If you would like to take a stroll through the past, the Richard Wall House Museum in Elkins Park offers a unique glimpse into Cheltenham Township's history. The museum is situated in the Township's 13.2-acre Wall Park, located at Church Road and Wall Park Drive, just 1/10 mile west of Old York Road in Elkins Park.
With an assigned date of 1682, the Richard Wall House was built by one of the Township's founding fathers, Richard Wall. Wall’s successors expanded the house over the next 300 years. Wall was one of the original purchasers of the land that eventually formed Cheltenham Township, land that was sold directly by William Penn. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and had the distinction of being the oldest Pennsylvania house in continuous residence until rehabilitation began. It is also one of the oldest Quaker Meeting Houses still standing in America.
The Richard Wall House Museum is open the fourth Sunday of each month
from 1:00 to 4:00pm. Check the calendar for closures. Group and individual visits can be arranged by
appointment. The Museum is open for tours during the week by appointment.
Tours are conducted by Historical
Commission volunteers. Special tours have
been customized for all school grades and adult interest groups. There
are first floor handicapped facilities as well as handicapped parking.
For the benefit of those who find touring difficult, a video depicting the founding by the original Richard Wall family is available. The Cheltenham Township Historical Commission conducts bus and walking tours, and periodic lectures on historical themes which are free and open to the public.
Contact the Historical Commission
The original format of the museum, opened in 1994, was a collection of period rooms decorated with appropriate antiques. During the pandemic closure of 2021, the format was revised to focus on the rich history of Cheltenham Township while several of the period rooms have been preserved.
The house museum features four floors of exhibits, a springhouse, a smoke house and a carriage house. The museum’s extraordinary displays include a history gallery, Roaring 20s room, an extensive 19th century tool collection, fashion displays, a Colonial bedroom and kitchen, and a military exhibit. The Cheltenham Township Historical Commission, which oversees the operation of the house museum, welcomes donations of Cheltenham-related historic items in good condition for the museum’s collection.
The Jack Washington History Gallery
The former dining room of the house has been renovated into a gallery of historic artifacts and storyboards and named in honor of founding member of the Historical Commission and former chairman, Jack Washington. The exhibits depict the rich history of Cheltenham Township starting with the founding purchasers, Richard Wall and Tobias Leech; the architectural evolution of the house; Revolutionary War activity in the neighborhood; the Shoemaker/Bosler mill and other Tookany mills; activities at Camp William Penn, the first and largest training camp for Black soldiers during the Civil War; and biographies of some of the famous residents of the Gilded Age Country estate era.
The Colonial Kitchen
The kitchen was constructed as a separate dedicated room in this 1760 addition to the building. It replaced the whole-wall fireplace in the original log cabin construction. Smoke, heat, and odors in the living area created unpleasant and unhealthy living conditions and, as economic status improved through the colonial period, kitchens were either moved outside to a separate building in more affluent constructions, or added as a separate room as in the Wall House. The floor has been replaced but the exposed ceiling is original. The fireplace and beehive oven are reconstructions as the originals were unfortunately removed by the owners for a large window in the 1927 modernization of the house. The kitchen has been decorated with cooking implements that were typical of the 18th and 19th centuries. The pewter plates are two hundred years old and were common utensils in 19th century homes because of their durability.
The 19th Century Parlor
This exhibit portrays a typical parlor or sitting room in a mid-19th century house. It includes an impressive large mirror which was part of the original Shoemaker decoration of the room and area antiques of the era.
Parlor History Gallery
This gallery highlights artifacts of the Barker/Curtis estate, paintings of Cheltenham by Cheltenham artists, the extraordinary and popular Langsdorf doll house, an exhibit of 18th century children’s toys, and an exhibit honoring the prominent Heacock family of Chelten Hills and Wyncote.
The Fashion Room
This room was designed by long-time curator Dorothy Spruill to showcase her collection of turn-of-the-century high-fashion clothing and accessories for women. As with the clothing in the Roaring 20s Room, the style reflects the more liberated culture of the early twentieth century. The room also contains interesting period furnishings including early magazines directed at fashionable young women.
The Roaring 20s Room
This room was designed to reflect the style of furnishings in the decade of the 20s. The “Roaring 20s” refers to the decade of 1920 in Western Culture, a period of economic prosperity as the country was brought “back to normalcy” after the World War. The period saw large-scale development and use of automobiles, telephones, electricity, radio, and electrical appliances in the lives of ordinary Americans. The era was also known as “The Flapper” era, representing the liberalized culture of young women who sported the “bob” hairstyle, lighter clothes, and energetic dancing to jazz music.
Tool Collection and Exhibit
The nucleus of the collection of implements on display at the Museum is a set of tools acquired over a thirty-year period by the late William Kessler of Wyncote. Mr. Kessler donated the tools to the Historical Commission in 1976. The majority of the tools date from the mid-18th century to the 1920’s, and are typical of the types of tools used for woodworking found in area farms and homesteads. Additional tools used inside the home for domestic activities, such as spinning wheels and yarn making implements can be found at various locations throughout the house.
This room was the main bedroom in the 1805 construction of the house as indicated by the attached nursery room. It has been designated the Library in order to hold our collection of books and historical artifacts. The books in the collection are either about Cheltenham or by Cheltenham authors. One book contains the signature of Lucretia Mott. Memorials to prominent residents of Cheltenham are displayed.
This room was part of the 1760 expansion of the second floor of the western wing. The furnishings include period rope-support beds, overnight chamber pots, and potty chairs for children and women. The ceiling has the original beveled rafters, a form of “upscale” decoration, and there is a steep spiral staircase leading down to the kitchen and up to the attic. The functional stairway pre-dates the considerably more elegant staircase in the center hall prior to the 1805 construction of the eastern wing. The collection of weaving instruments demonstrates the self-contained process of collecting wool, making yarn, and weaving cloth for the production of clothing, tasks that fell to the lady of the house. There were no or few “stores” to purchase clothing and the income of the ordinary farm family of the day did not permit such an extravagance as purchased clothing.