Graeme-Era Transformation of the Mansion Graeme Park - Horsham Plantation, Horsham Township Pennsylvania
In addition to power over place, Fergusson might have had some influence over the architectural renovations made to the "mansion house" between 1755 and 1764. In 1787, under financial duress, Elizabeth placed an ad for the sale of Graeme Park. Although she did not sell it for another five years, this ad is vital to the establishing the estate's history as it provides the only description of the fully improved plantation: "To be sold....550 acres of land of an excellent quality, near 200 acres of which is beautiful timberland, about 40 acres of meadow, a considerable part watered by a never failing stream, the remainder plough land of a rich and kindly soil, producing plenty of pasture, and good crops of all kinds of grain,... There are on the premises, an elegant strong built and well finished mansion house of stone, three stories high; 60 feet front, and 27 deep, with a good cellar under it, three parlours on the first floor, the story near 13 feet high; three bed chambers on the second story, and three on the third; one of the parlours on the first floor is 23 feet by 22, wainscotted to the ceiling and paneled, the bed chamber over it of the same size; a fireplace in every room in each story; the chimnies draw smoke remarkably well, and none of them corner chimnies. A garden containing two acres adjoining the mansion house, enclosed by a terrace and stone walls, a large frame barn, covered with cedar shingles, with plenty of stabling adjoining it, a stone cow-house, carthouse, smoke house, poultry house, and a great number of other necessary outhouses; also a good stone kitchen near the mansion house, with convenient rooms adjoining it for a house-keeper and servants, a good well of water at the kitchen door, with a pump by it, remarkable fine spring of water in the dairy. There are likewise on said premises two large orchards of the best kinds of grafted fruit, and many other conveniences too tedious to enumerate."
While improvements to the overall Graeme Park landscape probably continued after Thomas Graeme's 1772 death, the retrofitting of the mansion house was completed sometime between 1755 and 1764.
As the renovations to the dwelling took place in the nine-year period between 1755 and 1764, then they roughly coincide with the establishment and growth of Fergusson's salon. Thus, with a variety of elite intellectuals present at Graeme Park during its period of high-style overhaul, it is possible that Fergusson and the others may have had some influence over choices made in finishing the interior rooms and altering the landscape around the house. While not unusual among the highly educated elites, Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson was well-acquainted with current architectural trends and allusions to architecture were common in her own writings. For example, one of her poems referenced famed Roman architect Vitruvius and indicates her familiarity with his Ten Books of Architecture. "When lofty homes and palaces I saw, Vitruvius pencil did their finish draw the proportions to the stone and made the charms of architect his own." In addition to her own musings, some of Fergusson's salon companions drew explicit connections between forms of expressive media in developing ideals regarding virtue. In a 1774 political treatise, Francis Hopkinson describes the interrelated nature of buildings and texts: "A book is like a house: The grand Portico is the Dedication; the flagged pavement is an humble Address to the Reader, in Order to pave the Way for a kind Reception of the Work; the Front Door with its fluted Pillars, Pediment, Trigliffs and Modillions are the Title Page with its Motto, Author's Name and Titles, Date of the Year. The entry is the Preface (oftentimes of a tedious Length) and the several Apartments and Closets are the Chapters and Sections of the Work itself."
For Fergusson and her contemporaries, literature and architecture, along with the other arts and music became the media for expressing their favored ideologies. Given this proclivity for abstract thinking about architecture, it does not take a stretch of the imagination to postulate that Fergusson and her coterie at least voiced opinions regarding the changes to house and landscape.
A more tangible example of Fergusson's possible influence over the renovations made to Graeme Park appeared in a September 1763 letter to Fergusson from her father. The letter was sent from Philadelphia to Graeme Park and, from the language used in the text, it appears that Graeme made frequent and at times lengthy trips away from the estate. Thus, Fergusson spent much of her time at Graeme Park without any paternal presence or supervision. In his missive Graeme wrote: "I hear your cider-mill is brought into good order, notwithstanding which it will be time enough to begin cider-making the weeks after next. We have next our second hay to get made. I have pressed Henry White to see that Roberts gets the shed ready to put the apples in, which will be a great convenience in carrying on your manufacture. It is still uncertain whether I shall come the latter end of next week or not; it would suit me better one week longer."
