NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> The Frances Murray House, considered the most “elegant mansion” of its time when it was built in 1770, will open its doors to the public on Saturday, Dec. 7 as part of this year’s Newtown Holiday House Tour.
Overlooking Court Street, the imposing pre-Revolutionary War house stands testament to time, having borne witness to more than 200 years of American and local history from the sights and sounds of the American Revolution to the 21st century.
The original two story house was built by Bernard Taylor in 1770 and was purchased 20 years later by General Francis Murray, a major in the Continental army whose commission was signed by John Hancock, the president of the Second Continental Congress who is remembered for his large and stylish signature on the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.
Murray was among the locals taken captive by the British just a block away during a 1778 Loyalist raid at the Bird In Hand - the only recorded Revolutionary War skirmish in Newtown
Given its proximity to the raid, no doubt these walls heard the musket fire echoing through the streets and the commotion that ensued as loyalists raided the Bird In Hand where tailors were making uniforms for the Continental Army at Valley Forge.
The Loyalists over-powered 16 Pennsylvania militia men, led by Murray, in a skirmish that killed five Continental soldiers. The Loyalists returned to Philadelphia, carrying with them 2,000 yards of material, two wagons filled with timber, and thirty-two prisoners, including Murray.
Given its architectural prominence at the time, it’s also possible that General George Washington himself may have crossed the threshold during the American Revolution.
That thought has crossed the minds of its current owners more than just once since purchasing the house in 2013.
Stacey and Charles Bancroft revel in the history surrounding their lives, while enjoying a lovely living space that celebrates the past yet offers all the comforts of today’s living and more.
“We immediately fell in love with the homeyness,” said Stacey. “The character of the house is just hard to duplicate anywhere. The trouble with a lot of older houses is that you get closed in ceilings and tight spaces. This house was just very unique in that it’s a little more open, a little more inviting.”
While touring the house, Stacey said one room not to be missed is the first floor study. During the Revolution, the room served as a secret store, selling contraband to the area’s early patriots.
“There was a lot of exchange of ammunition, uniforms and goods - things that were on the down low - very clandestine - which is kind of exciting,” she said.
And don’t miss seeing the original deed to the house, which has been preserved in glass and enjoys a place of prominence in the front sitting room.
The living space will be decorated in a rustic greens motif and the fragrant smell of history will hang in the air.
“People who visit our home are going to enjoy a space filled with historic energy and holiday charm,” said Stacey.
Over the years, the original house has been expanded to include additional living space.
In 2007 and 2008 it underwent a major renovation. The front rooms (living room, dining room and sitting room in the original house) remained intact with only cosmetic changes. The back of the house received a major addition that included the kitchen and family room.
More ornate woodworking has also been added through the years.
“A lot of the detail work came much later. The more ornate trim work is more 1800s style,” notes Stacey, gazing around the home’s front talking room. “This house in its earliest days was probably pretty plain. It’s been updated a lot and the house has changed over the years. There was even a time that they had an elevator here.”
The Bancrofts have made their own mark on the house, concentrating their work on the second and third floors which won’t be open for the tour.
Throughout the living space, Stacey has added her own little touches, enhancing the historic charm with earthy modern tones.
“You want to live in the house that you buy and the spaces you’ll see on the tour are spaces we really live in,” she said. “I try to update them and give them a historic feel, but with touches of modern fun. That’s kind of my style. But generally speaking, the house speaks for itself.
“For me, it’s just got a lot of great energy. It’s a happy place,” she said.
About the Tour
The Newtown Historic Association’s Holiday House Tour takes place on Saturday, December 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Now in its 57th year, the tour gives visitors the opportunity to peek into several of Newtown’s unique private residences, all dressed for the holidays.
The streets of the borough will be alive with the sounds of the season as tour-goers make their way to the seven town residences on this year’s tour.
In addition to seven private homes, a number of public buildings will be open for visitors. All sites are within easy walking distance from the town center.
The $30 cost of a tour ticket also includes entry into the Half-Moon Inn, home to the Newtown Historic Association, where tour-goers will enjoy period musical entertainment, hearthside colonial cooking demonstrations and refreshments of mulled cider and cheese.
Advance tickets can be purchased at Newtown Book & Record Exchange, 102 S. State Street and on-line at the association’s website, www.newtownhistoric.org/housetour. On tour day, tickets can be purchased at the Half-Moon Inn, 105 Court Street, and at the Stocking Works, 301 South State Street, Newtown.
For additional information, call the Newtown Historic Association at 215-968-4004 or visit our website.