Mt. Airy: Yesterday and Today – Phil-Ellena’s furnishings part two

We are continuing our fantasy tour of George Carpenter’s Greek Revival palace, Phil-Ellena, in 1870, ten years after his death. Last month, we visited the Drawing Rooms and the Parlors. In this article, we are taken back through the Drawing Room to the Library, the domain of George Carpenter the businessman and scholar. It is a large room, about 29 by 23 feet, with lawn views looking east and south. The walnut wood bookcases and furniture are Gothic style. There are also Grecian-style chairs modeled after the ancient Greek klismos form, perhaps made by the French émigré craftsman Michel Bouvier in Philadelphia.

Bouvier, an ardent supporter of the Emperor Napoleon, made furniture for Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte, who fled France for America after Napoleon lost the Battle of. Bonaparte lived in his home named “Point Breeze” in Bordentown, New Jersey, from 1816 to 1839. Joseph Bonaparte had been made king of Naples, and then king of Spain (1808-1813) by Napoleon. At the sale of Joseph Bonaparte’s household furnishings and art work in 1845, Carpenter purchased many busts and paintings. It is therefore possible that Carpenter had earlier visited the ex-king at Point Breeze.

Historic preservationist Sheryl Mikelberg, who died in 2011, wrote her University of Pennsylvania masters thesis, A Decorative Analysis of Phil-Ellena, a Greek Revival, Philadelphia Mansion, with details of the rooms of Phil-Ellena and their furnishings.

The ceiling fresco of the Library portrays Jupiter by Raphael. The floor is covered by a floral-patterned English Wilton carpet and the woodwork is painted in black walnut graining. There is an antique French rosewood table, elaborately carved, with legs in the shape of a griffin.

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Walking through the north-south corridor, we enter the Breakfast Room, a room about the size of the Library, with windows looking to the east and north lawns. There is a Saxony medallion carpet on the floor. The woodwork is Spanish mahogany graining. The table, chairs, sideboards and cupboards are of mahogany and rosewood. In the earlier 19th century, the dining room as a separate room dedicated to eating gained popularity, and is a symbol of economic success.

The second floor of Phil-Ellena’s main building is divided into 15 rooms, including ten bedrooms, and a central hallway. The south end holds Bedrooms for the family and guests. The north end is occupied by the nursery and servant chambers. There are five larger rooms that contain 400 square feet of floor space each (equal to rooms 20 by 20 feet). Four of these are the best bedchambers.

These bedrooms contain simple Gothic-styled suites of furniture, including high-post bedsteads with white, gauzy bedhangings (for winter warmth), with hair mattresses, tucker springs, and down bed and bolsters and pillows. In these rooms, we find rosewood and mahogany lounges, walnut dressing bureaus, walnut double wardrobes, and French rosewood chairs with upholstered seats. The ceilings of the bedrooms are decorated with painted Raphaelese and Arabesque ornaments, with flowers and figures and designs conveying the themes of Power, Night and Day, Flora, and Juno.

One of the large second floor rooms is a Picture Gallery, where Carpenter has hung his collection of “splendid paintings by eminent artists of Europe and America.” (These contemporary artists include Rochen, Pages, Midi, Vernet, Berri, Poittevin, Beume, Deveria, Franquelin, Roqueplan, and Cibot – who are not widely known today – and their themes are sentimental and literary, according to Sheryl Mikelberg.)

In his 1844 pamphlet about Phil-Ellena, George Carpenter rejoices in the views he sees from the Picture Gallery. The windows “…open to…the most delightful scenery and landscape…The touching aspect of delightful nature, the variegated verdure of the forests…the soft agitations of the foliage, the sweet warblings and enlivening strains of the feathered choir, chaunting their rural songs…all in view. Who would not rather seek in these…simple pleasures of nature so different from…the noise and clamour of a crowded city, and the…care and toil of an active business…”

In my next article in August, we will walk around George Carpenter’s Phil-Ellena estate, to conclude our examination of George Carpenter and his home and world.

Burt Froom is a Parish Associate at Summit Presbyterian Church, 6757 Greene St. in Mt. Airy. This essay was originally published on the website of West. Mt. Airy Neighbors(WMAN).

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