General History of the George Read II House:

The house was commissioned by George Read II (1765-1836)

            George Read II became a member of the State of Delaware Bar Association in 1785.  While he made many political attempts, including running for Congress on several occasions, he never achieved the fame of his father, George Read, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, also present during the writing of the Constitution.

            George Read II married his first cousin, Mary Thompson, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1786.  Together, they had eight children, but the last one, a girl, died shortly after birth.

 

 

The building process

            The George Read II House was built from 1797-1804, though the family was able too occupy it in 1803.  The home was set on the Strand in New Castle, only five feet away from the house that George had grown up in.  Over 133 historically documented letters and 40 bills/contracts have confirmed that the skills of at least 75 craftsmen and suppliers were utilized in the construction.

 
            The house was built during the Neo-classical period and in the Philadelphian Federal Style.  The layout is a five-bay or “double house”.  This was unusual though possible because the house is set on a wider lot than what was common for that period.  There was no contracted architect for the house, but Peter Crowding of Philadelphia executed the details of the general plan.  *Though Crowding is not accredited as having designed any homes in Philadelphia, he was the “architect” of four New Castle buildings including the George Read II House, Immanuel Parish Church, The New Castle Academy and the Wiley House.

 

The goals of George Read II for his home

            Described by many historians as a feat for its time, the George Read II House was intended to be the largest house in Delaware.  It is believed that this goal was a way for George Read II to compensate for his inability to acquire a fame matching that of his father.  Regardless of any financial problem that George may have found himself in, he refused to compromise the beauty and fame of his home.  Some of the luxurious details include decorative plaster work, mahogany doors, a marble/plaster ornamental fireplace, and even silver plated doorknobs –said to be his most prized addition.

 

The house after the Reads

            A fire in 1824 destroyed many houses on the Strand, including the adjacent George Read I House, and caused some damage to the George Read II House.  The property where the original house once stood then became the grounds for the new house, and was eventually converted into the famous Read House Garden.

            George Read II lived in the house until his death in September of 1836.  His son, George III, (who was intended to inherit the house), died before the estate was settled.  The property was then divided amongst family members while its contents were sold at a public auction.

            In 1842, John M. Clayton rented the house while he waited for his new Buena Vista country home to be finished.  He moved out in 1845.

            The following year, the house sold to William Couper in an auction.  He was a bachelor who was greatly involved in the China Trade from 1855 to 1864.  His lifestyle greatly impacted the interior of the home, as the decorative style shifted to Victorian and he filled it with many oriental treasures, believed to be mostly from his travels.

            The Coupers also created the formal garden that survives on the property today, beginning in 1847.

After his death, William’s brother Samuel Couper, also a bachelor, and his niece Miss Heathy Smith, inherited the house.  Samuel passed away in 1886, but Heathy lived there until 1919 when she died and the house was willed to her niece and nephew.  The next year, the two inheritors sold the house to Mr. and Mrs. Philip D. Laird.

The side view of the house shows the fenced garden and the lot where the original house once was.

 
            The couple took very good care of their new home, though they did make some alterations.  The major changes during this period involved making the home better suited for entertaining.  For example, in 1926, they installed basement taprooms in the style of a German rathskellar. 

Mrs. Lydia Laird had pride in the home and took pleasure in the installed garden.  When she died in 1975, the house was willed, fully furnished, to the Historical Society of Delaware, which owns it today.

 

 

-Researched by: Amy Cunningham

 

 


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