In the late 1700's, a new housing
type was being built by the
well-to-do in America - the villa.
Inherited from Italy via England,
the late 18th century and early
19th century villa was a variation
on the classical model of a house
in the country to be used to enjoy
nature. The English originally
reinterpreted it to define a house
designed for minimal entertaining
(a major distinction among the
upper classes) and small enough
to accentuate a direct relationship
with nature - usually having large
windows and even a veranda.
The first of these small "private"
villas built along the Schuylkill is
John Penn's Solitude (1784)
followed by Ormiston (1798) and
The villa house type proved
that you didn't have to be
grand to be elegant. The
small thing done well as an
aesthetic would develop
throughout the Victorian era
but found it's beginning in
these small country villas.
Rockland is a wonderful example of this trend, done in the Federal Style. It approaches a cube in its proportions
and is symmetrical on its major axis. A hip roof and a baluster at the roof line emphasizes its formality making the
front of the house particularly noteworthy. At the second floor is a great Federal interpretation of the classic
Palladian window with a flattened elliptical molding over the stucco (replacing the earlier semicircular fanlight) and
two very thin sidelights. At ground level is a spectacular portico with tall slender Corinthian fluted columns. As
Roger Moss observes in Historic Houses of Philadelphia, seeing this portico makes you wonder how many other
houses have lost this type of "attached" feature which so changes the entire appearance of the front elevation.
The rear of the house, while plainer, is no less important. A wide veranda stretches across the entire rear of the
house with wide stairs down to the lawn. Four full height French doors lead into a ballroom which also extends
across the entire rear of the house. This ballroom along with the beautiful wide interior stairway clearly states that
the house was designed to impress guests as well as allow the owner to commune with nature.