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Photo by Ty / Wikipedia

American Versailles: Philadelphia’s Lynnewood Hall

February 23, 2024 4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. ET
Curt DiCamillo

Join American Ancestors Curator of Special Collections and beloved raconteur Curt DiCamillo for a richly illustrated lecture revealing the story of Lynnewood Hall, the “last of the American Versailles.” 

American Versailles: Philadelphia’s Lynnewood Hall

Perhaps no house better personifies the American idea of the great British country house than Lynnewood Hall. Located in Elkins Park, just outside Philadelphia, this enormous Neoclassical house is considered one of the greatest surviving Gilded Age mansions in the United States.

Designed by the American architect Horace Trumbauer, Lynnewood Hall was built between 1897 and 1900 for P.A.B. Widener, the son of German immigrants who made an enormous fortune from streetcars and investments in U.S. Steel, the American Tobacco Company, and Standard Oil.

Though it has the longest façade of any residence in the United States and once featured one of the finest French gardens in America, the jewel in Lynnewood’s crown was its art collection. With works by Cellini, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Degas, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Raphael, El Greco, Titian, Donatello, Monet, van Dyck, and Sargent, it was considered the finest private art collection in the world by the 1920s.

All this magnificence only lasted for two generations. After the death of Widener’s son Joseph in 1943, the contents were auctioned off and the great house abandoned. But Lynnewood’s legacy lives on at the National Gallery of Art, at Harvard University, and at other cultural institutions throughout the United States.

In 1940, Joseph’s son, Peter A.B. Widener II (Arrell), wrote in his book Without Drums, “The days of America’s privately-owned treasure houses are over. They are gone with the wind…Lynnewood Hall can, I suppose, be called the last of the American Versailles.”

Photo by Ty / Wikipedia

Curt DiCamillo
Decorative Arts
Historic Houses
Curt DiCamillo, who joined American Ancestors/NEHGS in February of 2016 as the organization’s first Curator of Special Collections, is an internationally recognized authority on British historic houses and the decorative arts.