Awbury was originally the summer estate of the Cope family. Henry Cope, a Quaker shipping merchant, purchased Awbury in 1852 and named the estate after the village of Avebury, England, from which his family originally emigrated. Awbury soon became a year-round home for members of the extended Cope-Haines family. Various Victorian and Colonial Revival houses were built between 1860 and the 1920’s, forming a unique cultural landscape. Except for the Francis Cope House (1860) which serves as the Arboretum headquarters, and the Carriage House, all of these are currently privately owned.
Awbury’s grounds were laid out in the 19th century in the English landscape garden tradition with the advice of the celebrated horticulturalist William Saunders, designer of the National Cemetery at the Gettysburg Battlefield and of the Capitol grounds in Washington, DC. Long vistas are framed by clusters of trees and shrubs which are interwoven with open space, creating stunning visual contrasts.
Concern for the preservation of this piece of open space led to the establishment of the Arboretum in 1916 by members of the Cope family, for public use as an arboretum for the “quiet enjoyment of nature” and for educational purposes. In 1984, the Awbury Arboretum Association was established as a not-for-profit corporation entrusted with promoting the well-being of the Arboretum for the benefit of the community. We continue to serve our community through a broad range of educational services.
Today Awbury Arboretum is an extraordinary 56 acres of greenspace in the historic Germantown section of Philadelphia, and is the largest remaining island of open space in this part of the city.
Awbury Arboretum is located in the Germantown neighborhood of Northwest Philadelphia, on what was once the ancestral land of the Lenni-Lenape people. By the time Henry Cope bought the property in the 1850s, it was farmland, and the Lenape people had long since been displaced by the alleged sale of their land to William Penn.
The Copes were shipping merchants and, while they never enslaved people nor transported enslaved peoples, they profited from the sale of goods such as cotton, tobacco, and turpentine, which resulted from the work of enslaved peoples. Cope bought the land to provide his family a refuge in the summer from the heat and the many diseases that plagued cities at that time. It soon contained the private homes of these privileged wealthy white men and their families. In 1916, Cope family members donated land to found Awbury Arboretum.
The Copes profited from White male privilege in myriad ways, but they were also cognizant of the injustice of American society and tried to ameliorate it in small ways, by writing about, donating to, and promoting abolitionist causes. We, too, must use all means in our power to become better members of our society as an institution and as individuals.
The Gay Gilpin Johnson Memorial In-House Archives & Collections
The Awbury Arboretum Archives collects and preserves photographs, records, books, maps, site plans, prints, oral histories, artifacts and more relating to:
1. The history of Awbury’s landscape and buildings
2. Members of the Cope family who have lived at Awbury or nearby
3. Life at Awbury since the mid nineteenth century
4. Records of the City Parks Association
5. Items relating to the history of Quakerism and Germantown
The Awbury Arboretum Archives is open to the public free of charge by appointment. Call or email to set up an appointment with our archivist.
Caroline Slama – Archivist & Curator