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History of Early American Landscape Design

Lemon Hill

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Lemon Hill (1799–1800) is one of the nation's finest examples of Federal-style architecture. Situated on a spectacular site overlooking the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, it is a fitting testament to Philadelphia's apogee as a cultural and political center in the post-revolutionary era. The site of Lemon Hill was originally part of Springettsbury, a proprietary manor owned by William Penn and his descendants. Robert Morris purchased 80 acres of this tract in 1770, expanding it to encompass 300 acres, naming it "The Hills." He lived there from 1770 to 1779. He constructed the greenhouses, hot houses, gardener's quarters, vaults, and root cellars on the property.

Henry Pratt, a wealthy Philadelphia merchant, purchased the land at a sheriff’s sale in 1799. Included in the sale were 43 acres of ground, a large and elegant greenhouse, hot houses and "pleasure gardens.” Construction of Lemon Hill was completed in 1800. Pratt named his showplace after the median lemon, a variety of citrus grown in the greenhouse. He transformed Lemon Hill into one of the finest country estates of the colonial era. He opened the greenhouse and surrounding pleasure gardens to the public by "ticket of admission." The flower gardens were written up in numerous gardening publications and attracted visitors from all over the world. Pratt sold Lemon Hill in 1836. His plants were sold at auction on June 5, 1838. The catalog, published by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, offered for sale over 2,700 individual plants of 700 varieties, all properly described with both botanical and common names.

Lemon Hill's famous gardens fell into disarray after Pratt's death in 1838. Nevertheless, visitors continued to flock to Lemon Hill in the mid-1850s when it served as a recreational site for participants in German singing festivals, known as "Sangerfests." Lemon Hill was leased to various concessionaires, who ran a restaurant, candy shop and ice cream parlor on the premises. The mansion and surrounding grounds were in such disrepair by the beginning of the twentieth century that it was hardly recognizable as a mansion in the Federal-style. Lemon Hill became part of Fairmount Park in 1855.


Alternate Names: The Hills

Site Dates:

Site Owner(s): Robert Morris (1734-1806), Henry Pratt (1761-1838)

Site Designer(s):

Philadelphia, PA
View on Google maps


"My Ice House is about 18 feet deep and 16 square, the bottom is a Coarse Gravell & the water which drains from the ice soaks into it as fast as the Ice melts, this prevents the necessity of a Drain which if the bottom was Clay or Stiff Loam would be necessary and for this reason the side of a hill is preferred generally for digging an Ice House, as if needful a drain can easily be cut from the bottom of it, through the side of the Hill to let the Water run out. The Walls of my Ice House are built of stone without Mortar (which is called Dry Wall) untill within a foot and a half of the Surface of the Earth when Mortar was used from thence to the Surface to make the top more binding and Solid. When this Wall was brought up even with the Surface of the Earth I stopped there and then dug the foundation for another Wall, two foot back from the first and about two foot deep, this done the foundation was laid so as to enclose the whole of the Walls built on the inside of the Hole where the Ice is put and on this foundation is built the Walls which appear above ground and in mine they are about ten foot high. On these the Roof is fixed, these walls are very thick, built of Stone and Mortar, afterwards rough Cast on the outside. I nailed a Cieling of Boards under the Roof flat from Wall to Wall, and filled all the Space between that Cieling and the Shingling of the Roof with Straw so that the heat of the Sun Cannot possibly have any Effect.

"In the Bottom of the Ice House I placed some Blocks of Wood about two foot long and on these I laid a Plat form of Common Fence Rails Close enough to hold the Ice open enough to let the Water pass through, thus the Ice lays two foot from the Gravel and of Course gives room for the Water to soak away gradually without being in contact with the Ice, which if it was for any time would waste it amazingly. . . .

"I find it best to fill with Ice which as it is put in should be broke into small pieces and pounded down with heavy Clubs or Battons such as Pavers use, if well beat it will after a while consolidate into one solid mass and require to be cut out with a Chizell or Axe. I tryed Snow one year and lost it in June. The Ice keeps until October or November and I believe if the Hole was larger so as [to h]old more it would keep untill Christmass, the closer it is packed the bet[ter i]t keeps and I believe if the Walls were lined with Straw between the Ice [and] Stone it would preserve it much, the melting begins next the Walls and Continues round the Edge of the Body of Ice throughout the Season."

"We continued our route, in view of the Schuylkill, and up the river several miles, and took a view of a number of Country-seats, one belonging to Mr. R. Morris, the American financier, and who is said to be possessed of the greatest fortune in America. His country-seat is not yet completed, but it will be superb. It is planned on a large scale, the gardens and walks are extensive, and the villa, situated on an eminence, has a commanding prospect down the Schuylkill to the Delaware."

