Question of the Week
Land that once belonged to famed Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Hamilton is now part of which cemetery?
Answer: Woodlands Cemetery
In 1735, the famed and original “Philadelphia lawyer” Andrew Hamilton purchased a 250-acre estate along the west bank of the Schuylkill River. The estate, known as the Woodlands, was eventually inherited by Hamilton’s grandson, William Hamilton, when William was just 21 years old. William, inspired by a stay in England, began to heavily renovate the grounds and mansion at Woodlands. The mansion was redone in the new federal style popular in England, making it one of the earliest American examples of a federal style house at its completion in 1789.
At its largest, the estate spread over 600 acres from Gray’s Ferry in the south to where Market Street would later be in the north, and a mile westward. The Woodlands estate remained in the Hamilton family until it became too expensive for the family to maintain. The land was parceled and sold over the course of the 1820s and 1830s. In 1840 the remaining land and structures were purchased by Eli Kirk Price and his associates to establish the Woodlands Cemetery Company and preserve the remaining Hamilton estate, including its mansion. It took a few years for the cemetery to attract business. In 1845, the body of Commodore David Porter (1780-1843) was transferred to Woodlands, which gave it some needed attention. Once the cemetery began operations in earnest, it became not only a popular burial ground, but also a site for picnics, strolling, and other public recreation.
Today, the Woodlands Cemetery Company is a non-profit corporation that runs the still active cemetery. The company is supported by the Woodlands Trust for Historic Preservation, which works to preserve the grounds and mansion.
The records of the Woodlands Cemetery Company (#3661) at HSP document the growth and activities of the cemetery from 1840 to the 1990s. It contains administrative materials, financial records, correspondence, burial records, deeds to land in West Philadelphia, deeds to burial lots, blueprints and maps of the cemetery grounds, and a small number of photographs.
Image: "The Woodlands" Mansion, built by William Hamilton, West Philadelphia, watercolor by David J. Kennedy, in about 1777 (undated)
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.