Monday, November 23, 2009

Fountain Green, the Seat of Mr. S. Meeker

Fountain Green, as it was, when Meeker owned the property.

There seems to be a classical statue between the residence and the Schuylkill river; it can be recalled here that it was still common at this time for young men of privilege to undertake the Grand Tour, the educational rite of passage. Visiting Rome was a high priority, and classical artwork was the rage. ( I have no idea if Samuel took such a trip, but this would explain the presence of such artwork.) Three classic tall thin cypress trees would cast soothing shade in the area behind the statue. If one looks closely, the bath house seems to be in the distance on the far side of the house. Under the bridge exists a canal, about which Birch says, "Upon the half ascent of the bank from the river, the new canal will pass the house and if ever finished, will become a great ornament to the place."
However Emily Cooperman (editor, see below for citation) writes, "One of the principle motives behind the construction of the Schuylkill canal was to enable coal to be transported more readily from upriver. The portion of the canal shown in Birch's view does not survive."

It is almost certain that Samuel used this country estate as a second residence; for leisure activities, as a source to provide fresh foodstuffs, for entertainment (he was a member of the fox hunting club, the stall could hold up to eight horses), to escape the hot summers in the city, and to escape the periodic yellow fever epidemics which swept through Philadelphia every few years.
I speculate that it was here, in this residence, that Samuel and his twin sister Phebe celebrated their 40ieth birthday in 1803, when Samuel gifted his Stuart portrait to his sister. The two large rooms on the bottom floor, and the sprawling scenic grounds would have served very well for an elegant garden party!

"Fountain Green included 25 acres of land "divided into lots " and a "good two-story dwelling house, with two rooms on the first floor, three on the second, and two ceiled garrets; two stone wings, one occupied as a kitchen, the other as a lodging room; a good stone barn, with stable room for eight horses; a frame cow stable, having stalls for seven cows, and hay-loft above; a most excellent spring house, with suitable accomodations for a tenant, or overseer; a plunging bath, covered with a neat frame building, used as a wash house, two good bearing orchards of the best kinds of grafted fruit; highly cultivated [vegetable] gardens, and a variety of different kinds of fruit trees, and grape vines." (taken from the newspaper Claypoole's American Daily Advertiser) The Country Seats of the United States by William Russell Birch, edited & with introduction by Emily T. Cooperman, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 2009

The non-pretentious air of the residence in terms of architecture (compared to the other country seats as depicted by Birch), the practical uses of the land (for animals, growing food & lodging), the calm bucolic beauty of the landscape.... point to a man who could balance his life between the creation of wealth in the city, and the pursuit of happiness in the undisturbed quiet of nature.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My ancestor's house turned into a brewery, and ...... a can of beer on my desk....Hopfen und Malz Gott erhalt's!

I just bought a CAN OF BEER on ebay (sitting on my desk in above photo)! But this is no ordinary can of beer, it is a collector's can issued in 1978 to "honor the men who created the Brewing Industry in this country." This brewery, called Engel and Wolf, was built on exactly the spot of my gt gt gtnth uncle Samuel Meeker's country estate, the only thing that seems to have stayed the same is the name, "FOUNTAIN GREEN". {there of course is no beer in the can altho there was when issued (two small holes on the bottom) &... if you look closely you can see the name 'Fountain Green' under the word BREWERY}
on the can
  • Charles Engel and Charles Wolf had the first large brewery in Philadelphia to make lager beer. It was conveniently situated beside the Columbia Railroad on the Schuylkill River about one mile above the Fairmount Waterworks
  • The brewery was built in 1849 at Fountain Green, now a part of Fairmount Park & included five large vaults cut out of solid rock for cooling and storage of their well known beer


  • Through this series of specially commissioned signed artwork "The History of American Breweries", we honor the men who created the Brewing Industry in this country.
  • The Huber Brewery has brewed for this Edition a CLASSIC BEER as it used to be.
  • We at Huber salute these vanished American breweries.
  • Hopfen und Malz Gott erhalt's! Hops and Malt God preserve them!

Fountain Green, a country estate owned by Samuel Meeker, eventually turned into a brewery. Most Fortuitously (for me), in 1800 British artist William Russel Birch set out to draw some of the finest country residences in the American Nation [The Country Seats of the United States of North America (1808)]; in these depictions not only the architecture of the villas but also the special role of nature is illustrated, he says in his introduction, "The comforts and advantages of a Country Residence, after Domestic accomodations are consulted, consist more in the beauty of the situation, than in the massy magnitude of the edifice......In the United States the face of nature is so variegated; Nature has been so sportive and the means so easy of acquiring positions fit to gratify the most refined and rural enjoyment, that labour and expenditure of Art is not so great as in Countries less favoured...."

One of these fine 'edifices' gracing the countryside on the banks of the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania was known as Fountain Green purchased by Meeker at auction in 1799 from the merchant Johnathan Mifflin.

More on this house, and Birch's illustration of the country estate ...soon. As well as more on the BREWERY !

Saturday, November 14, 2009

1796 ~ Pennsylvania Ave is a common country road; a mud-bespattered President, and (like today!), a 'Washington Mess'

George Washington
IN the last entry the Tayloe house called the Octagon was described; built in Washington DC 1799 with the express intent to be near the center of political power, although at that time one needed to exercise much imagination to forsee such a development. In fact ...A Lot of Imagination!

The following descriptions are taken from "Social Life in the Early Republic" by Anne H. Wharton.

[1796] a common country road....

