Wissahickon Valley Park has a long, fascinating history. From bridges, inns, public art, and various old ruins, the remnants of the park’s unique history is evident everywhere.
Explore this page to take a virtual trip back in time!
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Wissahickon History: An Overview
by David Bower
Bower is a long-time FOW member, volunteer, and former employee of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. He was named FOW’s Volunteer of the Year in 2019.
Within the bounds of the city of Philadelphia lies a treasure. Its possession, in this day of speed and confusion, marks our city as unique in the whole nation; and its possession bears testimony to Philadelphia’s love of beauty – God-made, which has not been allowed to spoil or be destroyed.
Do you know the valley of the Upper Wissahickon? It is yours, – yours to enjoy, yours to display, and yours to safeguard. Have you tested its powers of re-creation? Are you intimately acquainted with all its phases, from new leaf to snow-laden bough, its carpet of wild flowers, its banks of fern and moss and sparkling spring, its ice-hung rocks?
From the laughing child paddling along its edges to the silver-haired stroller along its paths, the Wissahickon allures all. It is a place to picnic with a group or to be alone – to know your child, your friend, or yourself better. Whether you are afoot or on a horse, in a canoe or on a pair of skates, nature greets you and bids you welcome.
(We must) inspire love for the Wissahickon. (We must) incite everyone to help protect its natural life – trees, birds, and flowers – from the unthinking, who for a fleeting moment of personal satisfaction destroy forever growths of beauty that cannot be replaced.
Welcome to the Wissahickon.
From “The Wissahickon Valley Within the City of Philadelphia”
Francis Burke Brandt, 1927, Corn Exchange National Bank of Philadelphia
Edited by David Bower , 2014
The Wissahickon Valley has for many years been a very special destination for people who come here to enjoy its scenic beauty and its variety of recreational opportunities. Trees, shrubs, wildflowers, ferns, grasses, rocks, and water are home to birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, amphibians.….and people.
The Wissahickon is also special because of its rich and colorful history. For millions of years it was a pristine wilderness, undisturbed by humans. It was home to the Lenape people. It was an industrial valley that was strongly linked to the development of the Philadelphia region and of Pennsylvania as a colony and later as a state.
Revolutionary War skirmishes were fought here and millworkers made blankets here during the Civil War.
Today the Wissahickon Valley is a place that helps protect drinking water, provides habitat for animals, and is a wonderful place for people to visit. Here in the Wissahickon we immerse ourselves in the nature that sustains life, lifts our spirits, and feeds our souls.
People have long been fascinated by the history of the Wissahickon. Wissahickon history is not just facts and figures. Wissahickon history includes both natural history and the stories of the people who lived here and worked here, and of those who restored, preserved, protected, and sustained the valley throughout the years.
It is important to remember that facts and fiction about the history of the valley are often interwoven. Although historians and visitors may disagree on some “facts” and some of the Wissahickon history is really fiction, this is part of the fascinating story of the Wissahickon. We continue to learn new parts of the story as time goes on.
It is also important to remember that Wissahickon history is not frozen in time. We are still creating Wissahickon history every day as Friends of the Wissahickon, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and other groups, agencies, and individuals work to preserve and sustain this wonderful place.
The Wissahickon Watershed and surrounding lands were probably under an ocean at one time. The valley in Philadelphia was formed when the sides of the valley were pushed up and as the creek eroded adjacent land. The watershed and its flora and fauna evolved as an ecosystem over millions of years. The last major climactic event that affected this evolution was the end of the most recent Ice Age about 12,000 to 15,000 years ago. Glaciers in that Ice Age never reached the Wissahickon but they did come as close as the Allentown area. As they receded, the Wissahickon warmed and evolved into the ecosystem which the first humans found when they arrived here.
THE LENAPE – THE FIRST PEOPLE
The Lenape lived in the area of the Wissahickon for as many as 2000 years before Europeans arrived. The Lenape….pronounced “Len-AH-pay”… did not have a written language so it is impossible to determine when they arrived or where they lived before colonial times. They hunted, fished, trapped, and farmed in the area but probably did not live in the valley. Lenape artifacts are rare because there were not many Lenape here, they had no permanent settlements in the valley, and they left virtually no trace of their existence in the Valley. The Lenape moved westward by the 1750’s after surrendering this area to colonists.
