Across the street from West Philadelphia’s 40th Street Trolley station–and a world away from its modernity–is The Woodlands. Behind ornate, majestic iron gates (designed by Paul Cret, whose buildings and bridges are ubiquitous to Philadelphians), The Woodlands is part Victorian cemetery, part sculpture garden, accessible, and unique.
Walking through history right now
Open every day (dawn till dusk) except for Mondays and Tuesdays, the site overflows with winding trails, old shade trees, and the ambiance of another world. Though you can see the skyline peeking above, you feel very far removed from the bustle of West Philly. And right in the center of its 54 acres sits the beautiful Hamilton Mansion (built between 1766 and 1780). Though this Federal manor is currently closed to the public, you can still view it up close.
Famous people are buried at The Woodlands (look for Thomas Eakins’ grave) in its gorgeous mausoleums replete with funerary sculpture. The website has a downloadable map and a list of “Notable Cemetery Residents”. And a unique Woodlands feature are its “cradle grave gardens” with over 150 volunteers who lovingly tend 200 small plots in front of the tombstones. CBS Sunday Morning featured them in a segment you can view on the link.
Though The Woodlands has become noted for its events and arts offerings, these days they are focused on growing a library of digital tours. There are nine of them now, with a new one released each week covering a theme or highlighting someone buried there. For Mother’s Day, grave gardeners wrote about their experiences. And this week, in honor of the recent World Press Freedom Day, they’ll highlight trailblazing journalist Ann Hampton Brewster.
The digital tours offer the public insightful views, but Executive Director Jessica Baumert says that creating them has also been “an unexpected opportunity for staff to rediscover [our] buried history and changing landscape.” Though the site has seen a recent (and predictable) increase in visitation, the expanse of urban green space allows for social distancing. And Baumert notes that “spring has arrived and transformed The Woodlands while many of us have been home, reminding us that there is still beauty and joy in the world."
What, When, Where
The Woodlands is located on 4000 Woodland Avenue and are open to the public (on a limited basis during quarantine) Wednesdays through Sundays dawn to dusk. Free parking is available on the grounds.