James-Lorah Memorial Home

Original Painting of the James-Lorah Memorial Hone by artist Ranulph Bye (1916-2003) .

The James-Lorah Memorial Home,  located at 132 North Main Street in Doylestown, is the official headquarters of the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown. 



The home has a rich history as the birthplace of Henry Chapman Mercer and home of Miss Sarah M. James, the VIA member who donated the house to the VIA upon her death in 1954.

In addition to serving as a meeting place for members of the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown, the James-Lorah House is also a: 

The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Homes and considered a historic place by the Bucks County Conservancy.

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House Museum – The James-Lorah House showcases the Victorian era with furniture, art, and home décor from the period.  Personal items and clothing from the James and Lorah families are also on display. The home is open for tours several times each year and private tours may be arranged.

Event Space – adjacent to the home is a large auditorium that is available for party, performance, and meeting rental.

For history page – http://www.dot7.state.pa.us/CRGIS_Attachments/SiteResource/H001689_01H.pdf

About the James-Lorah Memorial Home

The James-Lorah Memorial Home was the home for 85 years of Miss Sarah Maria James, a charter member of the Village Improvement Association when it was founded in 1895. Upon her death in 1954, Miss James bequeathed to the VIA the 17-room residence, its contents and a trust fund for maintenance.

This property was owned by only three families. The first owner, Zerich Titus, had a house and a saddlery here from 1806-1813.

In 1813 Titus sold the property, located across the street from the courthouse, to Abraham Chapman who used it as his family home and for his growing law practice. Henry Chapman, Abraham’s son, followed his father into the practice of law. When Henry married in 1834, Abraham gave the couple this property as a wedding gift. Henry enlarged the original saddlery shop for use as his law office. In 1844, Henry Chapman, by then a judge and widowed for seven years, built for his future bride “the finest house in the borough”, joining it to the law office. It is the 17-room, three-story, post-Federal-style home you see today. A grandson, the noted Henry Chapman Mercer, was born in one of the bedrooms.

The third owner of this property was Dr. Oliver P. James who bought it in 1869 to be his family home and an office for his medical practice. He resided here with his wife, Sara Gordon James, son Oliver, and two daughters, Martha and Sarah. Martha married the Reverend Dr. George H. Lorah, a Methodist minister, in 1896. Following the deaths of Dr. and Mrs. James and Oliver, it became the summer home of Sarah James and the Lorahs, who spent winters at the church parsonage in Philadelphia. In later years, Miss James lived at the Bucks County Inn but continued to maintain the family home.

The bequest of Miss James established this home as the center of VIA activity. In her will, Miss James requested that her home be named the James-Lorah Memorial Home. As membership in the Village Improvement Association grew and projects required expanded facilities, an auditorium complex was added and dedicated in 1964.

The James-Lorah Memorial Home holds the history of the Village Improvement Association by being the caretaker of its minutes dating from 1895. Reading through these minutes, one truly understands the hard work and determination of those early VIA members as they addressed the health and welfare needs of the citizens of Doylestown.

Each room of the James-Lorah Memorial Home is a treasure. From ornate chandeliers to an elegant parlor, the Victorian furnishings transport one back in time.

Among rooms to be visited are the Music Room with its elaborately carved, square piano, the newly opened Dollhouse Room, and the Master Bedroom with adjoining Morning Room. Soon to be opened is the Collection Room which will house our library of books dating back to the 1800s. Subjects include medicine, law, religion, and fiction, as well as personal books belonging to the James and Lorah families. In this room will be displayed some of the medical instruments that were used by Dr. James.

The James-Lorah Memorial Home is a cherished house-museum commemorating the families who have occupied it. Today it continues to contribute to the ongoing life of the community and the VIA. It has been listed since 1972 on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tours of this home may be arranged from Monday through Saturday by calling 215-348-2187.

