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About William Allen
William Allen (1704-1780) was a Philadelphia native, the son of the immigrant Irish merchant William Allen, Sr. Allen spent much of his youth in England, and in 1720 began his legal studies at London's Middle Temple. After his father's death in 1727, he returned to Philadelphia. Through his inheritance and shrewd investments, he became the wealthiest man in Philadelphia. He used his resources generously, supporting the building of the state house (now Independence Hall), establishing the Pennsylvania Hospital (which still exists), and the Academy and College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). Before the Revolutionary War, Allen held many public offices including city councilman, mayor of Philadelphia (1735), city recorder (1741-1750), and provincial assemblyman (1730-1739), and served as Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for 24 years (1750-1774). He founded the city of Allentown (1762) and financed the education of American artist Benjamin West.
In 1734, Allen married Margaret Hamilton, daughter of Andrew Hamilton, Esq. (defense lawyer of the 1735 Peter Zenger case). The couple had six children: four sons and two daughters. In 1774, Allen, a loyalist, left for to England, where he authored The American Crisis. He returned to Philadelphia in 1779 and died the following year at "Mt. Airy."
Built as a summerhouse in what was then known as Beggarstown, "Mt. Airy" became Allen's principal residence following his retirement from trade in 1753. James Gowen, an Irish immigrant and avid agriculturalist, acquired the property in 1846 and replaced Allen's "Mt. Airy" with an Italianate edifice, "Magnolia Villa," today the front portion of the Hagan Center of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
Though the colony of Pennsylvania highly regarded William Allen and his substantial contributions to its growth, history has frequently neglected the "Great Giant." His patronage of arts, sciences, and education has left an enduring national legacy, albeit often unrecognized. His many roles in public office shaped the Commonwealth before the founding of America. Within Pennsylvania, Allens Lane in Philadelphia and the city of Allentown bear his name; the name of his home "Mt. Airy" now denotes a Philadelphia neighborhood and the nickname for the historic Lutheran Seminary. The tragedy is that few know the story of this public servant and his presence among us today. A historic maker on Germantown Avenue at Allens Lane, the site of his summerhouse, in some measure rectifies the oversight of the historical record.