Student Spotlight with Joe Huennekens

Joe The Woodlands

Mark Stehle

JOE COLLEGE: Joe Huennekens, a first-year graduate student in PennDesign, is assisting The Woodlands with its new master plan to reimagine the idea of the cemetery, and promote the landscape as a green space open to the community.

HAMILTON’S WOODS: Comprised of 54 acres in University City near the 40th Street Trolley Portal, The Woodlands is a National Historic Landmark built in the 18th century by wealthy Philadelphia aristocrat William Hamilton. The land was transformed into a cemetery in 1840, and serves as the resting place for Philadelphia notables such as architect Paul Philippe Cret, artist Thomas Eakins, and the Drexel family.

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC: The Woodlands is much more than just a cemetery; it also features vast green spaces, a community garden, and even beekeepers. Many West Philadelphia residents use the verdant grounds as a running trail or a place to walk their dogs. “There’s already a fair amount of community use, but hopefully the master plan process will figure out ways to engage more people because there are still a lot of people who don’t know that [The Woodlands] exists,” Huennekens says.

INTRODUCING THE WOODLANDS: Huennekens says The Woodlands hosts a variety of events to try to get the public more involved with the cemetery. Tours of the historic Hamilton Mansion are held every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Huennekens says the master plan will convene a planning committee that will include different stakeholders in the neighborhood to get feedback on ways in which the community would like to see the sanctuary used.

HORTICULTURAL HISTORY: Huennekens says The Woodlands contains a “surprising amount of biological diversity,” especially considering the fact that it is located in the middle of a big city. Founder Hamilton was a horticulturalist who introduced the ginkgo tree to America and his former home encompasses a large amount of horticultural history.

ELMS GROWN IN PHILADELPHIA: Huennekens says his favorite part of The Woodlands is a grove of five elm trees that have survived Dutch elm disease. “Most elm trees in America have died off,” he says. “They’re in a grove, and they’re really gigantic, and they create this sort of outdoor room. That’s definitely my favorite place to read, or eat lunch, or hang out.” He also enjoys the Drexel mausoleum, where the Drexel family is buried. “It looks like a Greek temple,” he says. “It’s normally locked, but sometimes on special occasions they open it up.”

THE HOURS: The grounds of The Woodlands are open daily, from dawn until dusk. “Right now, in fall, it’s especially beautiful,” Huennekens says.

Originally published on November 14, 2013