House Museum Tours

Plan Your Visit to Tour the James-Lorah Memorial Home

As you enter this home, it is like a step back in time. Each room of the James-Lorah Memorial Home is a beautifully preserved treasure. From the rooms that were the center of Dr. James’ medical practice to the elegantly furnished front parlor, visitors will feel that they are in a cherished family home.

Among rooms to be visited is the Music Room with its intricately carved, square piano. As you ascend to the second floor, you will see a stained-glass window of St. Cecilia. Discover the bedroom in which Henry Mercer was born, the elegantly appointed Master Bedroom with adjoining Morning Room, and the newly opened Dollhouse Room.

Soon to be opened is the Collection Room which will house our library of books dating back to the 1800s. Subjects include medicine, law, religion and fiction, as well as personal books belonging to the James and Lorah families. In this room will be displayed some of the medical instruments that were used by Dr. James.

The James-Lorah Memorial Home is a house-museum commemorating the families who have occupied it. Today it continues to contribute to the ongoing life of the community and the Village Improvement Association. It has been listed since 1972 on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tours of this home may be arranged from Monday through Saturday by calling 215-348-2187.

James-Lorah Memorial Home History

Located at 132 North Main Street is the Federal-style building known as the James-Lorah Memorial Home.

Read below to learn about its past occupants.

Zerick Titus

In 1806 Zerick Titus purchased the land and built a harness a saddler’s shop in what is now the north wing of the house.

Abraham Chapman

In 1767 Abraham Chapman was born in Wrightstown, PA to Joseph Chapman, one of Bucks County’s earliest settlers, and Ann Chapman (Fell).  He married Elizabeth Morris, the daughter of Doylestown’s first doctor, in 1795. Abraham purchased the property in 1824(1811?) and moved to Doylestown in 1813 when the county seat was moved to the town. He later gifted the property to his grandson Henry Chapman as a wedding present in 1834.

Henry Chapman

Henry enlarged the shop in 1841 for use as his law office.

Info from https://www.geni.com/people/Henry-Chapman-US-Congress/6000000026149085154?through=6000000013451293988

Henry Chapman (February 4, 1804 – April 11, 1891) was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.

Henry Chapman was born in Newtown, Pennsylvania, the son of Abraham Chapman, a lawyer, and Elizabeth Meredith, the daughter of a lawyer.[1] He attended Doylestown Academy and Doctor Gummere’s private boys’ school near Burlington, New Jersey. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1825 and commenced practice in Doylestown. He served as a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate in 1843. He was a judge of the fifteenth judicial district from 1845 to 1849.

Chapman was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-fifth Congress. He declined to be a candidate for renomination in 1858. He served as judge of the Bucks County Court in 1861. He retired in 1871. He died at “Frosterley,” near Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Interment in the graveyard of Doylestown Presbyterian Church.

In 1844, he built the James-Lorah House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.[2] Personal life and family

Chapman’s first wife was Rebecca Stewart (1800–1837).[1][3] Their children were Elizabeth, Mary Rebecca, Henry A., and Thomas Stewart. Elizabeth married the diplomat Colonel Timothy Bigelow Lawrence, son of the extremely wealthy Abbott Lawrence.[4] Mary Rebecca married William Robert Mercer, son of Colonel John Francis Mercer, son of former Maryland governor John Francis Mercer. Upon Lawrence’s early death, the childless Elizabeth inherited and moved in with the Mercer family, lavishly supporting their children, especially Henry Chapman Mercer who became her traveling companion.[5][6][7]

Chapman’s second wife was Nancy Findlay Shunk, daughter of Governor Francis R. Shunk and Jane, who herself was the daughter of Governor William Findlay. Their children were Fanny and Arthur.[7] Nancy’s sister Elizabeth married Congressman Charles Brown, their children included a future state Attorney General Francis Shunk Brown.[8]

The two half-sisters, Elizabeth and Fanny, would be the role models for Madeleine Lee and Sybil Ross in the Henry Adams novel Democracy.[9] James Michener, who grew up as next-door neighbors to the Mercers in Doylestown, claims Elizabeth “can be taken as the prototype for many of [Henry James’] heroines.”[7] A similar claim has been made about Michener’s novels also.