Colonists, mostly British and Germans, first settled the area in the mid-1600’s. Mills and quarries existed from the 1680’s until the 1880’s. Inns and hotels existed from the 1700’s until about 1916.
THE PRESERVATION ERA
The Fairmount Park Commission began obtaining land for what we now call Wissahickon Valley Park in the 1860’s as part of the city’s effort to clean up and protect the city’s water supply. The Philadelphia Water Department has a great exhibit about this process at the Water Works Interpretive Center on Kelly Drive near the Art Museum.
Nearly all of the watershed was privately owned; was used for farms, industries, and residences; and was later sold or donated to Fairmount Park or to WVWA.
Most of what we now call the Wissahickon Valley Park in Philadelphia was assembled prior to The Great Depression. The Andorra Natural Area and a few other smaller parcels were added in subsequent years.
Friends of the Wissahickon organized in the 1920’s and has been working actively to preserve, improve, and sustain the park since then. FOW partners with government agencies and other non-profit groups to achieve mutual goals.
Many improvements such as plantings, structures, trails, and stormwater management were implemented in the 1930’s as part of the WPA: Works Progress Administration or Works Projects Administration.
The number of Fairmount Park staff peaked in the 1970’s and has declined steadily until recently.
The Wissahickon in Philadelphia is currently managed by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the agency which was created with the merger of the former Fairmount Park Commission and the former Philadelphia Department of Recreation.
Other agencies that oversee the Wissahickon include Philadelphia Water Department, PA Fish and Boat Commission, PA Game Commission, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and US Environmental Protection Agency.
Wissahickon history is not in a time capsule. It is alive and thriving and growing today. New events are taking place. New stories are being created. New people are undertaking the enormous amount of work that is needed to preserve and protect the valley.
Someday, future generations will tell the stories of what is happening in the park today, and of FOW volunteers who are currently restoring old structures and building new ones, repairing and rebuilding trails, planting trees, protecting habitat, raising money, advocating on behalf of the park.
William Penn envisioned Philadelphia to be a “Green Country Towne”. This vision has been sustained by many generations and has led to the preservation of the Wissahickon Watershed, the Wissahickon Valley in Philadelphia, and hundreds of other parks and green spaces throughout the city and the region.
It has come to this generation a grave responsibility – the preservation of the natural beauties of our land. They are menaced as never before. They must be protected now, if the generations of the future are to have the refreshment and delight that nature alone can give.
Today in the midst of the stir and strife of city life is needed more than ever the calm and quiet of this sanctuary of peace.
David Contasta & Carol Franklin, St. Joseph’s University Press, 2010
Herbert C. Kraft, New Jersey Historical Society, 1986
The Early Mills of Roxborough
John Myers, Roxborough-Manayunk-Wissahickon Historical Society, 1991
The Quarries and Stone Masons of Chestnut Hill
Michael Yanni, as told to F. Markoe Rivinus, 2004
Compiled by T.A,. Daly, Garden Club of Philadelphia, 1922
The Wissahickon Valley Within the City of Philadelphia
Francis Burke Brandt, Corn Exchange National Bank, Philadelphia, 1927
Guide to the Wissahickon Valley
Frances Ballard and Marion Rivinus, FOW, 1965
History of the Fairmount Park Guard 1868 -1972
WOOD, STONE, AND STEEL: BRIDGES IN THE WISSAHICKON
by Sarah West
West is a long-time FOW member, former FOW Board Member, and a current Trail Ambassador. This article first appeared in FOW’s Fall 2008 newsletter.
Although the Walnut Lane Bridge achieved international fame as the world’s longest concrete structure in 1908, there are many other notable bridges that have spanned the creek and its tributaries—bridges of wood, stone, and steel. Some of these bridges are familiar to us today, while others have been destroyed by floods, demolished as they became obsolete, or replaced by newer structures. Four covered bridges, the Pipe Bridge, the Hartwell Lane Bridge, two foot bridges across Devil’s Pool, and at the Old Log cabin Roadhouse are remembered only in historical records.
