Abraham Rittenhouse Home
Built ca 1720 on part of the original 20 acre parcel of land acquired by the Rittenhouse family from Samuel Carpenter, the Abraham Rittenhouse Home faces east and overlooks the Monoshone Creek and the mill site complex. Of traditional German construction, the original two and a half story rubble building measured 18 by 30 feet and was capped by a steeply pitched roof. A small enclosed winder staircase linked the first floor with the two rooms above. The two interior ground floor rooms shared a central chimney for heat and cooking. Within the ground floor fireplace evidence for the existence of a five plate jamb stove helps date this structure to before 1760.
Extensive remodeling in the 1830’s raised the roof line to provide a usable third story and replaced the small randomly spaced casement windows with nine over nine windows in the Georgian style. About 30 years later, a two and a half story east wing measuring 22 by 20 feet was added as were the north and south porches. A relocated front door now opened into a center hallway in keeping with the characteristic symmetry of the Georgian plan. These improvements demonstrate the continued prosperity of the Rittenhouse family and their milling operations. That the architectural style changed from German vernacular to Georgian and Federal illustrates the way in which succeeding generations of the Rittenhouse family became assimilated into the predominantly English culture of the community in which they lived.
Although named for Abraham (4*) Rittenhouse, this important example of German vernacular architecture was probably built two generations before Abraham (4*) quite possibly by one of Nicholas (2*) Rittenhouse’s children. The case for its ca 1720 construction is circumstantial but compelling. Despite its current appearance, the original structure was similar in design to the 1707 Rittenhouse Homestead located on the south bank of the Monoshone Creek. [link to Homestead or to picture of the building] Both buildings reflect the older building traditions of the first generations of German immigrants. Located close to the mill site and other early structures, the decision to build the Abraham Rittenhouse Home within 50 yards of the mill site would have been in keeping with the century’s old European tradition of integrating public and private space.
Abraham (4*) Rittenhouse has become associated with this unique early example of vernacular German architecture because the 1772 Lehman survey, created at the death of Abraham’s, (4*) uncle, William (3*), identifies this home as his. [Link to Lehman Map] Tax records spanning a period of eighteen years from 1770 to 1798 give us a detailed accounting of Abraham’s occupation of the house. The Abraham Rittenhouse Home remained in the Rittenhouse family until William Umstead, an eighth generation descendant of William and Gertrude Rittenhouse, sold it to Dr. Mary Ridgway who planned to develop the Providence General Hospital for tuberculosis patients. The Abraham Rittenhouse Home was to be the nurse’s quarters. Her plans failed to materialize and the Abraham Rittenhouse Home was sold to Fairmount Park in 1917.
Although much altered, the Abraham Rittenhouse Home enjoys a rich legacy as one of the oldest surviving buildings in the greater Philadelphia area. Although invisible from the exterior, the original building survives within the structure providing visitors with the opportunity to glimpse what life was like in the early years of the 18th century at RittenhouseTown.
Friends of Historic RittenhouseTown, founded by Hugh Hanson in 1984 to protect and preserve our early industrial village, counts among its first accomplishments the restoration of the Abraham Rittenhouse Home and its conversion into the Visitor Center in 1992. Today the Abraham Rittenhouse Home welcomes over 3000 school children and 10,000 visitors to our National Historic Landmark District. Our gift shop, working model of a water driven paper mill and timeline occupy the first floor.
Photo credits: 6th photo above: Thomas Shoemaker Pictorial Archives of Early American Architecture Collection,
Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
*refers to generation
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