Franklin's House
Historic Stuctures Report
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For the next twenty years little had to be done to the house; a prettying touch here and there, routine maintenance from time to time. The Blue Room, the wallpaper of which Deborah Franklin had complained about in her long accounting as having "loste much of the blume," apparently continued to be a source of annoyance. Franklin counselled redecorating it:

I suppose the blue Room is too blue, the Wood being of the same Colour with the Paper, and so looks too dark. I would have you finish it as soon as you can, thus. Paint the Wainscot a dead white; Paper the Walls blue, & tack the Gilt Border round just above the Surbase and under the Cornish. If the paper is not equal Coloured when pasted on, let it be brush'd over again with the same colour: and let the Papier machée musical Figures be tack'd to the middle of the Cieling; when this is done, I think it will look very well. [138]

Taking him at his word, as always, she ordered in the man best-equipped to handle this specialized job, one Timothy Berrett. Little more than seven weeks after Franklin wrote his letter in London, Berrett gave Deborah Franklin the following receipt:

Mrs Franklin

To Timy Berrett

To Painting a room at 3/6 P yd550
Do Sealing at 1 P yd0130

£ 5180
Recvd, Augt 13th 1767 the Contents in Full of the above Bill
Timy Berrett [139]

Berrett in 1769 did like work for Samuel Powel, "painting and bordering a room." [140] He also did painting in 1770 for John Cadwalader's sumptuous mansion, where gilding and papier-mâché were the rule rather than the exception. [141] Musical figures of the sort Franklin had in mind were installed in the Peters country mansion in what is now Fairmount Park (Illustration No. 15). In 1773 Sally reported to her father "the dinning room wants new Paper, the Border which is a gold one never was put up, . . . it would make a neet room if it was ne[atly] done up." [142] There is no record what resulted.

On the eve of Brandywine and the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777 a lead downspout and "neat head" weighing 313 pounds were taken down from Franklin's House by order of the Council of Safety and turned over to munitions authorities. [143] From the listing made at the time, it appears that Franklin's was among those of the largest houses in the city, which from their ornamentation were heavy. The word "neat" as contrasted with the other descriptive terms on the list ("plain" and "common") suggests one having at least the date the house was built, the initials "B F" and perhaps other ornamentation as well (Illustrations Nos. 16, 17). [144] The house did without this downspout for more than four years, until November 1781, when Richard Bache wrote that he was having necessary repairs done, to include "new spouts, one a copper one in the room of the leaden one taken away by the public in the year 1777, for which I could get no payment." [145] While about it, he took care of "new shingling part of the pent houses on both sides of the house." [146]

In the meantime Deborah Franklin had died, Franklin had come and gone. The only changes it is certain that he made after seeing the house for the first time on May 4, 1775, consisted of adding bookshelves in his bedroom and "branches for the Drawing Room." [147] As purchase of these sconces followed hard on the heels of a payment to Martin Jugiez, the notable "Carver and Gilder," of £2.16.2 there is a strong presumption that he had finally followed through on Salley's suggestions to dress up the dining parlor. [148]

Franklin had not been home for two weeks in 1775 when, war or no war, he had Richard Bache go out and buy two lightning rods:

May 16, 1775
P Richard Grant D.r To Cash p.d for 2 Electrical Rods2.18.3 [149]

Perhaps he had found the house without such equipment and immediately corrected the oversight. At any rate a lightning rod was up in 1785 when he returned from France. [150] At about the same time he paid, through Richard Bache, £13.18.9 to a carpenter named Hale in full for some work performed. [151] Interestingly enough, Hale (arrived from London in 1767) had been advertising in years past under the sign of a bell: "In Walnut-street, facing the State-house Gate. Continues to hang BELLS through all the apartments of houses, in the most neat and lasting manner." [152] The specialty that had been making Hale his reputation was the door bell and house bell trade, growing in popularity among Philadelphians. A few years before John Cadwalader had paid Alexander Smith, another specialist in this line, £11.15.0 for the complex assortment of pulls and pullies, fastenings, frames, crampets, jack lines, bells, bell bolts, bell pins, springs, staples, astregals, brads, rods, and wire and installation of them in a system covering six rooms on two floors. [153] Franklin's payment of 18 shillings for "Wire work," though several months after his payment to Hale, looks suspiciously as though the same sort of thing was afoot here. [154]

In the fall of that year Franklin's accounts show a flurry of payments to stonecutters, ironmongers, coppersmiths, bricklayers, carpenters, brickmakers, and pumpmakers. Construction of his brick, two-story coach house and stable was underway just north of the courtyard wall. But this is a story to be related elsewhere.

