A prospect was an extensive view out into the landscape, which, as we learned in an earlier posting Location, Location, Location, many colonial gentry felt was important to consider when chosing a site for a dwelling or garden in the 18th century American landscape.
For unparalleled enthusiasm for the beauty of the colonial American countryside, my favorite quote for this term is by Thomas Hancock (1702-1764) of Boston, The Kingdom of England don't afford so Fine a Prospect as I have.
View of the Hancock House in Boston near the State House.
The full quote of Thomas Hancock in Massachusettes, in 1736, was My Gardens all Lye on the South Side of a hill, with the most Beautifull Assent to the Top & it is Allowed on all hands the Kingdom of England don't afford so Fine a Prospect as I have both of Land and water.
Years later, British Lt. John Enys wrote of Governor Hancock's house in 1787, ...there are a number of houses situated on Beacon hill which stand high...elegant prospects particularly at high water. That of Governor Hancock stands the most conspiculus just at the top of the common with a full view of the Mall before it besides its distant views of the harbour and adjacent country.
In 1733, Willliam Byrd wrote of his view when approaching a house in Virginia, There is scarce a shrub in view to intercept your prospect, but grass as high as a man on horseback.
In the South Carolina Gazette in 1734, a notice was placed for property for sale in Charleston, South Carolina,To Be Let or Sold...on an island (with)...an entire prospect of the Harbor.
Eliza Lucas Pinckney wrote in 1743, of William Middleton's Crow-Field in South Carolina near Charleston, ...a large fish pond with a mount rising out of the middle -- the top of which is level with the dwelling house and upon it is a roman temple. On each side of this are other large fish ponds properly disposed which form a fine prospect of water from the house.
Crowfield Lake in South Carolina.This description by Eliza Lucas Pinckney has proved quite accurate. An archaeological study conducted at Crowfield in the 1980's located most of the landscape and garden elements described in her letter.
In 1749, the South Carolina Gazette of Charleston noted, Belonging to Alexander Gordon...From the house Ashley and Cooper rivers are seen, and all around are visto's and pleasant prospects.
In the same year, but much further north, Peter Kalm wrote of the College of Jesuits in Quebec, Canada, The afternoon I visited...the priests...They have a great house, built of stone... a fine garden ...the prospect from hence is the finest in Quebec.
Hannah Callender wrote in her diary in 1762, of William Peters' Belmont near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, A broad walk of English cherry trees leads down to the river. The doors of the house opening opposite admit a prospect of the length of the garden over a broad gravel walk to a large handsome summer house on a green...One avenue gives a fine prospect of the city.
View of Philadelphia from Belmont "a fine prospect of the city" by August Kollner in 1878.
In 1773, Josiah Quincy wrote in his journal while visiting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dined with the celebrated Pennsylvania Farmer, John Dickenson Esqr, at his country seat about two and one-half miles from town...his gardens, green-house, bathing-house, grotto, study, fish pond...vista, through which is distant prospect of Delaware River.
New England tutor Philip Vickers Fithian wrote of Mount Airy in Virginia, in 1774, He has also a large well formed, beautiful Garden, as fine in every Respect as any I have seen in Virginia...From this House there is a good prospect of the River Rapahannock, which opposite here is about two miles across. The land where Mount Airy is situated was owned by the Tayloe family of Virginia
for over 100 years when Colonel John Tayloe II, a 4th generation
tobacco planter, began construction of the house. The project was started around
1748 with completion in 1758.
President John Adams noted in his diary in 1777, of William Lux's Chatsworth in Baltimore, Maryland, The seat is named Chatsworth, and an elegant one it is -- the large garden enclosed in lime and before the yard two fine rows of large cherry trees which lead out to the public road. There is a fine prospect about it. Mr. Lux lives like a prince. The grounds included an enclosed 164 ' by 234' terraced garden which fell toward the Baltimore harbor.
William Lux's Chatsworth in Baltimore, Maryland. By the time this map was drawn, Lux's estate had been sold and had become a public pleasure garden called Gray's Gardens. Map detail fromCartographer Charles Varle & Engraver Francis Shallus, Warner and Hann's "Plan of the City and Environs of Baltimore, Respectfully didecated to the Mayor, City Council & Citizens thereof by the Proprietors," 2nd edition (Baltimore, 1801; 1st 1799, drawn in 1797).
Ebenezer Hazzard wrote from Stafford, Virginia in 1777, The Steel Manufactory is situate on a high Hill which commands a beautiful and extensive Prospect.
The Rev. Mannasseh Cutler viewed Robert Morris' The Hills near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1780s, giving this report, ...the gardens and walks are extensive, and the villa...has a...prospect down the Schuylkill.
Lemon Hill, earlier The Hills, in Fairmont Park, Philadelphia.
