Pont Reading House -

The Home of Joshua Humphreys

A beautiful example of an early American home, standing as it has stood since 1813 (although the original building was built possibly as early as 1683,) surrounded by large trees of the original estate, housing memories of the "Father of the American Navy," "Pont Reading House" is Haverford Township's most famous landmark.  It is located on the east side of Haverford Road, north of the Ardmore Junction Trolley Station.

The original log cabin was built far back from the road, and later rebuilt.  The middle section with its pillared porch was created in the years 1730-1760, and the front sections added in 1813.  In the pantry which adjoins the dining room can be seen part of the original log wall.

"Pont Reading" was named by Daniel Humphreys for his old family seat in Wales.  His grandson, Joshua, Humphreys lived here from 1803 until his death in 1838.

Joshua Humphreys had a shipyard in Philadelphia.  During the revolutionary War he designed the frigate "Randolph". (And for such activities he was disowned by the Quakers and "read out of the meeting.")  In 1794 by Act of Congress he was appointed first naval Constructor on the United States.  His greatest contribution was the designing of the famous frigates 'Constitution" (Old lronsides), "United States", "Constellation", "Chesapeake" and "President".  It is quite likely that he planned these ships in his library at Pont Reading and that George Washington when President came here to consult with him.

 


 

 

PONT READING HOUSE

THE HOME OF JOSHUA HUMPHREYS

by H. E. J. Sickel

 

"Pont Reading House" is situated on the Easterly side of Haverford Road, Haverford Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, at the corner where the Ardmore Trolley passes en route between Brookline--Oakmont and Ardmore, and near Ardmore Junction Station of the Philadelphia and Western Railway.  Here, this beautiful specimen of early American homes still stands, in an excellent state of preservation and repair, as it has since 1813, when the front section was built and added to the middle three story section erected 1730-60, which in turn was then added to the rear and original two story structure, built possibly as early as 1683.  One of the log walls of this first and original section can still be seen as one enters a door on one of the sides thereof, All surrounded and shaded with some large trees, of the original forest, still surviving.  These trees, hemlock, ash and swamp maple, tradition informs us, knew George Washington and other leaders, of Government, in the making, during Revolutionary times.  The picture of this setting is made complete by the presence of a white picket fence, quaint in design, surrounding the plot.

 

The front section, the third section added to the house was built 1813 of stone, with the exterior thereof covered with plaster.  This front is a two story building, with a beautiful colonial styled front door, in the center, opening into a center hail with a room on each side thereof, and containing two rooms on the second floor with a front window in each, and a front window for the second floor hall.  Over the center of the last mentioned, window is a an window, in the center of a triangular comic front, cptin,:- the front center of the house.

This is what is to be seen by the uninformed who may be satisfied with the sight, inspection and conclusion, that it is a pretty old property.  But the informed will be stirred with enthusiasm and interest, for he will know that this was the home of Joshua Humphreys;  the first marine architect of the American Navy, the designer of our ships, the frigates "Constitution"(Old Ironsides), "United States", "Constellation", "Chesapeake" and "President", which brought victory to the United States of America in its ar of 1812, with England.  Humphrey's philosophy of naval construction, was a fleet of smaller and more swift ships, designed to carry larger cannon, thus nualified to run as well as fight, against the design of the British ships of war which made them clumsy and slow.

Joshua Humphreys was born at Haverford, Pa., June 17th. 1751, and from 1803 lived in "Pont Reading House", while the third or front section of the house was built.  Here he lived uhtil he died, January 12th. 1838, at the age of 87.  His business was that of a ship bander, transacted in Southwark, Philade1phia County, and on an long since forgotten island, in the Delaware River, nearby.

In one of the rooms, now the dining room of this house, Humphreys had his library where he read and studied Marine Construction and formulated his ideas for the construction of the first fleet of frigates, to be contracted for the United States Navy, which as officially born during Washington's administration in 1794, when he was appointed the first Naval Constructor of the U. S. A. by Act of Congress, dated March 27th. 1794.

Joshuas Humphreys was the grandson of Daniel Humphreys, a Welsh Quaker, born in 1660 who came from Wales to Pennsylvania, when he settled forthwith on his grant, in the Welsh Barony, (Haverford Township) from William Penn in 1682 or 1683 thus participating in Penn's Holy Experiment.  Other members of his family held adjacent grants.

The Humphreys were of gentle descent and of some consequence in Wales.  When they migrated to Pennsylvania, they bought extensive tracts of land.  Much of the land now forming Bryn Mawr originally belonged to the Humphreys.  Bryn Mawr was formerly called Humphreyville, but eventually took its name form the seat of Rowland Ellis, a Kinsman of the Humphreys, whose land lay to the northwest of theirs, which seat was called or named "Bryn Mawr". 