By December 21 of the next year Franklin had arrived in Paris, beginning another long exile. While he augmented his reputation through a series of brilliant diplomatic exploits the house and its contents were in the hands of son-in-law, Richard Bache, who with his family occupied it. Bache, now postmaster-general, and busy in the war effort, had his hands more than full when the British took and occupied Philadelphia in the fall of 1777. As the Baches fled they managed to barrel and evacuate books, papers, and valuable furniture, mahogany excepted. [155] The house fell to the mercies of General Sir Charles Grey and the officers of his regiment, his aide, then captain, André among them. They behaved themselves so far as their living habits were concerned, but André helped himself liberally upon departure. The house itself fared well enough, as Bache assured an anxious Franklin after the British abandoned the city:

I found your house and furniture upon my return to town in much better order than I had any reason to expect from the hands of such a rapacious crew; they stole and carried off with them some of your musical instruments, . . . They took likewise the few books that were left behind . . . some of your electrical apparatus is missing also. A Captain André also took with him the picture of you [by Benjamin Wilson] which hung in the dining-room. [156]

Attesting to the house's general condition following the British occupation is the absence of entries for repairs in the accounts kept at the time. During Bache's stewardship, every farthing expended on the house he entered in his day book, debited to Franklin's account. The first such item to be found is dated August 30, 1780, more than two years after troop withdrawals:

Benjamin Franklin, D.r To Cash p.d for boards & putting a Roof on the Water Closet 503.17.6 [157]

Much depends on whether or not the term "Water Closet" is to be taken literally. Then a new term, having appeared in print for the first time only in 1755, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it may or may not yet have come to be applied to any kind of privy. [158] A London watchmaker, Alexander Cummings, took out the first patent for a flushing facility in 1775, but such devices had been known since Sir John Harington invented the first one at the time his book on the subject appeared in 1596 (Illustration No. 18). [159] Owing to the discovery during 1960's archeological work of the privy pit for the second of two Franklin House necessaries, this one unmistakably having had a flushing system, the term "Water Closet " as employed by Bache must be given very serious consideration. [160] Among the possible interpretations is that Bache had just built this second facility. The first privy pit, having yielded no evidence of structure to suggest a flushing system, would seem to be out of the question. [161] That is, unless Bache's reference was a casual one, pertaining, in fact, to the flushless necessary. By 1780 the roof of 1766's "Little House" (see pages 53 and 54) may have required repairs, and this would account for Bache's day book entry.

Bache's next charge against Franklin's account, drains and shingling excluded, was not made until June 30, 1783:

B. Franklin D.r To Cash paid Michael M. Gauman for plaistering, Lime &c.14.13.6

This was followed on September 30, 1784, by this entry:

Benjamin Franklin D.r To Cash for sundries for repairs of the House Paid William Fling in part for paintg37. 10. -- Paid Jones, Clark & Cresson their Acc.t Boards8. 2. 3

On October 5, 1784, Bache entered en masse a number of items showing extensive work to have been in progress:

Benjamin Franklin D.r To Cash for sundry repairs done to his Dwelling house --
George Corryell's Carpenter's Bill . . .18..15..——
Tho.s Poultney & Sons d.o for hinges &c1..14..——
James Hendricks d.o Smith1..12..3
Thomas Harpers Bill,1..18..——
Abraham Robinson's d.o Bricklayer6..14..1
William Stiles . . d.o Stonecutter7..2..6
Greenfield & Humphreys for Iron Backs &c6..12..6


And at the beginning of 1785:

Benjamin Franklin D.r To Cash paid paid William Fling in full for paint.g18..15..— [162]

Other expenses in this line not charged to Franklin but apparently for work on the house involved whitewashing and glazing. [163] The house had been solidly built and was wearing well. Nothing else, other than the little maintenance covered above, befell the house before Franklin's triumphant return to Philadelphia on September 14, 1785.

