USDA Forest Service

Grey Towers National Historic Site


Grey Towers National Historic Site
151 Grey Towers Drive
PO Box 188
Milford, PA 18337

(570) 296-9630

Historical Information

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Grey Towers

Photo of Grey Towers shortly after construction, circa 1886Following his retirement from business in 1875, James W. Pinchot moved his family to his hometown of Milford, Pennsylvania and devoted much of his time to planning and constructing Grey Towers. The mansion was designed in 1884 by family friend Richard Morris Hunt and completed in 1886. Hunt's designs were slightly altered by James Pinchot in order to lower costs and also because of bedrock that was found just under the surface of the site which made it impractical to construct the raised foundation. Since Hunt was away in Europe, James hired Henry Edwards-Ficken to incorporate these changes and complete the designs. His contributions include the front door, entrance hall paneling, and the wrought iron porches on the south and east facades. The design of the house is based on LaGrange, the French estate of Lafayette, and also in general resembles a medieval French chateau. The mansion was one of only three medieval French buildings that Hunt designed and was the first of the three.The materials used to construct the mansion were mostly from the local area. The roofing slate came from Lafayette, New Jersey. The stone for the mansion was obtained from the site. The hemlock timbers were floated on rafts down the Delaware River from Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania and the decorative bluestone used around the doors and windows originated in Shohola, Pennsylvania. Labor for the house's construction was provided by local Milford residents and included stone work, plastering, masonry, carpentry, and general labor.Photo of Grey Towers library after Cornelia's alterations The L-shaped mansion is anchored on three corners by towers that give the mansion its name. The house originally contained 43 rooms and was built as a summer home. The cost was approximately $19,000 with an additional $24,000 for furnishings.Gifford Pinchot and Cornelia Bryce were married in August 1914 and Grey Towers became their regular summer residence. As Gifford became increasingly involved in Pennsylvania politics, Cornelia took a more active interest in transforming the 1880s house that the couple inherited into a "modern" home, well-suited to their active lifestyle and prodigious entertaining. The most significant alterations were made to the first floor plan. The original dining room and breakfast room were combined to form an enlarged sitting room, while the sitting room and library were joined to create a much larger library. Gifford's comments to a reporter for the Saturday Evening Post in 1922 -"Originally this house was composed of many little cramped rooms, and the first thing my wife did was to break down the partition walls and let in light and air. In this particular room--originally two--the architects said she couldn't do it, for it involved removing partitions, beams and a central fireplace. But she did. And, of course, it's a vast improvement. She's revised and edited and altered this house practically beyond recognition. SPhoto of Grey Towers Sitting Room, c 1923-1927, photo credit:  Pennsylvania istorical & Museum Commissionhe will never be done. As soon as one thing is finished, and I think we'll have peace, she breaks out in a fresh spot, and the hammering and revising begin anew."Cornelia's alterations were not limited to the mansion. She engaged the services of Chester Holmes Aldrich to design a swimming pool and surrounding terrace built between 1923 and 1925. The raised pool was enclosed on three sides by a pergola of stone piers and wooden trellis work. On the west side was a gazebo. Between 1923 and 1926 the Bait Box, also designed by Aldrich was constructed. It was built as a playhouse for the Pinchot's son, Gifford Bryce Pinchot. The Bait Box's stone courtyard is flanked by stone walls with elliptical openings that provide wonderful views of the surrounding landscape. Cornelia continued her work with Aldrich with the design and construction of the Letter Box between 1925 and 1927. The stone, one-story building was designed as an archives for Gifford Pinchot's papers and as an office for some of Pinchot's political staff. No "castle" is complete without a moat so one was added by Cornelia and Aldrich between 1927 and 1931. The construction of the moat required that the east lawn be extended and leveled and that a new stone wall be built to provide support for the new lawn and a backdrop for the moat. The moat visually heightens the mansion and gives the building the raised foundation effect Richard Morris Hunt had originally intended for Grey Towers.Photo of Grey Towers Finger BowlCornelia's most unique contribution to the landscape is probably the Finger Bowl designed by William Lawrence Bottomley and constructed between 1932 and 1935. The Finger Bowl connects to the mansion's dining room through the Mosaic Terrace and is a unique outdoor dining table in the form of a raised pool surrounded by a flat ledge of sufficient width to accommodate a place setting. Chairs were pulled up to the pool and food was passed in wooden bowls floated on the water. Over the Finger Bowl, a wisteria covered oval, domed, wooden arbor rests on an open structure of twelve stone piers. Numerous meals were served under the wisteria canopy.Grey Towers was donated to the USDA Forest Service in 1963 by Gifford and Cornelia's son, Gifford Bryce Pinchot, to carry on the conservation legacy of his father.


USDA Forest Service - Grey Towers National Historic Site
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:19:05 CST

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