Held at: Fairmount Park Historic Resource Archives [Contact Us]1515 Arch Street, 10th Floor, Philadelphia, PA
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Fairmount Park Historic Resource Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
In the early part of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia City Council took action to protect the purity of public water. This involved the acquisition of property on the banks of the Schuylkill River in order to eliminate polluting waste that had previously been generated by various industrial sites along the river. The City’s newly acquired property was dedicated to the health and enjoyment of the citizens of Philadelphia, and became known as Fairmount Park. The Fairmount Park Commission (FPC) was established by Act of the Assembly, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, March 26, 1867, Public Law 547. The practice of acquiring and preserving park land was carried forward over the entire course of the history of the FPC. The FPC operated with a single continuous mission: to preserve and protect its open space; provide opportunities for recreation; maintain the landscapes and structures, streams and woodlands that exist within the Fairmount Park System. By the time the organization was dissolved in 2010, the FPC managed approximately 9200 acres of land. The activities of the FPC were guided by the “Rules for the Government of the Commissioners of Fairmount Park,” originally published May 28, 1867, and occasionally revised over the course of the organization’s history. The most recent revision of the Rules was adopted on May 13, 1970.
The 1867 Act of Assembly defined the FPC as being comprised of six ex-officio members and ten citizens. The designated ex-officio members were the Mayor of Philadelphia; the President of the Select Council; the President of the Common Council; the Commissioner of City Property; the Chief Engineer and Surveyor; and the Chief Engineer of the Waterworks. In 1920 the Select Council was abolished, and thus the ex-officio seat of the President of the Select Council was eliminated. That void was filled in 1951 when the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter added the Commissioner of Recreation ex-officio seat. Other changes were made to the roster of ex-officio seats with the evolution of the City of Philadelphia’s organizational structure. The final incarnation of the six ex-officio members of the FPC was comprised of the Mayor of Philadelphia; the President of City Council; the Public Property Commissioner; the Deputy Streets Commissioner; the Recreation Commissioner; and the Water Department Commissioner.
The responsibility of selecting the ten citizen members of the FPC was split between the District Court and the Court of Common Pleas. In 1874 the District Court was dissolved, and the Board of Judges of the Court of Common Pleas assumed the entire responsibility of appointing the ten citizen members of the FPC. The selection process is not guided by any formal policy.
The activities of the FPC were delineated and overseen by a group of standing committees.
By July of 2010, one hundred forty years after its inception, the FPC was officially dissolved when it became merged with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, resulting in the creation of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.
This collection contains various materials that document the history of the Fairmount Park, and subsequently the history of the activities of the Fairmount Park Commission. The collection also includes a good deal of contextual information, such as information on the early history of Philadelphia and its surrounding area. This collection demonstrates at once the autonomy of the Fairmount Park Commission and its integral role in the evolution of Philadelphia’s urban landscape.
The Reference Collection is divided into six general components, or “series” as follows: “Annual Reports;” “Fairmount Park Commission administrative history;” "Planning, Preservation and Property Management Division grant and project files;" “History files;” “Technical reports and studies;” and "Published park maps, trail guides and campaigns."
The first series, “Annual Reports” contains fifteen linear feet of reports published by the Fairmount Park Commission, the Fairmount Park Art Association and the Art Commission (formerly Art Jury). As a group, these reports provide a detailed account of the development of the Fairmount Park System. These reports reflect the ideological trends that influenced the evolution of the Park System and the physical features that adorn Park property, such as historic structures, statuary and fountains. In addition to documenting the evolution of the Fairmount Park System, the Fairmount Park Commission Annual Reports demonstrate the morphology of the organization over time. This series would be useful to anyone researching the history of park property in Philadelphia; urban land management; organizational history; art history; and juried public art design competitions.
The “Fairmount Park Commission” subseries contains materials dating from 1867 to 1999. The first Annual Report of the Commissioners of Fairmount Park was published at the end of 1869, although a special report entitled "Report of a Special Committee of the Commissioners of Fairmount Park upon the Preservation of the Purity of the Water Supply" was published in 1867. Each Annual Report published by the FPC provides a review of the organization’s projects and funding allocations of funds during that year, and a statement of goals and fiscal needs for the upcoming year. There are no gaps in this collection of reports, although the FPC did not publish reports every year. Between the years 1869 and 1918 the reports were published sporadically, and summarized the activities of the FPC over a multi-year span. In 1926, after a lapse of eight years, the FPC began publishing the "Fairmount Park Annual Report of the Chief Engineer.” The reports were published under this title until 1938, and in 1939 the title was changed to “Report of the Commissioners of Fairmount Park.” In 1948 the reports began to follow a numerical sequence, starting with the eightieth annual report.
