800, only approximately twenty can be found of brick or partial brick construction. Out of that number, only six can be documented with erection dates prior to the Revolution. The Amos Palmer House is one of the best preserved examples of documented pre-Revolutionary brick houses of lower Bucks County. The bricks have never been painted and the pointing is original. The combination of English and Flemish bond is unique, and the glazed headers, window arches and enhanced label and beltcourse collectively are exceptional for Bucks County. Two formal country houses of the c. 1760 period which use brick in their construction are Summerseat in Morrisville Borough and the Amos Strickland House (Brick Hotel) in Newtown Borough. Both buildings have dramatic center halls and elaborate woodwork and paneling which show a direct contact with the current Philadelphia trends. Summerseat, constructed of brick and stone, reflects this sophistication on its exterior through its brick-front facade with finely matched bricks and jack arches over the windows. The Strickland House is constructed completely of brick. It is, like Summerseat, of formal plan, scale and interior appointments; but, unlike the Palmer House, is of lesser quality masonry, showing no evidence of window arches or an elaborate beltcourse. Both of these houses, due to the stature of their owners and the formality of their design, can only be tangentially com pared with the Palmer House.

Several more brick buildings of the ca. 1760 period exist for comparison with the Palmer House. The Court Inn (Half Moon Inn) in Newtown Borough was built as a double pile structure with an attached kitchen dependency. Its front (west) facade facing Court Street is highlighted with the glazed header Flemish bond, while the sides and rear are stone. Likewise, the rear section of the Shade Brook Farm house, near the Palmer House, has a glazed header Flemish bond front facade with a modest drip line above a center door. but with no window arches. The Isaac Brelesford House (1769), on Big Oak and Stony Hill Roads, appears to have also been brick, originally. There is no evidence, here, of the Flemish bond having glazed headers: however, it is the only other known example of a raised label beltcourse, which is identical to the one on the Palmer House. The beltcourse at the Brelesford House appears to occur only on the front facade. The Parry Building, built by Gilbert Hicks, is the building outwardly most si m ilar in proportion to the Palmer House. It is a full brick structure, three bays wide and two piles deep in its original section, with Flemish bond brickwork (without glazing) and a plaster cove cornice. The brick chimney is of si m ilar width as the one at the Palmer House.

Comparative illustrations of for mal north facades of the 18th century are scarce. The only known example is the Richardson House (1738) in the center of Langhorne Borough. Located on an important intersection, then known as Pour Lanes End, the Richardson House served a dual function as the home for the family and as a store. The commercial and everyday activities operated out of the south and east sides of the house, with the south facade an asymmetrical five bays. The north facade, facing the main road out of Philadelphia, is a symmetrical three bays wide with a center door and served as the formal entrance for the family. The rooms of the interior along this north side are the most formal of the house and identify the family's private living space.

The use of the double pile plan in the Palmer House the the exterior unity and symmetry of design indicates a house built for someone of taste and, at least, aspiring class. On the other hand, the lack of separate stairhall and the relatively small size of the original section of the house might indicate that the house was built for someone of limited or conservative means. Amos Palmer died in 1770, leaving a will behind: his inventory describes the brick section of the present house. The rooms are very well and fully furnished and indicate Amos was a well-educated man of some means. Household and personal goods include books, several mirrors, two cases of drawers, five horses, a sleigh and several wagons.

Ownership of the Amos Palmer House transferred to the Knight family on March 10, 1786 (Deed Book Volume 60, page 669) and lasted for over a century. Most, if not all, of the additions and alterations to the original brick house were made by the Knights to adapt to growing family and farming needs. The first addition was that of the two and a half story, three bay, one pile stone section, to the east of the brick section, which included a kitchen on the first floor and several bedrooms on the second. Stone additions to early brick houses were not unusual as the fieldstone was plentiful and on-site kilning of the bricks not practical. Plus, additions to moderately sized 18th century farmhouses were quite common by the turn of the century. Generally, new additions became the formal living area of the house, while the original section became the service area. In the case of the Palmer House, the formal design of the original brick house dictated that the addition become the service area.

At some point: in the 19th century, the south room in the brick section was remodeled, at which time the opening to the fireplace was made smaller, the original fireplace paneling was removed and the winding staircase taken out. Although, currently paneling hidden beneath drywall, the original at the staircase wall is extant. A straight staircase was placed in the north parlor of the brick section, possibly as late as the end of the 19th century when the frame addition was built against the south wall. By mid-19th century, the stone section had been added to when the bake oven shed on the east gable end was enlarged to a full-sized kitchen.

Toward the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, frame additions became common. Throughout Bucks County, but particularly in rich agricultural regions such as Lower Makefield Township, two story frame additions were placed to the side or functional rear of houses to add modern kitchen facilities, additional living space, or to accommodate two or more families. The frame two story addition on the south facade of the original brick section of the Palmer House provided a modern kitchen area, an additional bedroom and allowed the house to serve two families. In the early 20th century, under the ownership of the Satterthwaite family, the four bay porch extending across the north fronts of the brick and stone sections was added. This porch hides beltcourse and part of the enhanced !able on the brick section and tends to unify the north facade, belying its actual two family function.

Adapted from: Ray Orr, Kathryn Auerbach, C. Jay Frederich Associates, Amos Pa;mer House, nomination document, 1988, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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