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Ury House

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The notion that Ury House was "originally a fort built by Swedish Refugees in 1645" can be traced back no further than 1892, when the Reverend S. F. Hotchkin, in The York Road, Old and New, introduced the idea of Ury House being of Swedish colonial origin. Earlier, Townsend Ward, in the 1880 article "Second Street and the Second Street Road and their Associates" published in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. IV, states, "The old house on the place is supposed to have been erected prior to 1700, and this seems probable, not only from the great thickness of the walls, but also from the lowness of the ceilings which are but six and a half feet in height," and "A deed of 1728 recites that the Taylors had held the land at Ury for a time beyond the memory of man." Simply put, the history of Ury House prior to 1728 is only supposition and likely to remain an open question. As someone who presently lives three hundred feet southeast of where Ury House stood, I'd like to present a more responsible history of Ury House and this place.



Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Ury House (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: watercolor and graphite, circa 1811), 51 x 61 cm.



Latrobe's watercolor sketch of Ury House may indeed be the earliest pictorial record of Ury House.

2013.01.19 19:07
19 January

This [above] is what the place where I now live looked like about 202 years ago. It is a watercolor sketch of Ury House by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

The sketch is presently within the Print and Photograph Division of the Library of Congress,where it is [mis]labeled as "Probably Long Branch, the Robert Carter Burnwell house, Clarke County, Va." But when you compare this watercolor to a 1824 sketch of "Miers Fisher's Place" by Charles Wilson Peale (who also painted a portrait of Latrobe)...



...the similarity of the two drawings is virtually exact. Plus, the ground contour of Latrobe's sketch matches Ury's.



From The Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1994):
"Much more tentative is the possibility of alterations to the countryseat of Miers Fisher. In the 1812 annual exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Latrobe submitted a "View of the Seat of Miers Fisher, Esq.," probably a watercolor. This was Ury, an old house some ten miles north of Central Philadelphia that Fisher had purchased in 1795 and added to "considerably." Latrobe's having drawn the house leads one to wonder if he might have played some professional role here."

Miers Fisher kept a copious daily journal throughout all his years of retirement at Ury. I have a copy of his 1812 journal, but there is no mention of Latrobe therein. I feel very confident now, however, that were I to go and get a copy of Miers' 1811 and 1810 journal, I'd find Latrobe mentioned there.



The much-further-altered Ury House was demolished 1973. The house I live in now is situated approximately just within the left side of the gap in the tree-line to the right. In fact, some of those very trees in the watercolor may still exist today (albeit in my neighbors' yards). When I look out the window next to where I'm sitting right now, a little slice of the distant horizon is still to be seen.


2013.01.27 11:29
19 January

"A watercolor view by Latrobe that was thought to be connected with the design of the [Burwell] house [Long Branch] (fig. above) could be taken as an indication of his limited influence: it shows what would be Long Branch's southern front and eastern flank with the proper number of bays, with the hipped roof, and the recessed center, but without its eastern wing, its southern Ionic portico, and its square cupola. More significantly, it shows a different vertical sequence of openings and internal rather than perimeter chimneys. ... Unless further documentary evidence is forthcoming, it seems unwarranted to think of the Long Branch as a house "Latrobe is known to have designed.""
Jeffrey A. Cohen and Charles E. Brownell, The Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe: Architectural Drawings, Volume 2: The Architectural Drawings of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Part 2 (1994), p. 335.

It is unfortunate the authors of the definitve work on Latrobe did not know that the watercolor drawing in question was in fact Ury House, because they might not have been so dismissive of Latrobe's involvement at Long Branch, and Latrobe's involvement at Ury would have received more attention than a footnote.

And what is most likely the last pictorial record of Ury House is a 1970 series of photographs within the City of Philadelphia, Department of Records. Ury House was demolished in 1973.



Seventeen images of Ury House are available at phillyhistory.org, search: 8400 Pine Road. The images's accompanying site location map, however, is in error; the markers point to buildings within the Medical Mission Sisters' Headquarters, where as Ury House was located on the east side of Pine Road within the midst of the present Montclair Apartments, just south of the intersection of Kendrik and Alicia Streets.

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