"Faith in things invisible was much needed in the early days of the capital, and for some years to come, when Pennsylvania Avenue was little better than a common country road. "On either side of this avenue," says Mr. Latrobe, "were two rows of Lombardy poplars, between which was a path often filled with stagnant water and with crossing-places at intersecting streets. Outside of the poplars was a narrow footway, on which carriages often intruded to deposit their occupants at the brick pavements on which the few houses scattered along the avenue abutted. In dry weather the avenue was all dust, in wet weather all mud; and along it 'The Royal George,' an old-fashioned, long-bodied four-horse stage, either rattled with members of Congress from Georgetown in a halo of dust, or pitched like a ship in a seaway among the holes and ruts of this national highway. The Capitol itself stood on the brink of a steep declivity clothed with old oaks and seamed with numerous gullies. Between it and the Navy Yard were a few buildings, scattered here and there over an arid common and following the amphitheatre of hills from the southeast around to the heights of Georgetown,--houses few and far between indicated the beginning of the present city." pp58-9

[1800] an American President bespattered with mud....

"An interesting and varied life was that of Washington and the older towns surrounding it in the early years of the last century [1800s]. Upon the heavy dirt road that stretched between the White House and the Capitol was often to be seen the spare, slight figure of the Democratic President, well mounted, not very well dressed, frequently unattended, and not seldom bespattered with mud, while nearby the elegant gilded coach of the French or Spanish minister made its way with difficulty throught the tenacious clay." p78

& "The Washington Mess"....

The following November, when Congress met in the federal city for the first time [1800], the White House was still in an unfinished condition, and accomodations for Congressmen were quite insufficient. The Indian Queen had not yet hung out its sign of the Princess Pocahontas, nor had the sun of the famous Gadsby's, dear to the Congressional soul, yet arisen. The cost of living in the federal city in these early days was not great. The rate at the Indian Queen, kept by one Jesse Brown, was one dollar and a half per day, brandy and whiskey being free,--all too free, it sometimes appeared, especially on holidays, when the landlord dispensed liberal potations of egg-nog from a huge punch-bowl that had been used at Mount Vernon. A few boarding-houses there were at this time; but the large army of impecunious ladies who made Washington a city of boarding-houses rather than a city of homes had not yet arrived. A little later we read of Mrs. Matchin's on Capitol Hill, where Mr. Varnum, from Massachusetts, Speaker of the House, resided, and of Mrs. Wilson's, also on Capitol Hill, where Mr. Clinton lived during his term as Vice-President, in company with five Senators and fifteen Representatives, composing what was familiarly spoken of as "The Washington Mess." p73
"Social Life in the Early Republic" by Anne H. Wharton; Corner House Publishers, Williamstown, Massachusetts 1970, first published 1902

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The random monthly pick: Mrs. John Tayloe and ghostly tales

Mrs. John Tayloe by Gilbert Stuart, Washington 1804
Ann Tayloe is probably most known nowadays for being the owner/resident of the famous house called “The Octagon” designed by Dr. W. Thornton (the first architect of the U.S. Capitol), which still exists today. The site of this home, 18th Street and New York Avenue, was only two blocks from the Potomac and its construction between 1799 and 1801 formalized a plan of streets, avenues, and parks in this still undeveloped, forested area of Washington. Ann’s husband, entrepreneur with political aspirations, had plenty of incentive to choose this undeveloped area to place their new home; it would be close to the center of power, just to the east the President's house was being built. The Tayloes were also quite patriotic and often entertained the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and James Madison. During the war of 1812, the White House was burned by the British, and the Tayloes offered use of their house to President Madison and his wife Dolley as a temporary "Executive Mansion".
Here the Tayloes raised a family of 15 children, eight of which were daughters famed for their beauty and wealth. The Tayloes sold the Octagon in 1855, after Mrs. Tayloe's death. Today, the American Architectural Foundation owns the Octagon House.

Rather piquant; The Octagon is associated with GHOST STORIES. During the War of 1812, one of the Tayloe daughters fell in love with a British officer, and her father, solidly diasapproving of the romance, forbade her from seeing him further. After an illicit meeting with her lover, she snuck back into the house, her father caught her on the stairway and a violent argument ensued and somehow the young woman lost her balance and plunged over the spiral staircase to her death.
There are reports of a flickering candle shadow moving up the stairs, screams and
a thump at the bottom of the stairs! There are reports of Dolley Madison's ghost seen roaming the house after her death, still wearing her elegant clothes and the feathered turban! During the Civil War the place was used as a hospital. People still hear the sobbing and moans of the dead.......................

Ann Ogle Tayloe III (Mrs. John Tayloe III, 1772-1855) and her daughters Rebecca Plater Tayloe (1797-c. 1800) and Henrietta Hill Tayloe (Mrs. Henry Greenfield Sotheron Key, 1794-1832) 1799
Maryland Historical Society; artist is unattributed

From Lawrence Park:
Mrs John Tayloe
She was Ann Ogle, daughter of Governor Benjamin and Henrietta (Hill) Ogle of Maryland. She married John Tayloe in 1792, and from 1801 to her death was prominent in Washington social life.
Colonel John Tayloe
He was a son of the Honorable John and Rebecca (Plater) Tayloe of "Mt. Airy," Richmond County, Virginia. Educated at Eton, where he had as schoolmates the Duke of Wellington and George Canning, he was graduated from Christ Church, Cambridge, in 1791, and returned to America to assume control of the largest estate in Virginia and an income of $60,000. a year. In 1792 he married Ann Ogle and established a household unrivaled in Virginia for splendor. He was an active member of the Federal party and a warm friend of Washington, of whom he owned a portrait by Stuart. Defeated in 1799 for Congress; in the following year he built Octagon House in Washington, in which he passed his winters the remainder of his life, and became prominent in Washington social life. He was president of the first United States branch bank in Washington; commanded in 1812 the cavalry of the District of Columbia; built Willard's Hotel in 1818, and dying at Octagon House, was buried with his ancestors at "Mt. Airy."

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