Located on a wooded promontory overlooking the Delaware River, Andalusia has been a stately presence on this stretch of water, just north of Philadelphia, for more than two hundred years. The country home of Nicholas Biddle, President of the Second Bank of the United States, Andalusia is surrounded by spectacular gardens and native woodlands. Placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks in 1966, the Big House continues to provide an unparalleled look into our nation's past, while at the same time allowing visitors a glimpse into the lives of a family that helped shape its future.
Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844), a prominent financier and cultural leader of the early Republic, married Jane Craig (1793-1856) and acquired Andalusia from her parents’ estate in 1814. Since then, Andalusia has been the seat of the Biddle family of Philadelphia, distinguished as prominent bankers, investors, diplomats, lawyers, politicians, military heroes, artists, agriculturists, and horticulturists.
In 1795, John Craig, a Philadelphia merchant, purchased a 100 acre country estate upriver from Philadelphia in response to the outbreak of yellow fever in the city the previous summer. He called it Andalusia, reflecting his business as an importer of trade goods from Spain.
Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) was born in England, and emigrated to the United States in 1796. He is known as the young country’s first professional architect. By 1806, Latrobe had already been appointed General Surveyor of Public Buildings in Washington, D.C., the nation’s new capital. In Philadelphia, his first major project was the Bank of the United States on South Second Street (constructed 1798-1801). Latrobe designed some of early America’s most important buildings including the President’s House and the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
When John Craig engaged Latrobe in 1806, he was also working on
buildings in Washington. His design for Craig’s Andalusia included
small blocks attached to the carriage side of the original 1797
house that contained a kitchen, a study or office, and a porch
connecting the two.
The Big House
With its soaring white columns, the Big House at Andalusia is considered one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the United States, and is one of the most recognizable buildings in America. Home for generations to the Biddle family, the story of Andalusia both parallels and reflects that of the United States itself. Visiting feels like stepping into history. The Big House at Andalusia was placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks in 1966.
The Big House
Andalusia’s interior reflects generations of occupancy by the same family. Furnishings are original to the period and most are situated in the same setting as when they were first acquired.
A room devoted to Commodore Biddle displays objects related to his forty-eight year U.S. Navy career. It includes gifts from his travels to Nicholas and Jane Biddle, and their children.
The extensive library at Andalusia contains more than 3,000 rare volumes, some dating back to the 17th century, all preserved in their original environment. On the shelves is Nicholas Biddle's signed copy of the 1814 Lewis and Clark Journals, which he edited. Other objects include a statue of Napoleon and Charles J. Biddle's World War I medals.
Andalusia’s Gardens are beautiful year round. In Spring, the grounds and Woodland Walk conjures Wordsworth’s familiar lines: "When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils..." Dogwoods, wisteria, and peonies follow soon after. In Summer, the rose garden and annuals are spectacular to behold. Fall colors change daily for beautiful scenes and, even in Winter, when only the bark and structure of the trees are visible, there is something interesting to see.
A History of Objects
In 1831, Nicholas Biddle's brother, Thomas, a distinguished veteran of the War of 1812 serving in the Army in St. Louis, was challenged to a duel by Missouri Congressman Spencer Pettis. The disagreement between the two, in part resulted from perceived insults to Nicholas Biddle and his defense of the Second Bank of the U.S. battle with President Andrew Jackson. Before the duel, Thomas Biddle instructed his wife to commission vases for each of his siblings as a remembrance.
A History of Objects
Bass Otis' Napoleon
An 1827 copy of Jacque-Louis David's Napoleon Crossing the Alps hangs in the Study. During his exile in the United States, Napoleon's brother and former King of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte, was a friend of Nicholas Biddle. Bonaparte allowed Biddle to commission American artist Bass Otis to paint a slightly smaller version than the original one at his country home, Point Breeze, in Bordentown, New Jersey.
The Andalusia Foundation
In 1980, James Biddle, then President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a leader of the historic preservation movement in the United States, made the decision to divide Andalusia and give away the Big House and nearly 50 acres of land to the Andalusia Foundation.
The time had come, he felt, to share Andalusia’s beauty with others who would understand and appreciate it just as the Biddle family had done for generations. For the last thirty-five years, the Andalusia Foundation has cared for this incredible building and welcomed tens of thousands of visitors to share in its history, and step back in time to imagine lives played out long before our own.
The Andalusia Foundation
Andalusia survives today because so many people have given their time and resources to caring for this extraordinary place. The Andalusia Foundation is dedicated to preserving the Big House, its archives, and collection for the benefit of the general public, and to ensure that this jewel of American history survives to delight, and inform, Americans for years to come.
Andalusia's Archives contain letters from family members, noted historical leaders of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, as well as journals, photographs, and miscellaneous documents. Available to researchers and scholars from around the world, these documents bring American history to life in the words of those who lived it. For example, there are letters between Nicholas Biddle and James Monroe, letters from Revolutionary War hero Captain Nicholas Biddle, and letters from Joseph Bonaparte and General Lafayette. In addition, hundreds of letters belonging to Commodore James Biddle (1783-1848) during his forty-eight years in the Navy are also part of the collection.
Some items may be restricted, and permission to access the collection must be obtained from the Executive Director. An online finding aid is available through Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries