William Coleman, between 1756 and 1758, constructed this stately manor house in the countryside. Coleman was a businessman in Philadelphia and a close friend of Benjamin Franklin. Woodford, now a National Historic Landmark, is considered one of the most beautiful surviving examples of the early “summer retreats” constructed along the Schuylkill River in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. These structures were built along the Schuylkill River.
At present, the City of Philadelphia owns Woodford, and the Naomi Wood Trust runs it in its current incarnation as a historic home museum. Naomi Wood, born in Philadelphia, was a collector who amassed a collection of colonial American ornamental and aesthetic productions from the early and mid-nineteenth centuries. The residence serves as a gallery for this collection.
A History of Woodford
Outside of Colonial Philadelphia, in the countryside along the Schuylkill River, several early structures known as “country seats” were constructed. One of the world’s most luxurious homes, the Woodford Mansion “country seats” have been preserved. According to local folklore, the estate got its name from the neighboring forests and a ford in the Schuylkill River. Five notable families have owned Woodford throughout its history.
In 1756 and 1758, William Coleman, a prominent Patriot, constructed his summer home, a servant’s cottage, and a stable on a property plot that included 12 acres. His summer residence was designed in the Georgian style. Coleman was an extremely well-educated and wealthy trader who finished his career serving as a judge on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for the province where he lived. Their adopted nephew, George Clymer, was an orphan when William Coleman and his wife, Hannah, took care of him. Clymer became a prominent patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. His close and long-standing friend Benjamin Franklin praised him, “He has the coolest, clearest intellect, the finest heart, and the most exact morals of practically any man I ever encountered.” Benjamin Franklin was a founding father of the United States.
In 1771, David Franks, a royal agent for Philadelphia, bought the land now known as Woodford. Franks built a second level to Woodford’s existing structure and a two-story extension to the home’s back to accommodate his large number of guests and his four children. The Franks were members of the loyalist cause. At Woodford and the Frank family house in town on Second Street near Spruce, Lord Howe paid Rebecca, the Franks’ youngest and most stunning daughter, for almost regular visits. Rebecca was a beautiful young woman. In 1778, Congress ordered Benedict Arnold to arrest John Franks on treason charges. The family was given the order to leave and finally settled in England, when David Franks’s life changed from being very wealthy and powerful to a miserable failure. Franks later moved back to Philadelphia, where he continued to pursue numerous property claims in the Western United States to recoup his riches. He succumbed to the Yellow Fever Pandemic that swept the country in 1793.
After being transferred to Thomas Paschall in 1781, Woodford was transferred to Isaac Wharton in 1793. After that, the Wharton family held possession of Woodford for a significant portion of its history. Before and after the end of the Civil War, the Wharton family called Woodford their vacation home.
Woodford was a property owned by the Wharton family until it was sold to the City of Philadelphia in 1868, including Fairmount Park. The mansion had a variety of functions within the park, including serving as the administrative center for the Fairmount Park Guard, which utilized it as a police station and jail until 1927.
Naomi Wood Trust.
After Naomi Wood died in 1927, Daniel Huntoon decided that Woodford would be a suitable venue for displaying her “colonial domestic gear.” Following the passing of Naomi Wood, this choice was made. Huntoon secured a long-term lease deal with the Fairmount Park Commission as the first trustee of the Naomi Wood Trust. The Woodford was meticulously repaired under his watch, and the collection was set up under his watchful supervision. The Trust has been running Woodford since it was first made accessible to the public in 1930.
In July of 2003, the town of Woodford was the victim of a devastating fire. The fire spread across a chunk of the attic. The amount of the collection that was destroyed was relatively small, but the entire contents were ruined by smoke and water. Woodford was finally ready to reopen in 2005 after undergoing extensive renovations in only two years. Both the mechanical and electrical infrastructure have been updated, and the new systems are live. Paintings and furnishings have been meticulously cleaned, and historically accurate upholstery, paint, and floor finishes have been meticulously installed.
The man who established the collection at Woodford, who lived from 1871 to 1926, was born in Philadelphia. Her grandfather, Caleb Wood, and her great-grandfather, David Wood, had a business on Chestnut Street called “Ladies and Children’s Furnishing Goods” at 1322 Chestnut Street, just opposite the future location of the Wanamaker Department Store. Naomi Wood, who had no children of her own, received this land as an inheritance in about 1920 and sold it, which became the core of her wealth.
When Wood was residing in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, in 1905, he already had extensive education and had begun the hobby of collecting antiques. By 1910, she and her close friend Daniel Huntoon had devised a scheme through which both of their collections would be shown in a significant historic mansion that would be available to the general public. Wood has the financial resources to purchase and endow a Colonial home museum and a sizable collection of more minor things. Mr. Huntoon possessed many of the big and small furniture pieces required to outfit such an effort.
To preserve her collection “as an exhibit of household gear during the Colonial years” in a home that her executors should buy, Wood stipulated in her will that the balance of her assets should be kept in perpetual trust “for furnishing, equipping, and keeping the house.” Wood’s executors were supposed to buy a place to showcase her collection. The first two people to be named as co-trustees were Daniel Huntoon and Girard Trust Company.
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