This article describes only six Wissahickon Bridges: the Henry Avenue, Hermit Lane, Blue Stone, and Kitchens Lane Bridges, as well as the lost and forgotten Hartwell Lane and Pipe Bridges.
The Hermit Lane and Henry Avenue Bridges are fine examples of the lovely field stone and concrete bridges built between 1794 and 1931. They offer a striking contrast between small-scale and large-scale industry from two historical eras. Until 1826, the busy Hermit Lane Bridge was the only direct entrance into the lower Wissahickon Valley. This small bridge connected Roxborough to the Nicholas Rittenhouse Paper Mill complex which became the Greenwood Mill in 1864. It also brought patrons to the Old Log Cabin Road House and its lovely arcade (arches) to picnic beneath. Close to Lover’s Leap, the Hermitage Estate, and the Kelpius Spring, this location was considered the most beautiful part of the Wissahickon.
Planning for the Henry Avenue Bridge began in 1917, but encountered many obstacles. It was finally constructed in 1931-31. Dedicated to local men and women who served in World War I, this impressive span is 1080 feet long with an arch span of 291 feet. It carries a highway 60 feet wide. Plans for the bridge included a rapid transit train below the roadway, and a platform was built during its construction to serve as a station. In January 1931, the incomplete span sagged, arousing fear of collapse.
The Thomas Mill Road Covered Bridge is a charming sight to Wissahickon visitors and appears frequently in photographs, but in the nineteenth century at least four other covered bridges spanned the Wissahickon Creek, connecting communities on either side at Allens Lane, Kitchen’s Lane, Livezey Lane, and Shurs Lane. The Old Red Bridge at Shurs Lane was replaced by the Blue Stone Bridge in 1896. The road that went across it was not only the major route from Norristown to Germantown, but a by-pass route around Philadelphia on the Baltimore to New York route. The Crawford Stage Coach line ran across this bridge along a rough road close to the six-story Henry Rittenhouse Grist Mill. The Lotus Inn, one of seven road houses that served Wissahickon travelers, was located on Shurs Lane up-hill, just west of the bridge. This must have been one of the busiest locations along the Wissahickon. In 1908, after completion of the Walnut Lane Bridge, Shurs Lane was no long a major travel route and today’s traffic across the Blue Stone Bridge is limited to cyclists and pedestrians.
Kitchens Lane Bridge, connecting Germantown with Roxborough, was the one most frequently damaged by floods, yet it provided an important connection between Roxborough and West Mt. Airy. By 1920 the bridge at the long abandoned mill site included a trellis, but it was battered by flooding, causing the trellis to deteriorate and necessitating the bridge’s removal. In the 1970s it was replaced by a much higher concrete bridge
Just upstream from Valley Green Inn, the Hartwell Lane Bridge connected Hartwell Lane leading into Chestnut Hill with Wise’s Mill Road leading to Ridge Avenue in Roxborough. It also carried traffic going to and from the Megargee Paper Mill, which closed in 1884. The bridge was destroyed in a flood around 1929. For many years its two stone foundations stood as lonely sentinels, but dramatic flooding in 1999 and 2004 reduced its remnants to rubble.
On the west side of Wissahickon Creek, down stream from Livezey Dam, stands three piers from the old Pipe Bridge that carried water from the Shawmont Reservoirs in Roxborough to Mount Airy and Germantown from1870 to 1890. It was 691 feet long and rose to a height of 103 feet. The pipe bridge was not the best solution for water transport—its pipes froze in winter and split. By 1891 the bridge was declared unsafe, and water was rerouted under the creek through conduits that can still be seen in the stream bed. The J.W. Schultz Company, specializing in dismantling iron structures, bid to dynamite the bridge and sell its pipe for scrap. However, after Schultz had removed the western portion he met with strong resistance from the owners of Livezey House and was required by injunction to stop work. Later, at the insistence of the same family, he completed the project.
“Men and Things,” an unpublished paper available in the Fairmount Park historian’s file on bridges.
