The Quaker Samuel Rhoads was one of the most influential master builders of the colonial period. Born in Philadelphia County, the son of John and Hannah (Willcox) Rhoads, he first appeared as a speculative builder flourishing in the 1730s and 1740s. Together with Samuel Powell
, Joseph Fox
, and John Nicholas
, he measured Edmund Woolley's
work at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in 1740-41. In the latter year he was elected to the Philadelphia Common Council, beginning a long period of public service. Together with Powell, William Logan, John Stamper, and Benjamin Franklin, he advised the city on "the best means of improving the Swamp between Budds Buildings & Society Hill" in 1747/8. His friendship with Franklin began about this time and would span over thirty years. Like the printer-statesman, Rhoads devoted increasing amounts of his time and wealth (derived largely from mercantile activity in later years) to charitable and educational works. He was a founding member of the Union Fire Company (1736), the American Philosophical Society (Vice-President, 1770-1776), a Director of the Library Company (1739-69, 1772-1774), a Manager of the Alms House, a founder and a Manager of the Pennsylvania Hospital (1751-1781), as well as a founding Director of the Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire (1752-1763).
In 1761, Rhoads was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly to represent Philadelphia City; he served until 1764 and was re-elected in 1770. As tensions mounted between America and the Crown, Rhoads became politically more active; within a few months during 1774 he was Speaker of the Provincial Convention, a member of the First Continental Congress (meeting at Carpenters' Hall), and Mayor of Philadelphia. Clearly, by the time Rhoads had reached middle age he was no longer a "Carpinter(sic) Builder" -- as he once identified himself. This raises difficult questions for historians who must determine Rhoads's role in the design and construction of several buildings with which he was associated after c.1750 -- particularly the Pennsylvania Hospital. The master builder/architect Robert Smith was at Rhoads' elbow at the Alms House, the Hospital, and Franklin's house. Did Smith collaborate on these designs, or was he simply favored by Rhoads as operative builder? Ultimate credit for the design of these buildings must be left for future research.
Rhoads was an early member of The Carpenters' Company; how early is impossible to tell because of the loss of all Company records prior to 1763. He did own books of architecture, and surviving bills suggest that Rhoads designed a number of as yet unidentified buildings for the Norris family. There is an interesting group of early architectural drawings among the Fairhill manuscripts at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania that have been attributed to him on rather thin grounds; these await more careful study. Rhoads's chief claim to fame as a designer is the monumental Pennsylvania Hospital (1754-56). The entire edifice was to consist of three parts, two symmetrical wings connected by a central building, as shown in Claypoole's "A South-East Prospect of the Pennsylvania Hostpial with the Elevation of the Intended Plan." Only the east wing was built prior to the Revolution, but David Evans, Sr. and David Evans, Jr. followed the basic Rhoads design when they later completed the structure (west wing, 1795-96; central pavilion, 1796-99). During this same period he was responsible for the Robert Barclay house (c.1758) at 217 Delancey Street, the John Cadwalader house (c.1760) on Second below Spruce, and the William Coleman house (1766) on the northwest corner of Second and Pine Streets. Also in the 1760s Rhoads designed the house for Benjamin Franklin that Robert Smith built. This house, Franklin wrote to Rhoads, should be "considered as a kind of Pattern House by future Builders, within the Power of Tradesmen & People of moderate circumstances to imitate and follow." Unfortunately, this building that combined the various talents of Franklin, Rhoads, and Smith was demolished in 1812.
As a manager of the Alms House, Rhoads may also have designed that large, horseshoe-shaped, brick structure erected 1766-67. As in the case of the Franklin house, Robert Smith obtained the contract. There is no record that Rhoads was an active participant in Carpenters' Company debates or that he served on committees during the 1760s; understandably even his attendance at Company meetings during the early 1770s was irregular. On 17 January 1780, however, he became Master of The Company, serving until 1784.