The oldest roses in the United States live behind a house on a 2.5 acre lot on the corner of one of Philadelphia’s most storied thoroughfares, Germantown Avenue.
An Indian trail before German and Dutch colonists founded Germantwon in this green, high area of the city, the trail wandered through the watershed of the Wissahickon, a tributary of the Schulkyll, itself a tributary of the Delaware.
These oldest roses make up the garden of a house: Wyck.
Here the same family of Quakers, lived for nine generations from 1690 to 1973: Milans, Jansens, Wistars, Haines.
The house itself reflects Quaker values: not large, not showy, functional, comfortable. And full of light.
It is to this longevity and the family’s multi-generation devotion to roses that we owe this oldest collection of roses.
The house – the original log cabin does not survive – was built and extended over time to three stories and then made, by means of stucco, to look unitary.
Smoke house, coach house, ice house still remain along with a chicken coop, a small farm and cold frames.
Wyck continues to be an active and progressive member of its community.
On the ground floor, a small entrance hall enfilade with three adjoining rooms: one on one side and two on the other. Two pairs of magnificent pivot doors which can be moved in an arc of 45 degrees close off the small hallway and makes the rooms on either side private.
One of two sitting rooms on the ground floor
And there is a historic chair still in place: it belonged to Benjamin Franklin and was used here by the Marquis de Lafayette ( Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, 1757-1834), on his visit to Philadelphia in 1825 for the 50th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the Republic.
The second of two sitting rooms on the ground floor
Symmetrical windows and doors on either side of the house to allow rooms maximum access to light.
Jane Reuben Haines sitting reading by the double door in a room which links the entrance hall to two sitting rooms. Behind her a large tulip poplar growing in the front yard of the house.
Jane Reuben Haines, 1832-1911
The dining room also on the ground floor
And in one of its cupboards, a small sign of the family’s Quaker attachment to the abolition of slavery.
Through the French doors at the back of the house and into the garden under a trellis planted with grape vine.
Vintage roses grow among many other kinds of flowers, bushes, a pear tree and two American ash trees.
These are old roses with flowers which run small. They flower only once a year usually in mid-May.
The rare fragrance of roses is everywhere in this garden.
Red Rose of Lancaster (Apothecary Rose) introduced c. 1240
Rosa Mundi introduced c. 1581
Centifolia Rose introduced c. 1650
Damask Rose introduced c. 1700
Red Leaf Rose
Noisette Rose introduced c. 1810
Noisette Rose introduced to Wyck c. 1817
Medium Pink Damask Rose introduced c. 1827
China Rose (Hermosa) introduced 1834
I do not know the name or origin of this yellow rose
Hybrid Perpetual Rose (Baronne Prevost) introduced c. 1841
Hybrid Perpetual Rose, introduced c. 1842
Hybrid Multiflora Rose introduced c.1846
Damask Rose, introduced c. 1848
Blush Noisette introduced c. 1817
Moss Rose, introduced c. 1855
White Rose of York introduced c. 1867
Hybrid Multiflora Rose, introduced to Wyck c. 1875
Noisette Rose (Multiflore de Vaumarcus), introduced c. 1875
Damask Rose, introduced c. 1880
Polyanthus Rose introduced in 1899
Hybrid Perpetual Rose introduced c. 1901
Hybrid Wichurana Rose introduced c. 1910
Gallicca Rose found at Wyck c. 1970
A large horsechestnut tree in the front yard of the house
House, garden and the history of both are quintessential Philadelphia: a city which made a nation. And precious to us.