Philadelphia – Fairmount Park And Suburbs

Philadelphia, excepting to the southward, is surrounded by a broad belt of attractive suburban residences, the semi-rural region for miles being filled with ornamental villas and the tree-embowered and comfortable homes of the well-to-do and middle classes. Down the Schuylkill is ” Bartram’s Garden,” now a public park, where John Bartram established the first botanic garden in America, and where his descendants in 1899 celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of his birth on June 2, 1699. His grandfather was one of the companions of William Penn, and John Bartram, who was a farmer, mastered the rudiments of the learned languages, became passionately devoted to botany, and was pronounced by Linnaeus the greatest natural botanist in the world. Bartram bought his little place of about seven acres in 1728, and built himself a stone house, which still exists, bearing the inscription, cut deep in a stone, ” John and Ann Bartram, 1731.” He wrote to a friend describing how he became a botanist : ” One day I was very busy in holding my plough (for thou seest I am but a ploughman), and being weary, I ran under a tree to repose myself. I cast my eyes on a daisy ; I plucked it mechanically and viewed it with more curiosity than common country farmers are wont to do, and I observed therein many distinct parts. ` What a shame,’ said my mind, or something that inspired my mind, ‘ that thou shouldst have employed so many years in tilling the earth and destroying so many flowers and plants without being acquainted with their structure and their uses.’ ” He put up his horses at once, and went to the city and bought a botany and Latin grammar, which began his wonderful career. He devoted his life to botany, travelled over America collecting specimens, and died in 1777. At the mouth of the Schuylkill River is League Island, where the United States has an extensive navy yard, and a reserve fresh water basin for the storage of naval vessels when out of commission. The attractive Philadelphia suburban features spread westward across the Schuylkill, and are largely developed in the north-western sections of Germantown and Chestnut Hill, Jenkintown and the Chelten-hills. In this extensive section the wealth of the people has of late years been lavishly expended in making attractive homes, and the suburban belt for miles around the city displays most charming scenery, adorned by elaborate villas, pleasant lanes, shady lawns and well-kept grounds.

The chief rural attraction of Philadelphia is Fair-mount Park, one of the world’s largest pleasure-grounds. It includes the lands bordering both sides of the Schuylkill above the city, having been primarily established to protect the water-supply. There are nearly three thousand acres in the Park, and its sloping hillsides and charming water views, give it unrivalled advantages in delicious natural scenery. At the southern end is the oldest water reservoir of six acres, on top of a curious and isolated conical hill about ninety feet high, which is the ” Fair Mount,” giving the Park its name. The Schuylkill is dammed here to retain the water, and the Park borders the river for several miles above, and its tributary, the Wissahickon, for six miles farther. The Park road entering alongside the Fair-mount hill passes a colossal equestrian statue of George Washington, and beyond a fine bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln, and also an equestrian statue of General Grant. The roadways are laid on both sides of the river at the water’s edge, and also over the higher grounds at the summits of the sloping bordering hills, thus affording an almost endless change of routes and views. The frequent bridges thrown across the river, several of them carrying railroads, add to the charm. An electric railway is constructed through the more remote portions, and displays their rustic beauty to great advantage. All around this spacious Park the growing city has ex-tended, and prosperous manufacturing suburbs spread up from the river, the chief being the carpet district of the Falls and the cotton-mills of Manayunk, the latter on the location of an old-time Indian village, whose name translated means “the place of rum.” In this Park, west of the Schuylkill, was held the Centennial Exposition of 1876, and several of the buildings remain, notably the Memorial Art Gallery, now a museum, and the Horticultural Hall, where the city maintains a fine floral display. William Penn’s “Letitia House,” his original residence, removed from the older part of the city, now stands near the entrance to the West Park.

A large part of the northeastern bank ,of the Schuylkill adjoining the Park is the Laurel Hill Cemetery. Its winding walks and terraced slopes and ravines give constantly varying landscapes, making it one of the most beautiful burial-places in existence. In front, the river far beneath curves around like a bow. Some of its mausoleums are of enormous cost and elaborate ornamentation, but generally the grandeur of the location eclipses the work of the decorator. Standing on a jutting eminence is the Disston Mausoleum, which entombs an English sawmaker who came to Philadelphia without friends and almost penniless, and died at- the head of the greatest sawmaking establishment on the Continent. At one place, as the river bends, the broad and rising terraces of tombs curve around like the banks of seats in a grand Roman amphitheatre. Here is the grave of General Meade who commanded at Gettysburg. In a plain, unmarked sepulchre fronting the river, hewn out of the solid rock, is entombed the Arctic explorer who conducted the Grinnell expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, Dr. Elisha gent Kane. A single shaft on a little eminence nearby marks the grave of Charles Thomson, the Secretary of the Continental Congress that made the Declaration of Independence. Some of the graves are in exquisite situations, many having been chosen by those who lie there. Here are buried Thomas Godfrey, the inventor of the mariner’s quadrant; General Hugh Mercer, who fell at the head of the Pennsylvania troops in the Revolutionary battle of Princeton, the Scots’ Society of St. Andrew having erected a monument to his memory ; Commodore Isaac Hull, who commanded the American frigate ” Constitution ” in the War of 1812 when she captured the British frigate ” Guerrière ;” Harry Wright, the ” father of base-ball,” who died in 1895; and Thomas Buchanan Read, the poet-artist. At the cemetery entrance is the famous “Old Mortality” group, carved in Scotland and sent to Philadelphia. The quaint old Scotsman reclines on a gravestone, and pauses in his task of chipping-out the half-effaced letters of the inscription, while the little pony patiently waits alongside of him for his master and Sir Walter Scott to finish their discourse.

