Historic Bolton Mansion

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Dating the Structure

  "By force of intellect, activity of mind, strong pre-disposition to take part in public

  affairs, integrity, and intelligence, the Pemberton family for nearly a hundred years  

  was the most prominent in Pennsylvania." 1 The ancestral home of the Pemberton

  family is located on the Newportville-Fallsington Road in Bucks County and has 

  been known for two hundred and ninety years as "Bolton Farm." Historically and  

  architecturally, the house is one of the most significant in Pennsylvania; nearly

  every one of its inhabitants since the days of William Penn has influenced the

  course of history in the state.

  Now that the attempted demolition of the house is an issue of the past and    

  restoration work is beginning, a reevaluation of the historical and architectural 

  importance of Bolton Farm is in order.

  Bolton Farm has been altered considerably over the course of nearly three centuries

  of use and what now exists is a complex structure of some twenty-seven rooms built

  and rebuilt as demands upon it have changed and expanded. Architectural evidence

  alone is sometimes conflicting and it is not the purpose of this paper to affirm

  indisputably certain dates of construction and physical appearances. Rather, the

  purpose is coordinate the architectural evidence at hand with the historical evidence 

  that has been researched up to now, in order to gain a clearer picture of the history

  of the house as a whole and to elucidate the issues which will become increasingly

  important as restoration work proceeds.

  The first issue to arise is that of the original date of the house. After their families had

  arrived, on November 17, 1683, Phineas Pemberton purchased five hundred acres

  of land and built a house, probably of English frame construction which was called

  Grove place. Finding this location damp and unhealthy, they finished another house

  in 1687, five miles from the Delaware, the beginning of the Piedmont. This house

  was called "Pemberton" or Bolton" because the family was from Bouton, Lancashire.

  This lintel of this house is in the possession of the Pennsylvania Historical Society

  and reads:  P. P. & P. 2 Mo. 1687

  This lintel is clearly from a house of English frame construction 2 and since the

  oldest section of the house is stone, conflicting evidence arises. Several theories are

  possible. That part of Bolton built by Phineas could have been of English frame

  construction and later rebuilt in stone in the early eighteenth century. It is also

  possible that the original house was indeed stone. Several factors become important

  to this issue. First, as to the validity of the 1687 date, the fireplace in this section is of

  a very early type (before 1700) being a low Jacobean arch. A strong case exists that

  is the original fireplace stack of the Phineas Pemberton house. 3 Even if the original

  walls were taken down at some later date, this fireplace stack validates the 1687

  date. Secondly, there is a line in the stone of this section that occurs at the bottom of

  the second story window sills. It is possible that the 1687 house was one and one

  half stories in height (either stone or wood) and later raised to two full stories. The

  one and one half story form of the house would have been more consistent with

  typical construction of the time. The break line in the stone complete with quoins,

  indicates that a stone structure did exist at some point independently from the stone

  section to the east. It is not unlikely that Phineas would have built of stone, after

  living in the English frame Grove Place. It is possible that the lintel is from Grove

  Place and not Bolton and that Bolton was indeed originally stone.

  A major difficulty in dating stone is that the stone-masons of Bucks County changed

  their craft little over the course of the eighteenth century. By studying the stone itself,

  one probably will not learn much. The architectural evidence obtained from doors

  and windows dates this section at around 1790. Yet we know that is surely existed

  before this date. The key to this is that when additions were made, the entire 

  structure was "modernized." new windows were added, old wood was replaced. The

  1790 date for this section probably indicates its second modernization.

  The section to the east of the Phineas Pemberton house has been dated at

  1810-1820 4 , after the Federal style west wing was added in 1790. This would mean

  that for one hundred three years, the house existed only as the original, one-room

  1687 house. This is very unlikely, considering the growth of the family in size, wealth,

  and prominence. By shifting attention from purely architectural evidence to the

  history of the family, clues to the size and use of the house might be found.

  Upon his death in 1702, at the age of fifty-three, Phineas Pemberton's will stated,

  " I also give, devise, and bequeath unto my son Israel, the housing and lands I now

  live upon and called by me Pemberton and 354 acres of meadow and upland... my

  daughter Abigail shall have the chamber over the hall in my now dwelling, herself

  with fireplace and free liberty of fire and passage into and out of same until she

  married. My wife Alice shall remain so long as she does not remarry."5

 

History of the Mansion