Germantown White House

GermantownWhiteHouse_01_BarrettDoherty_2015.jpg
Philadelphia, PA
United States
Germantown White House

Located in the heart of the Colonial Germantown Historic District, this house was used by George Washington as a personal retreat from Philadelphia. In 1752, David Deshler, a German merchant, purchased a two-acre lot along the thoroughfare that would later become Germantown Avenue. He built a summer house on the property that same year, making a sizeable addition in 1772. Deshler planted wild cherries, plums, and gooseberries, experimented with horticultural techniques, and collected specimens of rare trees from Europe and Asia. Colonel Isaac Franks bought the property in 1792 and President Washington occupied it occasionally over the next few years, avoiding a yellow fever epidemic and convening his Cabinet there to discuss foreign policy. Neither Franks nor Washington altered Deshler’s landscape, and they utilized the kitchen garden and orchard for household produce. In 1802, brothers Elliston and John Perot purchased the property, and their heirs maintained the house and gardens for the next 150 years. During this time, the productive plantings were transformed into ornamental gardens with paths, formal beds, and specimen trees. In the 1850s, the land was subdivided into smaller lots, considerably reducing the garden. In 1867, landscape gardener Charles Miller redesigned the garden, retaining specimen trees (including a gingko and beech that likely date to Deshler’s time) and replacing the ornamental gardens with an expanse of lawn.

In 1948, the 0.75-acre property was transferred to the National Park Service. Landscape management was undertaken by the Deshler-Morris Women’s Committee, who maintained shade trees, boxwood hedges, and garden circulation, while adding evergreens and shrubs. The property is a part of the Independence National Historical Park, and is a contributing feature of the Colonial Germantown Historic District, which was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1965.