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Bartram House reopens to the public in April after $2.7 million in renovations

Bartram's Garden

A rendering of Bartram's Mile

A rendering of Bartram's Mile

While Bartram’s Garden has been gearing up for new visibility and an influx of visitors thanks to construction of the Bartram’s Mile segment of Schuylkill Banks, its historic house has been closed for renovations.

On April 1, it will be reopen with a compelling mix of old, new and new-to-us environments and programming. (This spring, our On the Ground program will land nearby in Kingsessing.)

"We’ve been fundraising since 2010," explains Bartram’s Garden Assistant Director Stephanie Phillips. With help from a $1 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant -- which Bartram was required to match -- the budget for the revamp grew to $2.7 million. The design phase commenced in 2014, and construction took place throughout 2015. The improvements range from a new roof and interior renovations to a cutting-edge geothermal heating and cooling system – the latter quite a feature for a house dating back to 1731.

"It was a great opportunity for us," says Phillips of bringing in the geothermal system. It’s not the first area historic site to install one, but probably the largest, with four main buildings and all the site’s historic outbuildings now on green climate control.

It was a special challenge, geologically speaking, because if you go back several hundred thousand years, the area wasn’t dry land at all: It was under an ocean.

"What we didn’t know was that Bartram’s Garden was on the site of a large sand dune," explains Phillips. If you need to dig 12 wells to a depth of 500 feet each, you have quite a job on your hands once you hit that ancient sand. Ultimately, they had to line the wells with steel casing and import a specialized Canadian drill.

New programming includes a Women of Bartram’s Garden tour -- as Phillips says, "broadening how we tell our story" -- which up until now has focused mostly on farm founder John Bartram, a famous botanist and co-founder of the American Philosophical Society with Benjamin Franklin. When Bartram was traveling in search of his prized plants, his second wife Ann Mendenhall, with whom he had nine children, managed their 200-acre farm. Their son William Bartram took over the site, and after 1810, his niece and John Bartram’s granddaughter Ann Bartram Carr continued the family legacy. She added ten greenhouses to the site.

A recreation of Ann Bartram Carr’s original portico and garden, which graced the western entrance of the house in the 1800s, is still under development at the site. Carr was an extraordinary figure in the art and horticulture world. New outdoor spaces and programming will introduce the public to her story.

"[The improvements] really coincide with the arrival of the Bartram’s Mile trail," adds Phillips. They will create "a much more welcoming experience" for visitors who arrive via the new amenity. For a long time, the west side of the house has been "treated more like a public park, and now it’s going to be treated more like a botanical garden."

Watch Flying Kite for more news at Bartram’s and developments on the Bartram’s Mile trail.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Stephanie Phillips, Bartram’s Garden

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