Choose Your Philadelphia Park!
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In 1683 William Penn designed Philadelphia in an organized a two-mile wide rectangular symmetrical grid, with wide streets perpendicular to each. At the center and at each corner, a public green space was created. In the 1820s, Philadelphia began rehabilitating Penn’s five original squares, most of which had fallen into disrepair The city attempted to reclaim these spaces through the assignment of commemorative names:
Penn Square, formerly Centre Square, was renamed after William Penn (1644-1718) founder the Province of Pennsylvania, the British North American colony that became the state of Pennsylvania. The democratic principles that he set forth served as an inspiration for the United States Constitution. The square is occupied by Philadelphia’s City Hall, capped with a statue of William Penn. Dilworth Park is a public park and open space along the western side of City Hall. The one-half-acre park opened to the public in September of 2014. Dilworth park is named in honor of Richardson Dilworth, who served as Mayor of Philadelphia from 1956 to 1962.
Rittenhouse Square, originally called Southwest Square, Rittenhouse Square was renamed in 1825 after David Rittenhouse (1732-1796). His uncle, William Rittenhouse had established the first paper mill in the American Colonies, the original paper-mill site is located in Fairmount Park along Paper Mill Run. Upon his uncle’s death, David inherited his carpentry tools and instructional books. At a young age David showed high levels of intelligence with self-taught knowledge of science and mathematics. He became an astronomer, mathematician, instrument maker, and one of the leading American scientists of the eighteenth century, second only to Benjamin Franklin. Rittenhouse Square Park is regarded as of the most successful urban parks in the world. Key features of the park are its circular layout with intersecting axes, maintained landscape and the scale of the park with the surrounding buildings being as tall as the park is wide, create a sense of enclosure and balance.
Logan Square, or Logan Circle, originally the Northwest Square, was renamed in 1825 after Philadelphia statesman James Logan (1674-1751), becoming mayor of Philadelphia, chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, lieutenant governor, and acting governor. He also collected a personal library of over 3,000 volumes, regarded as the largest and best collection of classical writings in America at the time. Logan’s library contained many 17th and 16th century classical works such as a 1615 edition of Archimedes’ works, the mathematical treatise of Pappus of Alexandria printed in 1660, are just a few examples. He would, with Benjamin Franklin and others work to develop the Library Company of Philadelphia, having Logan select the first 43 titles for the subscription based cooperative library. He planned on donating his library for public use after his death and he had a building constructed on Sixth Street in Philadelphia. At the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, the square transformed into a circle connecting to boulevard in a Parisian design. This would connect Fairmount Park to Center City.
Washington Square, originally named the Southeast Square, was renamed in 1825 as a tribute to George Washington (1732-1799) an American military officer, statesman, and Founding Father. Appointed by the Continental Congress as commander of the Continental Army, Washington led Patriot forces to victory in the American Revolutionary War and served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. He is commemorated on the U.S. quarter and one-dollar-bill. From 1776 to 1815 the park was the final resting place for Washington’s fallen soldiers, the deceased from the neighboring Walnut Street Jail and many of the city’s yellow fever epidemic victims. Initially there was a monument proposed for George Washington, but then monuments to those that had fought in the American Civil War were placed in the park. In 1954, the decision was made to remove the civil war commemorations and focus the square solely on the memory of the American Revolutionary War. A monument to all soldiers and sailors of the Revolutionary War would be built. The monument, designated the “Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier”, includes a bronze cast statue of Washington as the monument’s centerpiece. The Tomb includes remains which were disinterred, after archeological examination, from within the park from when it was a cemetery. Intombed are the remains of a soldier, but it is uncertain if he was Colonial or British.
Franklin Square, originally called North East Publick Square, Franklin Square was renamed in 1825 to honor Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) a printer and publisher, author, inventor and scientist, and diplomat. One of the foremost of the Founding Fathers, Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence and was one of its signers, represented the United States in France during the American Revolution, and was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He made important contributions to science, especially in the understanding of electricity, and is remembered for the wit, wisdom, and elegance of his writing. He is commemorated on the U.S. one-hundred-dollar bill. In its early years, the square was open, commonly used for grazing animals, storing gunpowder during the American Revolution and drilling soldiers during the War of 1812. During the 1820s, William Rush and Thomas Birch redesigned the park to depict nature by designing the park to be symmetrical to walkway and plant locations. This was to ensure the park would be orderly for tourists while ensuring the vision that William Penn had. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Franklin Square was at the center of a fashionable residential neighborhood; but beginning in the 1920s, a series of events corresponding with the rise of the automobile began the decline of the square and its surrounding neighborhood. The construction of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, from 1922 to 1926, leveled blocks, the Bridge begins at the square’s eastern boundary, 6th Street. The steady flow of cars over the bridge made Franklin Square’s northern boundary, Vine Street, into one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, effectively cutting off pedestrian access on two of the square’s sides. Franklin Square declined significantly in pedestrian use and the surrounding area declined in commercial use. During the depression, the square became a place for homeless and unemployed. During the 1950s and 1960s additional land around the park was acquired by the government and demolished blocks of homes and other buildings. In the 1980s the development of the Vine Street Expressway only contributed to the isolation and abandonment of the park. Franklin Square became the least-used of Penn’s original five squares and continued to serve mainly as an encampment for the homeless for decades. Historic Philadelphia, a non-profit company, restored the fountain and cleaned up the park aiming to bring the park back to that envisioned by William Penn. It was reopened and rededicated in 2006, the revitalized park contains a number of family-friendly attractions such as a golf course, an improved playground, a carousel, and gardens. Recently, re-development activities surrounding Franklin Square have included new housing, commercial, and office spaces.