Woodlands Cemetery, 4000 Woodlands Avenue, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA
See also HABS No. PA-1125 and PA-1125-A for related documentation on The Woodlands & The Woodlands, Stable-Carriage House. Additional documentation includes measured drawings, photographs, & written data.
Significance: Philadelphia's Woodlands Cemetery occupies the grounds of an estate recognized throughout post-Revolutionary America as a leading example of English taste in architecture and landscape gardening. This was William Hamilton's Woodlands, formed in the late eighteenth century on the low bluff where Mill Creek, now buried, meets the Schuylkill River. The mansion, a National Historic Landmark, has long been the subject of scholarly inquiry. Serious study of the building's environs is more recent. The Woodlands today is an amalgam, reworked over time for individual and institutional uses. During the late-eighteenth century, eminent botanist and plant collector William Hamilton (1745-1813) made the property a New World model of contemporary English gardening techniques. Employing principles advanced by Lancelot Brown, Thomas Whately, and nurserymen such as Nathanial Swinden, he created an elaborate tableau that Thomas Jefferson called "the only rival which I have known in America to what may be seen in England." Some forty years after Jefferson's compliment, the estate underwent a second transformation at the hands of the Woodlands Cemetery Company. Founded in 1840, this venture set out to remake Hamilton's estate in the form of a new metropolitan amenity known as a rural cemetery. Local and national precedent existed for such a project. Like Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1831), Woodlands offered private burial plots in a Romantic riverside setting. Still more like Philadelphia''s Laurel Hill (1836), the new cemetery occupied the grounds of a former country seat and was administered by a business corporation. But The Woodlands made its own, distinctive contribution to the rural cemetery movement. Aware of the property's history, dramatic topography and proximity to the city, the company's projectors set out to create a landscape as appealing for its genteel associations as for its natural beauty. Hamilton's mansion and aged trees held special significance for lawyer Eli K. Price. As the cemetery's leading advocate and principal public face, he argued that the institution not only met the sanitary, aesthetic, and emotional needs of Philadelphia but also served as the steward of a hallowed place. In time, similar ideas would prove crucial to the establishment of Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. Given Price's central role in that undertaking and his other contributions to public horticulture, The Woodlands arguably emerges as the microcosm of a popularizing process at work in the American landscape. Conceived as a private estate in high English style, it became widely accessible as a sort of proto-park and helped incubate an institution that was truly public in nature. This, at least, is the prevailing interpretation of the site's historical significance. While there is evidence to support such claims, recent research may help relocate Woodland Cemetery within the more private economy of mid-nineteenth-century real estate development.
Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N8
Survey number: HALS PA-5
National Register of Historic Places NRIS Number: 67000022