By Mark Reinberger
Colonial Americans, if they could afford it, liked to emulate the fashions of London and the style and manners of English country society while at the same time thinking of themselves as distinctly American. The houses they built reflected this ongoing cultural tension. By the mid-eighteenth century, Americans had developed their own version of the bourgeois English countryseat, a class of estate equally distinct in social function and form from townhouses, rural plantations, and farms. The metropolis of Philadelphia was surrounded by a particularly extraordinary collection of country houses and landscapes. Taken together, these estates make up one of the most significant groups of homes in colonial America.
In this masterly volume, Mark Reinberger, a senior architectural historian, and Elizabeth McLean, an accomplished scholar of landscape history, examine the country houses that the urban gentry built on the outskirts of Philadelphia in response to both local and international economic forces, social imperatives, and fashion. What do these structures and their gardens say about the taste of the people who conceived and executed them? How did their evolving forms demonstrate the persistence of European templates while embodying the spirit of American adaptation?
The Philadelphia Country House explores the myriad ways in which these estates—which were located in the country but responded to the ideas and manners of the city—straddled the cultural divide between urban and rural. Moving from general trends and building principles to architectural interiors and landscape design, Reinberger and McLean take readers on an intimate tour of the fine, fashionable elements found in upstairs parlors and formal gardens. They also reveal the intricate working world of servants, cellars, and kitchen gardens. Highlighting an important aspect of American historic architecture, this handsome volume is illustrated with nearly 150 photographs, more than 60 line drawings, and two color galleries.
Mark Reinberger is a professor of architecture at the University of Georgia. He is the author of Utility and Beauty: Robert Wellford and Composition Ornament in America. Elizabeth McLean is a research associate in botany at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. She is the coauthor of Peter Collinson and the Eighteenth-Century Natural History Exchange.
"Some of them stick in the minds of locals as place names, street names, or both - Belmont, Lansdowne, Stenton, Mount Pleasant. But they started as country houses, well-to-do Philadelphians' answer to English manor houses. You can read all about them and get a good look at them - inside and out - in this very handsome and informative book."
— Philadelphia Inquirer