Called the “most elegant seat in Pennsylvania” by John Adams, Mount Pleasant is, along with Independence Hall, Christ Church and the Powel House, a member of an elite group of buildings which show (and show off) the best of mid-Georgian Design in Philadelphia.
It was built by a privateer (or legal pirate if you prefer) James MacPherson, and later bought by Benedict Arnold for his new Philadelphia bride Peggy Shippen but never lived in by them (that whole treason thing).
The main building and the two dependencies form the only residential assembly of buildings showing Palladian principles in the region. It is particularly noteworthy both for individual features – like the reverse roof curves on the dependencies, the brick quoining, the stucco over rubble scored like stone – and the overall sense of balance an proportion.
The center projecting pavilion features a frontispiece (front door and surround) with a simple pediment but a fantastic rusticated door casing and a beautiful, very three-dimensional second floor Palladian window. For some reason though, as at Independence Hall, the Palladian window has been placed too close to the door, giving it the appearance of squashing it.
The grounds, and especially the rear garden which were well maintained only a few years ago, have fallen into disrepair with broken garden ornaments and staggeringly ugly light poles. Air conditioning units have been insensitively added “behind” the dependencies detracting greatly from the exterior of the property as you walk around. When will people learn you can’t just “hide” modern mechanical equipment behind the front of the building and pretend it’s not there?
The still beautiful front exterior of the house is just the warm up to the spectacular interiors. Many of the rooms are designed for entertaining and feature beautifully carved paneling and moldings. There are several false doors placed to make rooms symmetrical (as was done at Independence Hall) and each room looks like it has stepped out of the pages of a Georgian carpenter’s book. The drawing room on the first floor is the largest, stretching the entire width of the house, but the second floor is the where the real fireworks are.
The “central passage” is lit by the great Palladian Window which dominates this small space. Even so, the builder installed a false door and deeply carved split pediments to provide additional architectural interest. The second floor parlor, designed for more intimate entertaining such as tea, features two wonderful arch topped cupboards with more split pediments above. Other details around the house are worth noting like the running Greek key carved into the crown molding or the modillions in the crown molding of the upstairs central passage. Also used to good effect are the fireplace surrounds of Schuylkill marble. The house lives up to it’s honored position of a Georgian masterpiece.