In contemplating his return to this country Franklin had written daughter Salley Bache:

Infirm as I am, . . . my Friends here are . . . apprehensive for me, . . . they press me to remain in France. . . The Desire however of spending the little remainder of Life with my Family, is so strong, as to determine me to try at least, whether I can bear the Motion of a Ship. [164]

Try he did, and he not only had a relatively easy voyage, but managed to see old friends briefly at the shores of England while transferring from ship to ship.

Once in Philadelphia his love of family was fully tested. As he wrote to sister Jane Mecom after a year, the house had become "too small for our growing family." [165] Apparently, Franklin did not take long in finding the situation unbearable, but according to a later admission, other factors really initiated his provision for a remedy. The markets along High Street outside the courtyard were being extended to his block, making his frontage valuable along the street where the old Read family residences were located. He was enjoying a stretch of good health such as he had not known in thirty years. [166] His financial situation had never been better, for as he reported to his French banker: "My own Estate I find more than tripled in Value since the Revolution." [167] He began, he told Jane Mecom, "to build two good Houses next the Street instead of three old Ones, which I pulled down." [168] This was, apparently, in November or early December 1785, for on December 3 he paid a smith named David Henderson £6.19.6 "for jobs," and two days later one Abram Robinson £9.10 "for Bricklayers Work," noting in his account book after both entries, "very dear." [169] By the end of the month he had called a halt: "I shall draw no more at present, as the high Price of Labour discourages my Project of Building, till it shall be more moderate." [170] Then litigation interrupted the work: "But my Neighbors disputing my Bounds, I have been obliged to postpone till that Dispute is settled by Law." [171] This postponement led directly to his putting the remedy for crowded conditions in his house into operation: "In the meantime, the Workmen & Materials being ready, I have ordered an Addition to the House I live in." [172] That event actually can be dated July 11:

July 1786
Advanc'd to Workmen on the Building who began the 11th Inst 8 Dollars hard 3 - - [173]

From this point on the details of building are almost completely immersed and undistinguishable in a welter of unspecific bills. What represented payment for the mansion house and what for the "two good" houses on Market Street escape the writer—with two exceptions. Payment of £1.13.9 on September 30 and 15 shillings on October 23 for "Water Table" bricks and hauling, while possibly in use in the Market Street houses, almost certainly applied to Franklin's House. [174] Water table bricks are molded in form. A course of them to throw off water was a very common feature of Philadelphia houses until after the American Revolution. The payments for the 1786-1787 work are included in Appendix C.

As with the earlier construction, no architect's plans for the addition, no drawings, no articles of agreement, have come down to the present. Even the customary insurance survey is missing. Yet in a way not unlike that experienced earlier, Franklin's correspondence is a ready source of knowledge. Reporting on the situation in September, he wrote:

There are a good many hands employ'd and I hope to see it cover'd in before Winter. I propose to have it in a long Room for my Library and Instruments, with two good Bedchambers and two Garrets. The Library is to be even with the Floor of my best old Chamber: & the Story under it will for the present be employ'd only to hold wood, but may be made into Rooms hereafter. This addition is on the Side next the River.—I hardly know how to justify building a Library at an Age that will so soon oblige me to quit it; but we are apt to forget that we are grown old, and Building is an Amusement. [175]

Observed by Benjamin Rush, perhaps while acting as his own architect and building contractor, he offered an inspiring sight: "His faculties are still in their full vigor. He amuses himself daily in superintending two or three houses which he is building in the neighborhood of his dwelling house." [176]

Late in November he reported the addition as "nearly finished." [177] But the work was not moving fast, and a visitor on February 2 of the next year found in the "large room which was intended for the Doctor's museum and library — he had gotten a fire in it to keep the plaistering from freezing." [178] By April 15 he reported himself moved in: "I have placed my library [in it] . . . where I can write without being disturbed by the noise of the children." [179] On April 22 he ordered a mirror "59 1/2 French Inches long, and 43 Inches wide." [180] Describing the house to sister Jane Mecom on May 30, he wrote:

