Joseph Priestley House

Northumberland, Pennsylvania

When Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) is remembered today, it’s usually for his 1774 discovery, in England, of oxygen. Few know he was a noted theologian, political progressive, and prolific author whose scientific contributions include the development of the modern timeline, the carbonation process, the identification of carbon monoxide and other gases, early experiments in electricity and an early understanding of the inter-relationship of plants and animals mediated by gases: oxygen and carbon dioxide and the role of sunlight in photosynthesis.

He counted Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Watt among his friends. Yet Priestley was also a controversial figure whose views were so odious to some of his countrymen that his house, Fair Hill in Birmingham, was burned in a riot in 1791, and he and his family fled to London and then left England in 1794. Priestley spent the last ten years of his life in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where he continued his work in science, religion, and education. But even in this democratic republic his liberal ideas were frequently received with intolerance, and the peace that he so ardently desired was often elusive.

Joseph Priestley House and laboratory is an historic site that preserves and interprets the contributions and significance to American history of Joseph Priestley.  As a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Chemical Landmark, the site features Priestley’s manor house with its laboratory.  In the nearby Pond Building can be found the Joseph Priestley Timeline, a series of panels that present accomplishments during different periods of his life.


Heritage Day at Priestley House on Sunday Nov. 5, 2017

Posted September 25th, 2017

It will be Heritage Day at the Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley’s Sunday, Nov. 5 from 1-4 p.m. for self-guided tours of the 18th century home of the renowned scientist, clergyman and education innovator. Costumed guides will staff the Federal-Georgian style interior, providing information about life in Northumberland between 1794 and 1804, when Priestley pursued his scientific and religious interests here.
Ronald Blatchley of New Berlin, a retired chemistry teacher, will re-enact the English-born Priestley’s early scientific demonstrations twice during the afternoon, at 1:30 and 2:30 pm.  In addition to the lab demonstrations there will be children’s games in several rooms of the mansion.

Ronald Blatchley as Joseph Priestley testing for oxygen




The annual fall event is sponsored by Friends of Joseph Priestley House. The house is owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and administered by Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission. The Friends group, under an agreement with the PHMC, provides volunteer staff to keep the museum open to the public on weekends from March through November. Free admission .  Tickets required for chemistry demonstrations are available in the Visitor Center.


Twelfth Night Celebration on Sunday, January 7 2018

Posted September 25th, 2017

Twelfth Night Celebration at Joseph Priestley House, Sunday January 7 from 4 to 7 pm.

In merry old England Twelfth Night marked the end of Christmas, and it was commonly believed that all seasonal decorations were to be taken down on that date to avoid bad luck for the year.  It was a night of gaiety often filled with practical jokes and short plays.  Have you ever wondered how the Priestley family celebrated Twelfth Night in Northumberland?    A time for merrymaking, the Twelfth Night celebration will feature musical entertainment, experiments by Dr. Joseph Priestley in his laboratory, children’s activities, wassail, Twelfth Night or king’s cake, and other warm and spicy refreshments that would have been enjoyed during the Priestley family’s celebrations. Plan now to attend this festive occasion when the Friends of Joseph Priestley House will host a Twelfth Night celebration on the Sunday evening prior to Epiphany, January 3rd, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.  The Joseph Priestley House will be decorated for the occasion with greenery and the warm glow of lantern light will add to the ambience of the evening.

Free admission.Visitor Center open from4 pm to 7 pm.  House decorated as Enlish manor house for Twelfth Day.   Tour the house on your own and visit with costumed docents in each room.  Chemistry demonstrations by Dr. Priestley in the lab at 4:30 and 5:30 pm.  Limited seating. Tickets available in the Visitor Center


Ronald Blatchley as Joseph Priestley testing for oxygen

Priestley Descendants Gather at Joseph Priestley House

Posted August 8th, 2017

The Friends of Joseph Priestley House held a gathering of the  descendants of Joseph and Mary Priestley on Saturday and Sunday, August 5 and 6, 2017 at  Priestley’s American home to learn about the life and achievements of their famous ancestors.

The first gathering of descendants at Priestley House occurred in August 1874 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of oxygen.  Another gathering in September 1926 celebrated the opening of the Priestley Museum. The third in August 1994 celebrated the 200th anniversary of the emigration of Joseph and Mary Priestley from England to America.

During the weekend descendants had a top to bottom tour of the house to visit the rooms of the house, the basement and the attic and rooftop widows walk or parapet.  After a picnic lunch the group were lead on a walking tour of Priestley homes in Northumberland and visited the Riverview cemetery where many of their descendants are buried.  The day concluded with an evening meal at which each descendant introduced themselves and described how they are related to Joseph Priestley.