philly mansions are grand houses that often feature high ceilings, large windows and superior stonework. They are the epitome of luxury, and often feature sprawling gardens and state-of-the-art amenities like an expansive kitchen, a three-story foyer and a third-floor gym. Whether it’s a sprawling estate in the suburbs or an opulent townhouse on Philadelphia’s most prestigious blocks, these luxurious homes are all about style and prestige.
During the 18th and 19th Centuries, many of these palatial properties were built as summer retreats for wealthy colonial Philadelphians. Often located in the rolling hills that surrounded the city, these homes were seen as a respite from the heat, humidity and diseases associated with dense urban living.
Palatial Residences: A Glimpse into the Allure of Philly Mansions
Some of these summer homes were designed with the help of leading architects, such as the red-brick Powel House, built in 1769 for Samuel Powel (1738-93). A prosperous shipping merchant and land speculator, Powel enlisted the talents of Philadelphia’s top carvers and craftsmen to create elaborate interior designs that celebrated the country’s rich history.
Others were the work of one individual, such as shipping magnate Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930) and his wife, Elizabeth Sprague Mercer (1857-1998), who built their Gothic Revival estate in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, between 1908 and 1911. Their estate, named Andalusia after the Spanish region, was a model for the suburban mansions built by the PRR’s railroad executives along the Main Line, including the palatial Whitemarsh Hall in Montgomery County (1916-21, demolished 1980). The mansions of the Main Line and Philadelphia’s historic neighborhoods remained visible physical symbols of a version of regional history that emphasized wealth, social status and hierarchy into the twenty-first century.