Judge Henry Shippen House
The Judge Henry Shippen House (403 Chestnut St.) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Judge Henry Shippen House is a two and a half story three bay by 6 bay brick residence with mansard roof. It is located on the northeast corner of Chestnut and Liberty streets in Meadville, Pennsylvania. The house is one of a number of elaborate residences in the area which dates from the Federal to the Second Empire period. Built in 1838, it was originally a single, detached dwelling. The rear three bay section on the north side was converted in to a separate unit around 1875 by Evan Shippen, son of the builder.
The facade of the building, formerly red brick, is now painted grey. The mansard roof is asphalt-shingled. The dormers repeat vertical bays except above two street entries. Descriptive scroll shaped brackets with pendants support the cornice and are alternated with modillion blocks. The frieze has bed molding. The north, east and west walls each contain two chimneys. All windows are double sashed, and are either six over six, two over two, or one over one lights. They have lintel-type window leads, except for the west front of the rear section, which has decorated pedimented and segmented window heads. The west wall has a centered bay on the south section and a porch, at the Liberty Street entrance, surrounded by bays on the north section. The entrance door has a pane of glass at the top and a panel below topped with a transom, now covered over. The enclosed porch on the south wall has handsome iron lace detail. The interior door has a pair of vertical glass panes, a panel below, and a four pane transom also covered over. There are decorated pilasters on either side of the door and these are surrounded by three pane sidelights. The east wall on the north section, has lintel-type second story window heads and a 8' by 30' foyer, believed to have served as a carriage entrance.
In 1965, the north section, at 915 Liberty St., was purchased by its present owner. It now accommodates the Crawford County Office for the Aging, and has an apartment on the second floor. All first floor rooms have been paneled; the ceilings have been lowered, and the fireplaces closed. The 403 Chestnut Street address, on the south side, contains the Meadville Chapter of the Red Cross. This interior has kept much of its integrity. All windows and doors on the first and second floors have bulls eye corner block design. Chair railing is evident throughout both levels. All ceilings are about 10'7" high. The fireplaces have been closed but retain their original mantels. The kitchen in the northeast corner has been remodeled and has a connecting door on the east wall which leads to the foyer. A curved banister with plain spindles leads from the first floor to the third which has skylights situated above the stairwell. The second floor contains a bath and storage area in the northeast segment. A double door with paneled over transom leads to the center east wall room. The southeast corner room has a two over two light window on the south wall with four pane sidelights. The southwest corner room has a closed fireplace with Ionic columns on either side of the opening. The small northeast corner room on the third floor also has a closed fireplace. The northwest corner room was never completed and is covered with 12" plank flooring.
Associated with one of Meadville's more prominent families, the Judge Henry Shippen House is one of Meadville's best examples of a fashionable in-town residence. Notable for its fine proportions and excellent workmanship, the house was adapted to the latest architectural styles during the late nineteenth century and today reflects the taste and sophistication of Meadville during that time.
Henry Shippen came to the village of Meadville in 1825 after being appointed Judge of the Sixth Judicial District. The grandson of Philadelphia's first mayor, Shippen built this sophisticated house in 1838 to accommodate his growing family. Unfortunately the Judge died a year later leaving his widow, Margaret Shippen, to rear their ten children. After the Judge's death Mrs. Shippen became increasingly active in the Unitarian Church. Between 1840 and 1860 Mrs. Shippen opened her home to numerous Unitarian functions and the house became a Unitarian headquarters of sorts. After Mrs. Shippen's death in the late 1860's her son Evan obtained the house, converted it from its original Federal style to the Second Empire style and had the interior space converted into two apartments. Occupied by an exclusive clientele through the early 20th century, the house remained an anchor within Meadville's most fashionable neighborhood.
Evan Shippen is responsible for the present appearance of the Shippen House. The oldest son of Judge Henry Shippen and an iron furnace manager in Lancaster, York and Philadelphia during the 1850's and 60's. Evan Shippen, in the 1870's, sought to enhance the house's appearance as well as make the house profitable. Originally Federal in style, Evan converted the house to the Second Empire style decorative scroll-shaped brackets with pendants and alternating with modillion blocks were built to support a new cornice. A frieze with bed molding, iron lace detailing on the south porch, and a mansard roof which was built to replace the original hipped roof were also added. On the interior the house was partitioned into two apartments, but all the original woodwork was retained. The result of these changes permits an insight into the evolution of domestic architectural design in Meadville.
The Henry Shippen House is today considered by the people of Meadville as one of the town's earliest and more important dwellings.
Bates, Samuel P., Brown R.C., Mansfield, J.B. et al. History of Crawford County, PA Chicago: Warner, Beers and Company, 1885.
Bibliographic files — by street address — created for the Crawford County Historical Society by Virginia LeSueur, in conjunction with a 1975 unpublished research work titled "Placing" Bits & Pieces of Meadville's First Hundred Years & with such plaquing as in Appendix H.