Beauty from Ashes
Fairmount Park has experienced its share of drama in the span of American history. In fact, it grew to be the largest landscaped urban park in the world out of tragedy. In the late 1860s Philadelphia was beleaguered with cholera and typhoid fever. Scientists discovered the cause of the epidemic was the contamination of the Schuylkill River due to residents dumping waste into it. (As someone who spends a lot of time on the Schuylkill, I can testify this longstanding tradition is still going stong.) Controlling the river was critical to protecting its citizens from greater calamity.
Fairmount Park experienced meteoric growth after the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Acts of Assembly in 1867 and 1868, enlarging the park’s boundaries and creating the Fairmount Park Commission. These acquisitions included the remaining portion of East Fairmount Park, as well as West Fairmount Park and Wissahickon Valley Park, which enlarged Fairmount Park its current size.
Home of America’s First World Fair
Then in 1876 West Fairmount Park was chosen to host the Centennial Exposition, America’s first world’s fair because of its central location and access to water. Between May 10th and November 10th that year more than 10 million people attended the exposition!
Check out the ticket. It’s a work of art!
Odd history alert: The right arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty were showcased at the Exposition. For a fee of 50 cents, visitors could climb the ladder to the balcony. The money raised was used to fund the pedestal for the statue. You can’t make this stuff up, people! 😂
Historic Division of Park
Fairmount Park at one point consisted of three areas:
- South Park (heh) started immediately below the Fairmount Water Works and extended to the Callowhill Street Bridge
- Old Park encompassed the former estates of Lemon Hill and Sedgeley
- West Park included the Philadelphia Zoo and the Centennial Exposition grounds
The Schuylkill River Trail is a modern addition, not included in 19th-century acquisitions.
Fairmount Park Today
Today Fairmount Park is just divided into two areas: East and West Fairmount parks, bifurcated by the Schuylkill River. In all, Fairmount Park occupies 2,054 acres. To give some perspective, that’s more than twice the size of Central Park in New York City (843 acres). You can see in the map below that if you overlaid Fairmount Park onto Central Park, it would extend into Brooklyn!
Check out some of the amazing vintage pics and posters of Fairmount Park.