Hamilton Village

In University City, buildings and parks often carry names that are tokens of their past. At 40th and Locust Walk, Hamilton Village Park offers a space to throw frisbee or layout in the sun. Adjacent is St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at Hamilton Village, and across the street are the Shops at Hamilton Village.

These places pay tribute to the family of Andrew Hamilton, the Revolution-era Scottish lawyer who gained fame for establishing the tenet of freedom of the press. Hamilton first acquired the land west of the Schuylkill in 1726. He affectionately called his estate “The Woodlands,” and expanded it to encompass over 300 acres before his death in 1741. His son, Andrew II, inherited the land, but died an untimely death just six years later. William Hamilton, the son of Andrew II and Mary Till Hamilton, then inherited the estate at the age of two.

Mary raised William as a single mother. In 1762, he graduated from the College of Philadelphia, which would later become today’s University of Pennsylvania. Hamilton was plenty wealthy, renowned and intelligent enough to begin a career, but his passion for botany consumed all of his time. Hamilton owned some land in Lancaster as well, and earned money by leasing it to residents of the growing town. Rent was difficult to collect, however, because of Lancaster’s distance from the Woodlands.

Hamilton became a reputable botanist among American and European high society. Thomas Jefferson even made sure that Lewis and Clark brought back exotic plant seeds from their expedition for Hamilton’s collection. To better support his extravagant hobby, Hamilton began leasing land in the Woodlands to wealthy Philadelphians seeking a place to escape the heat and noise of the city in the summer months. In the late 1700’s, the city of Philadelphia scarcely passed Broad Street, and what is now University City really was a summer getaway. To better attract permanent tenants, Hamilton set aside lots for two churches - one Episcopal and one Presbyterian. In the early 1800’s, the humble village consisted of little more than these two churches and a few rows of wealthy homes.

The city of Philadelphia expanded outward rapidly throughout the century, due to the complementary forces of immigration and industrialization. By the 1900’s, much of Hamilton’s Woodlands had become West Philadelphia. The University of Pennsylvania’s own rapid expansion in the late 1900’s has subsumed all of Hamilton Village, replacing the once grand and idyllic houses with high-rise dormitories, libraries and academic buildings.


  • Cammann, Schuyler V. R.. St. Mary's Church, Hamilton Village, and its famous altar. Littleton, N.H.: Sherwin/Dodge printers, 1984.
  • Orr, David Gerald, Richard Veit, and Sarah Chesney. "The Root of the Matter: Searching for William Hamilton's Greenhouse at the Woodlands Estate, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania." In Historical archaeology of the Delaware Valley, 1600-1850. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2013.




40th and Locust Street

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