"An ally of 13 feet wide runs the length of the garden thro' the centre—. Two others of 10 feet wide equally distant run parallel with the main alley. These are intersected at right angles, by 4 other alleys of 8 feet wide—Another alley of 5 feet wide goes around the whole garden, leaving a border of 3 feet wide next to the pales. This lays the garden into 20 squares, each square has a border around it of 3 feet wide. The border of the main alley, is ornamented with flowers of every description. Likewise the border of every square, is decorated with pinks and a thousand other flowers, which it [is] impossible for me to describe. The remaining part of each square, within the border, is planted with beans, pease, cabbage, onions, Beets, carrots, Parsnips, Lettuce, Radishes, Strawberries, cucumbers, Potatoes, and many other articles. . . . Within the pales, on the out border, one planted, Quince, snowball, Laylock, and various other small trees, producing the most beautiful flowers."

  • Beebe, Lewis, 1800, describing Lemon Hill (Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Journal of Lewis Beebe, 1799–1801, vol. 3)
"Mr. Pratts garden for beauty and elegance exceeds all that I ever saw—The main alley, 13 feet wide, and 20 rods long is upon each side graced with flowers of every kind and colours—and 18 wide. An alley of 13 feet wide runs the length of the garden thro' the centre—Two others of 10 feet wide equally distant run parallel with the main alley. These are intersected at right angles by 4 other alleys of 8 feet wide—Another alley of 5 feet wide goes around the whole garden, leaving a border around it of 3 feet wide . . . next to the pales. . . . The border of the main alley is ornamented with flowers of every description."

"We drove over the Upper Bridge to Mr Pratts who has a large collection of plants and extensive Greenhouses & ca. His grounds are too much after the French manner of pleasure gardens."

"But the most enchanting prospect is towards the grand pleasure grove & green house of a Mr. Prat[t], a gentleman of fortune, and to this we next proceeded by a circutous [sic] rout, passing in view of the fish ponds, bowers, rustic retreats, summer houses, fountains, grotto, &c., &c. . . . Next is a round fish pond with a small fountain playing in the pond. An Oval & several oblong fish ponds of larger size follow, & between the two last is an artificial cascade. Several summer houses in rustic style are made by nailing bark on the outside & thaching the roof. There is also a rustic seat built in the branches of a tree, & to which a flight of steps ascend. In one of the summer houses is a Spring with seats around it. The houses are all embelished [sic] with marble busts of Venus, Appollo, Diana and a Bacanti. One sits on an Island on the fish pond. All the ponds filled with handsome coloured fish.

"The grounds are planted with a great variety of shrubbery & evergreens of various kinds of the pine & fir, and the hot house is said to be the largest in the US. It is filled to overflowing with the choicest Exotics: the Chaddock Orange of different kinds & the Lemon loaded with fruit. There are two coffee trees with their berries. Some few shrubs were in flower & others seeded, & I was politely furnished with a few seed of 2 varieties of flowers (Myrtle & an accacia). In front of the hot house, one at each end, is a Lion of marble, well executed, & a dog in front. On the roof is a range of marble busts."

  • Committee of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1830, describing Lemon Hill (quoted in Boyd 1929: 431-432) [6]

"Undoubtedly this is the best kept garden in Pennsylvania, and when associated with the green and hot house department, may be pronounced unrivalled in the Union. The gravel walks, espaliers, plants, shrubs, mounds, and grass plats, are dressed periodically and minutely...

"The treasures contained in the hot and green houses are numerous. Besides a very fine collection of Orange, Lemon, Lime, Citron, Shaddock, Bergamot, Pomgranate and Fig trees in excellent condition and full of fruit, we notice with admiration the many thousand of exotics to which Mr. Pratt is annually adding. The most conspicuous among these, are the tea tree; the coffee tree—loaded with fruit; the sugar cane; the pepper tree; Banana, Plantain, Guva, Cherimona, Ficus, Mango, the Cacti in great splendour, some 14 feet high, and a gigantic Euphorbia Trigonia—19 years old, and 13 feet high. The green houses are 220 feet long by 16 broad; exhibiting the finest range of glass for the preservation of plants, on this continent.

"Colonel Perkins, near Boston, has it is true, a grapery and peach Espalier, protected by 330 feet of glass, yet as there are neither flues not foreign plants in them, they cannot properly be called green houses, whereas Mr. Pratt's are furnished with the rarest productions of every clime, so that the committee place the conservatory of Lemon Hill at the very head of all similar establishments in this country.

"There are some pretty bowers, summer houses, grottos and fish ponds in this garden—the latter well stored with gold and silver fish. The mansion house is capacious and modern, and the prospects, on all sides, extremely beautiful. In landscape gardening, water and wood are indispensable for picturesque effect; and here they are found distributed in just proportions with hill and lawn and buildings of architectural beauty, the whole scene is cheerfully animated by the brisk commerce of the river, and constant movement in the busy neighborhood of Fairmount."

