Samuel Sloan was one of the leading Philadelphia-based architects of the mid-nineteenth century. Born in Chester County, PA, Sloan has been characterized by his biographer as "brash, opportunistic, inventive, a quick learner and a driving worker who was hungry for success and who had, throughout his life, an abiding belief in America's destiny." Trained as a carpenter, Sloan came to Philadelphia in the mid-1830s and is said to have worked at the Eastern State Penitentiary (John Haviland
) and the Pennsylvania Hospital for Mental and Nervous Diseases (Isaac Holden
, 1836-41). Throughout the 1800s Sloan listed himself as a carpenter in the Philadelphia city directories: he only styled himself an architect from 1851 after winning commissions for the Delaware County, PA, courthouse and jail (1849) and an Italianate villa for Andrew M. Eastwick on the site of Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia (1850-51). Working with Sloan at Eastwick's Bartram Hall was another carpenter, John Stewart
, with whom Sloan entered into a partnership in 1853 with offices at 6th and Walnut streets. This successful partnership lasted for six years.
Early in his career Sloan began to publish the series of books that would make him one of the most prolific American authors on architecture of the mid-nineteenth century. Significantly, it was his writings that the author of Sloan's obituary in The American Architect and Building News selected as his most enduring contribution. The Model Architect began to appear in 1851 in parts and was published as bound volumes by E. S. Jones & Co., Philadelphia, in 1852 (volume 1) and 1853 (volume 2): later editions appeared in 1860, 1868, and 1873. City and Suburban Architecture (Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1859; later editions in 1867 and 1873) was followed by Sloan's Constructive Architecture (Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1859: later editions in 1866 and 1873), Sloan's Homestead Architecture (Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1861: later editions in 1867 and 1870), and American Houses, a Variety of Designs for Rural Buildings (Philadelphia. Ashmead, 1861: later edition, 1868). In July of 1868 Sloan began to issue The Architectural Review and American Builders' Journal, the first architectural periodical to be published in the United States. It failed to gain support in the Philadelphia architectural community and ceased publication in 1870 after only three volumes. Sloan also reached thousands of potential customers through the pages of Louis Godey's Lady's Book which began to publish his designs in 1852.
Throughout the 1850s Sloan enjoyed a rapidly expanding practice, particularly as an architect of hospitals for the insane and schools. However, the panic of 1857-58, the hiatus in building caused by the Civil War, and a political scandal relating to the Philadelphia City Hall competition combined to raise a nearly insurmountable watershed in his career. In 1864 he formed a new partnership with Addison Hutton whose social position brought commissions to the firm. But these were not happy years: in 1867 Sloan left the practice and briefly tried his hand in New York before returning to Philadelphia to begin The Architectural Review.
Sloan had considerable difficulty reestablishing his Philadelphia practice in the 1870s. His entry in the first competition for the design of the Centennial Exhibition (1873) won second prize, and there are few buildings associated with his name from this period. In 1877 he took Charles Balderston and <7>Isaiah B. Young7> as partners, although Young withdrew after a few months. By this time Sloan's most important work was outside Pennsylvania, particularly in North Carolina where he designed the Western State Asylum for the Insane at Morganton (1875). Other commissions in North Carolina followed, and Sloan opened an office in Raleigh in 1883 where he died the following year.