Look Up! 19th Century rural retreats in Northeast Philly

“Look Up” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. Each week, the photo essay will focus on a different Philadelphia area neighborhood and its distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.

Former farmland sprouted rowhomes and duplexes in Northeast Philadelphia during the post-war housing and baby boom. But a century before, the area was a bucolic retreat for some of Philadelphia’s most affluent citizens, and a few remarkable estates survived the wave of suburban development.

One of the few rural designs of Frank Furness still stands at Verree and Rhawn Streets.

Furness built the summer residence for banker William H. Rhawn, who named it Knowlton, in 1879. The 13-acre property included a carriage house, gatekeeper’s house and barn. The architect incorporated fieldstone quarried at the site, and adorned the Queen Anne-inspired home with arched gables, bracketed balconies and carved chimneys.

A renovation in mid-1990s preserved much of the interior beauty, including stained-glass windows, elaborate woodwork, inlaid floors, and carved fireplaces with Minton tiles. Knowlton remains open as an elegant banquet hall.

About a mile away from Knowlton, at Cottman and Central Avenues, is the Italianate summerhouse built for Tioga Railroad president Joseph Waln Ryerss.

Dubbed Burholme (“house in a woodland setting”), the mansion sits atop a hill overlooking what was a 97-acre farm and is now Burholme Park. The architect of the 1859 stucco-over-stone structure is unknown. The distinctive belvedere was added to the house 30 years later; it provides a view from one of the highest points in the city, but is usually closed to the public.

The building was restored in 1983 by the Vitetta Group. Burholme’s colorful history includes a chapter as a station on the Underground Railroad. Today it’s an active library and museum housing exotic artifacts collected on the travels of the Ryerss family. 

Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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