Fairmount Park Historic Houses

The Fairmount Park System is made up of 62 different areas throughout the City of Brotherly Love. The largest concentration of parkland is located on both sides of the Schuylkill River - from the Philadelphia Art Museum in the south, beyond the boat houses on the east side and Kelly Drive, over to the Philadelphia Zoo in West Fairmount Park and extending as far as City Line Avenue in the north. Wissahicon Valley Park continues along the tributary from the northeast. At the dawn of the 20th century, this was a wilderness area that provided relief from the heat and dust and congestion of Center City to a few wealthy families who built summer cottages on the hills above the river. Dozens of other landmark buildings, WPA structures and horse stables have been built in the park, and a few buildings in the city have been relocated to Fairmount Park for safekeeping. The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 was the source of three buildings that have remained for posterity – Memorial Hall is occupied by the Please Touch Museum, Ohio House is open as a restaurant, and Sakura Pavilion adjacent to the Horticulture Hall. Many sites are open to the public, while others have been adapted for reuse by private businesses, residences and park offices. Check the Fairmount Park website1 for availability and closures due to ongoing restoration.

List of historic houses in Fairmount Park

WEST FAIRMOUNT PARK
  • Chamounix (1802) (Youth Hostel)
  • (1762) Ridgeland
  • (1745) Belmont Mansion
  • (1876) Ohio House (restaurant)
  • Horticulture Center
  • Sofuso Japanese House
  • (1876) Memorial Hall
  • (1750) Cedar Grove
  • (1797) Sweetbriar
  • (1703) Letitia Street House (new)
  • (1874) Philadelphia Zoo Gatehouses
  • (1785) Solitude (Philly Zoo)
  • Belmont Pumping Station
EAST FAIRMOUNT PARK
  • (1820) Strawberry Mansion
  • (1758) Woodford
  • (1765) Laurel Hill
  • (1798) Ormiston
  • (1810) Rockland
  • (1761) Mount Pleasant
  • The Cliffs (ruins)
  • Glendinning Rock Garden
  • (1838) Hatfield House
  • (1799) Sedgeley Porter's House
  • (1800) Lemon Hill
  • (1815) Fairmount Water Works
  • (1860) Boathouse Row
  • Bathey House (cafe, bike rental)
WISSAHICKON VALLEY PARK
  • Cedars House
  • Glen Fern
  • Monastery
  • Thomas Mansion
  • Historic Rittenhouse
  • Hermitage
  • Wissahickon Hall
FDR PARK

Historic house map

Fairmount Park Historic House Map

The formation of Fairmount Park

In an effort to deter industrial development in the immediate vicinity of the Waterworks, Lemon Hill was purchased by the City at a cost of $75,000 in 1844. It continued to be operated as a beer garden and was not dedicated for public use until 1855. Two years later Sedgeley, which once had been part of the original Moms estate, was acquired for $125,000, largely through the efforts of concerned citizens. The original driving force being "to provide a place in which poorer people of our fellow citizens and their families might find health and recreation". Shortly thereafter, the land that had separated Lemon Hill and the Fairmount Waterworks was acquired through a court action. It was these three properties that comprised the original East Park and totaled 110 acres. With the consolidation of the County of Philadelphia into the City of Philadelphia in 1854, the West Philadelphia Waterworks, located on the west side of the Schuylkill south of Girard Avenue, came under City ownership. Next to this property was Solitude and upon the death of its owner, Granville John Penn, in 1867, the City purchased the property. A year earlier, Lansdowne, a 140 acre estate, was purchased from the Baring family of Great Britain. In March of 1867, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania formed the Fairmount Park Commission to maintain the Park. They began to condemn, purchase, and receive land for the benefit of the citizenry. George's Hill, donated in 1868 by Jesse and Rebecca George, was considered the most important of these gifts, containing eighty-three acres. As land was acquired, most of it was left in a natural state; however, small architectural elements such as rustic pavilions, footbridges, and park guard stations were constructed at several sites. In 1876, the Centennial Exhibition was held in Fairmount Park and drew almost ten million people, which broke all previous visitation records to an exhibition in any country. The Park houses and picturesque surroundings were used as selling point to gain support for the Centennial to be held in Philadelphia. By 1914, Fairmount Park proper (Old Park, East Park, West Park, Wissahickon, and Schuylkill) comprised of 3,418.47 acres with 27 miles of macadamized carriage drives, 44.5 miles of footwalks, 12 miles of bridle paths, and 42.6 miles of macadamized drives and dirt roads. The boundary around Fairmount Park proper stretched 33.7 miles.2 To make way for open parklands to protect the water supply, several factories along the river were targeted by the commission for relocation. Pollution from the Belmont Refinery that opened in 1865 and the Washington Print Works near the falls bridge were a threat to the water intake at the Fairmount Water Works.3

Resources

  • West Philadelphia: The Basic History Chapter 2: A Streetcar Suburb in the City: West Philadelphia, 1854-1907 - Development of West Philadelphia in maps and photographs of historic townhouses of famous residents.
  • Schuylkill Banks - Bicycle paths along the river in the heart of the city. Connection to paths in Fairmount Park, continuing all the way through Manayunk to Valley Forge.
  • Interactive map of Historic Buildings in the Philadelphia Park System from the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust.
  • Boathouse Row - List of the twelve boat houses on Kelly Drive near the Art museum for rowing teams competing in "shell" races on the Schuylkill River.

References

  1. Fairmount Park website - Places to go
  2. Stephenson, Courtney Cockrell A promotional plan for Fairmount Park: An Expansion of the Role and Revenue Sources for the Proposed Fairmount Park Conservancy. University of Pennsylvania Thesis in Historic Preservation 1998
  3. the industrial past of the park should be remembered, Workshop of the World - Philadelphia

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