Visit the Andalusian mansion in Bensalem a journey through time
Andalusia. The melodious name evokes romance and adventure abroad.
At least that’s what it always seemed to me after arriving in Bucks County from Florida. One of my first stops was the large neo-Greek mansion of the Biddle family from which the district of Bensalem takes its name.
The brilliant white building defines an area along the Delaware River from the Philadelphia border on Poquessing Creek upstream for about a mile to the area of present-day Woodhaven Road.
The community might have been given a different name if a developer had made their dream come true in the 19th century. Steven Sicard in 1820 purchased a large tract of mostly agricultural land near the mansion and subdivided it into development lots from which to create the town of – drum roll, please – “Sicardville”. Ugh! Fortunately, the idea flopped. The city never took shape. Dreamy Andalusia has persevered as a place name.
A public wharf lining the upper limit of the Biddle property became the gateway to Bucks, attracting sailboats and steamboats when the river was Main Street in the 1800s. The wharf was extraordinary as a tourist destination. day trip.
“Through the trees, a few hundred meters below the landing stage, you could see ‘Andalusia’, the beautiful country house of the Biddle,” according to a historical account. “The quay, the buildings and all the surroundings have been kept in excellent condition. Sloping expanses of green lawns were dotted with ornamental shrubs and trees, and a paved driveway led to the wharf. Nearby was an attractive picnic area called “Chestnut Grove,” frequented by schools, societies, and fun parties, most of them from Philadelphia.
Another invasion:LAVO: George Washington may have defeated the Hessians in Trenton, but these Hessian invaders conquered Bucks County
Rethinking Robert Morris:LAVO: Why has America turned its back on Robert Morris of Morrisville?
Bucks County Place Names:LaVO: Everything about Aberystwith, the Bucks County town you might never have heard of
Eye Candy was the mansion on a distant elevation. Philadelphia shipping magnate John Craig built the house on 100 acres in 1797. He and his brother-in-law made their fortunes trading with the Spanish provinces of South America.
Craig fell in love with New Andalusia, an ancient part of today’s Venezuela on the Atlantic coast west of the Orinoco River. He was so fascinated by the place that he named his new home Andalusia.
After Craig’s daughter, Jane, married future Philadelphia financier Nicholas Biddle in 1811, the couple inherited the mansion. Biddle largely remodeled and enlarged it in his vision of a “Greek temple on a hill”, proclaiming: “There are two truths in the world – the Bible and Greek architecture”.
In 1833, he hired architect Thomas Ustick Walter, who designed the dome of the United States Capitol. Massive Doric columns soon enveloped Andalusia. The results seemed a dream of antiquity to boaters passing through the Delaware.
The Biddle’s received many notables at “the Great House”, including John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, the Marquis de Lafayette and Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph, King of Spain in exile living in Bordentown, New Jersey.
Meanwhile, the wharf has improved a booming real estate market. The banks of the river on both sides of the Biddle Estate have sprouted new homes. Strangely named architectural wonders included Foerderer (now Glen Foerd), Red Gables, Windemere, Edgewood, the Dell, Chestnut Wood, Traviskan, Devon, and Old Bickley Place (now Pen Ryn) mansions.
At the wharf, steamboats carrying tourists and commuters arrived twice a day, three times on Sundays. Among them was the 220-foot-long paddle steamer Columbia, the most luxurious ship plying the upper Delaware. An onboard orchestra made moonlight cruises memorable for hundreds of passengers.
When steamboat travel became less popular, the Biddle and Bickley families demolished the wharf and closed the park. Andalusia has remained the centerpiece of the community. Few families at Bucks were so important.
Nicholas Biddle’s father, Charles, was a captain in the Merchant Navy during the Revolutionary War and a close friend of Benjamin Franklin. Nick’s namesake, Uncle Nicholas, was the captain of a Continental Navy ship that lost its life in action against an English warship off Barbados.
Her other uncle Edward was a lawyer, soldier and delegate to the Continental Congress. Older brother James became a commodore in the United States Navy who opened China to American trade. Younger brother Thomas was a hero of the War of 1812.
As for the young Nicholas, he obtained a law degree from Princeton at the age of 15, then traveled extensively in Europe where he attended the French coronation of Napoleon and participated in the audit of the purchase of the Louisiana in Paris.
At just 21, he returned to Philadelphia in 1807 to practice law and edited Lewis and Clark’s report to Thomas Jefferson on their epic exploration of the West. Biddle’s career at home accelerated in 1819 as a director and eventual president of the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia.
Nick’s Andalusian estate remains in the Biddle family to this day. The sumptuously furnished mansion is kept as a “house-museum” by the Andalusia Foundation, which organizes tours. The profits go to the maintenance of the estate.
A visit allows you to better appreciate ancient Andalusia and the Biddle family, especially Nicholas Biddle, who said of the federal government: “Nothing but widespread suffering will have an effect on Congress.
How to visit the manor district of Bensalem
Three 19th century mansions including the Biddle family house are open to the public. They are all within a mile of each other on State Road in Bensalem.
GLEN FEORD (around 1850): The 3-story waterfront home built on the Philadelphia border is in a park-like setting overlooking Poquessing Creek. Visitors can see the estate’s icehouse, Gothic-style gatehouse, 60-foot-high stone water tower, five large greenhouses, and a riverside dome, all open to the public from 8 a.m. to dusk every day. days. Free tours of the mansion are offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Information: https://www.glenfoerd.org/
ANDALUSIA (1797): The ancestral home of the Biddle family is a paradise of native forests and spectacular gardens. The mansion is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the United States. Tour dates, times and capacities are limited. Reservations must be made online in advance for all tours. Details on the web at https://andalusiapa.org/
PEN RYN (1744): Abraham Bickley, a wealthy maritime merchant, built the mansion, later renamed Pen Ryn. In 1993 the property was purchased privately and meticulously restored to its original grandeur. Today, it’s available for weddings, banquets, corporate meetings, and group tours. Information on the web at https://www.penrynestate.com/
Sources for this column include WWH Davis’ “History of Bucks County” published in 1905; The Andalusia Foundation website at www.andalusiapa.org and research papers provided by Sally Sondesky and the Historical Society of Bensalem, including the society’s “Traveling Through Bensalem: 1692-1984” published in 1984.
Carl LaVO, retired news editor and author, can be reached at [email protected]