Long ago, Kingsessing was one of thirteen townships that make up present day Philadelphia (among the others: Southwark, Northern Liberties, Spring Garden, Frankford, and Germantown). Now the Kingsessing neighborhood, Paschalville was one of the township’s communities, but little of it remains beyond the name of the neighborhood branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
And one other exception: a rather legendary house at the corner of 69th Street & Paschall Avenue that pre-dates even the name Paschalville. Apparently built in 1723, it’s known names include the Old Yellow Mansion, the Garrigues or Garrick House, the Henry Paschall Residence, Paschall House, and Brith Sholom. Now it is part of the Mount Moriah Apostolic Church complex. In the early 20th Century, it was the subject of tourist guides and historic tours of the area, back when many other former pieces of Paschalville still existed (including the oldest surviving schoolhouse in the country, demolished in the 1940s).
Dating 50 years prior to the American Revolution, concrete evidence of the home’s origins are, in a word, lost. The date 1723 is agreed upon by the Historical Commission, the Athenaeum, the West Philadelphia Illustrated book from 1903, and A Guide Book of Art, Architecture, and Historic Interests in Pennsylvania from 1924, yet exactly who built it is uncertain. It is assumed that the house was constructed by early Swedish settlers as a farmhouse. The structure is of a very sturdy construction, both the exterior and interior made from two-foot thick stone walls surrounded by brick. Each room once boasted a large open fireplace and massive wooden entrances that were held up by large decorated hinges. What we now know as the front of the house is actually the back. The earliest records regarding the house call it part of the “Bonsall Homestead”, not to be confused with the Bonsall Family’s other properties in Darby and Philadelphia. In 1765, Phillip Price, Jr. (an ancestor of Eli K. Price) married Hannah Bonsall. As part of the arrangement, Price was given ownership of the house and associated properties.
In late 1777, General Sir William Howe, fresh from his victory at the Battle of Brandywine, was marching a 17,000-man British force up the Darby Road (now Woodland Avenue) toward Philadelphia. General Howe chose the home to be his headquarters for two weeks while en route. At the time, it is thought that Dr. Henry Paschall, whose descendants owned large amounts of Kingsessing since the days of William Penn, resided at the house with his wife and daughters, but was away from home performing war-related duties. A letter by Mary Paschall, dated October 1, 1777, explains how the British forces showed up during preparations for a wedding:
For many nights the family which consisted our cousin Bob, Nancy, Aunt Phoebe, and sewing maids sat up of nights in mortal terror of our lives. One night soon after sundown a company of cavalry in British uniform rode up the road with great clattering of arms and demanded entrance. Nancy bolted the doors and forbade them to enter. Cousin Bob who is only nine years old as you know wanted to shoot with a gun he could scarce hold and after much parly Nancy opened the door and admitted them thinking it were better to be friendly. They demanded food and Nancy prepared a meal and they were hungry poor fellows. One of them was very handsome. The men had scarce sat down to their meal when John Ranulph, who is to marry Nancy next month, rapped on the back shutter and I foolishly called to Nancy who had not seen him in three weeks and she must let him in by the back window where her maids were at work. Nancy stayed so long away that the officers became suspicious that some one was concealed in the house and they at once set a guard at both doors and began to search. We were so afrighted that we knew not what to do but Nancy showed them through the house all except the back room where the maids were at work on the wedding clothes. They demanded to see this room but Nancy said nay it were impolite to enter. Her clothes were laid out in full view. Were she allowed to put some of them out of view they might enter. They laughed and called her a pretty minx and sundry names but bade her straighten her room went in and covered John with the clothes then opened the door. The soldiers and seeing the maids at work by candle light wished her joy and mounted and rode away.
As with all accounts of this type, there’s a good chance that this story is more fiction than history. No record exists of “Cousin Bob” or “Aunt Phoebe”. “Nancy” probably refers to Nancy Ann Fisher, but she didn’t get married until 1779 and it wasn’t to John Randolph, it was to Stephen Paschall. Notice that the account doesn’t even mention Howe’s occupation of the house. Sometimes the old house would get confused with the Blue Bell Inn (built and run by the Paschalls in 1766, still standing on the corner of Woodland Avenue and Cobbs Creek Parkway), so this might have all taken place there.
A memorandum from the Price family (who still owned the house at the time) complains about the property lost during Howe’s stay. It states that British forces took or destroyed 450 pounds 5 shillings worth of sheep, cattle, horses, and fences. The memorandum may be a work of fiction as well, since it puts the dates of the occupation of the house at December 12-28, 1777, fully three months after Howe had already reached Philadelphia. Nevertheless, we do know that Howe was there in some capacity. An examination of the property in 1903 found that iron rings were still buried deep in the walls of the basement, presumably used to fasten prisoners.
