Skip to Main Content

La Salle Local History

Grumblethorpe and Vernon

Introduction to Grumblethorpe

"Grumblethorpe was built in 1744 by Philadelphia merchant and wine importer John Wister as a summer home. It eventually became the family's year-round residence when they withdrew from the city during the Yellow Fever epidemic. The stones for the house were quarried on the property and the joists were hewn from oaks in Wister Woods, also owned by the family." (via

The Grumblethorpe property still stands on Germantown Avenue. The house has a long and interesting history. During the American Revolution it was occupied by British forces, and in 1777 General James Agnew died on the floor of the home's west parlor. The property was deeded to the Landmarks Society in 1941, as organized by descendant Frances Anne Wister.

A collection of archival material related to the second generation at Grumblethorpe is maintained at the American Philosophical Society in the Eastwick Collection.

John Wister (1708-1789)

John Wister (1708-1789), emigrated from Germany to Philadelphia in 1727. His brother, Casper Wister (1696-1752), had come to Philadelphia in 1717. Casper Wister quickly became well-established as a glass manufacturer, and accumulated land in the colonial city. His surname was altered in legal documentation at some point in his early years in America, and became "Wistar." John Wister was married in 1731 to Salome Zimmerman. Salome died around 1736, and Wister remarried Anna Catherina Rubincam. Among their children was Daniel Wister (1738-1805). 

Daniel Wister married Lowry Jones, a descendant of Dr. Thomas Wynne who had accompanied William Penn on his first journey to America. They had three children, Sarah (1761-1804), John (1776-1862), and Charles Jones (1782-1865).

Sarah (Sally) Wister (1761-1804)

During the American Revolution, the Wister family fled their home at Grumblethorpe in Germantown and stayed at the home of Hannah Foulke in Penllyn, Pennsylvania. Sarah's life during this time period is documented in her writings and journals, which she kept from 1777 to 1778 during her sixteenth year. The original documents are preserved at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Works about Sarah Wister in La Salle's Connelly Library

John Wister (1776-1862) and Vernon

John Wister (1776-1862), son of Daniel Wister, was a merchant in Philadelphia. He acquired the house "Vernon" in Germantown in 1805. John Wister raised his family at Vernon and died in 1862. The mansion was bought by the City of Philadelphia in 1895, it still stands on Germantown Avenue north of Chelten Avenue. 

John Wister's son William Wister married Sarah Logan Fisher. The two would raise six children at the "Belfield Estate." Their son John Wister, (1829-1900) would come to use "Vernon" as a summer home during his lifetime.

Charles Jones Wister (1782-1865)

Charles Jones Wisterson of Daniel Wister, was a principle founder of the Academy of Natural Sciences. He made a number of alterations to Grumblethorpe in the 1820s. He had many children, all raised at Grumblethorpe. Among them was Owen Jones Wister (1825-1896), who married Sarah Butler in 1859 and would come to live at "Butler Place."  

A biography of Charles Wister was written by his son, Charles Wister Jones, Jr. in 1886:

The Labour of a Long Life: A Memoir of Charles J. Wister (1866)