Philadelphia Club

Whether you know it as the Boldt Farm or the Back Farm

it’s all the same properties George Boldt called

The Philadelphia Club

The Philadelphia Club. Built 1837-38 as the Thomas Butler Residents

The Philadelphia Club. Built 1837-38 as the Thomas Butler Residents

THERE are clubs and there are clubs. That is to say, there are Philadelphia clubs and there are others; the Philadelphia clubs being notable not only in their combination of age and traditions, with continuance of present-day importance, but in their profound influence upon the basic character of the city. The clubs of Philadelphia were a vital force in giving the city, long ago, its distinguishing qualities, and they still hold the city to the possession of those qualities. The characteristic clubs of Philadelphia, strong and long established, gray with age, are fortresses which hold in exclusiveness the exclusive people who unitedly make up what is really Philadelphia.

It is not a matter of how much the old clubs total in membership. The importance is in their undisputed holding of authority; an authority never spokenly claimed but always unspokenly conceded. It lies in the unbroken continuance of social rule, in the stepping into line of sons and grandsons to fill gaps made by death. The old clubs are the bulwark of the social organization which makes Philadelphia so enduring an aristocracy.

The old Philadelphia Club stands in popular fancy as the dean and leader of all the cities clubs, for, although by no means the oldest, its central location, the dignified old building which is its home, the strength of its membership, past and present, in character and influence, its reserve, its quiet pride, its exclusiveness, unite to give it distinction. In its ordered charm, and its perfect peace, it shows what a club, in this city, can be.


It is housed in a long, broad, old building of dulled brick, at the corner of Walnut and Thirteenth streets, a building of three stories and a dormered attic in height, and a high basement, making full five stories in the gable, where, high up, there is a charming little balcony, bearing a flagstaff which rises above the peak. The building stands flush with the sidewalk, and its entrance is a dignified door at the very corner of the building; a building so wide as to be fronted with a row of six generous windows besides this door, and in the second story seven windows. This is the house which was built to be the Philadelphia home of that Southern Senator, Butler, whose grandson married Fanny Kemble, but in size and importance it has all the appearance of a club house.

Even more interesting than the outside is the interior, with its far-stretching length of halls, its fireplaces and cornicing, with everywhere the atmosphere of mellowness and serenity; and in the dinning-room is the mighty mahogany table of some twenty-five feet in length, with old-time silver urns at either end and a table-service of old-time imported Canton for dinners.

In the old days, and indeed in modern days up to the sudden change in public feeling that has so recently come, wines used to be an important feature of a good club’s outfit; and it is more than tradition that this club was no exception. Philadelphia loves to tell, too, that three members of this club were dining, one evening, at the home of one of them, and, they being very old and close friends indeed, and feeling even more intimate than usual, the subject arose of what rare old wines really cost, taking into consideration not only the original price but the interest as well; whereas all three took out pencils and laboriously figured, and suddenly the host, with a startled look, exclaimed: “I bought this lot of wine over forty years ago and I’ve just found out what it has cost me with compound interest! And I’ll have the rest of it up to-night so we can drink it and stop the confounded interest!”

It was this club at which a visitor, passing through the city, applied in vain for the address of one of its members whom it was important that he should see. “Write a letter and address it to him in care of the club,” he was told. But, he explained, he had to leave the city within a few hours. Finally, after argument galore, the desired information was reluctantly given. The member was dead! And even that, so reluctantly vouchsafed, might be objected to on the ground of indefiniteness of reply after all.

Butler House. 1301 Walnut Street. Click to enlarge.

Butler House. 1301 Walnut Street. Click to enlarge.

At the center city intersection of 13th & Walnut Sts. is the lone survivor of a residential row. Surrounded by newer structures, the 19th century Georgian style mansion was completed in 1837 by the Knights. Thomas Butler, related to wealthy plantation owners in South Carolina, didn’t live to enjoy his new home. In 1850, the Philadelphia Club — America’s oldest city social club — marked their 16th birthday by purchasing Butler’s vacant mansion.

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