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by Terry A. McNealy and Robert Goodwin

The Parry Mansion is located in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where the Old York Road that links Philadelphia and New York crosses the Delaware River. It is here that in the winter campaign of 1776 George Washington and his army crossed the river on Christmas night to gain a crucial victory at the Battle of Trenton.

In the years just after the Revolution, Benjamin Parry (1757–1839) settled in the town, then known as Coryell’s Ferry. He established himself as owner of the local grist and lumber mill, and in 1784 built a fieldstone house across the street befitting the elegant simplicity of his Quaker faith. Three years later he married Jane Paxson, whose prominent family had lived in the area since the late seventeenth century.

Even though residing nearby, Parry was unable to stop a fire that destroyed the mill in 1790. Undaunted, he rebuilt the structure, calling it New Hope Mills; the town adopted this inspirational name and officially became known as New Hope, Pennsylvania. Parry continued with his mill operations while focusing on improving the sale of his products, both by inventing a means of protecting grain from spoiling during shipping, and by leading successful campaigns to increase local trade routes.1

In 1939, one hundred years after Parry’s death, his then defunct mill was transformed into the Bucks County Playhouse, and in 1958, the New Hope Historical Society formed to purchase and preserve the Parry barn, which was part of the mill complex. The mansion remained in the Parry family until 1966, when it went on the market. Threatened with demolition, the society raised the funds to purchase and restore it.

The furnishing and decorative scheme of the Parry Mansion is the result of several considerations. As the purchase of the property required the outlay of much of the society’s treasury, and further expense was involved in restoring it, there was little money available for acquisitions, especially the expensive pieces from the time the mansion was built in 1784. Additionally, since most of the family pieces that were available dated from the nineteenth century, the society felt that these pieces should be included in the furnishing scheme to commemorate the continual ownership history of the house. Also, the society wanted the Parry Mansion to be distinctive in its presentation, rather than repeating the idiom of historic houses in the area whose interiors reflect the time period around the American Revolution.

With the collaboration of New York City interior decorator Charles Lamar, the society set about developing the mansion as a decorative arts museum, interpreting five distinct periods spanning the years 1775 to 1900, to reflect the five generations of Parrys who lived there.

Lamar’s keen interest in historical decoration led to his re-creation of appropriate window treatments, use of a rich variety of historically correct wallpapers and floor coverings, and his assembling a wonderful collection of “warming machines” (coal stoves) that recreated the living spaces of the nineteenth century. Among the decorated rooms is an elegant American Empire dining room, a wonderfully cluttered Victorian music room, and a late-eighteenth-century bedroom, which contains many of the earliest pieces from the Parry family.

Today the Parry Mansion is a chronicle of the emergence of an American mercantile family from its entrepreneurial beginnings to its established upper middle class status. The town of New Hope has also evolved, becoming, since the early part of the twentieth century, part of a Bucks County art colony and a haven for writers, dramatists, and other creative people. The Parry Mansion and the New Hope Historical Society play a major role in preserving the town’s historical context.

The Parry Mansion is open weekends from late April through early December, with special appointments available year-round. For information, call 215.862.5652, or visit www.parrymansion.org.

Terry McNealy is a member of the board of directors of the New Hope Historical Society. He is librarian emeritus of the Bucks County Historical Society in Doylestown, Penn., and writes extensively on local history. Robert Goodwin is Director of Collections for the Parry Mansion and is a nationally known designer and owner of the interior design firm R. Goodwin, Ltd., in New Hope Penn.

  1. In 1812, Parry and friend Samuel B. Ingham led the effort to replace the ferry with a bridge. He also was instrumental in the effort to improve transportation up and down the river by constructing the Delaware Canal. A flourishing means of trade through the nineteenth century, it was eventually doomed by the railroads and is now preserved as a state park.

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