Bishop White House

1786

311 Walnut St. Philadelphia PA

Exterior
5/5
Interior
5/5
Site
3/5
History
4/5
Overall
4/5

With its completely restored interior, the late Georgian Bishop White’s house gives the best idea of how a member of the upper class lived in Philadelphia in the years following the revolution.

The Bishop White House is a good example of high Georgian architecture. Its interesting to compare it to the earlier Powel House (1765) and the contemporary Physick House (1786). When looking at all three, it’s obvious that Bishop White’s house has much more in common with the Powel House of 20 years earlier, than it does with the Physick House.

Physick was built by a Henry Hill, a wine merchant who wanted a house in the latest Adamsesque style (or Federal on this side of the Atlantic) current in England at the time. Bishop White looked backward to the Georgian style making it quite conservative by comparison. The house, like many others in the area, was later modified so many architectural details are reconstructions.

Some elements, including the pediment over the front door and the side brackets on the dormer are speculative but many other elements are documented. The very large window panes, more typical of the Federal era, measure 12 ½ by 22 ½ inches. We know their size because they were recorded in an insurance survey (the insurance company carefully documented them because they were so expensive to replace)

The front façade includes the requisite Georgian details such as a water table and brick belt course. While less decorated (particularly on the interior) than the Powel House, Bishop White’s house is equally grand – it is extraordinarily wide for Philadelphia row house at almost 26 feet. This allows for a generous hallway passing to the rear of the house and still leaves enough room for a very large parlor at the front.

It is now part of Independence National Historical Park. When the National Park Service restored the house in the 1950’s, it thoroughly researched the interiors and the rooms which are open to the public are reportedly the most accurately depicted colonial rooms in Philadelphia.