In 1790, Price sold the house and property to Henry Paschall. Legend has it that Paschall lived here until his death at age 88 in 1835, but other records show that he built a new house for himself at what is now the northern corner of 69th and Woodland (long ago demolished). It was in 1810 that Henry laid out a new village in the western part of Kingsessing and named the area Paschalville after his family. After his death, Henry Paschall’s descendants sold the house to Edward Garrigues (a.k.a. Garrick), incidentally the son-in-law of Phillip Price, Jr.
The house and associated properties, which extended southeast all the way down to what is now Buist Avenue, would stay in the possession of the Garrigues/Garrick family for the next five decades, becoming known as the Garrick House. Legend has it that around this time, an underground passage was dug from the basement of the house leading to an old stream or river that has been lost (one old stream reached onto the Garrick property at what is now 70th Street and Grays Avenue). It is unknown what the purpose of this passage was, but some think it may have been part of the famous Underground Railroad. Indeed, some homes in New Jersey owned by members of the Garrick Family were stops on the Railroad, so this is a reasonable assumption. The same examination of the home in 1903 that found the irons rings also found the former opening for this passage.
It was during the Garrick ownership of the home that the street grid was extended (but not necessarily built) around the house. Paschall Avenue, named the old local family, was dedicated in 1848, though the area was still largely rural and traversed by way of long diagonal lanes that dated back to the 1600s. (Woodland Avenue, the artery which became part of the King’s Highway, the country’s first north-south thoroughfare, developed out of an old American Indian trail.) A small segment of one of these, Larry Lane, still exists a little northwest of the Garrick House, as the 1900-2100 blocks of South Larry Street. The Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad plotted a line that dissected the Garrick property just south of the house a few years earlier (still in use as SEPTA’s R2 Wilmington/Newark line). The area became part of the newly-coterminous City-County of Philadelphia in 1854.
In 1892, a James A. Ogden purchased the home from the Garricks, and quickly sold it to one William E. Clair. The Garricks still owned the empty land to the south of the home, but it would get sold block by block over the coming years. Joseph Fels took interest in the game of speculative real estate toward the end of his career running Fels & Company soap manufacturing, inspired by colleagues who had grown rich throwing around real estate in Detroit. In 1897, he added the now-dilapidated Garrick House to his portfolio. On October 16th, 1903, Fels sold the house to the advertising manager of his company, A. Edwin Kirschner.
Kirschner had lived in the house since 1900, restoring the house and grounds to what he thought was its original colonial appearance, earning it the nickname the Old Yellow Mansion. Modern conveniences such as steam heat and electricity (which had just been wired into the neighborhood in 1905) were carefully added. Kirschner took pride in his restoration, allowing visitors and tourists to see his work. This is how the Old Yellow Mansion made its way into tourist guides and historic tours of the period. Kirschner, a devout Jew, also held services in the home since the area had no synagogues nearby.
Kirschner sold the house in 1907, probably because he had found new employment as manager of the International Match Company. The house then changed hands seemingly every few years. By 1915, ads for newly-built rowhouses on the surrounding blocks appeared in newspapers. On May 27th, 1919, the home was sold to Congregation Brith Sholom of Paschalville, a Jewish temple that had been leasing the space for three years. They heavily altered the house, making it a place of worship and a school, the Paschall Avenue School, instructing 175 students in 8 classes.
On September 10th, 1940, Brith Sholom moved to 63rd and Greenway and sold the house to Clarence and Mary Ramos. The house would stay under their family’s ownership until 1987, during which time it was added to the city’s Historical Register in 1958. Another synagogue, the Paschall Jewish Congregation, used the house for part of this time. The house was donated by Bertha Boyd to the Southside Baptist Church on April 2nd, 1993. Southside Baptist then built their new house of worship on the southeastern end of the property along 69th Street the following year.
On April 14th, 2000, the Old Yellow Mansion and the house of worship in the rear were sold to their current owners, the Mount Moriah Apostolic Church, for $515,000. Exactly what the house itself is used for is unclear; all attempts to reach the church by the Daily have been unreturned.
At any rate, two hundred ninety years and counting make an impressive lifespan for an old farmhouse in Southwest Philly. The lost village of Paschalville and its lost contemporaries Maylandville, Clearview, and Blue Bell, still leave traces long after their identities have vanished. The St. James Church of Kingsessing and Cemetery across the street, for example, date to 1762; the Blue Bell Inn, five blocks away, to 1766. And the Garrick House, from 1723, survives as Mount Moriah Apostolic Church.
About the author
GroJLart is the anonymous foulmouthed blogger of Philaphilia, where he critiques Philadelphia architecture, history, and design. He resides in Washington Square West. GroJLart has contributed to Naked Philly, the Philadelphia City Paper's Naked City Blog, and Philadelphia Magazine's Property Blog.
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