American Versailles

[Not a valid template]

Editor’s Note: When we called ourselves Hidden City Philadelphia, we meant to stay within the city limits. Occasionally, though, something just over the line proves too attractive to resist, like Whitemarsh Hall–or rather what’s left of it.

Looming Ionic columns and curious bits of statuary scattered among the modern townhouses of Stotesbury Estates are all that remains of what was known as “The Versailles of America,” once home to Edward Stotesbury, one of the richest men of his era.   The $3 million Neo-Georgian mansion, with interior decor costing another $3 to $5 million, was the investment banker’s rather pricey wedding gift to his second wife, Lucretia Roberts Cromwell. Stotesbury tapped Horace Trumbauer, prolific architect of suburban mansions for Philadelphia’s elite, to build Whitemarsh Hall on 300 acres in what is now Wyndmoor. Jacques Greber, designer of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, handled the grounds and gardens.

Whitemarsh Hall was completed in 1921, when Stotesbury was 72 years old. Its 147 rooms on six floors–three above and three below ground–included 28 bathrooms, three elevators and a movie theater, and totaled 100,000 square feet. The Stotesburys enjoyed a lavish lifestyle until 1932, when the stock market crash began affecting even the richest of the rich. Stotesbury shuttered the mansion, let most of his staff go, and allowed the grounds to go to seed.

His wife couldn’t afford to maintain the property after Stotesbury died in 1938, and sold it to the Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing Company (later Pennsalt/ATOFINA) in 1943 for $167,000. The company used the mansion for laboratory space, and sold off most of the land to developers, who subdivided it and built single-family homes in the wake of WWII. Pennsalt moved to a new facility in 1963, leaving Whitemarsh vacant. The property changed hands several times in the years that followed, and deteriorated steadily. Vandals, arsonists, looters and the elements all took their toll.

In 1976 Jay Gross bought the stripped and overgrown mansion and the remaining 46 acres of land, and built 183 townhomes on the property. He called the development Stotesbury Estates. The main residence met the wrecking ball in 1980. Gross left some statuary and architectural details to remind residents of Whitemarsh Hall’s former splendor. Most of these ruins–including columns of the main entrance’s portico, a grotto that houses what once was the fountain of Neptune, the lower garden wall from the formal gardens and a belvedere–are contained in a park for residents. Outside the park are several other remnants, including the main entry gate and guard house–now a private residence–as well as several pieces of statuary. These reminders of one wealthy man’s whims now lie in the shadow of rows of indistinguishable, mss-produced townhouses–like a momento mori for the American Dream.



Laura S. Kicey is a photographer and artist based in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Kicey is a 1999 graduate of Kutztown University, where she studied graphic design and photography. Since 2004, her work has been shown in numerous galleries and museums across the U.S., and has been licensed by such clients as Urban Outfitters, Terrain at Styers, AMC Network, Lensbaby, Philly Weekly, and Pantone. Her photographs and digital composites can be found in several private collections and have been prominently featured in print 
publications internationally. Check out her website HERE and her Twitter feed HERE.

Send a message!



2 Comments


  1. I remember wandering the ruins of the estate before the final demolition. It felt like stumbling across some lost outpost of Atlantis. Truly amazing but not nearly as amazing as the knowledge this was all about to go. Pity I only used my camera for endless pictures of my cat in those days, lol!

    • Patricia Cullers

      I took my daughter up there to the ruins and wandered around also. It had been vandalized so badly! Couldn’t go in the basement because it was flooded, but wouldn’t anyway without others with us! Such a shame that had to go to waste!!

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Developer Targets Asian Shopping Center In Next Battle For Washington Avenue

Developer Targets Asian Shopping Center In Next Battle For Washington Avenue

June 26, 2019  |  News

Hoa Binh Plaza at 16th Street and Washington Avenue has been a shopping and community hub for Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants for nearly 30 years. As real estate acquisition heats up west of Broad Street, a developer plans to raze the complex for new residential construction. Kimberly Haas has the news > more

Celebrating Rebellion: On The Picket Line With The Suffragettes Of Philadelphia

Celebrating Rebellion: On The Picket Line With The Suffragettes Of Philadelphia

June 24, 2019  |  Vantage

This month marks the 100th anniversary of Pennsylvania ratifying the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. With Independence Day fast approaching, Amy Cohen introduces us to the rebellious suffragettes that fought for equal rights in Philadelphia > more

Residents Sound Off To Land Bank Following Release Of New Report

Residents Sound Off To Land Bank Following Release Of New Report

June 21, 2019  |  News

The Philadelphia Land Bank draws anger and frustration with the release of its new strategic plan and performance report. Kimberly Haas has the details > more

Growing Pains Yield Gains For The Mütter Museum

Growing Pains Yield Gains For The Mütter Museum

June 20, 2019  |  News

The Mütter Museum, one to the country's premiere medical history museums, prepares for a major expansion with a $25 million capital campaign and designs by KieranTimberlake. Kimberly Haas has the news > more

Italian-American Heritage & Industrial Landmarks Go Under Review For Historic Designation Recommendation

Italian-American Heritage & Industrial Landmarks Go Under Review For Historic Designation Recommendation

June 17, 2019  |  News

Starr Herr-Cardillo has this roundup of local register nominations on the agenda at the June meeting of the Philadelphia Historical Commission's Designation Committee > more

Homeowners Pay The Price When New Construction Damages Neighboring Rows

Homeowners Pay The Price When New Construction Damages Neighboring Rows

June 14, 2019  |  News

Owners of row houses are left with little recourse when demolition and new construction causes structural damage to their homes. Starr Herr-Cardillo takes a look at a growing citywide problem > more