Ury House -- 1936

Ury House
Ury House represents three centuries of growth and development in building. It began life in 1645 or thereabouts. As the legend goes, some Swedes coming out by sailing vessel from the Mother Country, to join fellow countrymen in the New World, passed their original destination, the Delaware settlement in the night and continued up the Delaware River as far as the mouth of the Penny Pack Creek. Here they separated into parties to hunt for the Delaware Colony. One group paddled up the Penny Pack Creek and camped on the ridge beyond Verreeville. Here they built the old Swedish Fortress, which became the heart of the present Ury House, with its thick stone walls (they had to use dynamite when changes were made in Ury House in 1900), low ceilings, a forge in the cellar, a bake oven set in the kitchen wall and sleeping quarters and attic above. To this Swedish Fortress the original settlers came from their surrounding cabins to bake their bread, weld their farming implements and mold their leaden bullets. It offered refuge too, when the need arose from their marauding and none too friendly neighbors, the Indians. An iron fire back found in the old Swedes Hall, bearing the coat of arms of their king, Gustvus Adolphus of Sweden, fixes a date somewhere in the sixteen forties for the Swedish portion of the house. The first addition to the old Swedish Fort was made in 1728, and a fire back (there is one like it bearing the same date in the Stenton Mansion!) set in the wall over the mantel shelf in the rafftered hall, marks the addition of three spacious rooms, one above the other, with fire place and chimney, at the west side of old Swedes Hall. It was so very low, by the way, that Uncle Charley Jones, six foot four inches, to be sure, could with great ease, reach up and scratch his nose on the ceiling.

We know little further about these original settlers than that they were Swedes who came to join their Countrymen in this New Sweden so called until 1682 when William Penn arrived from England with his grant from Charles II and founded the Quaker Colony of Pennsylvania as a haven in the New World for the persecuted Society of Friends. The Quakers resolved to treat the Indians with perfect equality and to live, as their religion demanded, in accordance with the Spirit of the Gospel, and of its joyous tidings at the birth of Christ of "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will among men" suggested Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, as the name for its Capital City. One of the leaders of the Society of Friends, Miers Fisher, purchased the old Swedes Hall and its surrounding tract of one hundred acres for his home early in the seventeen eighties. He named the place Ury after the home in Scotland of Robert Barclay, the famous Quaker Theologian and author of the Standard Work on Quaker Doctrine the "Apology for the True Christian Divinity". Miers Fisher built the parlors on the West side of the house and made extensive alterations and additions to Ury House and did much besides to improve the exterior of the house and unify the three distinct sections. To give uniformity of appearance to the facade, with its two original three story buildings on the East and center and its two story drawing room addition windows at the West of the entrance hall. These windows were the occasion of much merriment and many witticisms based on the absence of window glass, and the wags expressed constant surprise that a man so famous for his hospitality as Miers Fisher, should greet his guests with Champagne and no glasses. Miers Fisher planted the famous double avenue of white pines leading to the house, of which traces still remain, laid out the six square Colonial Box Gardens at the East of the house, and did much to make "Ury" the well appointed home of the Country Gentleman of the day. It was Miers Fisher's pleasure to receive and entertain at "Ury" the leading men and scientists of Philadelphia, at that time the Capital of the Federal States. Among these, Thomas Jefferson came to "Ury" and planted the famous pecan tree on the back lawn, blown down by a winter's storm as recently as 1928. Audubon, the Ornithologist and Author of "Birds of America", spent many months at "Ury" in the early eighteen hundreds, in order that he might consult with Moore, the Ornithologist of this region, a queer old man who lived in a log house over looking the Penny Pack Creek, just east of Pine Road and gave his life to study of the habits and customs of his neighbors--the birds.

In 1841 Stephen Rowen Crawford, the grandfather of present owner, purchased Ury House and farm and made further extensive changes in the house and grounds, and "Ury" continued to be the rendezvous for distinguished people of Philadelphia. Mrs. Crawford relates that during her first summer at "Ury" she was startled one day when a wonderful one horse shay drew up at the front door and out stepped a dear old lady in hoops and asked to be permitted to see again the old rafftered hall where George Washington had dined. She was a young girl at the time and had waited on the "General". It was early in June when strawberries from the garden were at their best. Unfortunately, however, in the excitement over their distinguished guest, they served salt on the strawberries instead of sugar. There is corroboration for this tale in the "Washington Table", which the late Mr. Samuel Parrish of New York, a great grandson of Miers Fisher, has preserved as a relic of Ury House, in his Museum at Southampton Long Island.

To meet the demands of growing families and a Boys Boarding School carried on by Mrs. Crawford from 1860 to 1881, at "Ury", rooms have been added and removed at Ury House during the past ninety years, and in the grounds various blights have carried off, first the cedar trees and then the chestnuts and are now threatening the elms. But in spite of the fact that within the past fifty years, with more regard for comfort than for history, the ceilings of the old Swedes Hall have been raised and the sham windows removed from the front facade, the walls are still the same at Ury House, as the winding passages within the house attest--and the many twists and turns and up and down flights of steps and windows looking out, not into the world, but into another room, give evidence of three centuries in the growth and development of the Ury House of today.
H. Jean Crawford, "Ury House" (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Frankford, 1936.11.27).




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