The Moses Rowan House
Sunny Dell Road
New Garden Township
Chester County, Pennsylvania
van den Hurk
for Historic Architecture and Design
University of Delaware
New Garden Historical Commission
Located just south
of the Gap & Newport Turnpike (PA 41) on the east side of Sunny Dell Road, the
Rowan House is a good example of how architectural trends and changes in
domestic sensibilities shaped late colonial architecture in this part of
southeastern Pennsylvania. The Rowan House does not stand alone in this matter,
but reflects sentiments which were prevalent in New Garden Township during this
period and are seen in the Freed-Hoopes-Wilson-Brown House (begun circa
1735-50, demolished 2003) on Southwood Road and the Miller-Reynolds House
(begun prior to 1770) on Penn Green Road. The Rowan house as we see it today
has a simple rectangular plan with a cross gable roof; the latter was added
towards the end of the nineteenth century giving it a more Victorian
appearance. To arrive at this point, however, the building went through various
stages that reflect both advances made in domestic engineering as well as
changes in architectural taste. Architectural evidence points towards three
major periods of construction dating between the 1770s and the 1830s. Based on
archival evidence and a datestone in the north elevation of the house, Moses
Rowan built the oldest surviving section of the house around 1770.
The house Moses Rowan built stands on land, which was part
of John Wiley's 200-acre Penn Grant of 1713. Wiley held the land for only
a decade, selling it to John and Nehemiah Hutton who in turn sold it in 1741 to
Nathaniel Jenkins, a Philadelphia
storekeeper. Apparently, the 200-acres were an investment property for
Jenkins. His widow, Jane Jenkins, advertised the farm for sale in 1761,
but it did not sell until 1770 when Moses Rowan purchased it from her estate at
sheriff's sale. At the time of the sale, which occurred in Isaac Allen's
tavern, Jane Jenkins and her son, James, were listed as residents late of Philadelphia.
To account for the years between 1761 when Jane Jenkins first advertised the
farm for sale and the 1770 date of the sheriff's sale, we need to look at the
Jenkins' farm neighbor to the south, William Rowan. It appears that William
Rowan and his son, James, were renting the Jenkins property with the hope that
James might purchase it. To that end, James enlisted his younger brother,
Moses, a ship joiner living in Philadelphia,
to build a stone house to either adjoin or replace the "square log
house" on the property. However, before James could consummate the
purchase, he died, making his brother, Moses, his heir. Apparently, Moses
completed the house, placing a date stone with "M R" and "1770" on the north
side. Moses Rowan married Hannah Jackson in this year. She was the sister of the
clock maker, Isaac Jackson.
The initials of Moses Rowan appear in
this datestone on the north elevation.
Gazette notice of March 19,
1761 describes the property of Jane Jenkins of Philadelphia,
in New Garden Township.
One of the parcels she owned contained a "good square log house." The term
"square" does not refer to the shape of the footprint of the building, but to
the fact that the logs themselves had been hewn. There is no surviving evidence
for this log house, but this could have been the earliest dwelling to have
occupied the current site. The oldest surviving part of the building most
likely came within a decade of the log house. A date stone on the north
elevation of this block bears the initials "M R" and the date "1770." These
initials most likely refer to Moses Rowen, but interestingly enough Moses did
not take possession of the property until 1774.
Period 1 -
First Floor Configuration A
possible configuration, the cooking fireplace was separated from the bake oven
in the southeast corner by a jamb.
Period 1 -
First Floor Configuration B
possible configuration, the bake oven would have been incorporated into a large
"IA" on south elevation
"SM" on west gable-end
"IE"(?) on west gable-end
Initials appear in places in the
period I stonework
The period I house
consisted of a two-story stone dwelling with an interior chimneystack on the west
gable end. Two bays divided the south elevation on both the first and second
floor. A door located in the eastern half of the south elevation gave entry to
the side passage which ran the depth of the building and also had a door at the
northern end. The door in the east gable end could be contemporary with first
period of construction and could have connected the stone section of the house
to the original log section. A straight flight of stairs located along the east
gable wall led to the second floor. At the north end of the stairs a flight of
stairs led to the cellar. The cellar only extended a little more than thirteen
feet west from the east gable wall. This cellar could have been reached via an
exterior bulkhead entrance on the south side of the house. The ceiling joists
were hewn and whitewashed and the walls are coated with a thin layer of white
stucco. Two niches located in the cellar walls provided extra storage space.