The peculiar charm of Philadelphia suburban scenery, however, is the Wissahickon—the “catfish stream ” of the Indians. This is a creek rising in the hills north of the city, and breaking through the rocky ridges, flowing by tortuous course to the Schuylkill a short distance above Laurel Hill. It is an Alpine gorge in miniature, with precipitous sides rising two to three hundred feet, and the winding road along the stream gives a charming ride. Populous suburbs are on the higher ridges, but the ravine has been reserved and carefully protected, so that all the natural beauties remain. A high railway bridge is thrown across the entrance of the gorge at the Schuylkill, and rounding, just beyond, a sharp rocky corner, the visitor is quickly within the ravine, the stream nestling deep down in the winding fissure. For several miles this attractive gorge can be followed; and high up on its side, in a commanding position near the summit of the enclosing ridge, one of the residents has placed a statue of William Penn, most appropriately bearing the single word at its base—” Toleration.” This splendid gorge skirts the northwestern border of the popular suburb of Germantown, and the creek emerges from its rocky con-fines at the foot of Chestnut Hill, where it rends the ridge in twain, and the hillsides are dotted with at-tractive villas. This is a fashionable residential section whose people have a magnificent outlook over the rich agricultural region of the upper Wissahickon Valley and the hills beyond.

In Germantown is the historic Chew House, bearing the marks of cannon balls, which was the scene of the battle of Germantown in October, 1777, when the British under Lord Howe, then holding Philadelphia, defeated General Washington, and the darkest period of the Revolution followed, the Americans afterwards retiring to their sad winter camp at Val-ley Forge. This suburb of Germantown is almost as old as Philadelphia. It was originally settled in 1683 by Germans who came from Cresheim, a name that is preserved in the chief tributary of the Wissahickon. Their leader was Daniel Pastorius, who bought a tract of fifty-seven hundred acres of land from William Penn for a shilling an acre, and took possession on October 6th. Their settlement prospered and attracted attention in the Fatherland. In 1694 a band of religious refugees, having peculiar tenets and believing that the end of the world was approaching, determined to migrate to Germantown. They were both Hollanders and Germans, and came from Rotterdam to London, whence, under the guidance of Johannes Kelpius, they sailed for America upon the ship ” Sara Maria.” They were earnest and scholarly men, and Kelpius, who was a college graduate, was a profound theologian. They called themselves the ” Pietists.” Upon their voyage they had many narrow escapes, but every danger was averted by fervent prayers. Their vessel ran aground, but was miraculously floated ; they were nearly captured by the French, but, mustering in such large numbers on the deck of the ” Sara Maria,” they scared the enemy away ; they were badly frightened by an unexpected eclipse of the sun ; but in every case prayers saved them, and on June 14th they safely landed in Chesapeake Bay, marching overland to the Delaware and sailing up to Philadelphia, where they disembarked.

In solemn procession, on June 23, 1694, led by Kelpius, they walked, two and two, through the little town, which then had some five hundred houses. They called on the Governor, William Markham, rep-resenting Penn, and took the oath of allegiance to the British Crown. In the evening they held a solemn religious service on ” the Fair Mount,” at the verge of the Schuylkill. In it they celebrated the old German custom of ” Sanct Johannes ” on St. John’s eve. They lighted a fire of dry leaves and brushwood on the hill, casting into it flowers, pine boughs and bones, and then rolled the dying embers down the hillside as a sign that the longest day of the year was past, and the sun, like the embers, would gradually lose its power. The next morning was the Sabbath, and they went out to Germantown, where they were warmly welcomed. They built their first house, since called the Monastery, near the Wissahickon Creek, where they worked and worshipped. Their house they called ” The Woman of the- Wilderness,” and upon its roof, day and night, some of them stood, closely observing the changing heavens. With prayers and patience they watched for the end of the world and the coming of the Lord, and they obeyed the ministry of Kelpius. He lived in a cave, and as his colony of enthusiasts gradually dwindled, through death and desertion, he came to be known as the ” Hermit of the Wissahickon.” Here he dug his well two centuries ago, and the ” Hermit’s Pool ” still exists. He constantly preached the near approach of the millennium, and exhibited his magical ” wisdom stone.” Finally, wearying yet still believing, he gave up, cast his weird stone into the stream, and in 1704 he died, much to the relief of the neighboring Quaker brethren, who did not fancy such mysterious alchemy so near the city of Penn. These ” Pietists,” or “Kelpians,” as they were afterwards called, dispersed over the country, and had much to do with guiding the religious life and mode of worship among the early German settlers in Pennsylvania. Everywhere in German Pennsylvania there are traces of their influence, and especially at Ephrata and Waynesboro they have had pious and earnest followers. After the death of Kelpius, their last survivor in Germantown was Dr. Christopher DeWitt, famed as a naturalist, an astronomer, a clock-maker and a magician. He was a close friend of John Bartram, lived an ascetic life, became blind and feeble, and finally died an octogenarian in 1765, thus closing with his life the active career of the Kelpian mystics.