300-year-old Northeast Philadelphia home restored to preserve its revolutionary history

ByMatteo Iadonisi
Friday, August 21, 2020
300-year-old Northeast Philadelphia home restored to preserve its revolutionary history
"Without history, we don't have any future. So I'd purchase it at any price." Andy V. Cohen used his own personal time and money to restore a Philly landmark.

PHILADELPHIA -- Jason Sherman and Andy V. Cohen come from opposite ends of the Earth, yet their stories converge at a historic house with older tales than theirs.

Both became passionate about the Worrell-Winter House over the last several years. The skinny stone structure at the corner of Adams and Kensington Avenues predates America herself.

Thought to be built between 1713 and 1728, the home belonged to John Worrell and George Winter. Together, they operated the local Swedish Grist Mill, a source of food and work that stimulated the community. Comfortably seated between Womrath Park and the Frankford Creek, it was a popular spot for America's founders to visit.

Thomas Jefferson is said to have recited the Declaration of Independence within its walls on July 4, 1776. The founders dined in the nearby Womrath Park to celebrate the historic document's signing.

Naturally, much has changed on a geographical, economic, and social level since the 1700s. Yet, the Worrell-Winter House survived it all.

But it was not without struggle.

Just a few years ago, Jason Sherman, an award-winning filmmaker, walked into the building with a video camera.

"It was in complete disrepair. It was falling apart. There were homeless people living here and it was just completely filled with trash," he said.

But today, he stepped into a much different sight. The cream walls evoked a museum-like atmosphere, coupled with a copy of the Declaration of Independence framed next to a painting of three Founding Fathers. Cracked windows, dilapidated walls, and holed flooring were all replaced or refurbished.

The house was restored according to the guidelines of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, now living up to its slot on the city's Historic Registry.

It was natural for Jason Sherman to strike an interest in the house, given his family has lived in the Frankford area since the 1800s. However, Andy V. Cohen was born a bit further away.

Originally from Israel, Cohen immigrated to America in the early 2000s. He only had $600 in his pocket.

When asked how he became a successful real estate investor, his answer was simple. "Very easy. Work 24/7," he said.

Cohen now claims American history as his own, saying, "This is my country." That's why he was compelled to restore the Worrell-Winter House after purchasing the entire corner property it was connected to.

"Without history, we don't have any future. So I'd purchase it at any price," Cohen said.

It was his personal time and money that paved the way for the historic restoration. Jason Sherman notes that they had received no funding for the project. And his 2016 award-winning film, "The King's Highway," was the first to call attention to the lack of such funding in Northeast Philadelphia.

"We were afraid it was going to be razed," said Ree Springer, who grew up alongside her grandfather hearing stories about the Worrell-Winter House. "And I'm so thankful somebody had the foresight to save the house," she said.

Cohen felt it was a natural choice, given the country's history. "By title, yeah, it's my house. But it's the American people's house," he said.

He and Jason Sherman are currently exploring options for opening the doors to the public like a true museum, which may require additional funding. Although guests were invited earlier today for an open house tour, the Worrell-Winter House will not be open on a regular schedule until further notice.

Nevertheless, Sherman believes its weathered edifice is a kaleidoscope through which we can see America today.

"We need everybody to work together to try to take the pieces of the Founding Fathers' vision that does work and make it work for the future generations to come," he said.

To learn more about the house and documentary, visit The King's Highway Facebook page.

RELATED: Oldest surviving log cabin seeking next generation of history keepers

This South Jersey log cabin has stood for more than 350 years...and needs a new homeowner to carry its legacy. Community Journalist Matteo takes us inside.