Koey Rivinus collection, Chestnut Hill Historical Society. [covered bridges]
Sarah West, “Did You Know?” in Friends of the Wissahickon Newsletter, Fall 2003. [covered bridges]
Sarah West, “Forbidden Drive,” Friends of the Wissahickon Newsletter, Fall 2007.
Conelius Weygandt, “The Pipe Bridge,” in The Wissahickon Hills. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1930, pp 292-293.
Suburban Press, October 22, 1931 [removal of Pipe Bridge available in Jellett Scrapbooks, Vol. 5, pp 137-138 at Germantown Historical Society]
Photos taken from: David Bower Postcard Collection, Germantown Historical Society, Library Company of Philadelphia, Chestnut Hill Historical Society
Roadhouses of the Wissahickon
by Sarah West
West is a long-time FOW member, former FOW Board Member, and a current Trail Ambassador.
The historical photographs included in this article were provided by the Chestnut Hill Historical Society with the assistance of Rosemary Lord.
The Road House Era lasted about 75 years. Before 1826 there was no road into the Wissahickon gorge from Ridge Avenue near the mouth of the creek. Access to lower valley was from Hermit’s Lane, Gypsy Lane, Rittenhouse Street, or Shurs Lane & other roads down to mills. Before 1822 the only foot path into valley from Ridge Ave had to go over rocky ledge. But in the 1820’s and 30’s things began to change. The Fairmount Dam at the art museum was constructed in 1821, covering the falls of the Schuylkill and making the lower Schuylkill navigable.
A steamship line soon operated from Fairmount to Manayunk . This was the beginning of demand for access into gorge and the beginning of many phases in the construction of narrow dirt roads along the Wissahickon. We now call these roads Lincoln Drive and Forbidden Drive.
In the 1830’s several writers publicized the beauty of the Wissahickon Gorge and it became a popular destination. Inns called roadhouses were constructed. Between 1840 and 1916 seven inns flourished, not all at the same time. They specialized in catering to different clientele. Most of the inns served alcoholic beverages. When the Fairmount Park Commission established the Wissahickon Park, alcohol was prohibited within the park boundaries. The roadhouses along the lower Wissahickon soon closed. Two new roadhouses opened on the edges of the park, but when the park boundaries were expanded in 1916, they also closed. Today only Valley Green Inn remains open for business.
Just in case you are tempted to yearn for a more idyllic time, look at this description from an 1884 pollution survey. It reported that the most offensive polluters were not the mill ruins but were the 4 hotels operating along the creek. They “drain all wash & waste water directly into the creek and 2 have privy drainage…Much kitchen waste is scattered by picnic parties” (Moek, Moek & Baldwin, “The Wissahickon, A place to heal both mind & body” Chestnut Hill Local, December 13, 1990, p 75)
The First & Second Indian Rock Hotels
This Indian Rock Hotel was built at the intersection of Rex Avenue and Forbidden Drive by Reuben Sands after the civil war. Because Reuben Sands was a widely popular inn keeper, it drew trade away from Valley Green Inn where the innkeeper was not well liked. It closed in 1887 when the Fairmount Lark Commission took over the land and serving liquor within park boundaries became prohibited.
Patrons of the first Indian Rock Hotel enjoyed climbing to a high ledge above the creek, “Council Rock”, the legendary meeting place for Lenape councils. In 1856 Joseph Middleton of the Wissahickon Turnpike Company put up a gaudy wooden statue to mark the ledge. The current permanent limestone statue was built in 1902 by Mr. & Mrs. Charles Henry. Designed by J.Massey Rhind, it was restored 100 years later by the FOW in 2002
The Second Indian Rock Hotel was opened by Catherine Sands, the widow of Reuben Sands. It was constructed at Monastery Avenue & the Wissahickon turnpike after 1887, right on the edge of the park where the liquor prohibition didn’t apply. It operated until 1916 when it was also taken by the park as the park boundaries were expanded.
