Tom Joad and The Cliffs

“Study the hangings, the floors, the pictures, the lighting fixtures, the furniture and the accessory objects. Master them as a series of developments in taste and style. Master them, and you are then qualified to go anywhere and say with much assurance about when a house was built or when a piece of furniture was made.”-John B. Kelly, President, Fairmount Park Commission, 1932 in The Chain of Colonial Houses




From Ruins’ associate, Rob Armstrong: “Arson claimed the house in the 1980s. There are several pics housed in the Fairmount Park Commission archive of the house in its glory. But seriously, I would be a bit wary of the “well read taggers” around the house. Apparently, they have been seen trying to reset the place on fire. Not sure how that would work…there is not much to burn. Benjamin Franklin’s daughter lived here, and it was a very elegant summer house in the 18th and 19th c. As recently as the 1970s a restoration project took place here as well.”


Here are some works on the “colonial chain” of Fairmount Park houses past and present.

Click here to see more Cliffs photos.

4 thoughts on “Tom Joad and The Cliffs

  1. Great idea and great photos. I esp. like the Tom Joad one, eerie that these kinds of allusions still resonate with folks. I also like the idea of the monuments throughout the city. There are literally millions of sacred places in Phillytown, and I’m not just talking about JFK stadium (amen.)

  2. What happened to this house? Arson? Neglect? After reading your entry, I tried to find info on the house and was ony successful in locating “before” photos on the Library of Congress; American Memory page. HABS HAER has a series of interior and exterior photos of when it was still intact in addition to a detailed architectural survey. I understand that it was rehabilitated in 1976, but I’m shocked by it’s current condition.

  3. I found (and now can’t find a second time) a .pdf of testimony from the head of the Sedgley Woods Disc Golf Association that alludes to the 1986 fire. The house burned, apparently, because the fire trucks bogged down in heavy clay trucked in to seal the nearby landfill.

    My husband and I were up there last weekend. It sits at the edge of a large clearing. I’ve dropped the URL to the resultant Flickr photoset in the “website” field for this comment.

  4. I first noticed the burned out shell of The Cliffs in the winter of 2007 as I traveled west on the I-76. I was immediately fascinated by what I saw and I wanted to know everything I could about the house. I was heartsick to learn of its ignominious end by arson. But I am more heartsick that the remains of the building are being allowed to decay with out any concern for its survival. Is it not possible, at the very least, to stabilize the structure from the inside with iron beams forming an inner framework to prevent the building’s eventual collapse? Once the structure has been strengthened, it would be possible to rebuild the roof and give some dignity back to this all too precious architectural gem from our colonial past.

    How disgraceful to allow this 1753 building to fall to pieces right in the heart of the city of brotherly love. It is a symbol of our past, but also the responsibility of those living in the present to do what is possible to SAVE THE CLIFFS.

    If any engineers or architects should read this comment, please respond to me. I am neither, but am hoping to do something to save this building from collapse.

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