From 1770 to 1799, Lemon Hill was known The Hills, home of Robert Morris, Declaration signer & a major financier of the Revolution. He later went bankrupt from over-the-top land speculation; and Philadelphia merchant Henry Pratt purchased his property at a sheriff's sale in 1799. The present house was built in that year. Pratt planted lemon trees in Morris's surviving greenhouse & the estate became known as Lemon Hill.
In 1783, at Westover on the James River in Virginia, Thomas Lee Shippen noted, an extensive prospect of James River and of all the Country and some Gentlemen's seats on the other side.
Westover after the Civil War in 1869. Corcoran, Washington, D.C.
The next year, Enys wrote of Governor John Eager Howard's Belvedere at Baltimore, Maryland, ...here are some very Charming prospects from some of the Hills, among the best from the Seat of Colol. Howard...a full View of the town of Baltimore and the Point with the shipping in the harbour, the Bason and all the Small craft, with a very distant prospect down the river towards the Chesapeake Bay. The whole terminated by the surrounding Hills forms a fine Picture.
The park just outside Governor John Eager Howard's Belvedere in Baltimore, Maryland, where visitors could stroll and take advantage of the view down to the Baltimore harbor. 1828. Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.
Englishman Thomas Twining wrote in 1788, of visiting Governor John Eager Howard's Belvedere in Baltimore, Maryland, I walked this morning to breakfast with Colonel Howard at Belvidere... Situated upon the verge of the descent upon which Baltimore stands, its grounds formed a beautiful slant towards the Chesapeake...The spot, thus indebted to nature and judiciously embellished, was as enchanting with in its own proper limits as in the fine view which extended far beyond them. The foreground presented luxurious shrubberies and sloping lawns: the distance, the line of the Patapsco and the country bordering on Chesapeak Bay. Both the perfections of the landscape, its near and distant scenery, were united in the view from the bow-window of the noble room in which breakfast was prepared, with the desire, I believe, of gratifying me with this exquisite prospect.
Thomas Anbury wrote of the Virginia house he was visiting early in 1789, The house that we reside in...(has) a prospect of near thirty miles around it.
In 1790, William Bentley recorded in his diary about Saltonstall Seat in Haverhill, Massachusettes, the elegant Seat...has about 30 acres of land, an ancient row of Elms, and Buttons, and most engaging Prospect of the River and adjacent country.
In 1793, Patrick Campbell wrote of Mr. McIntyre's house at Albany, New York, I went along with Mr. McIntyre from Albany to his house...we ascended a high hill...which commands a fine prospect of the country all around.
Duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Francois, visiting in 1795, described William Hamilton's Woodlands in Philadelphia, Woodlands ...commands an excellent prospect, but is not to be admired for anything else...in an adjoining hot house Mr. Hamilton rears plants procured at great expence from all parts of the world.
The Woodlands by William Strickland after William Birch, ca. 1809.
In 1799, Isaac Weld passed through Washington, D. C. and noted of the White House, The house for the residence of the president...is situated on a rising ground not far from the Patowmac, and (has) a most beautiful prospect of the river, and of the rich country beyond it.
Detail of the White House in an 1820 painting of Washington City, by Baroness Hyde Neuville.
In 1804, at Monticello in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson wrote, The ground between the upper & lower roundabouts to be laid out in lawns & clumps of trees, the lawns opening so as to give advantageous catches of prospect to the upper roundabout. Vistas from the lower roundabout to good portions of prospect walks in this style [diagram], winding up the mountain.
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in the Virginia hills above Charlottesville in 1826.
Bernard M'Mahon wrote in The American Gardener's Calendar in 1806, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ...regular terraces either on natural eminences of forced ground were often introduced... for the sake of prospect.
Many visitors commented on the prospect at Mount Vernon in Virginia. Andrew Burnaby wrote in 1759, of Mount Vernon, The house is most beautifully situated upon a very high hill on the banks of the Potomac; (with)...a noble prospect of water, of cliffs, of woods, and plantations.
Mount Vernon by J Wiess in 1797, two years before George Washington's death.
In 1788, at Mount Vernon, Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville noted, This house overlooks the Potomack, enjoys an extensive prospect.
Birdseye view of Mount Vernon.
In the same year, Enys also visited Mount Vernon and wrote, The front by which we entered had a Gras plot before it with a road round it for Carriages planted on each side with a number of different kinds of Trees among the rest some Weeping Willows which seem to flourish very well. One the one side of this stands the Garden, green house &c. From hence is one of the most delightful prospects I ever beheld.
View of Mount Vernon walking up the hill from the Potomac River.
William Loughton Smith recorded in his journal about Mount Vernon which sits south of Alexandria, Virginia, I hardly remember to have been so struck with a prospect...the view extends up and down the river a considerable distance, the river is about two miles wide, and the opposite shore is beautiful...embracing the magnificence of the river with the vessels sailing about; the verdant fields, woods, and parks.
Mount Vernon from the Potomac River.
John Foster Augustus described Mount Vernon, in 1813, Stands on the brow of a steep bank that overhangs the Potomac, of which there is a fine extensive prospect from the lawn.