Bush Hill

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Built in 1737 for Andrew Hamilton (1676-1741), Pennsylvania's greatest lawyer and the confidante of William Penn (1679-1720). His mansion stood on the hill just behind what is now the Free Library of Philadelphia and his estate spread from Vine Street to Fairmont Avenue, between 12th and 19th Street. Bush Hill was then home to his nephew, the only native born Governor of Colonial Pennsylvania, before Vice-President (afterwards President) John Adams moved in with his family. Sold by the Hamiltons in 1818, it became a tavern and then a factory before it was demolished....

This house is best associated with...

Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton I, "The Councillor" of Philadelphia


James Hamilton

Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Pennsylvania


John Adams

Founding Father & 2nd President of the United States (1797-1801)


Abigail (Smith) Adams

Mrs Abigail (Smith) Adams, 2nd First Lady of the United States (1797-1801)


In 1726, on the advice of James Logan (1674-1751) for legal services rendered, Hannah Callowhill (1671-1726), the widow of the founder of Pennsylvania, gifted Andrew Hamilton a 150-acre estate that had formerly been part of the Manor of Springettsbury.

A "Noble" Home to Pennsylvania's First Notable Art Collection

In 1737, Hamilton's "noble" south-facing, three-story brick mansion measured 54 feet across and was built on the highest rise of the estate, complete with numerous outbuildings that included stables, a coach house, ice house and a separate kitchen wing. A portrait of the family's benefactor, Mrs Hannah Penn, hung in the hall, but Hamilton died just four years later and was buried here on the estate that he named "Bush Hill". Among other property - that amounted to some 10,000-acres - he left his home to his eldest son, James Hamilton, the only native born Governor of Colonial Pennsylvania.

Robbers and Revolution

In 1749, having returned from a three year sojourn in London, James made several improvements to the mansion that included erecting a greenhouse. A connoisseur of fine art, it was at Bush Hill that James assembled Pennsylvania's first notable art collection, and he gained quite a reputation for the frequency and scale of the lavish hospitalities he laid on here. He sided with the Crown during the Revolution and in 1777 allowed British soldiers to camp on the grounds, cutting down all the trees in front of the house.

Hamilton eventually went with the British to New York, where he died in 1783 and the estate passed to his nephew, William Hamilton, who soon afterwards embarked for a two year trip to Europe. When William returned to Philadelphia, he briefly made his home here before his sumptuous new residence, The Woodlands was habitable from 1789. It was during that time (1787) that he and his niece were set upon one night and shot at in their carriage by six robbers who were chased on horseback into a cornfield by his servants.

Union Green & the Vice-Presidential Residence

The following year, Hamilton allowed its front lawns to be used as the parade terminus for the Federal Procession of July 4th, 1788, where celebrations were held to mark the establishment of the new U.S. Constitution. The front lawn on which crowds of over two thousand people had gathered that day was given the name "Union Green". Perhaps fittingly, when the Federal government came to Philadelphia in 1790, Hamilton rented Bush Hill to Washington's Vice-President (Presidential successor), John Adams.

Renovations were made to the house in preparation for the new tenants, and at this time it was described as "a very beautiful place" where sheep pastured on the lawn in front of the house. Behind the house was a grove of evergreens laid out in an ordered grid, where a stream flowed down to the woodland and formal gardens below. Adams' wife, Abigail, was assured that for eight months of the year, "this place was delicious," but having, "consumed forty cords of wood in four months" during a particularly arduous winter in 1791 she wrote to her sister, Elizabeth:
I am told that this spot is very delightful as a summer residence. The house is spacious. The views from it are rather beautiful than sublime; the country round has too much of the level to be in my style; the appearance of uniformity wearies the eye, and confines the imagination. We have a fine view of the whole city from our windows; a beautiful grove behind the house, through which there is a spacious gravel walk, guarded by a number of marble statues, whose genealogy I have not yet studied, as the last week is the first time I have visited them.
George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were among the long list of distinguished visitors who frequently called here, just as they had done when it was the home of James Hamilton. But, after only a year, despite being just two-and-a-half miles from the city center, the long winter and bad roads persuaded the Adams' to move into Philadelphia itself where they rented a townhouse for $1,000 a year. They left in the spring of 1791, when Abigail reflected, "I shall have some regrets leaving this place, just as the season begins to open all its beauties upon me".

"A Dread Charnel House of Fear, Dismal Suffering and Death"

Once again, the grand edifice stood empty, but in 1793 it was commandeered by the city to serve as a hospital for the victims of the Yellow Fever epidemic that was then sweeping across Philadelphia. The house that only just before had hosted sumptuous dinners and balls for the country's leading dignitaries within its elegant walls now became, "a dread charnel house of fear, dismal suffering and death".

Tavern, Factory and Flattened

The house continued to sink into decline becoming a tavern and resort until the Hamilton heirs sold it in 1818 to Isaac Macauley - the first manufacturer of oil-cloths in the United States. He remodelled it from a tavern into an oil cloth manufacturing factory and added several new buildings including a new "fine mansion" on Hamilton Street for himself. By 1835, much of the former estate had been sold off, the largest tract having been purchased by Oliver Parry (1794-1874) and his nephew Nathaniel Randolph (1817-1858). The area became increasingly industrialized and a brick factory and the Bush Hill Ironworks were erected on the former gardens. Macauley eventually sold the property to Thomas Potter who maintained it as an oil-cloth factory until he was forced to move in 1871 in consequence of the street-widening project on Spring Garden Street. The former mansion was finally demolished in 1875 to make way for new re-development and new residences. 

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 24/10/2018 and last updated on 10/02/2023.


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Patricia loves Bush Hill

Richard C Mousseau's ancestor, Andrew Hamilton, owned Bush Hill