Hon. Henry Chapman was born at Wrightstown but was reared in Doylestown, where he spent his entire life. He studied law in the office of his father and was admitted to the bar at the age of twenty-one, April 25, 1825. Inheriting the fine intellectual ability of his illustrious sire, he had made the most of excellent opportunities for acquiring a fine classical education, and possessed of a truly well-balanced mind and a faculty of concentration, his classical acquirements, and fine literary taste lent a gloss to his oratory, and made him a strong advocate. In politics, he was a Democrat of the old school and exercised a potent influence in his wing of the party. He was elected to the state senate in 1843 and served one term of three years. In 1847 he was appointed to fill an unexpired term of four years as president judge of the Chester-Delaware District, and at its termination in 1851 declined a renomination. He was the nominee of his party in bucks for the position of president judge of the Bucks Montgomery District, and though he carried his home county by a handsome majority, internal dissensions in the party in Montgomery lost him the election. In 1856 he was elected to Congress from his home district, and at the termination of his term declined a re-nomination. In 1861 he was elected president judge of the Bucks-Montgomery district, and at the termination of the term in 1871 retired to private life. He died on April 11, 1891. He was twice married, his first wife being Rebecca Stewart, daughter of Dr. Thomas and Rebecca Stewart, of New Britain township. She died 10 mo., 1837, and he married, in 1845, Nancy Findlay Shunk, daughter of Governor Francis R. and Jane (Findlay) Shunk. By his first marriage he had four children: Elizabeth, who married T. Bigelow Lawrence, of Boston, Massachusetts, and has been many years a widow, residing at Doylestown; Mary Rebecca, who married William R. Mercer, born at Washington, D.C., now living at Doylestown. Mrs. Mercer died on October 27, 1903. They were the parents of three children: Henry C., Elizabeth, wife of Captain Fidler Von Isarborn, of Austria, and William R., who married in 1904, Martha Dana, of Boston, Massachusetts. The other children of Henry and Rebecca Chapman were Henry A., who died in 1834, and Thomas, who died 10 mo. 18, 1862. The children of Henry and Nancy Findlay (Shunk) Chapman are Fanny, residing at the old homestead near Doylestown, and Arthur. Nancy (Shunk) Chapman died 2 mo. 27, 1900.

In 1844, Henry Chapman who was now a judge built “the finest house in the borough” for his bride Nancy Shunk.  His grandson, Henry Chapman Mercer [link to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Chapman_Mercer and photo – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bf/MercerLG.jpg ] was born in one of the bedrooms. The Chapman’s owned the property for 25 years. Listed on the National Register of Historic Homes [link to http://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/pa/bucks/state2.html]

Dr. Oliver P. James

Info from http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/BiosHistory/MemBio.cfm?ID=4815&body=S

