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What Is Belmont Mansion?

By Britt Archer
Updated Feb 01, 2024
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The Belmont Mansion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was the family home of a steward who was employed by William Penn, the state's founder and a prominent Quaker. The mansion that was built in the mid-1700s became a history museum in 1986, and in 2007 it was renamed the Underground Museum at Belmont Mansion. The new name reflects the site’s importance as part of Philadelphia’s anti-slavery movement in the late 1700s and 1800s. Judge Richard Peters, a descendant of the original owner, William Peters, was actively involved in the abolitionist movement.

A number of prominent figures in the early years of the United States visited the Belmont Mansion, including James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Foreign dignitaries and leaders of the colonies were entertained here. The Belmont Mansion was a place of beauty, and visitors in the 1700s marveled at the view from its plateau, which is still considered one of the city’s finest views.

Some slaves who made their way north in search of freedom on the Underground Railroad rested at the Belmont Mansion during the Civil War. Exhibits relating to the Underground Railroad are on view at the mansion. Guided tours are available, as are recorded stories about the site’s historic importance.

The Belmont Mansion, located on Belmont Mansion Drive in West Fairmount Park, stood witness to the Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876 when one of the event’s new pavilions was erected beside it. Today the historic mansion, built in the Palladian style, boasts one of the oldest ornamental plaster ceilings in the United States.

William Peters designed the historic structure and laid out the surrounding gardens in a formal style. His son, Richard Peters, was a prominent figure during the Revolutionary War. In later years he joined the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, was elected a state senator and also became a judge of the United States District Court. He turned his family’s land at the mansion into a working farm.

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