The letter suggests that in addition to her control over the everyday workings of the farm, Fergusson may well have been involved with the design and construction process of supporting agricultural buildings, in this case a cider mill. Evidence for her possible involvement with construction of and alterations to the estate's buildings and landscape are further evident in a diary entry in which she fantasizes about designing her own landscape later in life. "The Article of Climate I will give up, we must supply the Deficiencies of that by Contrivance, but then Fortune must be favorable to furnish a warm good House in the Winter, & airy pretty Gardens in the Summer."
Evidence of a great interest in the built environment is well-documented in her diary from a trip to England in 1764-1765. In the entries, Fergusson described both the exterior and interior of the buildings she visited. Her most detailed entries, however, dealt not so much with structures alone but rather how buildings interacted with their surrounding planned landscapes and contrived gardens. While visiting a private residence in Essex, Fergusson described the interdependency of house and garden: "The House opens into the Garden which has on each side of a large gravel Walk, fine old high Hedges, that give a pleasing Solemnity to the Place & when you arrived at the Foot of the Garden, the House at the end of the Walk is a pretty Object, being white, to terminate the eye at the end of the Vista; the garden takes in 5 acres, has large green Walks & a fine Stream of Water, it is not perhaps, what would be called here a fine Garden, but it is so full of flowering Shrubs, Variety of Hedges, & so agreeably diversified, that I think it a pleasing Spot."
Her journal is filled with similar descriptive narratives depicting the relation between house and garden. Shortly before her return to America, Fergusson summed up her impressions of England's landscape with this declaration: "Seeing fine Garden in the Spring & Summer, ever was ranked among my capital Pleasures, it seems to be of that innocent Nature as occasions no Checks nor Reflections of a painful Kind Upon the Recollection, & enliven it, it leads us to be thankful to the great Author of Nature, each one addressing him, under the Title of Jehovah, Jove or Lord."
While in England, Fergusson was "sought and was sought for, by the most respectable literary gentlemen who flourished in England" and clearly enjoyed seeing many fine examples of Georgian architecture and landscape design, however by late in 1765 she became restless for her salon and her own controlled natural landscape at Graeme Park. She wrote: "I am convinced many Hour of insipid Langour posses the Mind that would wish to be thought happy, this you & I have often talked over as we sat at the Door of Graeme Park, strolled on the Terrace or watched the Moon that friend to Contemplation, how happy we have been there, & how happy may we be again."
Her yearning for the comfortable landscape of Graeme Park is further stressed in a poem written from England to discourage her being sent abroad again: "I wish to lead a calm & tranquil Life Distant from Bustle & noisy Strife Action & Exercise the world admire, And call that best their Souls do most desire No rich dress's Viands shall my Health confound Nori in strain'd Passions be my senses drown's Nor early would I meet the Dawn While Dew drops glitter on the verdant Lawn; A moon light walk indulge me on the Green, Or when the Sun makes ev'ry Shadow seen In forms gigantick, let me stroll along, To hear the Mock-bird chaunt his rural Song But when rough winter with his Iron Hand, Collects round crackling Fires a social Band; I sit by that dear Pair unknown to you whose Souls can feel Virtue all that's due Let me remain nor rove abroad nor stray Where Snows & Frosts point out the slipp'pry way. The Book, the Work, the Pen can all employ The vacant Moment to some peaceful Joy."
With Fergusson's interest in architecture, landscape, and design established-to a degree beyond which most educated men and women would not cultivate-it is probable that she, and possibly her colleagues, made extensive contribution to the design of buildings and landscapes at Graeme Park.
Fergusson conceived of Graeme Park as a setting for her salon and its associated theoretical debated and practical application of republican virtue. The salon discourse was based on a complex combination of Christian, classical, Whig, and Enlightenment modes of thought. The intent was to create a virtuous and reason-centered environment where the political and social coexisted with and glorified God's natural world. In practice, the salon at Graeme Park was a democratic institution with an enlightened female leader, a place where ideas were shared in an open and relaxed forum. The subsistence ideal of Fergusson's progressive farm production realized the republican ideal of the theoretical noble farmer.
Her influence over the ornamental parkland clearly displayed her interests in up-to-date landscape design and horticulture. As architecture was an important theoretical theme for the salon and the salon convened during the proposed period of alterations, it is probable that she and her colleagues and friends, who were members of the salon, provided opinions, if not actual assistance in renovating the mansion house. For Fergusson, Graeme Park's total setting-the intellectual salon meeting within a high-style house set in a contrived rural working and pleasure landscapes-was the ultimate intellectual environment for dwelling on virtuous theory and participating in activities in which that theory was physically manifested; better even, than the refined society and cultivated spaces she encountered in England.