Jacob Rittenhouse Home
Nestled in the narrow valley created by the Monoshone Creek as it flows toward the Wissahickon, the ca. 1810 Jacob Rittenhouse Home stands on part of the original 20 acre parcel of land acquired by William (1*) Rittenhouse from wealthy Philadelphian, Samuel Carpenter, in the late 17th century. By the middle of the 18th century, William (3*) Rittenhouse, grandson of mill founder, William (1*) Rittenhouse and father of Jacob (4*) Rittenhouse, had amassed nearly 200 acres of land and began dividing his large holdings among his six sons. In 1760, sons Jacob (4*) and Abraham (4*) jointly received 18 of those original 20 acres. Within a few years they had divided them with Jacob (4*) taking the southern 8.5 acres and control of the ca. 1703 paper mill built by his great grandfather. For the next fifty years, Jacob (4*) either ran or leased the nearby mill and lived in one or more dwellings on his property. His was the last generation of Rittenhouse family members to produce paper from the early Rittenhouse mill.
The present day sites of both the Jacob and adjacent Enoch Rittenhouse Homes were also part of Jacob (4*) Rittenhouse’s portion of his father’s property although neither structure existed in 1760 when Jacob (4*) took control. As late as 1798, the Direct Tax for that year tells us that Jacob (4*) owned a dwelling on his land but the dimensions given are not those of either structure. In fact, no clear documentary evidence for the Jacob Rittenhouse Home exists prior to the 1876 will of Isaac (6*) Rittenhouse. In 1855, Isaac (6*) had inherited the property from his uncle, Enoch (5*) Rittenhouse, nephew of Jacob (4*) and heir to Jacob’s (4*) property in 1811. At Isaac’s (6*) death in 1876, the inventory of the contents of his house included a description of the home’s layout which coincides with that of the Jacob Rittenhouse Home as it exists today.
Despite the lack of documentary evidence for the existence of the Jacob Rittenhouse Home before 1876, physical evidence from the building’s interior indicates that construction occurred during a period of architectural transition in the first decades of the 19th century. Within the home elements of the older vernacular German style (including the locating of fireplaces on interior walls) join with an English Georgian floor plan and Federal details decorate an essentially Greek Revival fireplace mantle to produce what the Historic Structure Report (2004) calls a transitional structure being of not ‘one style or another but uniquely its own . . . a building that echoes traditions of the past and follows conventions of style while drawing on new fashions, often incorporating them in novel ways’. The Report concludes that ‘the combination of new and old elements in the same structure date [it] to the period 1810 to 1830’
At the time of Jacob’s (4*) death in 1811, war between the United States and Great Britain was looming. The War of 1812 precipitated a four year blockade of British goods including supplies of much needed paper and brought a brief boom to the water driven milling businesses in the valley. But by the beginning of the second decade of the 19th century, new technology required new energy sources and paper making began to undergo the same transition to modern mechanized production as did many of the other industries operating nearby.
From an east window in the home’s front parlor residents of the newly constructed Jacob Rittenhouse Home would have looked out upon the ca. 1703 paper mill built by William (1*) and Nicholas (2*) Rittenhouse. The busy thorofare running along side the mill and connecting the early nearby settlement at Germantown with Roxborough and the industrial community at Manayunk which lay beyond along the Schulkyll River would have reminded them that they were quite literally at the crossroads between old and new. Thus, both in terms of its architectural style as well as its location and date of construction, the Jacob Rittenhouse Home can be seen as an important link between the early years of paper making along the Monoshone Creek and the later years of industrialization as water mills came to be replaced by modern machinery capable of producing vast quantities of high quality items including paper.
Jacob (4*) Rittenhouse died in 1811 when he was nearly 80 years old and it seems unlikely that he actually undertook construction of this large home during the last decade of his life. None the less, it is in keeping with his prominence as miller for nearly 50 years that the Jacob Rittenhouse Home honors his name.
Photo credits: 5th photo above – Thomas Shoemaker ca, 1900,
6th photo above – West Village – photographer unknown;
in Fairmount Park Archives ca. 1880
*refers to generation
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