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Mount Pleasant: A Very Special Place in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

Updated on August 13, 2013
Mount Pleasant with Outbuildings: Rear Facade Facing the Schuylkill River
Mount Pleasant with Outbuildings: Rear Facade Facing the Schuylkill River
Mount Pleasant's Front Steps
Mount Pleasant's Front Steps

What shall we think of a set of front steps made of stone with so many deep impressions in them? How long have they been there? How many people have stepped on them? Anyone famous perhaps? Anyone notorious?

The age of the front steps at Mount Pleasant in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia is uncertain; however, there can be no doubt that many people have been to the house. In fact, some famous (and even infamous) people have visited the place.

Captain John Macpherson
Captain John Macpherson

How the House Came to Be

The house was built around 1761-1762 by a remarkable man, John Macpherson, with his wife Margaret. Macpherson had been a privateer with letters of marque from Great Britain. With these credentials, Macpherson had sailed in his own vessel after ships flying the flags of Britain's enemies, France and Spain, to capture them and their treasure.

Was this a dangerous way of life? He was once captured by an adversary of England, who tied him to his ship and set the vessel on fire. However, Macpherson survived this and other rigors to prosper in a lucrative enterprise, so that he was able to retire to Philadelphia and build Mount Pleasant on the east bank of the Schuylkill River, a sustantial federal-style house to which were added two outbuildings.

Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold
Colonel Jonathan Williams, Chief Engineer and First Superintendent of West Point
Colonel Jonathan Williams, Chief Engineer and First Superintendent of West Point

Interesting People Associated with the Estate

Many celebrities of early American history came into contact with Mount Pleasant. John Adams was a guest, pronouncing it the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania. The first Spanish envoy to America, Don Juan de Miralles, leased the house for about two years.

Finally, Macpherson decided to sell the house. This real estate transfer went in 1779 to yet another famous (later infamous) person, Benedict Arnold--at that time a great patriot combat hero of the ongoing American Revolution.

Here we come to several great ironies of American history. Benedict Arnold, having purchased the estate for his new wife, Peggy Shippen, a member of a pro-British family in Philadelphia, traveled to the Hudson River at West Point, New York to take command of the Continental forts there. He committed his treason at these forts and, after the war, fled to Great Britain. Mount Pleasant then passed to Peggy Shippen's father, Judge Edward Shippen. And so it occurred that Benedict Arnold, originally the great patriot and hero of the American Cause, ended up living in Great Britain, while Judge Shippen, the Loyalist, finally lived in Mount Pleasant in a newly established United States of America.

The ironic twists do not end there. Later, Jonathan Williams would own Mount Pleasant, the first superintendent of West Point Military Academy, the place where the forts existed that Benedict Arnold almost betrayed to the enemy.

The Estate Today

Mount Pleasant is one of many estates acquired by Philadelphia in order to ensure a clean water supply on the Schuylkill River for the city's old water works. Today, these estates constitute Fairmount Park and Mount Pleasant is one of its star attractions. You may add your footsteps to the many that have weathered those old stones at the front door.

Consult the following web site for visiting information:


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