  1. OLIVER P. JAMES, late of Doylestown, deceased, was the youngest son of Benjamin and Nancy (Williams) James and was born in New Britain township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1815. He was a descendant in the fifth generation from John and Elizabeth James, who emigrated from Pembrokeshire. Wales, in 1711, as shown by the preceding sketch. On the maternal side, he is said to be a descendant of the Roger Williams family of Rhode Island. Dr. James was reared upon the New Britain farm, on Pine Run, and received his education at the schools of the neighborhood. At the age of nineteen, believing that a mechanical trade was his sphere in life, he took up that of a carpenter. He did not bind himself as an apprentice, as was the custom in those days, but, after assisting in building a house erected for his father in 1834, he went to Philadelphia and worked at the trade for two years. Becoming convinced by that time that he had mistaken his calling, he abandoned the saw and plane, and in 1837 entered himself as a student of medicine in the office of his cousin, Dr. Robert E. James, of Upper Mount Bethel. Northampton County, Pennsylvania, father of Robert E. James, Esq. of Easton and read the allotted time with the Doctor, and during the winter season attended lectures at the Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, where he graduated in March. 1840. During his studies, it developed that he possessed a peculiar aptitude for his chosen profession. During the year succeeding his graduation his cousin and preceptor Dr. Robert E. James was serving a term in the state legislature and the young doctor took charge of his practice in his absence. He opened an office in New Britain, where he soon built up a large practice. In the first or second year of his practice he was appointed physician at the Bucks County Almshouse, a position he retained for seventeen years. This position attracted attention to the rising voting physician and assisted in securing him a large practice that soon extended into the far surrounding sections. He continued his residence in New Britain until 1859. when he removed to Doylestown. purchasing the present Ginsley property, on Main street, the former residence of General Samuel A. Smith. Soon after the war, he purchased the handsome residence on North Main street, where he spent the remainder of his life, and where his widow and daughter still reside. Dr. James became very prominent in the practice of his profession. Prior to his retirement from active practice, a few years before his death, he was one of the most prominent physicians of the county and enjoyed an extensive and lucrative practice. He was always closely identified with the interests of his town and county, and in his prime his high ability, courtly manners and kindly nature commanded the highest respect and gave him a wide influence among men. In politics, he was a Democrat, and from early manhood, he took an active interest in politics. In 1864 he was elected to the state senate over his old neighbor, William Godshalk, by a majority of 980 votes. In 1878 he was the candidate of his party for Congress from the Seventh District, and, though he ran far ahead of his ticket in many of the precincts, was defeated by his old opponent, William Godshalk. In local societies and institutions, Dr. James took a deep interest. He was a member of Doylestown Lodge, No. 245, F. & A. M., and its treasurer for many years, holding that position at the time of his death. He was president of the Doylestown borough council for several terms. He was treasurer of the Doylestown Agricultural and Mechanics’ Institute from its organization in 1866 to its dissolution in 1892. He was for twenty years a director of the Doylestown National Bank and was a member of the board of directors of the Doylestown and Willow Grove Turnpike Company, and treasurer of the company for many years. Dr. James died at his residence in Doylestown on the evening of November 19, 1894. He had been in failing health for some time, being confined to the house for upwards of a month. The cause of his death was valvular disease of the heart. Dr. James was married in 1859, to Sarah A. Gordon, of Montgomery County, who survives him. Their only son, Oliver B., died when a young man, several years ago. Two daughters survive Martha A., wife of Rev. George H. Lorah. D. D., of Philadelphia; and Sarah M., residing in Doylestown.

More info from http://dla.library.upenn.edu/cocoon/dla/pacscl/ead.html?fq=top_repository_facet%3A%22Village%20Improvement%20Association%20of%20Doylestown%22&id=PACSCL_HSP_VIA02&

Oliver P. James (1815-1894) was a prominent doctor and community member in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He, his wife Sarah (1824-1906), and their three children Oliver (1860-1890), Martha (1862-1918), and Sarah (1864-1954) lived at what is now known as the James-Lorah Memorial Home at 132 N. Main Street in Doylestown. In 1896, Dr. James’ daughter, Martha, married George H. Lorah (1863-1945), a minister at the Doylestown Methodist Episcopal Church. Martha’s sister, Sarah James was a charter member of the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown (VIA), and upon her passing in 1954, the family home and its contents and property were bequeathed to the VIA.

Oliver Perry James (1815-1894) was born in New Britain Township in Bucks County, Pennsylvania to Benjamin James and Nancy Williams. In the mid-1830s, he worked as a carpenter in Philadelphia. After a couple of years, he decided that his true vocation was medicine, and while studying under his cousin, Dr. Robert E. James, in 1840 Oliver graduated from Jefferson Medical College (now the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University). Returning to his hometown, Oliver James practiced medicine at the county almshouse in New Britain for seventeen years before opening his own practice in nearby Doylestown in 1859. In 1864, Oliver James was elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate and ran for United States Congress in 1878, but was unsuccessful.

