A thoughtful steward of inspirational historical properties
The Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks (aka “PhilaLandmarks”) is a thoughtful and foresighted steward of unique historic home museums. These historic properties include “Powel House” and “Hill-Physick House” in downtown Philadelphia, “Historic Waynesborough” in Wayne, and the charmingly named “Grumblethorpe” in Germantown. PhilaLandmarks maintains these historic properties and their collections for the long-term, keeping them open and well-used by many different audiences, in many different ways, with the aim of inspiring people to learn about history and engage with their community.
The story of PhilaLandmarks goes back to 1931, when prominent Philadelphian Frances Anne Wister became aware that historic “Powel House” in the Old City district was headed for demolition to make way for a taxicab parking lot. Considered one of the finest American examples of Georgian architecture, Powel House was the residence of Samuel and Elizabeth Powel for nearly three decades starting in 1769. The Powels were one Philadelphia’s original “power couples,” well-connected and known for entertaining prominent guests including their close friends George and Martha Washington, as well as Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Adams, and many other luminaries of the American Revolution.
When Frances Anne Wister toured Powel House in 1931 she found it in poor condition—the plaster cracked, its back open to the elements, and most of the original interior woodwork sold off by previous occupants. But, understanding the building’s historic importance, she quickly began rallying prominent Philadelphians and others to join her in saving the property from the wrecking ball. The group quickly raised funds to purchase and restore Powel House to its former glory, and Frances (to her surprise) was made president of the organization that would become PhilaLandmarks. After more than seven years of work, the Powel House was opened as a museum dedicated to Colonial Revivalism and featuring furnishings and stories of the Powels and their guests.
PhilaLandmarks went on to establish three more historic house museums and today continues its ongoing mission to identify, preserve, restore, furnish, and present the city’s important early structures. PhilaLandmarks believes that historic preservation shows the value of what endures in our society, and its historical, educational and cultural programming let these historic sites inspire people to learn about history and engage more deeply with their communities past, present and future.