The Woodlands

WHAT: The Woodlands is a 45-acre site is a cemetery and landscaped grounds that offers walking and biking paths and a splendid example of a Neoclassical mansion, renovated in the 1780s by Philadelphia resident William Hamilton.


Heather A. Davis

WHERE: The West Philadelphia site, a National Historic Landmark District, is tucked between the Veterans’ Administration Medical Center to the east; 42nd Street and the University of the Sciences to the west; Woodland Avenue to the north; and train tracks and the Schuylkill River to the south.

THE GATES ARE OPEN: The cemetery is the final resting place for some of the city’s most notable residents, including painter Thomas Eakins; Anthony Joseph Drexel, founder of Penn’s neighboring university; nursing pioneer Alice Fisher; and architect and West Philadelphia resident Paul Philippe Cret. The cemetery’s main gates were designed by Cret, who was also responsible for the design of two buildings on Penn’s campus: the Cret Wing of the Chemistry Laboratories in 1941 and the renovations to the Moore School Building in 1926.

SCENIC WALK: The Woodlands was made into a landscaped cemetery in the 1840s. Prior to that, it was William Hamilton’s home. He was heavily influenced by English garden ideals, and The Woodlands was considered a fine example of natural landscape design. Hamilton, a gifted botanist, also amassed a remarkable collection of native, foreign and rare plants—which at one time totaled as many as 10,000 different species. The Woodlands remained in the Hamilton family until 1827, when a significant eastern parcel was sold. The University moved to West Philadelphia in 1872, on land that had once been part of Hamilton’s estate.

THE GROUNDS TODAY: It’s nearly impossible to escape from all the city noise—especially with the 40th Street SEPTA trolley stop across the street from The Woodlands’ main gates—but the site does offer a green, peaceful respite from the urban hustle and bustle. The winding walkways run up and down gently sloping hills, snaking around the perimeter and through the middle of the site. It’s a popular place for joggers and walkers, as well as cyclists. Pedestrians even bring their dogs, and while technically not allowed, most pets are kept on leash and a respectful distance away from the plots and gravestones. If you’re quiet, you may see a herd of deer on the southern tier of the site, as well as numerous birds and hawks in some of the trees that line the pathways.

HISTORIC PRESERVATION: The mansion—available for rent—carriage house, cemetery and grounds are now a National Historic Landmark, and the carriage roads have been designated “The Woodlands Heritage National Recreational Trail.”

MORE INFO: The grounds are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The Woodlands website ( is under construction, but you can call 215-386-2181 or email for more information.  

Originally published on March 24, 2011