This elegant townhome, which reminds you far more of the elegant 18th century townhomes of Philadelphia rather than a home in the rural countryside 25 miles west of that city, was nearly lost to history thanks to modern development. If it had not been for the tireless efforts of concerned citizens, a CVS would stand on this sight today. When you drive up Ridge Pike, following the path that the Continental Army took multiple times into and away from Philly, you see this huge stone house facing down the small shopping center across the street. The years show on this building. The remains of stucco partially obscure the stonework below the roofline, the ghostly outline of an addition to the house that once connected on the eastern wall is all that remains of the general store erected by Frederick Muhlenberg, Lutheran Minister, First Speaker of the House of Representatives, and one of the early judges in Montgomery County PA, son of the famous Henry Muhlenberg: Patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America, and brother to Peter Muhlenberg: the famous Fighting Parson of Virginia during the American Revolution.
Yet, even with the scaffolding wrapped around the house, you can’t help but be amazed by its simple beauty. 4 corner fireplaces in the main section of the house, 2 on each floor. A brand new roof, replacing the Victorian-era modification, restores the houses 18th century roofline; complete with cedar shingles and crown molding copied from the surviving originals found on the property. Behind the main section of the house are the two additions, the latest dates to the early 19th century, within has been found the outline of the original kitchen hearth and bread oven. This is the next restoration project planned. Directly behind the last addition stands the house’s recreated Pennsylvania German Kitchen Garden. Within the white fence, the style of which was copied from local period examples, are 4 central raised beds and others running around the perimeter.
Here, volunteers grow, maintain, and then sell heirloom vegetables, herbs, spices, and flowers that would have been familiar to the people who once called this house home. All of the work, from the masons and carpenters capering on the roof, to the more agriculturally minded watering and pruning plants, everyone working at The Speaker’s House is passionate about bringing the stories that took place in this house and around it alive.
Originally built in 1763 for John Schrack, son of Trappe’s founder, John was the keeper of the original Trappe Tavern, for which the area gets its name. That original tavern stood directly across the street from the house, roughly where a bank is now. After John’s death in 1772 it changed hands multiple times. During the revolution, one of the owners, Johannes Reed, was required to billet soldiers coming from Fort Ticonderoga in New York in his house. Reverend Henry Muhlenberg, who lives just up the road, noted this in his journal. In 1781, Frederick Muhlenberg bought the house and the 50 acres it sat on. This is when he added the 30 ft x 20 ft store, and a further addition on the west side of the house. In 1791, Frederick sold the house sister and his brother in-law Mary and Francis Swaine, who sold the house in 1803 to Charles Albrecht, a musical instrument maker from Philadelphia. Both Frederick and Peter owned Charles Albrecht made pianos in their homes. The house continued to change hands off and on, becoming property of Ursinus College from 1924-1944 and then returning to private ownership again.
By the 1990s the house was converted for apartment living and in desperate need of renovation. In 1999 CVS thought about buying the property and demolishing this house. Thankfully, this was not to be, and by 2004 the house was purchased by the non-profit that manages it today.
Though there’s still a lot of work left to be done to bring this house back into its former glory, the group of people who take care of it are more than up to the task. Along with the house itself, it is hoped that the Smoke House, Privy, General Store, and Barn can all be rebuilt in the future on the foundations that remain from the original structures. Whenever you make it out to The Speaker’s House, plan on stopping by again in the future. There’ll be something new to see every time!
Kyle is a long time reenactor, a Combat Medic in the PA National Guard, and currently an employee of the National Park Service. His wife and cat think he’s pretty alright.
The Speaker’s House is in Trappe Pennsylvania and they are hosting a living history event on September 30th, 2017. It has been under renovation since 2004. Come out and support our local history!
If you would like to write a short history of your local public historical home please send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org