To the East End of my Dwelling-House I have made an addition of 16 Feet and a half wide and 33 feet long, that is the whole length of the old house, so that the Front and Back of the old and new Building range even, and the Row of Windows, Eaves, and Roof are continu'd so as to appear but one Building. By this addition, I have gain'd a large Cellar for Wood, a Drawing-Room or Dining-Room on the same Level with our old Dining-Room, in which new Room we can dine a Company of 24 Persons, it being 16 feet wide and 30-1/2 long; and it has 2 Windows at each End, the North and South, which will make it an airy Summer Room; and for Winter there is a good Chimney in the Middle, made handsome with marble Slabs. Over this Room is my Library, of the same Dimensions, with like Windows at each End, and lin'd with Books to the Cieling. Over this are 2 lodging-Rooms: and over all a fine Garret. The way into the Lower Room is out of the Entry passing by the Foot of the Stairs. Into the Library I go thro' one of the Closets of the old Drawing-Room or Bed-Chamber. And into the two new Rooms above thro' a Passage cut off from the Nursery. All these Rooms are now finished and inhabited, very much to the Convenience of the Family, who were before too much crowded. [181]

Franklin's project of building did not stop here. No sooner had the Constitutional Convention broken up in 1787 before he had begun two other buildings, one a tenant house on Market Street on the remaining vacant front lot of his property, the other a printing shop for his grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache. It is probable that this last phase of building was productive of the house's last addition, the "adjoining brick building, completely furnished as a Bathing Room." (Illustration No. 19) [182] With that he was finished. On April 23, 1788, he announced himself "done Building." [183] A year later he still had not recovered financially: "I am now in real & great Want of Money (ready cash; he still had large assets)." [184]

So far as is known the house as remodelled met his every expectation. Visitors came away with an appealing picture of infirm sage and attentive daughter. Manasseh Cutler, visiting in 1787 remembered:

Dr. Franklin lives in Market Street, . . . but his house stands up a court-yard at some distance from the street. We found him in his Garden, sitting upon a grass plat under a very large Mulberry, with several other gentlemen and two or three ladies . . . I saw a short, fat, trunched old man, in a plain Quaker dress, bald pate, and short white locks, sitting without his hat under the tree, . . . His voice was low, . . . he took me . . . by the hand, and, . . . introduced me to the other gentlemen of the company, who were most of them members of the Convention. . . The tea-table was spread under the tree, and Mrs. Bache, a very gross and rather homely lady, . . . served it. . . She had three of her children about her, over whom she seemed to have no kind of command, but who appeared excessively fond of their Granpapa. . . After it was dark, we went into the house, and the Doctor invited me into his library, which is likewise his study. It is a very large chamber, and high studded. The walls were covered with book-shelves filled with books; besides there were four large alcoves, extending two-thirds of the length of the Chamber, filled in the same manner. I presume this is the largest, and by far the best private library in America. He showed us a glass machine for exhibiting the circulation of the blood in the arteries and veins . . . a rolling press, for taking copies of letters . . in less than two minutes, . . . his long artificial arm and hand, for taking down. . . books, and his great armed chair, with rocker, . . . with which he fans himself, . . . with only a small motion of his foot; and many other curiosities and inventions, . . . Over his mantle-tree, he has a prodigious number of medals, busts, and casts in wax or plaster of Paris, which are the effigies of the most noted characters in Europe. [185]

Franklin had borne out sister Jane Mecom's prediction that the house would "not only be an Amusement but . . . a sample of many Ingenious contrivances for others to Profit by in Future." [186]

But Franklin's strong and happy days were now growing few in number. Afflicted by stone, he sought relief in the bath house and finally laudanum.

Following his death the house went to the Baches. They did not use it much. After years of being poor relatives they spread their wings, travelling in England and spending their time in this country at Settle, the country home below Bristol, Pennsylvania, on the Delaware River. Perhaps after their years of "living in" with relatives the house had come to symbolize their dependence.

There followed a succession of tenants. From 1794 until 1799 it was the home of Chevalier de Friere, Portuguese minister to the United States. While in his tenancy it was scene of that decade's most talked about marriage of the daughter of Thomas McKean, later governor of Pennsylvania to the Marquis de Yrujo, Spanish minister to the United States. [187] By November 22, 1799, a Mrs. Hand had opened a boarding and lodging house there. [188] In 1801 the Philadelphia Academy announced that it had removed to the "Mansion House in Franklin Court." [189] By 1803 it had become the Franklin Coffee House and Hotel. [190] Sally Franklin Bache returned there to die in 1808. [191] Bache moved back in, sharing it after 1808 with the African Free School. [192] That institution was still in occupancy in 1812, up to the day when demolition began. The house, now a hopeless anachronism, not nearly worth the land beneath it, could offer no defense when the time came to divide Richard Bache's estate.

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Last Updated: 30-Jun-2008