Betsy Ross House
239 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Admission: Adults $7.00/Children-Seniors-Military $6.00/Audio Tour Add $2.00-Please check Website
My review on TripAdvisor:
The Betsy Ross House Museum at 239 Arch Street
I visited the Betsy Ross House Museum when touring the small museums of Old Town Philadelphia. What an interesting historical site. You felt like you were invited into Betsy Ross’s house by Betsy Ross herself.
The house and museum is broken up into different sections. When you walk into the museum complex, you will get to visit a very patriotic gift shop stocked with Revolutionary War memorabilia. Out side the gift shop is the formal gardens and the courtyard which is a nice place to relax and enjoy the weather.
When you enter the house, you will be able to visit all the rooms of the house and the kitchen area on the lower level. The interesting part of this self guided tour is that you learn that the house was not owned by Betsy Ross or any of her three husbands. They rented the rooms out from a widow who owned the house at the time and that there had been other people living at the home at the time. Each of the rooms were rented and lived in by other family members.
In each of the upstairs rooms, there are recreations of what the family living arrangements were and how they were decorated. The bedrooms were furnished with vintage furniture of the time and items used in every day life.
The kitchen area was for family cooking and was stocked with items that would have been in day to day process of preparing meals.
Betsy Ross was an upholsterer and ran her business dealings from the front of the house where her small showroom and workroom were located to the street level. Many people in Philadelphia had this work arrangement where the business was in the front of the home and then living quarters were in the back or up above.
In the showroom area, an actress playing Betsy Ross, was there answering all our questions and she was very interesting. When she had been approached to design and create the flag, she had never made a flag before. The actress explained that she had to keep making flags ‘under the wraps’ so that Loyalist would not shut the business down during the war. Her business pretty much was shut down during the War years as people did not have the money or time for her work. I really felt like I was talking to the real person in that time.
The tour will only take about an hour but you will learn so much about business and living arrangements in homes at that time and of the family who lived there. I never knew much about Betsy Ross herself and her husbands and children from different marriages. So you will learn a lot about the family themselves and the lives that she lived with each of them.
It is an interesting tour if you have interest in the American Flag origins and the Revolutionary War.
The History of the Betsy Ross House Museum:
The building at 239 Arch Street, now known as the Betsy Ross House, was built over 250 years ago. The front portion of the house was built around 1740 with the stair hall (or piazza) and the rear section added 10 to 20 years later. The structure is a variation of a ‘bandbox’ or ‘trinity’ style home, with one room on each floor and a winding staircase stretching from the cellar to the upper floors.
The building’s front façade, with a large window on the first floor to display merchandise and it proximity to the Delaware River, made it an ideal location for a business. The house served as both a business and a residence for many different shopkeepers and artisans for more than 150 years. The first floor front room was used as the workshop and showroom. The business owner and his or her family lived in the rest of the home.
The sitting room recreation
By the late 19th century, most of the other colonial era buildings that once stood on this block of Arch Street, had been torn down and replaced with large industrial buildings and warehouses. Many people feared that Betsy’s home would meet the same fate.
In 1898, a group of concerned citizens established the American Flag House and Betsy Ross Memorial Association to raise money to purchase the house from the Munds, the people who resided there, to restore it and open it as a public museum in honor of Betsy Ross and the first American Flag.
Charles Weisgerber was one of the founding members of the Memorial Association. In 1892, he painted Birth of Out Nation’s Flag, a 9′ x 12′ painting that depicts Betsy Ross presenting the first American flog to George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross.
To raise money to purchase the house, members of the American Flag House and Betsy Ross Memorial Association sold lifetime memberships to the organization for 10 cents. Each donor received a membership certification imprinted with an image of Birth of Our Nation’s Flag. Individuals were encouraged to form ‘clubs’ of thirty members. The person who formed the club would receive a ten-color chromolithograph of the Weisgerber painting, suitable for framing, in addition to certificates for each club member.
Weisgerber moved his family into the upstairs floor of the home in 1898 and immediately opened two rooms to the public. The first floor front room was a souvenir shop and the room in the back of the house where the meeting between Betsy Ross and the Flag Committee was said to have occurred, was open for visitors to view.
A period bedroom in the house
The American Flag Hose and the Betsy Ross Memorial Association wanted to protect the house from fire and other dangers. They purchased the two properties on the west side of the house in 1929, in hopes of creating a civil garden. When the Great Depression hit, tourism and donations to the house slowed and much of the work on house and courtyard were delayed.
In 1937, structural changes and general wear and tear on the house led to the dire need for restoration work. A. Atwater Kent, a Philadelphia radio mogul, offered to pay up to $25,000 for the restoration of the house. Historical architect, Richardson Brognard Okie was commissioned to do the work.
Under Okie, the house’s original architectural elements were spared wherever possible. When the original components could not be reused, materials were obtained from demolished homes from the same period. A small structure containing a boiler room and a restroom was constructed in back of the original house with Revolutionary War era bricks.
In the historic house, three hidden fireplaces were uncovered, the front stairway and dormer were replaced and the door leading from the kitchen to the back of the house was restored. The most notable change, however, was to the front of the house. The doorway in the front of the building was moved from the western to the eastern corner and a new window was installed. Construction was completed and all eight rooms of the house were open to the public on Flag Day, June 14th, 1937.
By the 1940’s, the Betsy Ross House began to look like the place we recognize today but the Association’s work was not complete. A. Atwater Kent worked with the Association to pay off its final debts on the property. The entire property, including the historic house and courtyard was given to the City of Philadelphia in 1941.
In 1965, an annex building was added to the property and in 1974, the courtyard was renovated and the fountain was added. Two years later, the remains of Betsy Ross and her third husband, John Claypoole were moved from Mount Moriah Cemetery in Yeadon, PA to the garden on the west side of the Betsy Ross House courtyard.
In 1965, a private non-profit organization, Historic Philadelphia Inc. began leasing the property from the City of Philadelphia and continues to manage the site. The Betsy Ross House remains dedicated to its mission of preserving the historic site and interpreting the life of Betsy Ross, a working class, 18th Century tradeswoman. Visitors can view six period rooms, including the only interpretation of an 18th century upholstery shop in the country. The rooms are furnished with period antiques, 18th century reproductions and objects that belonged to Betsy Ross and her family. Highlights of the collection include Betsy Ross’s walnut chest on chest, her Chippendale chair, her eyeglasses and her bible.
(Betsy Ross House Museum website/Wiki/Pamphlet)