A Project of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art
History of Early American Landscape Design

Washington Square (Philadelphia, PA)

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Alternate Names: Potter's Field
Site Dates:
Site Owner(s):
Associated People:
Location: Philadelphia, Pa.
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“[I am writing] to ascertain the artist who designed the public Garden on Chestnut Street [sic] at the place (if I am not mistaken) formerly called Potters field; and if he is in your town inquire if he would come on here [Washington, D.C.] to furnish a design for Improving the Capitol Square.”

“Near this enclosure [at the State House] is another of much the same description, called Washington Square. Here there was an excellent crop of clover; but as the trees are numerous, and highly beautiful, and several commodious seats are placed beneath their shade, it is, spite of the long grass, a very agreeable retreat from heat and dust. It was rarely, however, that I saw any of these seats occupied; the Americans have either no leisure, or no inclination for those moments of delassement that all other people, I believe, indulge in. . . . it is nevertheless the nearest approach to a London square that is to be found in Philadelphia.”

Public Squares.—It is to the wise and liberal foresight of the great founder of Pennsylvania that we owe most of the public squares which now ornament our city. In the original plan, as laid out by Thomas Holmes, Penn’s surveyor general in 1682, there was to be a public square in the centre containing ten acres, and one in each quarter of the city containing eight acres. . . .
“Washington square, on Sixth street between Walnut and Locust, was for many years used as a public burial ground for the poor and for strangers, under the name of the Potters’ field. . . . Its improvement as a public square commenced in 1815, when a variety of trees were planted, gravel walks laid out, and other steps taken which have led to its present attractive appearance. It is intended to erect, in the centre of this square, a monument to the memory of Washington; the cornerstone having been laid with due ceremony at the celebration of his birth day, on the 22nd of February, 1833.

“856. Public Gardens. . . .
Promenade at Philadelphia. There is a very pretty enclosure before the walnut tree entrance to the state-house, with good well-kept gravel walks, and many beautiful flowering trees. It is laid down in grass, not in turf; which indeed, Mrs. Trollope observes, ‘is a luxury she never saw in America.’ Near this enclosure is another of a similar description, called Washington Square, which has numerous trees, with commodious seats placed beneath their shade.’ (Ibid. [D. M. &c.] vol. ii. p. 48.)"

"This beautiful square, now so much the resort of citizens and strangers, as a promenade, was, only twenty-five years ago, a 'Potter's Field,'....It was long enclosed in a post and rail fence, and always produced much grass."


Other Resources

Library of Congress Authority File

The Cultural Landscape Foundation

National Park Service


  1. James F. O’Gorman, and et al, Drawing Toward Building: Philadelphia Architectural Graphics, 1732-1986 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1986), view on Zotero.
  2. Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans, 3rd edn, 2 vols. (London: Wittaker, Treacher, 1832), view on Zotero.
  3. Charles B. Trego, A Geography of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Edward C. Biddle, 1843), view on Zotero.
  4. J. C. Loudon, An Encyclopaedia of Gardening; Comprising the Theory and Practice of Horticulture, Floriculture, Arboriculture, and Landscape-Gardening, A new ed., cor. amd improved (London: Longman et al, 1850), view on Zotero.
  5. John Fanning Watson, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the Olden Time; Being a Collection of Memoirs, Anecdotes, and Incidents of the City and Its Inhabitants, and of the Earliest Settlements of the Inland Part of Pennsylvania, from the Days of the Founders, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: E. Thomas, 1857), view on Zotero.

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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Washington Square (Philadelphia, PA)," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Washington_Square_(Philadelphia,_PA)&oldid=26698 (accessed May 17, 2022).

A Project of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts

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