Thanks to last year’s federal-budget cuts and sequestration, the nation’s oldest Presidential residence has been open to visitors once, and that was for just few hours on Independence Day.
That will change on Saturday as the Deshler-Morris House, aka the “Germantown White House,” will reopen to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays through the end of August.
“The tours on Saturdays will be the same as they were previously,” Pilar Yeakel, operations manager at Historic Germantown, said of the historical site located on Germantown Ave. near E. Church Lane. “There’s not going to be any reinterpretation.”
Yeakel said that despite budget cuts and the inactivity at the site, which is administered by the National Park Service (NPS), routine maintenance of the building has continued.
“We have a number to call if there’s a bag of trash dumped there or something needs to be taken care of,” she said.
Jane Cowley of the Independence National Historical Park said the Deshler-Morris house, along with five other buildings in Philadelphia managed by the NPS, was closed to the public in the spring of 2013 when federal-budget cuts went into effect. Hours of operation at other historic sites were reduced.
“As the budget went back to 2012 levels [this year], most of those buildings have been reopened,” said Cowley, noting that many still operate with scaled-back hours.
The site’s history
The Deshler-Morris House played a role in early U.S. history, hosting President George Washington and the first family during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 which ravaged the nation’s capital in Philadelphia. The first family again used the house as a summer retreat the following year.
Originally built in 1752, the Deshler-Morris House did not sport today’s recognizable Germantown Avenue façade until David Deshler, a wealthy businessman, constructed a nine-room addition to the structure in 1772.
According to “History of Old Germantown,” Colonel Isaac Franks bought the property from Deshler’s heirs in 1793, fled to Bethlehem during the yellow fever epidemic and left the house to the president, his family and the executive branch of the government, which was less than five years old at the time.
In Franks’ diary, he noted that, among other expenses, he charged Washington $2.50 “for cleaning my house and putting it in the same condition the President received it in.”
The Deshler-Morris House will be open for tours every Saturday in July and August, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.