Woolley was born in England around 1695, and emigrated to the American colonies as a child, around 1705. It is not known with whom he apprenticed or where he learned his trade. He was one of the first members of The Carpenters' Company of the City and County of Philadelphia.
Independence Hall, 1732–1748 and 1750–1753
He began construction of the Pennsylvania State House (better known today as Independence Hall) in 1732. Traditionally, credit for the building's design has been given to Andrew Hamilton, but modern scholarship argues that he contributed little to the project. A surviving 1735 receipt lists a £5 payment to Woolley for "drawing drafts," "fronts" (elevations) and "Plans of the first and Second floors of the State House." The building took 16 years for Woolley and his workers, who included Ebenezer Tomlinson and Thomas Nevell, to complete. The interior woodwork was carved by Samuel Harding and Bryan Wilkinson.
The second floor featured meeting rooms and a banquet hall the width of the building. The original stairway proved inadequate for so large a building. In 1750, Woolley laid the foundations for a brick tower to house a grand staircase and support a wooden steeple. The tower's exterior was completed in 1753, but Hardings's interior woodwork was not completed until 1756. The bell ordered for the tower in 1751, is now known as the Liberty Bell.
Whitefield Meeting House, 1740
Woolley designed and built the Whitefield Meeting House (1740, demolished), a Methodist church and charity school named for preacher George Whitefield. Its 70-by-100 foot (21 x 30.5 m), 2-1/2 story building at 4th & Arch Streets was the largest building in the American Colonies – larger than the then-under-construction Pennsylvania State House.
The charity school struggled financially. On the recommendation of Benjamin Franklin, the building was purchased in 1749 for use by what became the Academy of Philadelphia (1751). Several years later, the academy was granted a Royal charter to establish a college, the College of Philadelphia (1755). The academy and college are predecessors of the University of Pennsylvania.
The Whitefield Meeting House was demolished by 1845.
Hope Lodge, 1743–1748
Woolley was responsible for design and construction of the Whitemarsh Estate (today known as Hope Lodge). The Georgian country mansion was built by Quaker businessman Samuel Morris in what is now Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.
Academy and College of Philadelphia (ca. 1780). Sketch by Pierre Du Simitière.
- Biography of Edmund Woolley at Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project
- Biography of Andrew Hamilton at Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project
- Beatrice Garvan, "The State House (Independence Hall)," Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976), p. 42.
- Garvan, p. 42.
- Constance M. Greiff, Independence: The Creation of a National Park (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987), p. 132.
- Carl G. Karsch, Carpenters' Company Members and Independence National Historical Park, from ushistory.org. Karsch states that the Pennsylvania State House was the largest building in the American Colonies, but the Whitefield Meeting House was larger.
- PENN: The Early Years - The Charity School, Academy and College of Philadelphia
- Penn Archives: Indenture transferring land on the west side of Fourth Street to the Trustees of the Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia
- Penn's First Campus, 1749–1801, from University of Pennsylvania Archives.
- Through a Looking Glass: Colonial and Colonial Revival Hope Lodge