Question of the Week

What architect designed the Bank of Pennsylvania, built from 1798 to 1801

Sunday, 5/1/11

Answer: Benjamin H. Latrobe

In the 1790s, Benjamin H. Latrobe was one of the most accomplished architects and engineers in England.   When he immigrated to the United States in 1796, Latrobe brought new European standards and training from Germany, France, and Italy.  His innovative designs started the Greek Revival movement in American architecture, which was the first truly national style for its resonance with classical ideals of tradition and democracy.  Recognized as one of America’s first formally trained architects, Latrobe has been called the “Father of American Architecture.”

After a brief period in Virginia, Latrobe moved to Philadelphia to design the city’s public water system, a plan which took water from the Schuylkill at Philadelphia, piped it to Center Square (now City Hall), and used steam engines to pump the water throughout the city in conduits made from hollow wooden logs.  He also designed the Bank of Pennsylvania, built from 1798 to 1801 on South Second Street, considered the first great American Greek Revival building. 

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson hired Latrobe as Surveyor of Public Buildings, a position which was responsible for the design and repair of government buildings.  Latrobe is most celebrated for his work on the Capitol in Washington, D.C., the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Baltimore, the restoration of Nassau Hall at Princeton University, and the repairs to the White House after the War of 1812. 

Ironically, Latrobe died while working on the water system in New Orleans in 1820 of yellow fever, the disease his Philadelphia water system was intended to prevent.

HSP holds published material, including papers, architectural drawings, sketches and a number of miscellaneous manuscripts by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.  HSP collections also contain published works about Latrobe’s water system and biographical information for Latrobe and his son, Benjamin H. Latrobe, Jr.


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