John Bartram (1699-1777), along with his sons William (1739-1823) and John, Jr. (1743-1812), are best known for their pioneering work as botanists, naturalists, and explorers. Over the course of their lifetimes, they traveled north to Lake Ontario, south to Florida, and west to the Mississippi River, collecting native plant specimens along the way. These they brought home to Pennsylvania and cultivated in their modest garden along the banks of the Schuylkill River. There they grew as many as 2000 types of plants, shipping specimens on request to clients throughout the colonies (men such as Washington, Jefferson and Franklin), and on to England. In 1765 he was named by George III as the King's Botanist for North America.
The house, often only a footnote in the Bartram story, is fascinating. It grew organically, much like the garden, expanding as needed to meet the needs of the family. Built almost entirely from Wissahickon schist (a local Pennsylvania stone), the two-story building began in 1728 as a simple four-room, single-story structure. As fashion and fortunes changed, the house was expanded. In keeping with the Bartrams' Quaker faith, it is intentionally modest, ornamented only by the odd, interesting stone carvings and columns, created by John Bartram himself.
In the mid 19th century, at a time when the banks of the Schuylkill were rapidly becoming the industrial cesspool of Philadelphia, many old houses were abandoned and torn down to make way for factories. Miraculously, Bartram's house and garden were saved through the efforts of a series of fore-thinking men. Today, the house stands as it did almost three centuries ago, along with a stone barn built in 1775 (thought to be the oldest in Philadelphia), and a flowering Yellowwood tree sent to William Bartram by the explorer André Michaux.
(a photo set on flickr)
UPDATE: Click over to the American Garden History blog for a bit more Bartram.