The Cliffs

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The Cliffs
A564, The Cliffs Mansion, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, 2017.jpg
The Cliffs with graffiti (2017)
The Cliffs is located in Philadelphia
The Cliffs
The Cliffs is located in Pennsylvania
The Cliffs
The Cliffs is located in the US
The Cliffs
Location East Fairmount Park near 33rd St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coordinates 39°58′45.8832″N 75°11′38.7276″W / 39.979412000°N 75.194091000°W / 39.979412000; -75.194091000Coordinates: 39°58′45.8832″N 75°11′38.7276″W / 39.979412000°N 75.194091000°W / 39.979412000; -75.194091000
Built 1753
Architect Unknown
Architectural style Georgian
NRHP reference # 72001147[1]
Added to NRHP March 16, 1972

The Cliffs is a historic country house located near 33rd and Oxford Streets in East Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. It is a Registered Historic Place.


The Cliffs in 1931

The Cliffs was built in 1753 by Philadelphia merchant Joshua Fisher (1707–1783), the great-grandfather of Joseph Wharton.[2] It overlooks the Schuylkill River from the east, just north of Girard Avenue Bridge and quite close to where Fountain Green Drive meets Kelly Drive along the river. It is a country house in the Georgian style, constructed in stone, with two stories and a basement, originally heated by double fireplaces on both floors and basement. The estate surrounding the house included a farm.

The house was the location where Benjamin Franklin's daughter, Sarah Franklin Bache, and her sewing group made clothing and bandages for the Continental soldiers during the Revolutionary War.[3]

Joshua Fisher (1707–1783) settled in Lewes, Delaware, marrying Sarah Rodman, and as a young man started a hat-making business using the locally plentiful animal skins. He developed a robust transatlantic trade in animal pelts and became wealthy, moving his family to downtown Philadelphia in 1746, and building the Cliffs as a country getaway. He brought his family to the Cliffs house and farm in the summer and they grew up interested in nature, with an appreciation of the Quaker testimony of simplicity. Fisher's son Samuel Rowland Fisher, his wife Hannah Rodman Fisher, and their three children, Sarah, Deborah, and Thomas, spent their summers in the house during the years 1793–1834.

The house remained in the Fisher family for more than 100 years until the Fairmount Park Commission purchased it in 1868. The house was rented and maintained until the 1960s when it became vacant. The house had a substantial amount of woodwork and paneling. It was taken over and repaired in the 1960s by the Shackamaxon Society, a local civic group.


The Cliffs, south view, 2007

The Cliffs house was vandalized in the 1970s and 1980s, possibly due to publicity that the Fairmount Park Commission allowed city officials to live in the park's 45 historic houses rent-free. As a result of the news stories, the Park Commission decided to charge rent, but renters could not be found for some of the houses. Those that were occupied were thereby protected and maintained. The Cliffs was unoccupied from 1970, and due to a lack of funds, neither the Park Commission nor the Shackamaxon Society could maintain it.


The Cliffs, north view, 2017

The Cliffs burned on February 22, 1986, due to vandalism and arson. Firefighters were unable to extinguish the fire because their heavy trucks sank in the clay earth surrounding the house. The clay had been trucked into the site in order to cover an area near the house used as a dump for refuse from various municipal construction projects.

Today, what remains of the Cliffs is a shell of masonry that can only hint at its history and former glory. It is visible from the Schuylkill Expressway and the West River Drive just north of the Girard Avenue bridge in the winter months when the foliage has dropped from the trees.

See also[edit]

Libertybell alone small.jpg Philadelphia portal


  • Fisher Family Papers, 1761–1889, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  • "The Deborah Fisher Wharton Papers, 1815–1876" Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.
  • "Biographical Memoranda concerning Joseph Wharton, 1826–1909" by his daughter Joanna Wharton Lippincott.
  • W. Ross Yates, Joseph Wharton: Quaker Industrial Pioneer, 1987, Lehigh University Press
  • Joseph Wharton Family Papers, 1691–1962, Library of Swarthmore College, Swarthmore PA
  • Article in The Evening Bulletin, November 22, 1971, on the plans to convert the Cliffs to a historic farm.
  • Article in The Evening Bulletin, January 27, 1975, on the plans to restore 16 historic houses including the Cliffs.
  • Article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 23, 1986 on the burning of the Cliffs.
  • Thomas M. Doerflinger, A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Economic Development in Revolutionary Philadelphia, 1986, UNC Press.
  1. ^ National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ "The Cliffs -Supplemental information" (PDF). Historic American Buildings Survey. National Park Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 20, 2013. Retrieved December 19, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Article in Evening Bulletin, Society to Convert Mansion Into Colonial-Type Farm". November 22, 1971. 

External links[edit]

Media related to The Cliffs at Wikimedia Commons