The "Planning, Preservation and Property Management Division grants and project files" contain recent records-management type files of ongoing or recently completed projects by this department. Files are generally within the past five to ten years, and document budgetary and design decisions which have an ongoing or lasting impact on the Fairmount Park system.
The “Fairmount Park Art Association” subseries contains reports published by that organization between the years 1872 and 1977. This organization published other material in addition to the official annual reports, such as the account entitled "Unveiling of the Equestrian Statue of Major-General George Gordon Meade, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Tuesday, October 18th, 1887." Another notable special publication of the Fairmount Park Art Association included in this collection is the fiftieth anniversary retrospective, which includes a summary of the organization’s accomplishments between 1872 and 1922, and biographical sketches of organizational leaders and of artists whose works have been selected for display in the Fairmount Park System. There are no gaps in the collection of these publications prior to 1970; however the 1973 and 1974 reports are not included in this collection.
The second series, “Fairmount Park Commission administrative history,” contains three linear feet of material that is arranged into seven subseries: “Early administrative correspondence;” “Early committee reports;” “Property management files;” “Planning files;” “Financial files;” “Publications;” and “Exhibitions.”
The “Early administrative correspondence” subseries contains correspondence regarding engineering activities, and land acquisition and management from 1860 to 1949. The correspondence in this series is both internal, between members of the Fairmount Park Commission, and external, to and from members of the Commission. As is typical with most organizational correspondence, the internal correspondence elucidates the functions and characteristics of the Commission, while the external correspondence demonstrates the purpose and public perception of the institution.
The “Early committee reports” subseries contains handwritten reports from 1880 to 1931. The bulk of these papers document the activities of the Committee on Land Purchases and Damages between 1900 and 1931.
The “Property management files” subseries documents decision-making activities regarding the management of Fairmount Park properties between 1937 and 2005. Acquisitions, inventories, demolition. This subseries demonstrates the policies and strategies used by the Fairmount Park Commission over time, and provides a partial inventory of Fairmount Park properties.
The four subsequent components of this series represent the activities of the Office of Management and Development (see Historical note) between 1980 and 2009. The administrative records of the Fairmount Park Commission during this period have not been collected according to a formal records management system, thus these records do not present a complete account of the activities of the organization between these years.
The “Planning files” subseries contains a wide range of Fairmount Park Commission materials dating between 1980 and 2009. The bulk of the papers are from between 1980 and 1990.
The “Financial files” subseries contains information on grants pursued by the Fairmount Park Commission between 1983 and 1999.
The “Publications” subseries contains papers related to various public information endeavors between 1989 and 2004. Materials in this subseries include newsletters, televised programs, and newspaper comic strip.
The “Exhibitions” subseries contains 1997, 1999 and 2000 flower show information.
The “History files” series contains fifty-five linear feet of information about the Fairmount Park geography and the structures, sculptures and fountains that are situated within the Fairmount Park System. Because of the massive size of the Fairmount Park System, a broad range of historical events are represented in this series, some of which are of national historical significance, such as the Battle of Germantown (1777) part of which took place in what is now the Wissahickon Valley Park; the 1876 Centennial Exposition which took place in West Fairmount Park; early auto racing (beginning in 1908), also in West Fairmount Park; and of course the early ecological improvements along the Schuylkill River. Typical materials in the “History files” series include photo reproductions of published articles, book excerpts, scholarly/professional research and newspaper clippings. In addition to these secondary and tertiary resources, the series also includes primary materials in the form of memos and correspondence generated by/for the Fairmount Park Commission. The earliest example of the original material is a 1690 property deed signed by William Penn. At the opposite end of the timeline, the series also contains lease agreements dating from the beginning of the twenty-first century. The bulk of the materials in this series dates from the 1960s to the 1990s.
