A National Historic Landmark, Woodlands (4000 Woodland Ave., 215/386-2181; cemetery open daily, mansion hours vary; call ahead; free) consists of 300 sprawling acres of land along the west bank of the Schuylkill River, home to a cemetery, gardens, and a Neoclassical mansion. Famous Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Hamilton purchased the land in 1735, and the mansion was built in 1787 by his grandson William. The 16-room manor was one of Philadelphia’s finest estates for many years. An active botanist, Andrew’s gardens and greenhouses contained more than 10,000 different plant species, including several grown from seeds harvested during Lewis and Clark’s expeditions. His was considered the largest collection of plants on the continent at the time.
Today, winding brick paths from the original landscape are lined with headstones of many notable Philadelphians that were buried here…After William’s death in 1813, much of the property was sold, and in 1840, Woodlands Cemetery Company purchased the remaining grounds. Woodlands, along with Laurel Hill Cemetery, served as an innovative improvement to the overcrowded city-church cemeteries that dominated early Philadelphia. Both cemeteries were unique in their elaborate landscaping and architecture and in their isolated locations.
Today, winding brick paths from the original landscape are lined with headstones of many notable Philadelphians that were buried here, including Thomas Eakins, Rembrandt Peale, the Drexel and Biddle families, surgical pioneer Dr. Samuel Gross, and railroad magnates Asa Whitney and John Edgar Thompson. If you visit when the office is open, grab a map showing where the famous people are buried. You can also tour the mansion, which is undergoing a much-needed renovation but serves as an impressive example of Neoclassical architecture.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Philadelphia.