Grundy Museum in Bristol reopens after temporary closure

Free tours showcase Victorian-era renovations

Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

For most people nowadays, freshly hung wallpaper doesn’t exactly spark a sense of joy. But that’s not the case for Grundy Museum curator Geoff Webster.

Earlier this month, upon walking into the bathroom of the historic home, located at 610 Radcliffe St., Bristol, Webster couldn’t contain his unbridled excitement when he saw the newly-transformed dark green walls. Still, his excitement was understandable – this was one of the finishing touches of the museum’s recent overhaul, which aimed to bring the former home of the Grundy family into the appropriate Victorian era.

Throughout the entire month of August, the museum was temporarily closed to the public while it underwent interior restorations. The five-and-a-half-story space officially reopened on Tuesday, Sept. 10 for free, docent-led tours, which chronicle the impact of the Grundys in Bristol Borough and showcase the added features.

According to lead docent Christa Froehlich, the house was built in 1818 and, after passing through the hands of various owners, was bought by the Grundys in 1884 and turned into a Queen Anne-style residence. It was the dream home of William and Mary, and their children Margaret (whom the library is named after) and Joseph, a wealthy man who served on Bristol Borough Council for 30 years, installed the current sewer system, and ran the Bucks County Farmer’s Bank – the first bank in the county.

“Before he [Joseph] died, he arranged in his will for the house to be kept open as a museum, free of charge to the public,” explained Froehlich, adding how his $18 million fortune is now under the care of the Grundy Foundation. “It’s quite a legacy he left behind.”

In order to do that legacy justice, the foundation is ensuring that all of the decor in the museum is as close as possible to what the Grundys would have purchased. A main highlight of the renovation is the dining room, which Webster said will be kept a secret until its “big reveal” on Historic Bristol Day, set for Saturday, Oct. 19.

“We’re getting a beautiful, custom-made rug, an exact replica of the one that was in the dining room originally in the 1880s. We still have the original rug, but being almost 150 years old now, we just can’t keep it on the floor,” said Webster, who gratefully thanked Langhorne Carpet for creating the piece. “It’s been a really cool process to be involved in the production of that.”

Additional dining room restorations include the refinishing of the woodwork, which has become damaged over the years from sunlight streaming through the large windows, and a new piano, parlor cabinet and side tables.

“Another thing that we really focused on was changing the lighting throughout the house. As the Grundys lived here, they saw the dawn of electricity, so they went through and ripped out all their gas fixtures and got all the newest, most fashionable electric fixtures,” said Webster. “When the house was turned into a museum in the ‘60s, they took those down and they bought what they thought were appropriate Victorian-era gas fixtures for the house.”

However, the fixtures weren’t of the right time period.

“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to find some museum-quality pieces that really are just the best examples of what they had available,” he said.

As part of the renovation, many pieces that were owned by the Grundys – such as the parlor cabinet – were brought down from storage in the attic to be seen by the public for the first time. Webster stressed that in the Grundys’ world, the more decorations they had on display, the better.

“It was never quite enough. There was always room for a little bit more,” he said.

During tours of the Grundy Museum, guests can also view a new chandelier in the parlor, located next to the dining room; a custom-made sink in the butler’s pantry; and the fully-restored bathroom. Further renovations are scheduled to continue through 2020, though all current projects will be completed by Historic Bristol Day.

This initiative is part of the third phase of the Grundy CANDOMORE Campaign, which, over the next two years, will expand the museum’s tour for children; build a stone walkway leading to a fountain on the South Side Lawn; and hire a production company to create an orientation film, which will introduce visitors to the Grundy family, their lives, and their contributions to Bucks County and historic Bristol Borough.

The foundation also plans to host more events in the near future, including an informative session on Victorian table settings this winter.

“2020 is definitely going to be a very exciting year,” Webster said.

Tours at the Grundy Museum are offered Tuesday through Saturday at 1:15 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. Register at the adjacent Grundy Library, 680 Radcliffe St., where tours begin. Tours of eight or more people require a reservation at least two weeks in advance. Call 215-788-9432 for reservations or questions pertaining to a visit. Go to grundymuseum.org for more information.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com