From the Archives: Over 100 Years Ago in Fairmount Park

News // October 19, 2016

This is one in an occasional series in which FOW publishes articles that appeared in our publications in the past and still resonate with us today. This piece was written by David Bower, then Volunteer Coordinator for Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and first appeared in FOW’s Fall 1999 Newsletter. The text in quotation marks has been copied directly from the original reports dated 1878 to 1899.

These “highlights” were found by this writer in the Sixth report of the Commissioners of Fairmount Park to City Council, dated December 31, 1889. The report covers the period from 1878 to 1899.


The stone bridge over the Wissahickon Creek at Rex Avenue was erected at a cost of $6,000.


The Blue Stone Bridge over the Wissahickon Creek, below Shur’s Lane, replaced a covered bridge at the same site. The new bridge was built for $27,743.


  • Park staff planted 2,173 trees in the Wissahickon, all along Forbidden Drive.
  • “Horses used by mounted men are all useless, save one. All of these animals were cheap and of low breed. None of them could be trained.”
  • “The Automobile has not entered the park in sufficient quantities to warrant an expression of opinion as to their safety to the public. . . . A man versed in mechanics will have to be stationed in each District of the park to afford relief where the machine breaks down.”
  • Park Police reported: “Details have had to be sent in various districts to break up the games of crap. One boy, it is said, won eleven dollars in one forenoon by this low game.”
  • Several “bad girls” were arrested while Buffalo Bill’s show was in the city.
  • There were 98 bicycle accidents in the park, resulting in 106 injuries, including three injuries of “concussion of brain.”
  • Park Police rendered assistance to (among others):

1 man asleep in a sleigh

2 men, alcoholism

6 men “insane”

4 girls “with fits”

1 woman, injured with bursting of ginger ale bottle

  • There were 45 reports of “runaways” in the park—runaway horses, that is.
  • Park Police “ejected” from the park:

1 social club

1 man, quarreling with his wife

752 burden wagons

3 led cows

4 sleighs without bells

4 bicycles carrying guns

12 undertakers’ wagons

27 automobiles

2 goats and wagons


By David Bower, former Volunteer Coordinator, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

Photo courtesy of Commission on Parks & Recreation