Splines join the floorboards of the first floor. Splined floorboards would have
been harder to produce than tongue and groove floorboards and they indicate an
additional level of refinement which the owners wanted to achieve.
In north wall
In east wall
There are storage niches in various
walls of the period 1 basement
first floor: detail of splined floorboards
arrangement of the first floor was a double-pile-side-passage plan. A corner
fireplace in the southwest corner of the north room provided heat and two windows
with splayed jambs in the north wall light the space. A door in the east wall
gave access to the passage. It is not certain if the present door in the south
wall, which connects to the southern room, is contemporary to first period.
There are two possible configurations for the southern room. In the first
configuration the cooking fireplace was separated from the bake oven in the
southeast corner by a jamb. In the second configuration the cooking fireplace
would have almost completely covered the west wall of the room and the bake
oven would have been incorporated into the fireplace. Evidence for this oven
was found on the exterior west gable end wall. A door in the east wall of the
south room opens into to the side passage. The ceiling joists in these two
spaces were perhaps originally left exposed and subsequently covered with lath
and plaster to create a greater sense of refinement.
west wall of southern room. Entry to the
bake over would have been through what is now the closet on the left.
the Period I bake oven in the exterior south-west stonework.
First floor stair: detail of newel post
First floor stair: detail of paneling
The second floor is
divided into three rooms and a small stair landing. The rooms more or less
mirror the spatial configuration of the first floor. An unheated room is
located over the passage, south of the stair landing. Two more rooms divide the
western part of the second floor. A door connects the two rooms on the west
side of the house and each has a door leading to the stair landing. A board
partition wall separates the two western rooms from the stair landing. The
joists in these two rooms were originally left exposed, whitewashed and
decorated with fine chamfers. There is no evidence of fireplaces in either of
these western two rooms, but the possibility exists that one or both of these
rooms received heat from a stove that would have connected to the stack against
the west gable wall. All the doors and hardware-H-L hinges-appear to be
contemporary to the first period of construction.
stair landing showing doors to second floor rooms.
View of doors
in southern room. Left door gives access to northern room and right door gives
access to stair landing.
attic floorboard showing whitewash on underside, evidence that the upstairs
ceilings were open prior to lath and plaster.
H-L Hinge on
door of winder stair leading to attic
The winder stair against
the east gable wall leads to the attic. The floorboards in the attic are laid
in tongue and groove, but splines join the boards which make up the stair box
of the winder stair. A small casement window in the west gable wall lights the
attic. The original roof structure does not survive.
- winder stair leading to attic
hand headed nails in winder stair leading to attic.
Period II saw the addition of a
one-story stone block to the east end of the house.
The period II
additions also came at the hands of Moses Rowan. Between 1770 and 1783 Moses
added a one-story stone block to the east gable end of the period I dwelling.
This addition might have concurred with the removal of the original log house.
Doors in the south and north elevation of the period II block give access to
the new addition. The door in the period I east gable-end provides a connection
between the two sections. The addition consists of a three-room plan. A small
unheated room in the northwest corner is lit by a small window with splayed
jambs in the north elevation. The adjoining space to the south contains both a
passage to the period I block as well as a winder stair leading to the cellar
and the attic. The largest space is set aside for the actual kitchen functions.
Similar to the cellar underneath the period I block the cellar underneath the
addition does not cover the whole width of the addition-it extends only 13 feet
7 inches from the east gable wall-and there is no sign of a relieving arch. The
cellar under the period II addition does not have its own external entrance but
does connect to the period I cellar. There is no information about the attic
during this period.
