Kat Dennings has talked about the house she grew up in several times in interviews, Penn Cottage. “So my childhood home had a plaque from the historical society in the town that I grew up in in Pennsylvania. And it was — it’s like a historical landmark, so you can’t alter it. That’s how old it is. It’s one of the first homes in the township. It was used — fun fact, also boring — as a port house. And, I mean, it’s just — some crazy shit went down in there at some point. It’s also a place where William Penn used to come and stay all the time.”
The following is the original text Kat’s father, Gerald Litwack, penned for The Lower Merion Historical Society‘s website, where the historical property is listed.
Penn Cottage, so-named because William Penn was supposed to have spent time there, was built on land occupied for centuries by a Lenape village. The original building was constructed in 1695 by Robert Owen on 442 acres he purchased for 100 pounds in 1691. Owen was the magistrate in service to William Penn, Justice of the Peace for Merion and a state assemblyman. After the Welsh Quakers settled in 1682, one of their first activities was to build a place of worship, Merion Friends Meeting. Robert Owen, a Quaker member, hired the same stone masons to build his house two miles west on wagon tracks that were to become Old Lancaster Road and then Montgomery Avenue. Upon completion, a gala housewarming was held; venison, purchased from the Indians at sixpence a hind, was served. In 1873, the original modest stone house was altered, then a new wing was added in 1903. All of the original stone walls remain intact. Renovations by the current owners have preserved many aspects of Owen’s original “plantation” home, including four working fireplaces.
The “plantation” land surrounding Penn Cottage encompassed a major portion of what is now Wynnewood. Robert Owen died in 1697 shortly after the death of his wife, Rebecca (Humphrey). The house became the property of their son, Evan, one of eight children. Evan Owen was a magistrate in Philadelphia.
The house next passed to Jonathan Jones, grandson of Dr. Thomas Wynne after whom Wynnewood was named. Jones was married to Evan’s sister, Gainor. The following owner was their son, also named Jonathan, who died in 1747. In 1770, the house came under the ownership of the first female owners, Gainor Jones and Mary Jones, granddaughters of the first Jonathan.
At some point, the house was said to have been occupied by Gen. John Cadwalader, who married Martha Jones at Merion Meeting. Martha was a daughter of Edward Jones, founder of Wynnewood. Cadwalader taught at the Friends’ School in Philadelphia, then moved to the city where he was chosen a member of City Council and the Pennsylvania Assembly.
For the next 150 years, the home passed through a succession of Joneses. The historical list of owners may not always allude to the occupants of the house at any given time, since, apparently, the house was also known as the “bride’s cottage” and the brides who occupied it may not have been the owners.
The Toland family (cousins of Mary R. Jones) lived there for 34 years. The first non-familial owners were the Evans, who purchased the home in 1923.
In 1979, Penn Cottage, one of the oldest residences in Pennsylvania, was included in the Pennsylvania Inventory of Historic Places. In 1997, a bronze plaque was placed in front of the old house by the Welcome Society of Pennsylvania, so-named for the ship that carried William Penn to America in 1682.
While her father keeps the story of the house to our physical plane, Kat swears the house is haunted and that her child self experienced anything and everything the trope demands, from flickering lights to misplaced belongings, as if from a page from Shirley Jackson. As she said to The AV Club in 2018, “It sounds so crazy, but I swear — you could ask my father, who is 89 who saw some shit. We all saw some shit. (…) It didn’t feel scary. It just felt like—the air felt thick and electric-y. You know what I mean? Like there were a thousand dead people looking in your soul or something.”
We want to take Kat’s word for it, but the fact she was obsessed with Wednesday Addams as a child, and would even introduce herself as such as sleep with her arms crossed like Christina Ricci, does not help her case. “Straight drama. I was very dramatic.” This she confirmed to Conan back in October 2014.
Nowadays, Penn Cottage is rentable. In a digital attendance to Jimmy Kimmel Live! in February 2021, Kat shared that her brother had recently rented out the house with his wife. “They were so creeped out, they left under cover of night.”