Japan and Philadelphia
Philadelphia and Japan have had a special friendship for 150 years.
Particular Sights to See:Center City
Taxi drivers tell tourists that Center City is a "shining city on a hill". During the Industrial Era, the city almost urbanized out to the county line, and then retreated. Right now, the urban center is surrounded by a semi-deserted ring of former factories.
Touring Philadelphia's Western Regions
Philadelpia County had two hundred farms in 1950, but is now thickly settled in all directions. Western regions along the Schuylkill are still spread out somewhat; with many historic estates.
The Main Line
Like all cities, Philadelphia is filling in and choking up with subdivisions and development, in all directions from the center. The last place to fill up is the Welsh Barony, a tip of which can be said to extend all the way in town to the Art Museum.
Fairmount Park is considerably larger on the west bank of the Schuylkill than on the east, and the points of interest are somewhat more diluted by woods and pasture. Partly, that is a consequence of being the site of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition , and partly that urban growth had not encroached so much into the farmland at the time the park was created. On the west bank at the time of the Revolution, there were still 300-400 acre farms, whereas the east bank farms had been cut up into gentleman's
estates. The Schuylkill takes two 90-degree turns within the Park limits, leaving a point of high land on either side of the river. On the east side, the East Park reservoir is at the apex, and on the west side, the dominant point is Belmont Mansion. For a while, there was a restaurant at Belmont, but at the moment it's a pity but little advantage is taken of a very scenic view. Two judges once lived in the mansion, William Peters, and his nephew Richard Peters. William was a Tory and had to flee to England. Richard made a better guess and as a rebel, therefore could live on in scenic splendor.
For orientation, the West Park mansions extend in an arc from The Solitude in the south to Chamonix in the north. For the moment limiting our list to houses present when the Park was created, there is Sweetbrier, The Pig-Eye Cottage, Belmont, Ridgeland, Greenland, and the Lilacs. The last three houses belonged to three well-known Philadelphia families, Garrett, J.B. Lippincott, and Walnut, who established themselves in 19th Century commerce rather than 18th Century politics. Sweetbrier was one of those centers of French Philadelphia, when Samuel Breck continued his father's close relationship developed as the fiscal representative of French Forces in America, entertaining LaFayette and other such friends of the new Republic. The Pig-eye cottage is used by the Park administration, and closely resembles the Caleb Pusey house, but otherwise has no remarkable history. Solitude, on the other hand, really was the retreat for John, then Richard, then Granville. John Penn entertained George Washington here while he was presiding over the Constitutional Convention.
Fairmount Park is notable for some buildings which are unfortunately no longer there, and some other buildings that were transplanted there. The East Park is a historical monument, while the West Park is more a house museum. Governor Mifflin's house is gone from the Falls area, Powelton is gone, and Lansdowne the estate where the Proprietor John Penn was seized by rebel soldiers. His family was later paid less than a penny an acre for the 21 million acres of Pennsylvania land they clearly owned. Sedgley is also gone, and all of these places have a place in history. On the other hand, it is well to remember that all of the industrial slums along the river were cleared away to be replaced by the charm of Boat House Row.
It keeps being repeated that Fairmount Park is the largest urban park in America, but the fact is it is bigger than the city can afford to maintain, just as a monument to the colonial style of life. It was a grand place to have a World's Fair in 1876, and Memorial Hall remains, along with the Japanese pavilion, a truly priceless reproduction of Japan under the Shogun. Fairmount Park has the first Zoo in America, still a place of note in zoological circles, and many ballparks, summer music halls, and other modern recreational attractions. It contains Cedar Grove, a splendid Quaker homestead in Welsh style, transported from its original location in Frankford. The Letitia Street House was too fine an example of 17th Century urban architecture to lose, so it was moved to the Park from Letitia Street, approximately 2nd and Market Streets. William Penn lived for a while on Letitia Street, named after his daughter, but it is not entirely clear who lived in this particular little house. There doesn't seem to be anything you can do about people calling it the William Penn House.
Fairmount Park is the largest urban park. It doesn't have roley coasters, but we don't miss them, and it doesn't have Mickey Mouse, at least so far. There is absolutely nothing like it anywhere. Anyway even if there were, Philadelphians wouldn't notice.
Originally published: Wednesday, June 21, 2006; most-recently modified: Friday, May 24, 2019
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