Why "Hamilton" Street?

With the opening in the neighborhood of two new apartment buildings, one "The Alexander" and the other "The Hamilton," one might think Hamilton Street is named for the current Broadway star and second-place duelist. The name of the street leading into the park comes from a man and his family who came to Philadelphia well before Alexander Hamilton.

As a reminder, all local human history starts with the Lenni Lenape, who lived in this area for millenia before Europeans "discovered" it. William Penn signed the first treaty with the Lenape in 1683, resulting in a peaceful coexistence. Descendants of Penn tricked the Lenni Lenape, whom the Europeans called the "Delaware," out of their land and pushed them westward. Penn settled what was to be Springettsbury Manor in this area before heading back to England.

Andrew Hamilton (1676 - 1741) was a Scottish immigrant and lawyer who settled in Philadelphia. In 1735 in New York he successfully defended a printer, John Zenger, against a charge of libel. This case set the precedent that established truth as a defense against a charge of libel. From his success in this case he inspired the phrase "Philadelphia lawyer," which is a term used to describe a shrewd and effective lawyer. Andrew held various government posts in the Pennsylvania colony, selected and purchased the site for the Pennsylvanis State House, did the initial design work for the State House, and did legal work for the Penn family including settling the estate after William Penn's death in 1718. For this legal help to the Penn family Andrew was given a portion of Springettsbury by Penn's second wife, Hannah Callowhill Penn. He purchased adjacent land for a total of 153 acres, and called the estate Bush Hill, extending from 12th to 19th Street and from Vine to Coates (now Fairmount) Street. He built his manor at the current site of the old Philadelphia Mint, now part of the Community College of Philadelphia.

Detail from Map of Philadelphia and parts adjacent, Nicholas Scull, 1777. From the American Philosophical Society

Andrew also purchased 250 acres on the west side of the Schuylkill River in 1735. Upon Andrew's death in 1741, the estate west of the Schuylkill, currently The Woodlands Mansion and Cemetery, was deeded to his oldest son Andrew. This Andrew only outlived his father by 6 years, at which point his own son William (1745 - 1813) became the proprietor of The Woodlands. Bush Hill was transferred to Andrew the elder's second son, James (1710 - 1783), who also held several government posts in Pennsylvania. When James died without children, he left the Bush Hill estate to his nephew William Hamilton, in the painting below with his niece.

Bush Hill under William Hamilton was a beautiful estate on a hill overlooking the Schuylkill River. At this time, strange as it may seem today, the area that is now Baldwin Park would have been considered river-view property, as the engraving below shows (first engraving attributed to Charles Wilson Peale, Library Company of Philadelphia). The view from the Schuylkill matches the buildings in the second engraving (1789, from Columbian Magazine, Library of Congress), showing from left to right the manor house,  shorter attached kitchen, and the Greek inspired horticulture house.

On the map below, which is shaded to demonstrate topologic features, you can see the hilltop placement of both Springettsbury Manor and Bush Hill just north of the Callowhill Cut (detail from map by John Hills, 1797, Library Company of Pennsylvania). This placement afforded direct views of the Schuylkill River, in the lower left corner, from both sites.

As you can see from the map below of landholdings in 1777 (UPenn Archives), the Hamilton lands were spread over current West Philadelphia and the Baldwin Park area. Bush Hill itself was used as a US Vice Presidential home in the early 1790s and then as a hospital under the direction of Stephen Girard in the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. Girard would later buy land from Richard Penn just north of Springettsbury to build his free college for orphans.

The mansion was last used as a tavern, before burning down in 1808. William Hamilton died in 1813 and left the Bush Hill estate and other lands to his son James, who himself died in 1817 intestate and without children. The division of the estate and settling of debts took several years, but family members were each assigned parcels.  The Hamilton name lives on with Hamilton Walk on Penn's campus, Andrew Hamilton Public School at 5640 Spruce Street, and Hamilton Street which extends from 9th to 22nd Streets and from 31st to 39th Street. Andrew Hamilton, the Philadelphia lawyer, was originally buried at Bush Hill, but was reinterred in the small cemetery adjacent to Christ Church where his grave marker is still clearly visible. 

authored by Joe Walsh 6/18

Matthias Baldwin Park 

423 N 19th St 

Philadelphia, PA 19130

Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to preserve the Matthias Baldwin Park

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