Mill Grove Property History

The history of Mill Grove dates back to 1762!

Native Americans present in the area.

1699 -  William Penn acquires extensive land grant in the Colonies from the English crown. He names it “Pennsylvania” meaning Penn’s Woods. His land grant includes the site that will become Mill Grove.

1722 –  Land sold from Tobins Collet to Edmard Farmer to Thomas Morgan to James Morgan

1762 – House is built for James Morgan.  The house front faces the Perkiomen Creek. (There is no porch.)

1764 – addition constructed; used as a kitchen wing and possibly as a tavern for river travelers

1789 -  Capt. Jean Audubon purchases the property as an investment. A Quaker family named Thomas serve as tenants & farmers.

1803 – 1806 – a 17 yr.-old John James Audubon lives here, with the Thomases. Attempts are made to mine the lead and copper deposits. While at Mill Grove, Audubon makes three major discoveries: 1) he achieves the first bird-banding experiment in America; 2) he invents a method of wiring dead birds in order to paint them in a naturalist manner; 3) and he meets & falls in love with the girl next door, Lucy Bakewell. He marries Lucy in 1808, sells his stake in Mill Grove, and he and Lucy set off for Kentucky.

1806 – 1813 – property changes hands several times.

1813 - Wetherill family purchases site. Uses lead for its paint business.

Barn – date barn constructed is not known. It may have been built sometime in the 19th century (1800s). Perhaps the current barn envelopes an earlier barn structure. Current barn appears in photographs taken of the site by the Wetherills about 1900. Circular portion apparently added as a garage in the early 20th-century (1900s).

1813 – 1876, and, 1899 - 1951 – Wetherill families own the site. Various interior changes made to the fireplaces and to the wood trim on windows & doors.  To create space for children, the open third floor is divided into rooms with small windows added in the new walls to allow for light & air circulation.

Mid- to late 1800s – mines are active, then peter-out and are closed.

Circa 1900 – early 20th century - Wetherills restore the house. Front porch added about this time. Circular garage added to Barn. Photographs taken of the site and include the house and barn.

1928 – old mill and miller’s cottage torn down

1928 – 1951 – Wetherill family use Mill Grove as a summer residence.

1951 – during the centennial year of Audubon’s death, the Wetherills sell Mill Grove to Montgomery so the County can create the Audubon Shrine and Wildlife Sanctuary. The County hires artists George Harding & John Hanlen to turn the house into a museum. Harding gives the house “colonial revival” treatment by:

·  raising the floors,

·  adding paneled wainscoting.

Since the County had few examples of Audubon art or artifacts, Harding:

·  covers over some fireplaces in order to have wall space for murals;

·  paints and installs murals on the first & second floors with themes reflecting influences from:

  -John James Audubon (birds & mammals),

  -David Rittenhouse (early 19th-century astronomy – mural now covered over with panels)

  -and the region’s “Pennsylvania Dutch” heritage.

1951 or after - following accepted practice at the time, paint is scraped off the fireplace surround in the room on the second floor, in order to achieve a primitive, bare wood “country” look.

Historic preservation research in later decades finds that settlers did not desire a “primitive” look, but aspired to re-create the sophisticated and familiar surroundings of the homes they left behind. This included using paint for interior decoration, and purchasing stylish furniture and other accoutrements as they could afford them.

1951   - 1966 - J. d’Arcy is the first site curator/administrator

1960s – the Church family estate (of the Dwight & Church baking soda co., now Arm & Hammer), donates to Mill Grove many examples of John James Audubon’s famous works, including a complete set of his Birds of America double-elephant folio. One of the volumes is on display in the house, along with one volume Audubon’s The Quadrupeds of America

1966 – 1980s  – Ed Graham is site administrator

1989 – The house is designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior and the

National Park Service.

1990s – Roger Mower is the site administrator

1999 – 2004 – Linda Boice is the site administrator

2004 – the National Audubon Society (NAS) signs a 50-year lease with the County and enters into an operating agreement with Montgomery County. NAS becomes responsible for the site’s programs, buildings, and art. Ms. Jean Bochnowski becomes the center director. 



·  It is thought that the only original woodwork left is the fireplace surround in the room on the second floor (to the left of the stairs).

·  Gray-green paint in the lower two cupboards to the right of the fireplace may be original, or is probably the oldest surviving paint in the house.

·  There may be two or three original yellow pine floorboards on the second floor.

·  Some of the windowpanes are old glass.


· Foundation and stone walls.

How you can help, right now