In 1859, Dr. James married Sarah Ann Gordon (1824-1906), the daughter of John and Martha (Hamer) Gordon of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Oliver and Sarah had three children: Oliver Bion (1860-1890), Martha Ann (1862-1918), and Sarah Maria (1864-1954), or Ollie, Mattie, and Sallie, as they were known by close friends and family. In 1869, Dr. James purchased the Doylestown home of Henry Chapman (1804-1891) and the James family moved to what is now the James-Lorah Memorial Home at 132 N. Main Street in Doylestown. Dr. James set up his practice in part of the house.

Dr. James was active in the Doylestown community. He was a member of the Freemasons (Doylestown Lodge, No. 245, F. & A. M.), acting as treasurer for several years until his death, and also served as president of the Doylestown borough council, treasurer of the Doylestown Agricultural and Mechanics’ Institute from its organization in 1866 to its dissolution in 1892, director of the Doylestown National Bank for twenty years, and was a member of the board of directors of the Doylestown and Willow Grove Turnpike Company, and treasurer of the company for many years. Dr. Oliver James passed away on November 19, 1894. In 1915, his daughters donated the first ambulance to Doylestown in his memory.

Sarah “Sallie” M. James (1864-1954) was the youngest child of Dr. Oliver P. and Sarah A. (Gordon) James. She and her sister Martha “Mattie” Ann James (1862-1918) were very close as evidenced in their letters. Both sisters went to school at Linden Seminary in Doylestown, and later attended Oakland Female Institute in Norristown (Montgomery County, PA). The sisters enjoyed going to the library, attending church, hosting music parties in their home, and attending other social functions with friends such as tennis game and dances. Like their father, Martha, and especially Sarah, were involved in the Doylestown community. Sarah was a proponent of women’s clubs and their national organization, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. In 1895, Sarah, became a charter member of the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown.

In 1890, the sisters’ brother, Ollie passed away from influenza. A few years later, in 1894, Dr. James died from heart disease, leaving the house on Main Street to his daughters. In 1896, Martha married George H. Lorah (1863-1945), a minister at the Doylestown Methodist Episcopal Church. George moved into the home on Main Street and set up his office in the space previously used by Dr. James for his practice. However, shortly after their marriage, George was transferred to the Green Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia and he and Martha, together with her sister, Sarah M., and widowed mother, Sarah Gordon James, moved to the Philadelphia church’s rectory. They lived in the rectory during the winter months, returning to their Doylestown home during the summer.

George had a passion for writing, especially poetry. He used it in his sermons and encouraged other ministers to use it as well. He wrote a brief book, The Poets Our Helpers, on this topic and read it at the Philadelphia Preachers meeting of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1895. Although many of George’s poems took on a religious theme, several were about other subjects, including the months of the year, nature, and childhood. Several of his poems were published in his church’s publication “The Green Street Banner.”

In 1906, Sarah Gordon James, mother of Martha and Sarah, died from pneumonia. At the end of February 1909, Martha and Sarah traveled to Europe, visiting Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and other locations, enjoying shopping, music events, and exploring the European cities and churches. George met them in Italy in April 1909 and they returned the following month. Martha and Sarah also visited Florida frequently. In January 1918, Martha traveled to Miami, hoping that the warmer climate would help her recover from an ailment. She passed away on January 25, 1918 at the age of 56, likely from Spanish flu. After Martha’s death, Sarah and George obtained special permission from the Methodist Church that allowed both of them to live in the house with Sarah acting as George’s hostess, since at the time it would have been unusual for a man and a woman who were not blood-related and not married to live in the same house. Thus, Sarah and George continued to stay in Philadelphia in the winter and Doylestown in the summer. A stained glass window was placed in the Doylestown home in remembrance of Martha. Educational prizes were also set up in Martha’s name.

