Billy Penn Events

Explore the home of Philly’s first independent mayor and George Washington’s confidante

Elizabeth Willing Powel was an underappreciated architect of the United States.

powelhouse
Courtesy Powel House
danya

Updated Sept. 27

Saved from demolition in the 1930s by an early preservationist, the Powel House is especially full of history, even for a Philly place.

The Georgian-style house in Society Hill is named after former owners Samuel Powel and Elizabeth Willing Powel, who were known as the premier socialites of 1770s Philadelphia. We’re hosting an appropriately Swanky Garden Party at the restored rowhome, where we’ll enjoy great food and drink and explore the historic grounds.

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What went down at the house? Just major conversations about the shape and future of the nation.

Samuel Powel was Philly’s last mayor under British rule — and its first under the new United States. History books sometimes call him the “Patriot Mayor,” but Samuel was a latecomer to the independence cause, only officially signing on a few days before imperial troops withdrew from the city.

His wife, on the other hand, was a revolutionary through and through. Elizabeth was considered a political thought leader, and hosted salons where now-famous names like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams debated the merits of a republic versus a monarchy. For several years, George and Martha Washington lived next door, and Elizabeth became a close confidante of the first U.S. president.

Eliza, as she was known, was also an early abolitionist. Records show she purchased freedom for at least some of the household slaves — her husband was from a very wealthy family — and in her will she left money to the Abolition Society in Philadelphia, writing:

Whereas I abhor Slavery under any modification and consider the practice of holding our fellow creatures in bondage alike inconsistent with the principles of the humanities and the free republic institution. And Whereas I feel it to be the duty of every individual to co-operate by all honorable means in the Abolition of Slavery, & in the restoration of freedom to that important part of the family of mankind which has so long groaned under oppression.

After the Powels, the 3rd Street property was temporarily turned into a manufacturing warehouse. In 1931 it was snapped up by the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, which turned it into the living museum it remains today.

Explore the grounds with Billy Penn at a fun fall night of food and drink in the garden from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7.

Food and drink and help for your parents

We’re planning mezze and antipasto platters loaded with hummus, grilled vegetables, roasted cauliflower, seven kinds of cheeses, blistered shishitos, flatbread, pepper poppers, salumi and lots more brought to you by Day by Day.

Sips will include local cider from Hale & True, which brews the apple booze just blocks away in Queen Village, plus local spirits and zero-proof options.

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We’ll also chat briefly about what to do when your parents begin needing help at home. You’ll hear from the founder of our generous sponsor Pristine Home Care, an innovative service that helps relatives become paid caregivers and is also the first in the region to offer LGBTQ-centric training.

“A lot of people look at institutionalized approaches, as if people are cattle — but that just causes people’s health to decline,” Pristine founder Keith George, 31, said in an interview. “When you introduce things like children or animals, it increases the quality of life.”

Learn more about it at the Swanky Garden Party. Tickets ($55, here) include all you can eat food and drink, and Billy Penn members can message us for a discount code.

The garden at the Powel House

The garden at the Powel House

Marissa Taffer / Billy Penn

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