I’ve visited a lot of Philly museums over the years, but I’d never even heard about this place – that’s how off the beaten path it is. Yet, it is just right off Cottman Avenue in Northeast Philly… and it’s free!

It’s hard to know where to start with this museum that belonged to a family that came over on the Welcome with William Penn. The mansion itself dates back to 1859, and was originally used as a summer retreat for the family, whose railroad fortune was used to fund the family’s collecting bug. The collection was begun by Joseph Waln Ryerss, and continued by his son Robert, who scandalized Victorian society by marrying his housekeeper months before his death. After remarrying, Mary Ann turned the house and collection over to the city per Robert’s wishes to be used as a museum “free to the people forever.” Mary Ann continued collecting items for the museum (she died in China on one of her collecting trips), and on her death her husband persuaded the city to add the extension on to the house to display more of the collection.

Today, the museum houses items as diverse as the family’s Victorian furnishings and knickknacks to an extensive collection of intricate ivory carvings. Labels are sparse, so the real pleasure is just enjoying the diversity and unusual treasures tucked away.

The first floor of the home is primarily the family’s personal items -furniture, plus plenty of items of interest, such as this amazing alligator card holder

to this medicine chest. Is this really the best place to store your “poison”????

I love these rounded closets.

The purpose-built museum wing has two floors. The second floor houses primarily European and American items

Including this cool ostrich egg container.

The first floor houses the Asian art collection, which would be the envy of any museum.

The collection of carved ivory is impressive. Including the turtle with moving head, tail and legs, and the watermelon guy who sticks out his tongue.

and this Chinese puzzle ball, which contains 23 hollow spheres, all carved from a single piece of ivory.

The lack of labels mean you just have to guess about some of the items.

Make sure to check out the paintings of the family’s pets, located throughout the public library on the second floor.

The family were early animal rights activists (they helped found the SPCA in Philly, and a retirement home for horses that still exists). The best part of the house is the small pet cemetery still located near the museum entrance.

Many of the stones are hard to read, but you can match some to the library paintings.

The museum is free, but only open Friday – Sunday. https://robertryerss.org/