Hidden in the center of a West
Philadelphia cemetery is one of the
most spectacular Federal houses in
the United States. The Woodlands
estate was started in 1742 by Andrew
Hamilton who was speaker of the
Pennsylvania assembly and the
probable designer of Independence
Hall. This earlier Georgian house was
completely engulfed by the current
Federal era mansion built by his
grandson, William Hamilton, in 1788.
The Greek temple inspired portico front, facing the Schuylkill River,
is one of the earliest examples of the two story portico in the United
States. Flanking this portico are two Palladian windows set in blind
arches. On either side of the house, are two projecting bays
creating two elliptical rooms on the interior - a design hallmark of
the Federal style. Also not to be missed is a wonderful Federal era
stable which still exists on the grounds.
The estate originally included over 600 acres stretching from the
Schuylkill River to Market Street on the north and 42nd street on the
west. William Hamilton was very interested in botany and planted
the grounds with over 10,000 species, many which he imported into
the United States for the first time.
A large section of the land was laid out as one of the leading English natural style gardens in
America. Much of this property was sold off in the early 1800s as the urban development of
Philadelphia expanded across the Schuylkill River. The remaining acres along the river, including
the house, were purchased in the 1840s to be converted into a nondenominational cemetery to
rival Laurel Hill located farther north along the Schuylkill..
Seeing The Woodlands today, it's hard to imagine the original appearance and surrounding
environment of the building. Though difficult to see, the house is on axis with the lower Schuylkill
River which makes a sharp 90° turn immediately in front of the estate. The appearance of this
temple portico on the hill as one came up the Schuylkill toward it must've been one of the most
impressive approaches to a house anywhere.
One of the grandest of
seats, the Woodlands is an
exceptional example of