Franklin's House
Historic Stuctures Report
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For a house as expensive as Franklin's there can be no reasonable doubt that professionally drawn floor plans, elevations, and sketches at least of certain specific details were prepared. What has happened to them is anybody's guess. Opportunities to lose them have been many. Assuming he had and kept copies, a not unwarranted assumption where Franklin is concerned, they might have disappeared during the British occupation of Philadelphia by André's hand or while at Galloway's place where so many of the papers were lost. They may have been parceled out while the estate was being settled, heirlooms being passed around and books and papers distributed in accordance with specific bequests. They may have been taken from among the bodies of papers loosely handled by William Temple Franklin in this country and England. They may even have been discarded when the house was torn down as no longer useful, with as little thought for posterity's interest in them as the house itself received.

The next best thing to a professionally drawn floor plan is one not drawn as well or as fully, but in scale and showing key features. Just such a plan, for the house's second floor, somehow managed to survive the vicissitudes of the Franklin papers through their century of wandering. In value it is on a par with the insurance survey, though it too appears at first glance to be but a forlorn representation of so fine a house (Illustration No. 8). On no sheet of parchment, just rag paper, it crowds the edge of the page in obvious support of the hard-pressed draftsman. It owes its mounting to a minor transaction between Franklin and a tradesman. On May 17, 1764, while deeply engaged in the politics of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and serving as one of the seven Provincial Commissioners for the previous November's £24,000 supply bill, Franklin made a purchase and was given in return the following: "receiv'd May 17, 1764 of Benjamin Franklin Eleven Pounds for Four Reams of Money Paper at 55/ p Ream." [132] Assuming that the receipt was made out on the tradesman's stationery and not Franklin's, then the use of the other side as drawing paper took place sometime after May 17, 1764. Probably very soon thereafter, as such things do not lie around invitingly on desk tops forever. An examination of the sheet reveals that it was used as though it had been tracing paper. Apparently it had been selected as translucent, laid over a plan of the first floor, and had traced on it with some sort of scribing instrument those elements wanted in finishing the second floor. Although by May 17, 1764, building had been underway for a year, the rough, heavy structural work only had been finished by then. Changes, even basic ones could still be effected. This diagram seems, thus, to have originated as part of the planning process. The indentations made by the instrument still show clearly on the paper, inked over. The line of indentation representing the first floor's west hallway wall was not inked, demonstrating that the second floor had an abbreviated hallway, leaving more room to the south bedroom on that side. But other features indicated on the simple line drawing are even more informative. A staircase with sixteen treads and eighteen risers and double twist at the bottom is shown to have been located in a stairhall occupying a corner of the house. The indicated position of the through-hallway is off-center; the doors on the north and south ends would follow suit. Fireplace and door locations, closets, window openings indicated by dots, and a four poster bed standing solitary in the large bedroom to the east are also shown. No room is complete in detail, nor is so much asked of the plan.

The next best thing to a not-complete but scaled plan showing key features is a not-complete, not-scaled, and sloppily sketched plan that, nevertheless, shows key features—particularly when it is on a sheet of paper covered with specimens of the homeowner's handwriting. Just such a plan, for the house's first floor, written on by Franklin, somehow tagged along with the second floor plan and has been snatched from oblivion by keen-eyed National Park Service historians (Illustration No. 9). This diagram, and it is nothing more, is nonetheless of great value, comparable in this respect to the insurance survey and second floor drawing. Though carelessly drawn, it is easily correlated with both of them. As it is positioned relative to the Market Street properties, it proves the stairhall to have been in the northeast corner of the structure. It also shows fireplace and door locations (two of them in the large room east of the hallway, one handy to the kitchen stairs, one an impressive double door); that there were four window and door openings in the north and south walls; an archway midway in the through hall; and the hallway off-center, corresponding to the one in the second floor drawing. [133] Identifying furnishings also are sketched in roughly in the large ornate dining parlor.

Certain of the features of Franklin's house are common to houses of Samuel Rhoads that have been identified. The Cadwalader house, the Alexander Barclay house, his own country house at Gray's Ferry, and the plan of a house attributed to him provide examples. [134] The corner staircase cropping up in this drawing and in the Barclay House may have been his providential Quaker tradesman's touch, or the art of making an essentially small house look big (Illustration No. 12). In any event this feature was to be found in more than a few houses of various types and sizes, as witness its presence in Mt. Pleasant, a country seat; the Deshler-Morris House, on the market square of the small outlying center called Germantown; and, of course, Franklin's very thoroughly urban locale. The off-center doorway, though perhaps not so commonplace, can be found in the plan attributed to Rhoads and the Thomas Willing house near Samuel Powel's place on Third Street (Illustration No. 13). The best example of this popular style was the house at 190 High Street, two blocks from Franklin Court, constructed around 1770 and rebuilt after a fire in 1785 (Illustration No. 14). Philadelphia's finest house, its residents included John Penn, Sir William Howe, Benedict Arnold, Robert Morris, and Presidents George Washington and John Adams. Certainly Rhoads' influence found its way into the planning at an early stage of its development, for it would have been his old friend, Rhoads, whom Franklin would first have taken into his confidence when the idea of building a fine home occurred to him.

