The Morris House Hotel is a National Historic Landmark, built in 1786 by brothers John and William Reynolds. It is sometimes called the Reynolds-Morris House because after the original owner, John Reynolds, lost possession of the house in 1796 to Ann Dunkin at a sheriff’s sale, it was owned by the Morris Family for 120 years.
The Lay Of The Land
The Morris House Hotel is a large three and a half story brick structure that is located in the Washington Square West neighborhood of Philadelphia. Although it is known today for a variety of different historical reasons, the house has remained important throughout the years, even serving as a social center in the early 1800s. The house’s importance remains especially true for the world of architecture.
Williams Reynolds was a town physician. John Reynolds was a brickmaker. Because of John’s profession, it is likely that he is responsible for most the architectural design of the brick house. Some accounts even cite as John as the primary builder.
The Morris House Hotel exhibits many of the architectural elements traditionally associated with late 18th century Georgian style architecture, with the exception of the prominent stone lintels that are deeply scored to look like keystoned architraves. These are particularly out of date from the lighter stylistic norms that were gaining popularity at the time through the Federal Period style.
Georgian Architecture At Its Finest
The centered door is characteristic of Georgian architecture, with a transom-like fanlight above the door. Near the door are framing pilasters that more closely relate to the Federal Period’s architectural style that was coming into vogue at the time of the home’s construction.
The house also featured two chimneys, one on each end of the house. This was a common element of Georgian architecture that has been preserved. In the case of the Morris House Hotel, this would have been particularly important as the house was built on a double lot and was considerably larger than the other homes built during this period would have been. The other homes were often built on only a single lot.
Additionally, the windows in the Morris House Hotel are consistent with Georgian ideals. It features three dormer windows and sashed windows throughout the rest of the home. The windows on the lower floors are larger than the windows on the upper floors. This was a common way that home builders and architects could reduce the amount of “window tax” that a homeowner would have to pay. The amount of the window tax due was based on the amount of windows a home had. The tax would be added to the home owner’s property taxes. One way that Georgian architects were able to reduce property taxes owed was to reduce the number of window panes that a house had overall.
The Morris House also features a cornice on the third floor. The cornice has beautiful decorations that were common at the time. The cornice helps add to the dwelling’s elegance and serves as a reminder of how spectacular the homes must have looked in the beginning of the United States’ independent history.
The Morris House Hotel is said to be one of the best surviving original examples of a Georgian Philadelphia townhouse or rowhouse. Architectural enthusiasts who are unfamiliar with this region’s history might have a difficult time believing that this home was part of a row of historical homes. However, it used to be. The original row houses that adjoined with the Morris House Hotel were removed in the early 20th century. Since then, the Morris House Hotel has stood alone. A garden grows where the other row houses once stood.