The Hill - Physick house is one of the last free standing Colonial
era mansions in the old part of the city. It was built in 1786 by
Henry Hill, a wine merchant, in the newly emerging and very
fashionable Federal style. He only lived in the house for a few
years before he sold it to Dr. Phillip Syng Physick, the most
important surgeon of his era. Physick is sometimes called the
father of American surgery, because of the numerous future
surgeons that trained under him.
The mansion embodies everything that the Federal style was
known for,- a water table of contrasting color, tall narrow windows,
a generous front door - sometimes with the sidelights seen here,
a large elaborate fan light, and a narrow cornice (sometimes
referred to as clipped). Especially noteworthy in the Physick
house is the spectacular fanlight, an English import whose only
rival in Philadelphia is the magnificent fanlight at Carpenters Hall.
The overall effect of these details is to create a lighter, slightly
more minimalist and more elegant building compared to the
earlier Georgian style.
Unfortunately the interiors are largely recreations based on what some believe
are flawed assumptions. The original interiors were partly destroyed by an earlier
owner and the house was restored to an appearance representing its ownership
by Dr. Physick in the early 1800s based on the French empire revival style. It now
appears Dr. Physick did not make these kinds of alterations (at least to this
extent) and the house really deserves interiors reflecting a Federal era
interpretation. Even so, the interiors are well worth seeing since the shapes and
proportions of the rooms still give a sense of grandeur and elegance and the
second empire furnishings are of a uniformly high quality.
The extensive gardens, unusual for this area of the city, were replanted in the
1960s in a manner attempting to reflect formal gardens of the era.
One of the last free standing
houses from the Colonial
era in the old center and an
almost perfect embodiment
of the Federal style with
grand (though not original)
interiors. Not to be missed.