At the end of his August 1765 letter asking Deborah Franklin for particulars about the house, Franklin turned wistful: "What Room have you chose to sleep in? I wish you would give me a particular Account of every Room, who & what is in it, t'would make me seem a little at home." To which he added, "What Colours are they painted?" [135]

The long letter of October 6-13 in which Deborah Franklin replied to his queries contained a section devoted to the rooms:

Now for the room we Gale yours thair is in it your Deske the armonekey maid like a Deske a large Cheste with all the writeings that was in your room down stairs [northwest corner] the boxes of glases for musick [armonica] and for the Elicktresatecy [battery] and all your close and the pickters as I donte drive nailes leste it shold not be write

Salley has the Southroom [up] two pairs of Stairs [rest furnishings] . . .

The Northeroom Nanney [Ann Hardy, a servant] took for her one [own] . . .

The Blewroom has the Armoneyca and the Harpseycord in it the Gilte Sconse a Carde tabel a seet of tee Chaney [china] . . . the worked Chairs and Screen a verey hansom mohaganey Stand for the tee kittel to stand on and the orney mental Chaney but the room is not yit finished for I think the paper has loste much of the blume by paisteing of it up thair-fore I thought it beste to leve it tell you Cume home[. T]he Curtins is not maid nor did I pres for them as we had a verey graite number of fleys as it is observed thay air verey fond of new painte

The Southroome I sleep in with my Susanah [her maid] . . . sum books in my Closet [other furnishings] . . .

In the frunte room which I had desind for gests I had the beed which you sente from Ingland [other furnishings]

In the rom down stairs is the sid bord that you be spoke which is verey hansum and plain with two tabels maid to suite it and a Doz of Chairs allso I sold to mr. Foxcrofte the tabeles we had as they did not sute the room by aney meens [more in general on furnishings] . . .

The littel Southroom I had papered as the wales were much soyled; in that is a pritey Card tabel and our Chairs that yoused to stand in the parler and orney mental Chaney over the fierplase on the flower a Carpit I bought cheep for the goodness; it is not quite new The large Carpit is in the blewroom . . .

[more in general on furnishings] This is but a verey imperfecte a counte

In the Northroome [elsewhere "parlor"] we sett as it is not quite finished yit as the dores air not up We have a tabel and chairs and the Smal Book case Brother Johns Pickter and the King and Quens pickter and a small Scotch Carpet on the flower which was found much Folte with and your time pees stands in one Corner which is all wrong I am told So then I tell them we shall have all things as thay shold be when you cume home. [136]

From the foregoing it can be seen that she covered all nine rooms on the three floors of the house, starting with Franklin's bedroom on the second floor and then worked down from the bedrooms on the third floor to the parlors on the first floor. By process of elimination the "Blewroom" or "musick room" as referred to elsewhere turns out to have been the large eastern room over Franklin's second floor bedroom. [137] Deborah Franklin occupied the room next in size to Franklin's bedroom, adjoining it on the second floor. As she shows it had closets although none can be seen in the second floor plan. Salley had the room over this one on the third floor. The third room in addition to Franklin's and Deborah Franklin's was the guest room, where Foxcroft had stayed during the spring. "Nanney" or "Nancy" or Ann Hardy who occupied the room over this one had been Mrs. Stevenson's maid at Craven Street, Strand, London, a fashionable address, and in 1763 came to America to live at Franklin's home for a few years. The splendor of the first floor's dining parlor, the panelled room with pedimented doors and curious carving, had compelled Deborah Franklin to acquire finer dining room furniture. The second best withdrawing room on this floor, the "littel Southroom," with its imported marble fireplace and tabernacle frame above, received the old parlor chairs, chinaware display pieces, along with a bargain carpet and though possessed of a touch of elegance, came out—second best. The "Blew" room upstairs received the handed-down parlor carpet from the last house. The office room on the first floor was comfortable, but not stylish.

The house's room of greatest interest, Franklin's bedroom, while awaiting the master's arrival had become a storage chamber and occasional guest room. Lying about at the time she wrote this were the apparatuses of scientific inquiry and books and papers for which Franklin is so well-known. Although he did not sleep a night in the chamber for the first ten years, it was in readiness and he returned to inhabit it while revising the Declaration of Independence and to sleep soundly there the night of August 2, 1776, after signing the engrossed copy. And here he lapsed into his final illness in March of 1790 and died April 17, 1790.

Others of the rooms have interest of a different magnitude and order. The first floor office where he studied and wrote during 1775-1776 and 1785-1790, was the center of this country's first "brain trust." Delegations from every organization out to perfect the society of the new nation or merely to improve it trooped in to solicit his support. Membership of the Society for Political Inquiry alone would do honor to any organization of learned men today. In the relaxed and humanizing atmosphere of Franklin's parlors the most perplexing problems of state and international affairs took on less imposing aspect. In a day of salons, fashionable clubs, and tavern get-togethers, Franklin who had seen them all ran one of the best shows in town right in his own house. The impressive dining chamber knew the presence of the great and near great, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, the Lees of Virginia, as well as the old Philadelphia cronies and associates Deborah Franklin had in for the first time in 1765.

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Last Updated: 30-Jun-2008