Hill-Physick House

This week on the adventures of Public History field trips, our brave students find themselves deep in the heart of Old City in a neighborhood known as society hill (possibly the most expensive zip code in the Philadelphia region). They all slowly converge on the Hill-Physick house. The Hill-Physick house is a house museum located in what would have, and still is, one of the most affluent areas in Philadelphia. The home was built in the Federal style and is the only free-standing townhouse of this style in the city. When this house was built in 1786 is was a strong symbol of its owners’ wealth. The Hill family who commissioned the construction of the house made their fortune off the importation of Madeira, a sweet dessert wine that was very popular at the time. This wealth paid for some of the extravagant finishes of the home, such as the large fan light, large window above the door and the Valley Forge blue marble tiles in the main entryway.

Valley Forge blue marble floors

However, the home is not interpreted to the Hill family but to the Physick Family who moved into the home in 1815 after the separation of Dr. Physick and Elizabeth Emlen. Only Dr. Physick and his four children took of residency in the home. Dr. Physick is known as the father of modern medicine and was noted for his quick surgeries. Considering the fact that there was no anesthesia at the time this was a very desirable trait for a doctor to have. He created many of his own medical tools and was a professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Physick lived in this home until his death in 1837.

On our trip there, our class was given a personal tour with Kayla Anderson, the membership and programs manager, and Johnathan Burton the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks Executive Director. This organization runs not only the Hill-Physick house but also; the Powell house, Grumblethorpe, and the Historic Waynesborough house. As we were shown through the house we were introduced to some of the home’s more interesting features. The Jeffersonian windows, named as such because of their appearance at Jefferson’s Monticello, were particularly interesting to me. The engineering behind them, weights being installed to ease the opening of the massive window, was quite ingenious.

Demonstration of Jeffersonian windows



The painting that was bought by Dr. Physick from Napoleon’s brother Joseph, who Physick was acquainted with, was astounding.

Post-tour, we were all seated at a table on the second floor of the home to discuss programming in museums. We were given a report that broke down what types of events their patrons wanted to see in their space. If you were wondering people in society hill apparently are very fond of morbid/ghost tours. We discussed the value of understanding what your kind of visitors enjoy and creating programming to meet that need. Museums are only educational if you can get visitors to come and support.


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