Franklin's House
Historic Stuctures Report
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While waiting to board ship for London in April 1757, Franklin posted a few lines to his favorite sister, Jane Mecom, advising her on a sensitive matter:

When ["old people"] have long lived in a house, it becomes natural to them; they are almost as close connected with it as the tortoise with his shell; they die, if you tear them out of it; . . . so let our good old sister be no more importuned on that head.

Franklin's house in the courtyard came to be his tortoiseshell, not because he lived many years in it, but because it was so long a part of his life and so important to him. Perhaps then, after his death the house's purpose was done and its dismemberment twenty-two years later no cause for regret. And in fact, as the tortoiseshell crumbled, no one cared enough for it to mark the day.

Why then do we gather again the faded tatters called evidence and compose again a memory of it? What follows is not a memory only of form and design, bricks laid and money spent; but, more important, of the joys of home and family, the warmth of hospitality and conviviality, the pride of ownership and housekeeping, the hum of the parlors and the clear, young voices in the hallways—those things that make you want to reach out and touch it. The writer for one feels there is a higher purpose to be served; that our labors are not intended merely to add a few more lines to an already impressive literature about the life of Benjamin Franklin. This report reflects the conviction that historical comprehension demands recreating, insofar as possible through verbalization, this element vital to the historic scene. Word pictures may do what no other means attempts in giving form and substance to the dim memory of this once-thriving home.

The circumstances underlying preparation of this historical data section precluded completing the extensive research recommended in the Part I report. Promising leads were followed as time permitted and a few resulting items added to the files. The preponderance of materials used in it were, however, obtained through years of patient sifting by historians of the Park. Riley, Kurjack, Yoelson, Campbell, Tyler, Quinn, and a dozen others amassed the data now to be found on some three thousand entries in the Park's note card file. Riley made the first investigation as a preliminary to the Service's acquiring the site. In so doing he found much and demonstrated that much could be done to avail. Yoelson for years spent every spare moment adding to the store. Campbell made documented perspective studies over a two-year period. The writer worked along with the others. At all times they enjoyed the cordial cooperation of Park Service officials and staffs of repositories, especially Leonard W. Labaree and his associates of the Franklin Papers publishing project at Yale University and Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., and the staff of the American Philosophical Society Library.

This section of the Part II report stays close to the subject of building the house—with an excursion into the related historical circumstances. Much more can be done with materials at hand on the personalities who comprised the household and the work of architect-builders Samuel Rhoads and Robert Smith. Comparative architectural materials have been left virtually untouched.


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Last Updated: 30-Jun-2008