Visiting the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum in Meadville
Meadville, Pennsylvania, is a charming city in Crawford County and was the first permanent settlement in northwestern PA. This long history has led to many historic buildings dotting the city’s downtown and residential areas. And, while many of these buildings are home to many great stories, none are as historic as the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum.
Located north of downtown Meadville, the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum is run by the Crawford County Historical Society and tells the story of the home’s two most-prominent inhabitants: Supreme Court Justice Henry Baldwin and local businessman William Reynolds.
Completed in 1844, the home was designed by Baldwin to appear reminiscent of Hunter Hill in Nashville, Tennessee, the one-time home of former President Andrew Jackson. Prior to his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1830, Baldwin had been a successful attorney, businessman, and politician in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, Baldwin died in Philadelphia just a few months after the home was completed and never got to spend time enjoying his new home.
After his death, the home became a girls’ school for three years before being sold to William Reynolds, who was related to Baldwin’s wife. Reynolds was a successful businessman in the area who would bring the railroad, the fair, plumbing, and indoor lighting to Meadville. As the president of the Meadville Gas and Water Company, Reynold’s home was the first in Meadville to feature natural gas lighting and indoor plumbing.
When Reynolds and his wife died in 1911, their son, John Reynolds, took over the home. John was also a prominent citizen, severing three terms as mayor. John died in 1947, and when his wife Katherine died in 1963, the house went up for sale. At that time, it was bought by the Crawford County Historical Society.
Today, the palatial 19th-century home is located on a beautiful landscaped hillside on the outskirts of Meadville. Visitors can tour the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum during the summer months to see what life was like for both the Baldwins and Reynolds. The home also features exhibits on life and industry in Crawford County.
Tours of the home guide visitors through the rooms of the first and second floor. The historical society does an excellent job of combining the stories of two families and the county at large into one home. From touring other historical society properties in Pennsylvania, I know that this can be a challenge, and I was impressed at how easily the tour flowed at the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum.
Inside the home, about a quarter of the furniture on display belonged to the Baldwins or the Reynolds. In the rooms that prominently feature their furniture, guides offer a bit of history of the families and also what life was like for the upper class of Meadville in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Along the way, there is also information about other prominent Crawford County residents thanks to the home’s excellent collection of portraits and artwork. In fact, their collection of artwork rivals that of some art museums that I’ve visited in Pennsylvania. Their collection comes mostly thanks to a large donation given by the Meadville Art Society when the organization folded decades ago.
One interesting portrait on display is a drawing done by James Audubon. Audubon completed sketches of local residents for a small fee when he was traveling through the area and ran out of money to continue his onward journey. There is also a painting of Constantinople that was commissioned by the brother of Napoleon. It was later given to Baldwin as payment for legal fees. The museum’s collection also includes works by Clarence Underwood, a world-renowned artist who was once a telegraph operator for William Reynolds.
Also of note is a 14th-century European choral book on display in the upstairs hallway. Kept in a glass case, this book is in amazing shape and is one of the most beautiful historic books I’ve come across in Pennsylvania. This book was donated by a local resident, who also donated several undergarments and handkerchiefs that were once owned by First Lady Dolly Madison.
Overall, I was very impressed by the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum in Meadville. The quality of the collection, especially the art pieces, combined with their ability to weave in the story of the home’s former inhabitants and their influence on the region make this a must-visit stop for those traveling in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. Whether you want to learn about life in northwestern PA, want to see the home of a former Supreme Court justice, or enjoy art, don’t miss this museum on your next trip to Meadville.
Note: My visit to the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum
Tours: Wednesday-Sunday: 12p, 1p, 2p, 3p
Cost: Adults: $5, Children: $3
Address: 639 Terrace Street
Jim Cheney is the creator of UncoveringPA.com. Based in the state capital of Harrisburg, Jim frequently travels around Pennsylvania and has visited, written about, and photographed all 67 counties in the state. He has also traveled to more than 30 different countries around the world.