The Lotus Inn was constructed in the 1880’s using materials from the demolished Megargee Mills. Parties came from the city to stay or to dine on catfish & waffles. Located at the foot of Shur’s Lane it was on the major bypass route around Philadelphia. The Crawford stage coach line ran past it. It was described as having a honeysuckle covered balcony overlooking the stream. Horsemen stopped there for refreshments. In winter sleigh parties arrived for Catfish & waffles. It operated until 1916 when the Wissahickon Park was expanded. Until then it lay just outside 1869 park boundaries and could continue to serve Liquor.
The Log Cabin Inn
This was the first of the Wissahickon roadhouses. It was built on land belonging to Nicholaus Rittenhouse III around 1840 as a place for his political club, the Whig party to meet during 1840 campaign of William Harrison. Of all the roadhouses, it had the most unsavory reputation. During the 1840 campaign a Manayunk gang attacked the Harrison supporters in a partisan row and drove them away, but the Harrison supporters returned to drive off the Manayunk gang. Rival volunteer firemen’s groups met there. Trained bears kept on the site pulled corks from bottles spraying the contents over anyone close by. In 1841 a second inn, the Hermitage, built on other side of creek with a near by picnic pavilion. A rope ferry near Hermit’s Lane Bridge took patrons across the creek. The site of the Log Cabin Inn is marked by the Leonidas Springs Memorial Fountain, built 1899.
The Maple Springs Hotel
This hotel was located half way between Wissahickon Hall and the Leonidas Springs Fountain. It was built after the Civil War with timbers from an old Germantown Hospital. It catered to the middle class. Its colorful proprietor Rooty Smith was skilled at carving gnarled roots into grotesque animal figures. He also made rustic furniture for the hotel. The second floor stained glass windows looked out onto cascading water. The Inn continued to operate into the 1870’s after liquor was forbidden by FPC park rules, but it went out of business after being raided for serving alcohol.
Valley Green Inn
Old maps show that before 1850 there was no building on this spot. In 1850 Edward Rinker obtained a lease from Thomas Livezey on 3 acres upstream from Livezey Mill. He received permission to build a small temperance hotel & have boats on the stream nearby. The Wissahickon turnpike had not yet reached this locale but would soon. Patrons could reach the Inn from Wise’s Mill Road. After a few years Edward Rinker ran off with another woman, but his ex-wife then married Edward’s bother and continued to operate the inn. Patronage at inn was related to the personalities of the innkeepers. During the 1860’s the inn keeper was not well liked so patrons drove past to Indian rock Hotel upstream.
Fairmount Park acquired land in 1873, but as a temperance inn, Valley Green was not affected by the prohibition against liquor. The Fairmount Park Commission hired the managers, but by 1899 inn was in very bad condition.. The Park engineer recommended tearing it down since necessary funds were not available. A committee under leadership of Charles W. Henry raised the $1221.59 necessary for the repairs. In 1901 a committee of dedicated Chestnut Hill women applied to the FPC to manage the inn and did so until 1930’s when repairs were again needed. A committee again raised the needed $30,000. When repairs were completed in 1937 the inn came under the care of Friends of the Wissahickon which has continued to raise funds for repairs & renovations in 1987 and again in 2000. Valley Green did not serve alcohol until the 1980’s when it was granted a liquor license.
This roadhouse was built by Henry Lippen in 1849-50. This elegant inn catered to wealthy patrons who arrived in sleighing & carriage parties. Close to the inn a cable ferry took patrons to the north side of the creek for a 5 cents fare. Wissahickon Hall went out of business before 1900. It was extensively repaired in WPA era and now serves as the 92nd police district headquarters.
Check out this Google Map to explore unique historical points of interest, and become acquainted with the many trailheads in Wissahickon Valley Park!
HISTORIC POINTS OF INTEREST
Click on the locations below to learn more!
Blue Stone Bridge
While crossing present day Bluestone Bridge and soaking in the tranquil sound of the Wissahickon Creek below, it’s hard to believe what a bustling place this location was many years ago.
The predecessor of the Blue Stone Bridge, the Old Red Bridge, was one of five 19th Century Wissahickon covered bridges and carried a lot of traffic. This was also the location of one of Henry Rittenhouse’s mills and its dam. On the hillside was a roadhouse called The Lotus Inn.
