Yes, the “must-see” at this house is the revolution-era bloodstained floor. During the Battle of Germantown, the house was commandeered by the British to house officers, including General James Agnew. While leading his troops up Germantown Avenue into battle, Agnew was fatally shot. His body was returned to Grumblethorp and laid in the front parlor, where the scrubbed-out stains are still visible.
The house was originally built in 1744 as a summer home for Philadelphia wine importer John Wister – and later became the family’s permanent home following the 1793 yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia. Unlike the nearby Georgian style estates of Clivedon (Cliveden: Colonial Bullet Holes & a Fabulous Retro Kitchen) and Stenton (Stenton: The Story of an Influential Colonial Family), the Wistar house was built in a Pennsylvania German style, not so symmetrical – and with a Dutch door entryway.
In addition to the house interior
you can see the c. 1744 adjacent tenant/caretaker house
the summer kitchen and attached forge
and steps down to the subterranean ice house.
John’s granddaughter, Sally (1761-1804), who along with the rest of the family left the house before the Battle of Germantown, wrote a diary documenting this period from a teenaged girl’s perspective – and like most teenage girls, it is mostly concerned with gossip about the army officers she meets. The original is in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Her silhouette and several of her samplers can be seen in the room that was once her bedroom.
Sally’s brother, Charles Wister Sr. (1782-1865), crafted scientific tools (like this rain gauge) and kept a weather diary containing some of the oldest weather data in the country, which are now at the Smithsonian Institution in DC.
Another Germantown relative, Owen Wister (1860-1938) was friends with both Theodore Roosevelt and Frederic Remington and wrote “The Virginian,” – for which he is considered the father of the western genre, and the originator of the modern fictional cowboy.
The wisteria vine was named for the family (probably Charles, but maybe his cousin Caspar), and there is plenty to be found in the gardens today
along with the (probably) oldest living female ginko tree, planted around 1830.
The Wisters occupied the house until 1910, when it was turned into a house museum. The museum has limited opening hours, so check the website.
One of the questions that faces historic sites like Grumblethorpe, is how to keep relevant today, especially in a city like Philadelphia that has so many colonial sites. Grumblethorp has done this by developing a program, the Grumblethorpe Youth Volunteers, who (among other things) work with a resident farmer to grow produce in Grumblethorp’s extensive gardens and run a weekly community farmstand as paid staff.
The scientific branch of the Philadelphia family descended through John’s brother Caspar. Caspar’s grandson, Caspar (yes, lots of repeat names in the family, also changes of spelling – some are Wisters, others Wistars) was a physician and scientist, affiliated with many early Philadelphia scientific institutions. The Wistar Institute, founded in 1892 as America’s first nonprofit institution solely focused on biomedical research, was founded by his great-nephew and named for him. The Institute contributed to the creation of vaccines for German measles, rotavirus, and rabies. They are also known for developing the Wistar rat, an albino rat, which is one of the most popular rats used for laboratory research.