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Location: Bryn Mawr, PA
Date Built: 1704
Harriton House once sat on a 700 acre land tract known as Welsh Barony or Welsh Tract which was granted from William Penn in 1682. Currently Harriton sits on a 16 1/2 park which is open to the public. The house was originally built in 1704 by Rowland Ellis (1650-1731) a Welsh Quaker who arrived from Delgellau, Merionethshire in 1687. It was named Bryn Mawr which means high hill from Ellis's farm in Wales. Rowland Ellis served as a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, tax commissioner, tax assessor, justice of the peace, overseer of Radnor Meeting, and overseer of the Quaker public schools in Philadelphia. Due to financial problems, the house had to be sold in 1719.
Harriton House received a its new name when it was bought by a Maryland tobacco planter, Richard Harrison. Harriton is a combination of Harrison's name and his Philadelphian wife, Hannah Norris whose family held vast holdings under the name of Norriton. Since Harrison was from Maryland, he brought black slaves with him to his new home. Harriton was believed to be the northernmost tobacco plantation in the colonies prior to the American Revolution. Harrison profited from his tobacco plant until his death in the 1740's
Portrait of Charles Thomson on the right
Charles Thomson married Harrison's daughter, Hannah who had inherited the property the same year. Four days later Thomson was elected as the first and only Secretary to the Continental Congresses. In 1789, he traveled to Mt Vernon to notify George Washington that he had become the first President of the United States. He is remembered as the designer of the Great Seal of the United States. He was against the Declaration of Independence as an official resolution of Congress. He was also an avid beekeeper and an agriculturist in his retirement years.
He was also a strong abolitionist who gave his slaves shares. He also completed the first translation of the Bible from Greek to English in 1808. He taught Greek and Latin in the Quaker schools of Philadelphia earlier in his career. He remained friends and continued correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. In a foretelling letter to Jefferson, he stated that slavery was like an cancer on this great new country and would lead to bloodshed if not resolved by religion, philosophy, or reason.
Charles and Hannah had no children. The house eventually descended to a blood relative of Hannah's sister, Naomi McClenachan. Harriton was the home of Naomi's tenant farmers through the 19th century. In 1901, William Austin built his manor house known as Beaumont on half of the acreage he acquired. Frederick Huggler, a dairy manager was the last owner of Harriton until his death in 1927.
The house no longer was owned by the family after Huggler's death. Lower Merion Township purchased the property and opened the property up as a historic site in 1969. It has been restored to the period of Charles Thomson's occupancy.
Today Harriton House has a community vegetable garden and orchard on its spacious park. There is also an apiary and beekeeping program. In the former dairy barn a horse, three sheep, and two goats are stored. The administrative and interpretative center are located in the dairy barn.
Tour hour are held from Wednesday through Saturday, 10-4. Admission is $4.00 per adult, students free. There are educational programs held throughout the year. Check their website for ongoing events. For you colonial enthusiasts, Harriton Plantation Fair takes place September 26th from 10 am to 4 pm. The major event features bluegrass music and colonial songs. On site will be blacksmiths, soldiers, stone carvers, cabinetmakers, spinners, weavers, crafts, pony rides, and house tours.
Source: Research, photos & text by Bryan Wright
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