This addition most
likely indicated a shift in room functions, with the main kitchen functions
moving to the new space. It is unclear whether the original cooking fireplace
in the southern room of the period I block was scaled down in size and the bake
oven removed at this point. The new addition was slightly less deep than the
original block-only 21 feet deep instead of 25 feet-and a cooking fireplace and
bake oven were located against the east gable wall. The survivals of these
signs of functions of domestic work remain rare and require a more thorough
documentation. The possibility exists that this fireplace took up most of the
east gable wall. A dry-sink may have been located next to the fireplace in the
northeast corner of the addition.
period II bake oven in what was originally the exterior east gable end wall
addition first floor ceiling shows signs of soot, indicating an open ceiling
before lath and plaster
Farming must not have suited Moses Rowan. In 1783, he
advertised his farm for sale, complete with "a two story stone house,
three rooms on a floor (and) a large stone kitchen..." The Rowans and their
seven children continued to live on the farm until 1788, when a blacksmith
named Thomas Pennington purchased it for 1029 pounds. The sale permitted
the Rowans to return to Philadelphia
where in the 1790 census listed Moses Rowan as a carpenter. He died in
1799 during the yellow fever epidemic.
With subsequent sales of small parcels, the farm measured
120 acres in 1813 when William Denny, a wealthy farmer from Kent County,
purchased it. Denny moved to the farm with his family of nine children.
Given his large family, his income (he owned three farms near Duck Creek)
and evidence from tax assessments which suddenly increased by $329 in 1815, it
is likely that Denny was responsible for the period III phase of construction.
During period III, a second story was
added to the period II addition and an outbuilding was added.
raised the period II addition to a full two stories and expanded the second floor
to the south. He extended the east gable end to the south by 4 feet and placed
a large hewn beam between the east gable end of period II section and the east
gable-end of period I block to support the south wall on the second. The south
elevation on the second floor was executed in brick-laid in Flemish
bond-instead of stone like the rest of the building. The fact that the brick
was laid in Flemish bond indicates that this was clearly the front of the house
and that the brick would have been left exposed to express the refined tastes
of the owners-during a later period the whole building was covered with stucco
to create a uniform exterior. A belt-course of two bricks in height ran
underneath the windows on the second floor of the period III addition. This
sense of refinement also becomes visible in the changes that occurred in the
windows on the first floor of the period I block. The single window in the
south elevation was enlarged to become a double window and the splayed jambs
were curved on the interior. The splayed jambs of the windows in the north wall
of the period I block received a similar treatment.
elevation of the second floor was executed in brick.
wall on the second floor was supported by the massive hewn beam seen running
left to right along the distant wall in this view through the breezeway
attic. (This photo was taken from a
hatch leading into the attic of the breezeway seen at the right in the prior
The expansion also
incorporated a change in the kitchen functions, which reflect the changes that
were taking place in domestic engineering during this period. The fireplace was
scaled down to accommodate a built-in cabinet, a stove with a cooking-kettle,
and the exterior brick oven was also brought into this new configuration. The
built-in cabinet received a distinct primitive painted marbleized pattern,
which was also used in the small room in the northwest corner of the period II
stove with cooking-kettle on south elevation of period II addition
painted marbleized pattern in cabinet in fireplace
Evidence has shown
that the second floor of the period III addition was divided into three spaces.
Two equally sized rooms-measuring 11 by 13 feet-were located in the southern
part of the second floor. The western room also incorporates the winder stair
leading up from the first floor. A door in the partition wall connects both
rooms. Each of these rooms is lit by a single window in the south wall. The
third room on the second floor stretched the width of the period III addition.
There are two ways of entry. First through a door in the partition wall with
the southern room of the period III addition and second through a door in the
west gable wall, which connects this floor to the second floor of the period I
block. This room along the north side of the period III second floor receives
its light from three windows with splayed jambs in the north wall. A built-in
closet is located in the northeast corner against the east gable wall next to
the chimney stack. The walls separating the three spaces were made of boards
which were joined with tongue and groove. They extend through the lath and
plaster ceiling and became visible after the removal of the attic floorboards.
The boards of the wall running west to east showed signed of whitewash on the
south side, but not on the north side. The lath and plaster ceiling is
suspended from a framework of alternating principle joist and secondary joists.
The secondary joists are much smaller and reused building materials.
The attic over
both periods I and III can only be reached by the winder stair in period I
block. A door in the east gable end of the period I block opens into the period
III attic. The door has a wooden lock on it (the casing is made of wood). Two
small casement windows in the period III east gable wall light this part of the
attic. The floorboards consist of narrow sash sawn boards which show signs of
whitewash. They were originally nailed to the principal joists.