This site, now devoid of buildings, was once one of the busiest intersections along the Wissahickon. Shur’s Lane which came from the Schuylkill River met Rittenhouse Lane that came from Germantown along the lower Monoshone Creek. A red covered bridge carried traffic across the creek along a major route for stagecoach travel. The Crawford Stage Coach line ran along this deeply rutted, rocky road. The coach rides were jolting and dusty. The steep grade along Shur’s Lane was rough on both horses and carriage brakes. The covered bridge was replaced by the Blue Stone Bridge in 1896. After the completion of the Walnut Lane Bridge in 1908 the route was abandoned as a major travel route.
At the west side of the Bluestone bridge a small stone structure still exists. It was part of the system of Fairmount Guard stations (Ten Box being another one). It appears in the early pictures of the Bluestone Bridge and may have been built at the same time.
If you can make your way down to creek level, you can still see the ruins of a wall and remnants of a dam. These were part of the Henry Rittenhouse Mill.
Henry Rittenhouse’s grist mill and cottage lay adjacent to the creek on its east side. The mill built in 1751 stayed in the Rittenhouse family for over 100 years. It was purchased by the Fairmount Park Commission in 1873 with 26 acres of land for $46,000. Other mills lay close by. Mathew Holgate’s fulling mill that removed oil and grease from raw wool was about 750 ft above the Blue Stone Bridge. Holgate’s ford across the steam carried additional traffic between Ridge Avenue and Germantown Avenue.
The Lotus Inn, one of the last of the 7 roadhouses operating in the 19th and early 20th centuries, was close by the Blue Stone Bridge. In the early 20th century the Lotus Inn lay at the foot of Shur’s Lane close to Forbidden Drive. It became a favorite haunt for horsemen who stopped for refreshments on the honeysuckled balcony overlooking the stream. In the winter party sleighs pulled by high stepping horses visited the Inn for their famous catfish and waffles. Remnants of one of the out-buildings can still be seen along the footpath (remains of Shurs Lane) leading west from Forbidden Drive at the west end of the Blue stone Bridge. It was built just outside park boundaries in the late 19th century after the Fairmount Park commission forbade alcohol. After the park boundaries were extended it was demolished in 1916.
Written by Sarah West, FOW Trail Ambassador
- David Contosta and Carol Franklin, Metropolitan Paradise, St Joseph’s University Press 2010 , Volumes 1 and 2.
- Francis Burke Brandt, The Wissahickon Valley, Corn Exchange National Bank, 1927
- Chestnut Hill Local article, Dec 13, 1990 Helen Moak, Jefferson Moak, Sioux Baldwin p 73
- Sidney Earle, Fairmount Park, the Parkway, the Wissahickon up to 1950, in secured history collection at Logan Circle Branch of the Philadelphia Library
Watch this video video researched and created by volunteer Trail Ambassadors, Carol Scully and Linda Gdowik.
The Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art) commissioned the sculpture “Fingerspan” in 1987 by the internationally renowned artist Jody Pinto. The sculpture was fabricated from an old ship’s staircase and functions as a pedestrian bridge. This finger-shaped sculpture was fabricated in sections and installed by helicopter.
This gravel road follows Wissahickon Creek from Northwestern Avenue to Lincoln Drive and is the main thoroughfare through the park. It was constructed between 1823 and 1856 and originally operated as a turnpike. It was named Forbidden Drive when it was closed to motor vehicle traffic in 1924. In 2018, it was named as the Pennsylvania Trail of the Year by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The Great Beech
Henry Avenue Bridge
The cave is where John Kelpius, a German-born mystic and leader of a small religious group, was said to have meditated. The religious group had moved into the Wissahickon wilderness in 1694 to prepare for the end of the world and the Last Judgment.
Historic Rittenhouse Town
William Penn’s vision for the land we call Germantown was to make it a 17th century-style manufacturing hub. To that end, he recruited Francis Daniel Pastorius, the founder of Germantown, and makers from England, Germany, and the Netherlands to participate in his grand experiment. They were farmers of flax seed and wheat, weavers, printers and papermakers who traveled from the Old World to the New, from established cities and villages to what was then still a virgin forest where no town, no arable land, no church, no town center, existed until they made it.
