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Shippen-Wistar House

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c. 1780. 238 S. 4th St.

Dr. William Shippen (1712-1801) commissioned the house during the Revolution when he was the chief of medicine for the Continental army; he was also the cousin of Peggy, whose courtship by Benedict Arnold led to catastrophe for George Washington's best general. Corner city houses such as this offered the opportunity to place the door on the side, with front parlor, central stair hall, and rear room unencumbered by an entrance vestibule. Its later owner, Dr. Caspar Wistar (1761-1818), was president of the American Philosophical Society and presided over the famous Wistar parties where the leading intellectuals of the city conversed.

The house later became the offices of the Mutual Assurance Company for Insuring Houses Against Losses by Fire that was long known for its emblem of a green tree. The company chose its sign because it would insure houses with street trees that were forbidden by the Philadelphia Contributionship on the grounds that trees might interfere with firefighting. The adjacent house, built in 1828 for Joseph Norris, was combined with the Shippen-Wistar House in 1913 by Stewardson and Page for the Mutual Assurance Company, marking the continuation of the insurance industry in the area. With the Mutual Assurance's move to Walnut Street, it served as the headquarters of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania until 2014. It is once again a private residence.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas
Updated By: 
Catherine Boland Erkkila (2021)



  • 1780

    Shippen House built
  • 1828

    Norris House built
  • 1913

    Houses joined

What's Nearby


George E. Thomas, "Shippen-Wistar House", [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 2

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, George E. Thomas, with Patricia Likos Ricci, Richard J. Webster, Lawrence M. Newman, Robert Janosov, and Bruce Thomas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 69-70.

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