  • Downing, A. J., January 1837,"“Notices on the State and Progress of Horticulture in the United States," describing Lemon Hill (Magazine of Horticulture 3: 4)
"For a long time the grounds of Mr. Pratt, at Lemon Hill, near Philadelphia, have been considered the show-garden of that city: and the proprietor, with a praiseworthy spirit, opening his long-shaded walks, cool grottoes, jets d’eau, and the superb range of hot-houses, to the inspection of the citizens, contributed in a wonderful degree to improve the taste of the inhabitants, and to inspire them with a desire to possess the more beautiful and delicate productions of nature."

  • Downing, Andrew Jackson, March 1837, "Notes on Some of the Nurseries and Private Gardens in the Neighborhood of New York and Philadelphia" (June 1837: 211)[7]
“It is with deep regret that we learn that one of the principal rail roads in the State of Pennsylvania, now constructing, will run to the city directly through the nursery of Col. Carr, and will cut up the grounds in such a manner as to entirely destroy their beauty; but what is a source of yet deeper regret, is the destruction which it will cause of some of the old and still beautiful specimens of trees which ornament the place; several of these, which have long served as a memento of the zealous labors of the elder Bartram and his sons, will fall by the woodman’s axe. It is a melancholy scene to the American horticulturist to see the few beautiful private residences and nurseries of which our country can boast, one by one, purchased by individuals or companies, to be cut up into building lots, or otherwise destroyed, by rail roads running directly through them. Dr. Hosack’s, at Hyde Park, N.Y., the best specimens of gardening in this country, was the first; Mr. Pratt’s, Laurel [Lemon] Hill, but little inferior in its style, next; and now one of the oldest nurseries, bounded by one of the best naturalists this country ever produced, is to follow, though not the same, a similar fate.”
"Lemon Hill, half a mile above the Fairmount water-works of Philadelphia, was, 20 years ago, the most perfect specimen of the geometric mode in America, and since its destruction by the extension of the city, a few years since, there is nothing comparable with it, in that style, among us. All the symmetry, uniformity, and high art of the old school, were displayed here in artificial plantations, formal gardens with trellises, grottoes, spring-houses, temples, statues, and vases, with numerous ponds of water, jets-d'eau, and other water-works, parterres and an extensive range of hothouses. The effect of this garden was brilliant and striking; its position, on the lovely banks of the Schuylkill, admirable; and its liberal proprietor, Mr. Pratt, by opening it freely to the public, greatly increased the popular taste in the neighborhood of that city."

"850. Lemon Hill, near Philadelphia. . . . [Downing observes:] '. . . An extensive range of hothouses, curious grottoes and spring-houses, as well as every other gardenesque structure, gave variety and interest to this celebrated spot, which we regret the rapidly extending trees, and the mania for improvement there, as in some of our other cities, have now nearly destroyed and obliterated.' (Downing's Landscape Gardening adapted to North America.)"



Official website: http://www.lemonhill.org/


  1. John P. Riley, The Icehouses and Their Operations at Mount Vernon (Mount Vernon, Va.: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, 1989), view on Zotero
  2. Manasseh Cutler, Life, Journals, and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, edited by William Parker Cutler and Julia Perkin Cutler, vol. 1 (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1888), view on Zotero
  3. Peter Martin, The Pleasure Gardens of Virginia: From Jamestown to Jefferson (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991), view on Zotero
  4. Kathleen A. Foster, Captain Watson's Travels in America: The Sketchbooks and Diary of Joshua Rowley Watson, 1772-1818 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), view on Zotero
  5. John Hebron Moore, "A View of Philadelphia in 1829: Selections from the Journal of B.L.C. Wailes of Natchez," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 78 (July 1954): 353–60, view on Zotero
  6. James Boyd, A History of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1827–1927 (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1929), view on Zotero
  7. Andrew Jackson Downing, "Notes on Some of the Nurseries and Private Gardens in the Neighborhood of New York and Philadelphia, Visited in the Early Part of the Month of March, 1837," The Magazine of Horticulture, 3 (June 1837), view on Zotero.
  8. A. J. [Andrew Jackson] Downing, A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America; . . . 4th ed. (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1849), view on Zotero
  9. J. C. (John Claudius) Loudon, An Encyclopaedia of Gardening; Comprising the Theory and Practice of Horticulture, Floriculture, Arboriculture, and Landscape-Gardening, A new ed., cor. and improved (London: Longman et al, 1850), view on Zotero

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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Lemon Hill," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Lemon_Hill&oldid=13729 (accessed December 8, 2023).

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