Ryerss Museum and Library

Address: 7370 Central Avenue
Neighborhood:Fox Chase/Northeast Philadelphia
Year Built: 1859
Architectural Style: Victorian
Philadelphia Register of Historic Places: Yes
National Register of Historic Places: Yes
Current Use: Museum and library

Historical Background
A descendent of Nicholas Waln, one of the original Pennsylvania settlers who came to Philadelphia with William Penn on the Welcome in 1682, Joseph Waln Ryerss built his opulent summer retreat, Burholme, on 85 acres in 1859. Like his Waln ancestors, Joseph continued the family penchant for acquiring exotic objects from Asia, with the newly constructed Burholme serving as a worthy setting. When Joseph died in 1868 he willed Burholme to his son Robert Waln Ryerss, a lawyer. Robert also loved to travel and collected more artifacts and curiosities to be displayed at Burholme. Eight months before he died at the age of 65, Robert shocked Philadelphia society by marrying his housekeeper of many years, Mary Ann Reed.

Childless, Robert left Mary Ann a comfortable annuity and Burholme for her lifetime. Mary Ann traveled around the world and continued to collect objects for the museum. The will stipulated that upon Mary Ann’s death the estate was to be turned over to the city of Philadelphia to be used as a park, library, and museum “free to the public.” Ryerss also provided for the purchase of new books and maintenance of the house and grounds.

Before she died, Mary Ann Ryerss turned the property over to the city of Philadelphia in 1905. The Ryerss Museum and Library was opened to the public in 1910 under the administration of the Fairmount Park Commission. Burholme is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ryerss had a great love of animals and were active in the founding of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Philadelphia and the Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines, a retirement home for horses founded by the family in the late 19th century that is now located near Pottstown. Some of the Ryerss pets are buried with their headstones under a tree on the west side of the mansion and their portraits are displayed throughout the Museum and Library.

Some Community Stakeholders
Library patrons, neighborhood residents, museum visitors, City of Philadelphia

Possible Artistic Uses & Limitations
The Museum and Library provide a panoply of Victoriana. There is limited ability to move objects and display cases. The site may work well for performance or other site interventions. The second floor maintains a public library that may be of interest for projects and interventions. It contains current best sellers, classics, historic works and periodicals accessible to the public and available for lending to area residents. The Museum maintains regular visiting hours.

Hidden City Philadelphia has secured provisional interest and commitment to participate from the owners or stewards of prospective sites for the 2013 festival. We cannot guarantee final festival participation for any site, as many are subject to transitional forces, such as changes in ownership or stewardship, development, hazmat remediation, public-private jurisdiction, access restrictions and, in some cases, continued physical deterioration.

With that said, we have secured interest and willingness from site owners and stewards to engage in a discovery process with artists, partner organizations, and other stakeholders concerning creative projects and public engagement. The realization of any artistic project for the festival will be the result of a collaborative process with, and eventual collective approval of, Hidden City staff, advisors, community stakeholders, and site owners.

Hidden City’s staff are facilitators and advocates with the goal of bringing about a productive and mutually satisfying relationship between artists and the other stakeholders essential to any creative process located in places where art making is not a regular activity.