Isaac Holden is a shadowy figure about whom too little is known. Said to have migrated from England in 1826 to practice architecture with his brother, Holden first appears in Philadelphia city directories listed as a carpenter together with James P. Holden, bricklayer. According to John Haviland's records, Holden was employed by his countryman in 1830-31. Between 1837 and 1840 (when they disappear from the directories), Isaac is listed as an architect and James P. as a builder. At that point they reportedly returned to England, and in 1856 the architectural firm of Isaac Holden & Son of Manchester won a silver medal in the Notre Dame de Ia Treille et St. Pierre competition held at Lille.
During his years in Philadelphia, Holden entered the Girard College competition that he lost to Thomas Ustick Walter, as he would the Preston Retreat competition of 1837. In 1835 he was one of the three Philadelphia-based architects, the others being John Haviland and Joseph Singerly, to enter the New York City Hall of Justice and House of Detention competition that Haviland won.
Only two structures can firmly be attributed to Holden: the Chinese Museum at the northeast corner of Ninth and Sansom streets (c. 1836-38; burned 1854) and the Pennsylvania Hospital for Mental and Nervous Diseases at 44th and Market streets (1836-41; demolished 1859).
Roger W. Moss.
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