The City of Philadelphia acquired Mount Pleasant in 1869. It was restored in 1926 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Mount Pleasant is a National Historic Landmark. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.
The main block of Mount Pleasant is two-and-one-half stories high, with rubble masonry walls 18 inches thick, upon a base of grey ashlar, 6 feet high. The outside walls are stuccoed with yellow buff roughcast, scored to resemble ashlar stone masonry. A horizontal belt of red brick runs around the entire house and heavy quoins of the same material frame the corners and are repeated on the sides of the pavilions on the east and west facades. Lintels of stone, incised in imitation of flat arches, span the window openings whose broad frames are uniformly white. These lintels were unpainted to match the natural gray cut stone of the basement windows which fortunately escaped the brush during the last painting. Also the correct color for the stucco is a soft barely salmon pink to contrast with the deep red of the brick, the white woodwork and a gray roof. The current green hipped roof should be replaced with cedar shakes, original samples of which were found under the gables.
The roof, chimneys, and elaborate dormers are among the most important architectural details of the building. Above the heavy cornice with prominent modillions the hipped roof rises, pierced on both sides by two elaborate dormers with fanlight windows under gable roofs and flared scrolls at the base. It is surmounted by a beautifully balustraded belvedere and two great brick chimney stacks, one at each end of the building, with four arched openings near the top, which give stately presence to the whole. The principal feature of the facade on both the east and west is the slightly projecting central pavilion with an ornate Palladia window. Ionic pilasters frame the sides and the whole rests on four consoles above the pedimented Doric portico with full entablature.
The dormers, quoins, beltcourse, and window lintels are repeated on the two dependencies which are located to the north and south of the building. These are set forward on the east, forming a triangular composition. The south dependency is missing part of the crown of its roof. It should be corrected to retain the bell shape, which is a distinctive feature which should be maintained. ... The first floor of this building was originally a summer kitchen.
Inside, the house has a central main hallway that is unbroken by a stairway. The stair is located in a small, separate hall at the southeast corner. The hall has a deep Roman Doric cornice and wainscot of broad boards. The doorways have eared frames and finely dentiled pediments with a pulvinated architrave frieze. Fluted Doric pilasters mark the junction of the stair hall to the main hall. To the north of the hall, a drawing room extends the full length of the house, dominated by a great chimney piece with an over mantel ornamented with bands of Greek fret design. This is flanked by elaborately pedimented false doors which are balanced by shallow niches on the opposite wall, The dining room to the south has a paneled chimney wall with semicircular headed side cupboards.
The main stair has a gracefully curved banister and paneled wainscoting, accented by small, fluted pilasters which forms another handrail mirroring the profile of the banister. On the second floor, the junction of the two halls is marked by fluted Ionic pilasters in keeping with the lighter effect of the smaller scaled modillioned cornice. Ionic pilasters also form the interior frame for the Palladian windows located at either end of the main hall. Here the first two door frames have broken pediments while those to the west have full pediments. The most elaborate room is located in the southwest corner. A light cornice with Greek fret frieze surrounds the room. TO either side of the fireplace and foliate crested over mantel are two semicircular cupboards framed in broken pediments with a similar Greek fret design. The frames are repeated on the opposite wall balancing the entrance and blind doors. The third floor contains four bedrooms with corner fireplaces and a molded chair rail with no wainscoting.
Mount Pleasant, located in Fairmount Park on the east bank of the Schuylkill River, has been called the most important Georgian architectural block in the Middle Colonies. Built in 1761-62 by John MacPherson, Scottish sea captain and privateer, the mansion is probably the only surviving example in the Middle Colonies of a symmetrical late Georgian composition of three units, found so frequently in the Southern Colonies. The exterior is ruble masonry coated with stucco, scored to resemble stone masonry, with prominent brick quoins at the corners. The east and west facades are identical, with pavilions framing arched doorways, above which are Palladian windows opening onto each end of the second floor hall. It is also one of the finest and most elaborate examples of a late Georgian interior, not only in the Middle Colonies, but in all of American Georgian design. The first floor consists of a large, center entrance hall which extends from the east to west. The stairway is placed in the southeast corner in a separate hall. The three second story rooms are especially notable for their design and workmanship, most evident in the scrolled ornamentation and arched cupboard doors in the chamber on the southwest corner. Although the land around the house has been changed, Mount Pleasant still retains some of the imposing character it must have presented to the 18th century traveller as he approached its hilltop position.
Mount Pleasant was begun late in 1761 by John MacPherson, Scottish sea captain who made a large fortune through privateering. The house was a showplace, both for its physical splendor and for the lavish entertainments which were constantly held. Around the house, a working farm or plantation was maintained. After suffering financial setbacks, MacPherson sought the chief command of the American Navy at the outbreak of the Revolution. When he failed in that attempt, he leased Mount Pleasant to Don Juan de Merailles, the Spanish ambassador. Then in 1779 MacPherson sold the property to General Benedict Arnold, who was then in command of Philadelphia, following its evacuation by the British. He lived there with his bride, Peggy Shippen, until its confiscation at the time of his flight to the British lines. Mount Pleasant was then leased to Baron von Steuben for a short time. After passing through several hands, it finally fell to General Jonathan Williams of Boston.