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Historic Upsala estate sells for $550K

That’s $51K over the original asking price

Upsala, the historic mansion with ties to the American Revolutionary War, has officially sold for well over its original asking price.

“Of the nine offers that the National Trust for Historic Preservation received, this offer was $550,000, which was well above the list price of $499,000,” David Young, director of Cliveden, Inc., told Curbed Philly.

Over the past couple of years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Cliveden. have tag-teamed efforts to find a new steward for Upsala, which is located right on the edge of Germantown and Mt. Airy and sits across the street from Cliveden. It’s considered one of the finest examples of Federal architecture and served as the staging ground for the Continental army ahead of the Battle of Germantown in 1777.

The Trust first began its search for a new Upsala steward in 2015, but later decided to put it on the real estate market, a rare move for the organization. Elfant Wissahickon Realtors listed the historic 7-bedroom, 1.5-bath home in September 2016, and that December the house went under contract.

The past few months have involved finalizing the preservation easement on the 2.45-acre property at 6430 Germantown Avenue, which will protect the home in perpetuity. Young said the report to the state attorney general’s office clocked in at more than 340 pages. It detailed not just the easement, but also the new owners’ plans for the property and the lengthy community engagement that led to this sale.

There were two main factors that the Trust and Cliveden used to accept an offer: The new steward had to prove past preservation experience and have the financial capacity to take on this historic property.

“The offer we received came from a couple that had demonstrated this kind of preservation stewardship in three and four examples of other parts of Philly and New York,” Young said. “Also, the offer was in cash, no it didn’t require financing. It suggested that they had financial resources that would make the next use sooner than some of the other offers.”

Other offers proposed a wide variety of uses for the property, including everything from pop-up beer gardens to office space. “One of the things I learned, and I think my organization and board of directors learned, from this process is that the real estate market was a great way to find a variety of creative alternatives for use of property,” said Young. “Not every historic property has to become a house museum.”

So what are the new owners plans? Katherine Malone-France, VP for Historic Sites, National Trust for Historic Preservation, said they plan to move into the property as soon as possible and return it to its original purpose as a private residence.

But while Cliveden has spent the past couple of years restoring the property—namely the exterior and the 14 or so different kinds of windows—Young said the new owners still have some work to do. “I don’t know if the issue is restoration so much as modernizing,” he said.

There is no central air in the home, for example, and there are some issues with lighting.

It’ll also be their first time experiencing the annual Battle of Germantown reenactment, which takes place this year on October 7. “Not only will they have a front seat to the reenactment, but that’s a requirement of the public access portion of the easement,” explained Young. “They’ll be working with Cliveden and other Germantown partners to plan and prepare for several thousands people to be on their front lawn that day.”

Malone-France said that while process from start to finish took longer than expected, she hopes it can serve as a model for identifying new uses for historic homes and sites.

“This is just a great victory for preservation,” she said. “Upsala can now move onto a new chapter of its life and new chapter of its stewardship. It’s really exciting and positive, not only for the people who made offers on property, but all of the people we engaged with in Germantown and throughout Philadelphia. Everyone wanted the best future for this house.”