American Versailles

November 23, 2011 | by Laura Kicey

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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.



About the Author

Laura Kicey 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 Architectural Digest, 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.


  1. Martin Kelley says:

    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!

    1. Patricia Cullers says:

      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!!

      1. Lynn C Maust says:

        Ilived in Whitemarsy Village in one of the ranch homes….just at tne end of the driveway on Cromwell Rd. My parents went to a party in the mansion and saw the solid gold faucets in the bathrooms…cool! I thought it such a crime and waste this place went to ruin…it could have been a great landmark for the area.

        1. Lynn C Maust says:

          Let me redo that? too many typos!
          I lived in Whitemarsh Village in one of the ranch homes….just at the end of the driveway, on Cromwell Rd. My parents went to a party in the mansion and saw the solid gold faucets in the bathrooms…cool! I thought it such a crime and waste this place went to ruin…it could have been a great landmark for the area.

  2. arlene says:

    When I was in junior high school, my classmate’s father was part of the group that purchased Stotesbury. One night, while sleeping over at her house, we walked to the estate and looked around. only the grounds’ keeper was there. In the moonlight, it was surreal.

  3. Lynn C Maust says:

    We lived on Cromwell Rd. and just near the end of the driveway to the mansion. My parents went to a party there I think when it was a salt company and saw the amazing solid gold faucets that were in the bathrooms.
    A friend in the village below the mansion and I would meet in the grand gardens and play there….this all took place over the two years I lived on Cromwell Rd. from 1954-56.

  4. Speaking as a historian of Whitemarsh Hall and the other Stotesbury homes, I would like to correct some errors in this article. Whitemarsh Hall was NOT wedding present to Eva; Ned and Eva married in 1912, and there is nothing to support this house as a gift to Eva. She also had little or nothing to do with its sale to PennSalt, or the sale of the other estate lands – all of that was done by the legal Estate of Edward T. Stotesbury. In June 1932, the Stotesburys did shut down and vacate the house, decamping to the French Riviera, but this was due to threats of attacks against the property. They were not gone long – they returned by October 1942, and Whitemarsh Hall was reopened by mid-1933 (they spent January-March 1933 at their Palm Beach estate, as was their custom).

    1. Sheila Hagley says:

      What threats were made against the property? Was it because they were housing the priceless works of art from the NY museum that had been hidden there during the war to protect them in case of an attack on New York by the Nazi’s?

  5. The disturbance in 1932 was caused by a rabble-rousing radio commentator who suggested that someone should “plant a bomb at Whitemarsh Hall”… an event that never happened. The Stotesburys closed the house and went to the French Riviera in June 1932, but returned in October of the same year(1932), but did not reopen the mansion until spring 1933, after returning from their winter home in Palm Beach.

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