Swetland Homestead & Denison House

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Swetland Homestead
885 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming, PA

The original house was built on this site in 1803. The additions made to it as the Swetland family grew and prospered have transformed the structure into the elegant home one sees today. Period rooms, spanning the seventy years from the summer kitchen to the Victorian parlor of the 1860’s, illustrate changes in living spaces and household objects as America and the Wyoming Valley passed from an agrarian economy to an industrialized society. The homestead is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Special events take place throughout the year including the Christmas Candlelight tours, in early December.

The Swetland Homestead is currently open by appointment only.  Group tours are welcome.  Call Mary Ruth Burke at (570) 822-1727 or e-mail mrkburke@luzernehistory.org.  Admission to the Homestead  is $4.00 for adults and $2.00 for children.   Parking is available along Swetland Lane just off Wyoming Avenue in the Borough of Wyoming.

Directions to Swetland
From Interstate 81 take exit 170B, onto the North Cross Valley Expressway (Route 309), eventually crossing over the Susquehanna River.  Take exit 4 onto Welles Street, and follow Welles Street to the intersection with Wyoming Avenue (Route 11).   Make a right onto Wyoming Avenue.  Follow Wyoming Avenue approximately 2.5 miles, passing the Forty Fort Cemetery and Wyoming Valley Airport on your right.  The Swetland Homestead is located on the left side of Wyoming Avenue, just past the Midway Shopping Center.

 

Nathan Denison House
35 Denison Street, Forty Fort, PA (one block off of Wyoming Ave., across from the Airport)

Born in Windham, Connecticut, Nathan Denison was one of the first forty shareholders in the Susquehannah Company to settle five new towns or townships in the Wyoming Valley in February of 1769. It was in town plot No. 1 in the “Village” of Wilkes-Barre that Denison would marry Elizabeth Sills in the first recorded wedding of the area.

Denison became a popular leader of the pioneer settlers from Connecticut. In the years 1774, 1776 and 1781-82, he served as a Justice of the Peace under Connecticut jurisdiction in Westmoreland County as the settlers first called Northeastern Pennsylvania.
As colonel of the local militia, and second in command to Colonel Zebulon Butler, Denison distinguished himself in the ill-fated Battle of Wyoming and negotiated the resultant surrender of Forty Fort to the British. Forty Fort was named for the 40 settlers that originally came to this area from Connecticut.

Both the Pennsylvania and Connecticut governments claimed the Wyoming Valley area. As a court judge, Denison helped arrange the disputed settlement claims. In 1786 when these titles were negotiated for the first time and Luzerne County was formed, he was chosen the area’s representative to the Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council (similar to present-day Senate).

In 1790, Nathan Denison built his house on the western bank of Abrams Creek in then Kingston Township (now Forty Fort). He lived here until his death in 1809. Although typical of the homes in Connecticut, it was built in a style unusual to Pennsylvania. As visitors can see, the rooms in this type of New England house are arranged around a great central chimney.

Various members of the Denison family owned the house after the Colonel’s death. In the 19th century, porches and several additions changed the character of the home. The original appearance of the house was revealed through research and archeological investigations. The Bureau of Historic Sites and Properties of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission began restoration in 1976. The house has been owned by the Luzerne County Historical Society since 2010.

Today the house appears as it did in the 1790s. Both the architecture and furnishings show the conservative taste of Nathan Denison.

The north room of the house was much like the “family room” of today. Here the family gathered for meals, for entertainment, indoor activities, or to sit around the fire and relax. The furnishings in this room came from both Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and reveal the influences the two areas had on the Colonel.

Located in the rear of this typical Connecticut home is the kitchen. This was the most important room in the 18th century. All the cooking and food preparation, as well as the family’s laundry, was done here. The small rooms off the kitchen were used for storage or as warm bedrooms for the youngest or oldest family members.

As a prosperous businessman and local judge, Denison needed an office and a room in which he and his family could entertain neighbors and friends. The south room of the house served both purposes. The furnishings in this room were more fashionable than in others so guests could be entertained in style.

The upstairs portion of the Denison House contains the bed chambers. These rooms were used for both sleeping and storage of supplies and grains. One piece of furniture that stands out in this area of the house is the bed in the northeast bedroom. This reflects the wealth of the family as a high post bed with its hangings was one of the most expensive objects one could buy in the Colonel’s time.

As you walk through the home, the effects that both Connecticut and Pennsylvania had on Denison are clearly visible. The beautiful antique furnishings (dating from 1790-1820) and landscaping of the house were chosen to simulate the rural characteristics of the area when it was predominantly a farming region, as well as reflect the background of the prosperous man who lived there.

The stone wall located in front of the Denison site also gives a Connecticut appearance to the Pennsylvania farm house. In Nathan Denison’s time, it would have been located at the original property lines instead of near the home.

Behind this historic house is the service building in which the offices and information center of the Denison House and public rest room facilities are located.

The Denison Homestead of the New England Denison’s is open to the public in Mystic, Connecticut. This historic site was built in 1717, and was the home of this family for several generations when Nathan moved to the Wyoming Valley. His house in Pennsylvania was fashioned after this Connecticut homestead.

The Nathan Denison House is open to the public on Sunday afternoons during the summer with interpreted tours courtesy of the Denison Advocates; admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children. For more information call the Luzerne County Historical Society at 823-6244 x 3.

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