Daniel Humphreys named his new Home, in this Welsh Barony, "Pont Reading," which was the name of his old family seat, in Wales.

The family of Daniel Eumphreys in the succeeding generations furnished its share in service to and for our Country.

Charles Humphreys, a grandson of Daniel and a brother of Joshua Humphreys, was one of the Delegates chosen to represent Pennsylvania in the First Continental Congress, meeting in Carpenter's Hall, September 1774.

Our subject, Joshua Humphreys, as a youth in 1765 started his career as a Naval Constructor, by being apprenticed to a Philadelphia ship builder, and before reachihg his majority, opened a ship yard of his own.

During the Revolutionary War he designated the frigate "Randolph" which was ultimately commanded by Captain Nicholas Biddle.  In 1777 the Randolph was attacked by the British Ship "Yarmouth," twice the size of this ship; rather than strike colors or surrender, Captain Biddle blew up his ship end perished with all his crew.

The result of Joshua Humphreys activities in behalf of the Revolutionary War, and the American Colonies was he was disowned by the Society of Quaker's; and "read out of Meeting."

Clement Humphreys, a younger brother of Joshua was, by President John Adams, sent to France, on a mission.  On his return he brought back home from Paris some fine furniture and other appointments for the home at Pont Reading House.  Many pieces of the original and other family antioue furniture can still be found in this house.

Then there was one General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys, a grandson of Joshua Humphreys, born at Pont Reading house 1810, graduated from West Point, who served with distinction in the Seminole and Civil Wars.  He developed into a great military engineer and notable leader and commander of men.  After the Battle of Gettysburg, he was Chief of Staff to General Meade.  When General Hancock was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness, General A. A. Humphreys succeeded him in command of the second corps, of the Army of the Potomac and continued in that command until the close of the War.  With the Civil 'Aar ended, General Humphreys became the Chief of Engineers of the United States Army.

From time to time parts of the original tract was sold off, leaving the residue of the tract in the Hunphreys family, with the Tilgham family intervening, after 1838, for generations, one following the other, until the area was reduced to about one and a half acres, the size of the present reamining plot, which has been in the Humphreys and Tilgham families - direct line, until 1923, when "Pont Reading House" and plot were conveyed by Deed to Theodore W. Reath, Esq., whose daughter-in-law (Mrs. B. Brauman Reath, 2nd.) is a lineal descendant of the original owner, Daniel Humphreys.

Having learned of the interesting historical record and pedigree of Pont Reading House let us look inside and study, with enjoyment, the interior thereof.

The interior woodwork is curly maple made from trees, that grew on the Estate, which had a noble forest of trees.

The middle part of the house contains the dining room and a number of bedrooms.  In the pantry which adjoins the dining room, can be seen part of the old log wall of, the original house built in 1683 or shortly thereafter, and some stone work which may date the same period.

The front part of the house bears evidence of characteristics of the Regency or Federal period, to which it belongs, having been built in 1813.  Down stairs are the center front door and hall-way, on each side of which is a room - one the parlor and the other the library.  Upstairs, second floor, contains a center hall and bedroom on either side.

All the rooms contain high ceilings; there are veined black marble mantels, over the open fire places.  Beautifully paneled woodwork of curly maple is much in evidence as are the mouldings which are also of curly maple.  Then too is the stair case, with its slender spindled balustrade extending from the basement to the attic.

The front portion of the house is connected with the center by door openings into the stair-well and halls.  Since the entire structure is built in three sections, at three different periods, separated by many years, the floors are on different levels, making progress through the house a series of up and down steps.

The property also possessed a garden with walks and conventional borders of box surrounding the shrubs, plants and flowers adding to the joys within by looking out through windows hung with draperies of that day and style.

 

To complete the picture there are growing flowering vines spread over and ivy clinging to the walls in clusters and patterns as nature has developed and left it in its many years of growth and artistic arrangement, leaving here and there open spaces of white wall in contrast with the green of the vines.

The ages past have given us, at this ',spot, and in our midst, something to enjoy; the past generations have carefully preserved for us a land mark.  It is for this and succeeding generations to continue the work of preservation, for the future, of a land mark worthy of our and their appreciation and admiration.

It is doubtful if there is any land makr, possessed of the historical background such as Pont Reading House, in the United States, which is in such a perfect state of repair and preservation.  Surely there is none other like it or related as it is to the History and Government of the United States, for here it was that the Father of the United States Navy lived and died, and here it was that the Navy of our Country was conceived, planned and had its beginning.

"Remove not the ancient land marks which thy fathers have set".

Prov. 22 : 28

H. E. J. Sickel

 


Joshua Humphrey burial information:

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=8186540

Burial:

Old Haverford Friends Meeting House Cemetery 

Havertown

Delaware County

Pennsylvania, USA

Plot: 66