Park House Guides at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (March 2019)

John Allen, Docent, Philadephia Museum of Art/Park House Guide

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a time-honored institution and lovingly revered by the citizens of this city. Within its walls are housed countless individual works of art eagerly viewed by tens of thousands of visitors every year.  Outside the museum walls, in the adjacent Fairmount Park, is a string of 18th century homes that were once the playground of wealthy citizens of Philadelphia. These historic mansions offer the visitor a rare and intimate peek into daily life of that time. Park House Guides is the volunteer docent organization affiliated with PMA which offers public tours of those houses.

 As Park House Guides we are challenged on our tours with going beyond a rote repetition of names, dates, and places that the visitor will little note and will likely forget upon the conclusion of the tour. Each of us strives to create a lasting memory that our guests will carry with them on the drive home—a visceral sense of what it was really like to live in Philadelphia in the 1700’s. Our organization includes about 60 active and emeritus guides. Each guide brings to the tour an in-depth knowledge of the individual house, including its architecture, its individual history, the people who lived in it, and a wealth of stories of living in the house in its day. The depth of knowledge we bring to the tour starts with the 18 months of classroom training each guide undergoes upon joining the organization. Continuing education is both ongoing and required, utilizing the PMA library as a resource as well as knowledge gained from guest lecturers, reading on our own, and sharing information with fellow guides. Each guide is required to be reviewed by a peer group of fellow guides every other year to assure that the tours we present to our visitors are both fresh and accurate.

Mt. Pleasant

Each house has regularly scheduled tours offered to the public. In addition to these scheduled tours, Park House Guides periodically offers “Themed Tours” to our visitors. With these special tours, we put together a string of houses (with trolley bus transportation in between) and structure the narrative at each house around a specific historical theme. The themes are varied and can include: “Slavery in 18th century Philadelphia”; “Revolution in Philadelphia”; “The Brewing Industry in Philadelphia”; “The Role of Women in 18th century Philadelphia”. In each tour we share stories of the people who lived in each house and how they were affected by or how they affected the history of each historic theme. Our themed tours have been very successful and have expanded our reach by attracting a whole new audience to the houses of Fairmount Park.

I believe I speak for the majority of the Park House Guides when I say that we thoroughly enjoy being a part of the rich history of the houses of Fairmount Park. Sharing that history with our guests is rewarding particularly when we see that we’ve made a connection by leaving our audience a lasting memory.