Period III attic of door leading to Period I attic
wooden box lock on attic door
As a part of the
change in kitchen functions during this period the owners also had a brick
foundation and brick stack built against the east corner of the period II south
elevation to hold a wash-kettle.
built a small outbuilding 14 feet south of the period II addition. The upper floor
of this outbuilding is more or less level with the first floor of the period II
addition. It has a door in the north wall and two small casement windows, one
of each piercing the east and west wall. The lower floor of this outbuilding is
partially subterranean. Steps on the west side lead down to a small space with
the same dimensions as the upper floor. Once inside this space you can access a
root cellar which extends of the south side of the outbuilding, and is six
steps below the lower level of the outbuilding. Access to the well is provided
via an opening in the north wall of this small space. It appears that this well
might also have been accessible from the porch. A shed roof was constructed
between the south wall of the period III block and the north wall of the period
III outbuilding to create a covered workspace. A frame wall extends five feet
perpendicular from north wall of the outbuilding at its northwest corner. It
has a small four-light window that slides up. Together with the shed roof it
would have given extra shelter to whoever would have been working outside.
with door to lower room. The raised area
to the right is the roof of the root cellar.
outbuilding showing above-ground room at left and below lower room, well and
interior: view of steps leading out of root cellar looking north into lower
room. Entrance to well can be seen in
interior: view down well
William Denny did not have long to enjoy his New Garden
farm. Stricken with throat cancer, he wrote his will in November of 1815,
leaving this farm to his eldest son, Collins. From William Denny's inventory,
we gain some insight into the furnishings of the house. Six feather beds
and covers, eight large damask tablecloths, eighteen napkins, twenty-four tea
towels, silver dishes and spoons, multiple bureaus, corner cupboard, bookcase
with Bible, Concordance and many books were some of the items totaling
$7076.16. Four indentured black servants, three boys and a girl were also
included with their remaining years of servitude.
Although the court probated William Denny's
will in March 1816, his son, Collins, did not gain possession of the farm until
his 21st birthday in April 1817. The following years were difficult for
farmers with the bank panic of 1819 and subsequent drop in value of farms and
farm products. Between 1818 and 1820, the assessed value of the Denny
farm dropped by two/thirds. Collins held on until 1834 when he sold his farm
moved to Wilmington and became a railroad
conductor on the run from Philadelphia to Baltimore.
until 1890, the farm was home to two generations of the Wilson family. Samuel Wilson purchased 148 acres, sold a parcel and at
his death in 1848, his heirs released the 135-acre farm to his son, John, for
$6642. During their tenure, the Wilson
family made many improvements to the property. In 1859, John G. Wilson
advertised the farm for sale, describing it as 135 acres, 20 acres under large
thriving timber, the balance in a high state of cultivation. To describe
the buildings, he wrote, "...improvements are a large stone house, with pump
at the door; wash house, milk house, wood house, tenant house, spring house,
and all the out building belonging to a highly improved dairy or grazing farm,
good barn, part stone and part frame, with pump in the yard." John
Wilson citing poor health, advertised repeatedly over the next thirty years in
the Village Record, listing his farm for sale; the farm did not sell until 1890.
A final major
alteration took place towards the end of the nineteenth century. The owner-most
likely John Wilson-altered the roof to accommodate a cross-gable to reflect a
new fashion. The original rafters with their cut-outs for the purlins are still
visible on top of the period I east gable wall. Several other minor changes
occurred during later periods, such as the removal of a partition wall on the
first floor in the period I block, between the side passage and the southern
The purchaser in 1890, Teresa Foulk, was assembling a large
tract of land, several farms, for her son, Dr. Israel Pusey Foulk. He
ultimately built a mansion on land to the west of the Wilson farm. John Wilson's land became
a tenant farm with renters living in the house. In 1919, Dr. Foulk willed the
farm and stone house of Moses Rowan, the Denny and Wilson families to his niece, Bessie McVaugh
and her husband William. The McVaughs spent their lives on the farm,
willing it to their daughter, Leanore, in the 1960's.