This Piece Of History Keeps Changing The Former Philadelphia Mansion Ended Up In Haverford And, Honest, Detroit.

Posted: September 06, 1992

Houses often have split levels, but Whitby Hall in Haverford Township has a split personality. There's the Whitby Hall that is, the Whitby Hall that was and the Whitby Hall that's somewhere else.

The 18th-century Georgian stone home, now on Tunbridge Road, is a six- bedroom classic example of Colonial architecture. Before its move there in 1923, the same building - albeit a little larger - was in Southwest Philadelphia and was home to descendants of one of the city's leading

families. Parts of Whitby Hall that never made the move from Philadelphia to Haverford are now at the Detroit Institute of Arts as the centerpiece of its American Decorative Arts Gallery.

"The thing about the house that I really love is that it's very livable," said D. Jeffrey Hallowell, Whitby's current owner. "I'm a history buff; and when we were looking at homes of this type, so many were rambling with servants quarters and all that. But Whitby Hall had a comfortable feel to it."

Whitby Hall's first master was Col. James Coultas, who was born near Whitby in Yorkshire, England, and emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1732. Nine years later, he and his wife, Elizabeth Ewen of Germantown, moved into Whitby Hall's original portion, which, according to some accounts, was made of logs.

A leading citizen, Coultas was Philadelphia's high sheriff, was a ship and mill owner and distinguished himself as a soldier, river surveyor, judge and sportsman. In 1754, Coultas added a west wing, made of native gray stone, as Whitby Hall became a celebrated meeting place of the day. Eventually, even George Washington was a visitor.

At various times, Whitby Hall was a refuge for and an employer of slaves. The current building in Haverford still has the trapdoor that led to a secret hiding place for runaway slaves before the Civil War. The hideaway is now a wine cellar.

One account of the building's history, however, describes how some of Whitby's owners circumvented Pennsylvania laws to keep the house and its grounds served by slaves. According to state law, slaves who were in Pennsylvania for six months automatically became free.Some Whitby owners of that time shuttled their slave force between Philadelphia and Maryland just short of the six-month mark.

In Philadelphia, Whitby Hall was in the Kingsessing section of the city at what is now 58th and Florence Streets. In 1842, the original section of the house fell into disrepair and was replaced by an addition built to match the stone West Wing.

Over its 182-year history in the city, Whitby Hall's surroundings changed

from streams and meadows to rowhouses. The wall of sycamores and chestnut trees that once stood sentinel around Whitby Hall disappeared. Finally, its owners - still descendants of Col. Coultas - could stand the encroachment of the city no longer.

The decision was made to tear down the house and move it to Haverford Township. To pay for the move, a wing, including the main parlor with a black Scottish marble fireplace and the fireplace's accompanying cabinets, was sold to the Detroit museum.

Today the exhibit in the Motor City is still called "Whitby Hall" and visitors enter a mock facade to tour the colonial-era restoration. Ironically, the facade is of white clapboard, a far cry from Whitby's actual stately gray stone.

"Once we had museum visitors from Detroit who wanted to tour the real Whitby Hall," said Peg Johnston, curator of the Haverford Township Historical Society. "When we turned into the driveway, there was an audible gasp. It wasn't at all what they were expecting."

The Philadelphia architectural firm of H. Lewis Duhring was involved in the move of the house, and retired architect Charles Fridy, who lives in Haverford, recalled talking with Duhring about the undertaking.

"Louie Duhring told me that they marked each stone as they disassembled the place," Fridy said. "And when they restored it, they wound up turning the roof 90 degrees. Originally, the ridge of that roof was perpendicular to the facade to give it a gable appearance. Today, the ridge runs parallel to the facade. The architect started calling it 'Whitby New' but the name didn't stick."

Today, despite being several rooms smaller, Whitby Hall remains true to its original design. Along with its six bedrooms, it has four baths, a living room, dining room, kitchen and breakfast nook.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the house, with its three dormers along the roof line, is a colonnade porch. That was considered a side entrance when the mansion stood in Philadelphia but now is the prominent street side facing Tunbridge Road. At the top of the rear of the house, a round window remains, a porthole from one of Col. Coultas' merchant vessels. And a birdbath that now stands in a grotto was a sink in one of Coultas' first cabins.

Inside, original window casements and window seats remain along with the kitchen cabinets, rosette-carved door frames, center-hall columns and a dramatic blue-and-white Delft tile bedroom fireplace.

"We've tried to maintain everything as close to the original as possible," said Hallowell, who is trying to sell the house now that his oldest son and daughter are on their own and his youngest son is 17.

"Even when we had to repair the flagstone outside, I had it hand-chipped and re-laid in concrete. One thing we did was to enclose a small section out back to make a small breakfast room."

Hallowell said that about six years ago, an elderly couple who had previously occupied the house knocked on the front door and presented him and his wife, Catalina, with an oil painting of the building.

"It's absolutely magnificent and we have it hanging in the center hall," he said. "It's one thing, along with the historical books, that when we go, it stays. There are just certain things that belong with the house forever."

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