George Lorah remained the minister at the Green Street Church until his retirement in 1942. He died in 1945. Sarah continued to live at the Doylestown home until 1948, when she moved into a rented room at the Bucks County Inn, only a block away. Although she stayed at the Inn until her death in 1954, Sarah returned to her family home almost daily to do light cleaning and maintenance. After her death, Sarah left her family home, its contents, and the property to the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown (VIA) to use as its headquarters, maintaining it through a trust set up by Sarah’s will. Sarah also wished for a plaque to be placed on the home that said “James-Lorah Memorial Home, donors, Sarah M. James and George H. Lorah.” As of 2015, the home remains the headquarters of the VIA.

Bibliography:

McKenna, Kathryn R. A Treasured Legacy: Stories of the James-Lorah Memorial Home. Yardley, PA: 95 North Marketing, 2011.

In 1869 ownership changed to Dr. Oliver P. James [link to http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/BiosHistory/MemBio.cfm?ID=4815&body=S and add a photo if available], a physician who resided in the home with his wife Sarah A. James(Gordon), son Oliver and two daughters, Martha and Sarah M. After the deaths of Dr. and Mrs. James and Oliver, the house became the summer home of Sarah M. James and the Lorah’s. This was Sarah’s home for 85 years.

Upon Sarah’s death in 1954, the 17-room residence, its content and a trust fund for the maintenance of the was bequeathed to the Village Improvement Association  of Doylestown. An auditorium complex was added and dedicated in 1964.  The James-Lorah Memorial Home is a house museum commemorating the families who once occupied the home. The James-Lorah House showcases the Victorian era with furniture, art and home décor [photos of the JLMH] from the period.  Personal items and clothing from the James-Lorah family are also on display. The home is open for tours several times each year and private tours [link to tour information] may be arranged Today it’s a thriving center used by the VIA and the community. adjacent to the home is a large auditorium that is available for party and meeting rental [link to rental page].

James Lorah Memorial Home is available for tours.

James-Lorah Auditorium

James-Lorah Auditorium 
100 Broad Street, Doylestown, PA 
GPS: 132 N Main Street, Doylestown, PA 
Reservations: 215 348-2187 or viadoylestown@gmail.com

The James-Lorah Auditorium, attached to the historic James-Lorah Memorial Home, continues the rich history of the home which had a reputation in the Borough as a “gathering place” for the James’ family civic, musical and literature functions.

The auditorium, attached to the historic James-Lorah Memorial Home, continues the rich history of the home which had a reputation in the borough as a “gathering place” for the James’ family civic, musical and literary functions.

Host your next event in a venue located in the heart of the Borough of Doylestown.  It is available for parties, business and social meetings or your own special occasion. The acoustics are excellent for musical performances or recording sessions. Bring your own caterer to the full kitchen or enjoy a short walk to nearby restaurants.  For reservations and information, contact Barbara Darr, On-Site Administrator, by phone or email listed above.

The 2,275-square-foot auditorium has a raised stage and holds a maximum of 144.

Auditorium Rental includes:

  • Free WiFi
  • Folding chairs
  • 8’ folding tables
  • 6’ folding tables
  • Card tables
  • State of the art audio/visual system
  • Grand piano
  • Full kitchen
  • Free parking available at the Bucks County Parking Garage, one block from venue. Also, metered street parking.

Please Note:

  • All functions must conclude by 11:30 p.m.
  • The auditorium is not air-conditioned.
  • Non-alcoholic, non-political and non-religious events only.

Reservation fees are used to preserve and maintain this historic home listed since 1972 on the National Register of Historic Places.

Below are two views of the space.

View of the stage from the rear of the Auditorium
View from the stage area

Submit

Mail Address:
Village Improvement Association of Doylestown
c/o James Lorah Memorial Home
595 West State Street
Doylestown, PA 18901

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