“Technical reports and studies” contains scholarly and professional studies of Parks geographies and structural features. The eleven and a half linear feet of material in this series includes historic structure reports, cultural landscape inventories, archaeological investigations and preservation evaluations. These materials are typically bound, but have not been published. Most of the materials have been created for the use of the Fairmount Park historic preservation officers, or as scholastic endeavors. In the case of the latter type of material, students have made extensive use of materials available in the “History files” series of this collection. The material in this series dates from 1975 to 2007.
The final series, "Published park maps, trail guides, and campaigns" contain largely undated materials which highlight the promotion of Fairmount Park to the public, as well as areas of interest as identified by leadership groups.
Throughout the Reference Collection, information in any particular series is complemented by information contained in each of the other series. As a whole, this collection demonstrates the history of Fairmount Park and its administrative organization, the information needs of the Fairmount Park Planning, Preservation and Development Division over time, and mid- to late-twentieth century historical research endeavors.
The “Reference collection” grew in response to the evolving purpose of the Fairmount Park organization. Originally, materials were collected by the Park Historian’s Office for the purpose of maintaining an historical account of the Fairmount Park Commission’s activities, and to document the historical context in which the Fairmount Park System exists. With a major organizational restructuring of the Fairmount Park Commission between 1980 and 1985, the Park Historian’s Office, and the materials in its care, began to operate under the aegis of the [Office of Information]. This shift was part of a strategic plan to increase public awareness of the Park through heightened public relations efforts. [Later,] the Division of Planning, Preservation and Property Management became the stewards of the collection, as the information in this collection was deemed to be essential to the tasks of the Division.
- Art Commission, Philadelphia
- Centennial Exhibition (1876 : Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Fairmount Park (Philadelphia, Pa.)--History
- Fairmount Park Art Association
- Fairmount Park Commission (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Fairmount Park Motor Race--History
- Fairmount Park Transit Company
- Fairmount Water Works (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Historic preservation--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
- Historic sites--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
- Pennypack Creek (Pa.)
- Riparian areas
- Schuylkill River (Pa.)--History
- Urban parks
- Wissahickon Creek Valley (Pa.)--History
- Works Progress Administration of Pennsylvania
- National Park Service (U.S.)
- Cobb's Creek Park (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- East Fairmount Park (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Pennypack Park (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Philadelphia (Pa.)
- Poquessing Creek Park (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Tacony Creek Park (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- West Fairmount Park (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Wissahickon Valley Park (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Jefferson Park Hospital Playground (Philadelphia, PA)
- Mann Music Center
- Fairmount Park Historic Resource Archives
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Eric Rosenzweig
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.
This series is arranged into three subseries: “Fairmount Park Commission;” “Fairmount Park Art Association;” and “Art Commission.” The materials in each of the three subseries are arranged chronologically.
Address, "The Utility of Civic Beauty," at the Celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary, by Hon. James M. Beck History of the Association by Charles J. Cohen, President List of Officers and Trustees Biographies of the Founders of the Association and the Members of the First Board of Trustees List of Works of Art Contributed by the Association Reproduction of Works of Art Biographies of the Sculptors History of the Fairmount Parkway and Art Museum, by Andrew Wright Crawford, George S. Webster and the late William Perrinne List of Addresses at the Annual Meetings The Financial Status Preamble to the Original Constitution [List of] Members
This series is arranged into seven subseries: “Early administrative correspondence;” “Early committee reports;” “Property management files;” “Planning files;” “Financial files;” “Publications;” and “Exhibitions.” The materials in each of the seven subseries are arranged chronologically.
The “History files” series is arranged into a large number of subseries. The first fifty-eight subseries are arranged by Park, alphabetically, beginning with Allen’s Lane Park and ending with Wooden Bridge Run.
The information in each of these Park subseries is organized in a uniform fashion. The material in each of the Park components, or “subseries” is first organized alphabetically by feature with any particular Park. For example, some primary subdivisions of “West Fairmount Park” subseries are “West Fairmount Park, Belmont Mansion;” “West Fairmount Park, Boelson House;” “West Fairmount Park, Chamounix Carriage House;” and “West Fairmount Park, Japanese House.”
At the next level of organization, beyond park feature, is subject matter. The order of the subject matter arrangement is as follows: The first subject is general historical background information. After the historical background is background information specific to the work of the Planning Preservation and Property Management Division, including capital project preservation documentation and maintenance records. Lastly, administrative information is found in the form of grant applications, Park “Friends Group” communications, and institutional designations.
6249 Wissahickon Avenue; Thomas Mansion