Wednesday, July 29, 2009

American Gothic

The other day, while musing on the architecture of Benjamin Latrobe, I stumbled across this painting of Sedgley Park. Built in 1799 near Lemon Hill, Philadelphia, it is thought to be the earliest Gothic-style house in America. A contemporary writer remarked "The natural advantages of Sedgley Park are not frequently equalled, even upon the banks of the Schuylkill. From the height upon which the mansion is erected it commands an interesting and extensive view. The scenery around is of unusual beauty, but its character is altogether peaceful and quiet."

Sedgley was the country house of William Cramond, a Philadelphia merchant. Business difficulties forced Cramond to sell the house a mere seven years after its construction. From there it passed through the hands of several owners and tenants, including the Philadelphia sheriff who ran a beer garden on the estate (much to the delight of the local boaters). The city eventually acquired the estate in 1854, incorporating it into what is now Fairmont Park. By that time the house had fallen into such disrepair that it was demolished in 1857. Today, the only remaining structure of the Sedgley estate is the guard house. So one can only imagine...

Here's a little something well worth adding to your digital library ~ Thompson Westcott, The Historic Mansions and Buildings of Philadelphia, with some notice of their Owners and Occupants (1877).

Thanks JTL for the inspiration on this one!

(image: Thomas Birch, Southeast View of “Sedgeley Park,” the Country Seat of James Cowles Fisher, Esq., about 1819, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, Museum purchase made possible by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment)

8 comments:

Michael Hampton said...

You have provided me with another possible subject to paint. Keep them coming!!

Janet said...

Michael ~ you should do a whole series on the lost houses of America.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

is there anything more appealing than 18th century "Gothick"? And Michael should definitely do that series....brilliant idea. EEE

Blue said...

Michael - go forth to thy drawing board and let the paintings multiply.

Style Court said...

Love the idea of a series.

little augury said...

So sad that it went by the wayside, and as to the original owner having to sell it- It seems that a house can break your heart and the bank. thank you for showing us what once was. la

home before dark said...

I love the idea of lost houses. We have one in our family. My husband's great uncle was a cross between the Great Gatsby and a Horatio Alger character. Boy leaves home at an early age after family lost weath in a glass factory, moves west, works hard, builds fortune, builds a Georgian Home complete with horse farm. Health and wealth decline. No direct heirs. Family sells mansion and land. Today the house has been removed from the site and a shopping center built there. All that remains is the gazebo that had been by the pool. On the hill above, the great uncle rests with in grave that directly looks onto what had been his dream and is now a Walgreens. I keep a snowy picture of the house at my desk. It is the American story.

bwemerson said...

Hey Janet,

I haven't forgotten the pictures I'm going to send, but full summer madness has hit the Maine Coast, aka the Hamptons North, and I seem to have no down time.

Years ago I owned an early print of the Thomas Birch view of Sedgley, and it was responsible for a life long affection for the neoclassically tinged gothick, and I still melt at some of the Gothic/Federal churches that grace your part of Maine.

On another, more somber gothic note, are you familiar with the earliest gothic house in Maine, the great Oaklands Mansion of the Gardiner family of Gardiner, Maine, designed by Richard Upjohn in the early 1830's? It sits on the Kennebec, looking for all the world like a small English regency country house, in a lovely English style park---complete time warp. It's a private house, but drive up and check it out next time you're in Maine....it's a stunning sight...