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Random: On the 300th Anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's Birth

An article about that odd American.

Britons Dedicate Renovated Franklin Home

Jan 17, 2:41 PM (ET)


LONDON (AP) - Benjamin Franklin, Londoner. The U.S. founding father lived in the British capital for almost two decades before the American Revolution, working to bridge the widening gap between the colonies and the crown. After decades of neglect and a $5.3 million restoration, his house was unveiled to the public Tuesday as a museum dedicated to a revolutionary who spent years trying to keep Britain and its American colonies united.

"He wasn't very successful, but he sowed the seeds of the Anglo-American special relationship," said Marcia Balisciano, director of the Benjamin Franklin House museum.

U.S. Ambassador Robert H. Tuttle and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw cut a red, white and blue ribbon Tuesday - the 300th anniversary of Franklin's birth - to formally open the 18th-century brick home.

The house where Franklin worked, did scientific experiments and invented a musical instrument called the glass armonica will be open by appointment beginning Wednesday. Regular hours start in February.

Franklin lodged in the four-story brick building just off Trafalgar Square from 1757-1762 and from 1764-1775, acting as a diplomat on behalf of American colonists.

He shared the home at 36 Craven St. with landlady Margaret Stevenson, her daughter Polly and, for a time, Polly's husband William Hewson, a surgeon who ran an anatomy school at the house. Hundreds of human bones were found in the basement during excavations in the 1990s.

Balisciano said the house, a center of the 18th-century intellectual ferment known as the Enlightenment, was "stuffed to the brim with people." Temporary residents included Franklin's niece, his illegitimate grandson and the economist Adam Smith.

Franklin's 20th-century biographer, Carl Van Doren, noted that he was less a lodger than the head of the household, "living in serene comfort and affection."

The house - which curators call the "first de facto U.S. Embassy" - was the site of many of Franklin's scientific experiments, including the invention of bifocal glasses and the ethereal-sounding glass armonica, for which Beethoven and Mozart composed pieces.

"Each of the rooms tells a different part of Franklin's life in London," said Balisciano.

She said curators were driven by "what would have interested Franklin, who said 'I was born 200 years too soon.'"

Used as a hotel until World War II and then as offices for non-profit groups, the house was almost derelict when the British government gave it to a charitable trust in the 1970s. The trust spent eight years renovating the building, which now includes a multimedia "historical experience," an archive of Franklin's papers and a student science center.

The rooms, restored to the austere wood floors and painted paneling of their 18th-century heyday, include the parlor in which Franklin - a great fan of fresh air - sat "air bathing" naked by the open windows.

Balisciano said it was fitting that the only surviving Franklin home in the world was in Britain. Franklin - who was born in Boston and made his home in Philadelphia for most of his life - spent much of his time in London working to prevent a split that, by the time he left, he came to see as inevitable.

"He really believed that the ties that bound the two nations were stronger than what pulled them apart," Balisciano said.


On the Net:

This is an exterior view of Benjamin Franklin's house, restored by English Heritage, on Craven Street in central London, Monday, Jan 16, 2006. Benjamin Franklin's only surviving home was unveiled as a museum Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2006, the 300th anniversary of the American founding father's birth. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All right reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Tags: architecture, historical, political, random

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