William Rittenhouse was one of the makers who answered Penn’s call in the late 1600’s. Born Wilhelm Rittinghausen (or Rittinghuÿsen) into a German family of papermill owners, he moved to Amsterdam, a beacon of religious tolerance at the time, converted to the Mennonite faith, married, and had a family. In those days, a younger son like William stood no chance of inheriting the family business. In his mid-forties, William took a wild gamble, uprooted his entire family and sailed across the ocean to a place he had never seen. His dream was to build a papermill.
William Bradford, a printer, also answered Penn’s call, settling in Germantown to set up a trade printing Quaker books in 1685. There were no papermills in British North America when he arrived in Germantown, which meant that all printing paper had to be imported from Europe. Although we take it for granted now, there was no freedom of the press in England or its colonies back then. Printers were tightly controlled through England’s Licensing of the Press Act 1662, which punished seditious and treasonable printing and the unlicensed printing of books and pamphlets. In the late 1600’s, there were only 14 printers in the colonies (all but Bradford were in Boston). The only newspaper allowed in the colonies was the London Gazette, printed in England. In the 1600’s, Virginia shut down printing presses and prohibited printing outright. Penn’s Pennsylvania, however, was a relatively free-thinking colony. With a local papermill, Bradford would have a ready source of paper and could risk printing what he wanted to print in Pennsylvania’s more tolerant environment. In a letter written to an unknown recipient sometime in 1690, Bradford wrote, “Samuel Carpenter [a landowner and close associate of Penn’s] and I are Building a Paper-Mill about a Mile from thy Mills at Skulkill, and hope we shall have Paper within less than four months.”
In 1690, Rittenhouse built the first papermill in North America on land near the Monoshone Creek, a little over a mile away from the early Germantown settlement. For the next forty years, the Rittenhouse family were the only papermakers in the colonies. Today, you can still see the homestead William Rittenhouse built and the bakehouse (built circa 1730) overlooking the creek. Across the creek from the homestead stood the first papermill in America. Destroyed by flood in 1700 and rebuilt by 1702, the Rittenhouse papermill provided a continuous source of paper for William Bradford and his son, Andrew, until the mill was repurposed as a textile mill in the 1800’s. The first papermill in America was destroyed for good in the Victorian Era along with all the other mills that were planted on the Wissahickon.
Seventeenth century Germantown was full of weavers who brought linen rags to the Rittenhouse mill to make paper. In his poem, “A Short Description of Pennsilvania…,” printed by William Bradford in 1692 (most likely on Rittenhouse paper), the early Germantown settler and Quaker, Richard Frame, captured the connection between the farmers who grew and harvested flax, the weavers of linen, and the papermill that turned linen rags into paper. Click here to read the poem.
In its heyday in 19th century, Rittenhouse Town was a busy, self-contained, industrial community of about 40 buildings. The town had several mills producing textiles, paper, rugs, and blankets or grinding grain, its own volunteer firehouse, schoolhouse, general store, smithy, Baptist mission, workers’ homes (some in Blue Bell Hill), and the McKinney Quarry (its remains are near the FOW’s new cycling trails in Saylor Grove). As the steam engine replaced water as the source of industrial power, the old water-powered mills along the Wissahickon gradually became obsolete. The City’s new Fairmount Park Commission, established in 1867 and charged with creating what we now know as Fairmount Park, began its 20-year project of taking the mills and land along the Wissahickon by eminent domain. Rittenhouse Town fell on hard times – hardly anyone from the Rittenhouse family lived there anymore. In 1891, the Fairmount Park Commission, which had taken ownership of Rittenhouse Town, demolished the Rittenhouse mills and most of the buildings that had fallen into disrepair. The Rittenhouse family saved the remaining 7 house structures from destruction. These are the buildings you see today.
Rittenhouse Town holds great meaning to Mennonites. William Rittenhouse was the first minister of first Mennonite church in North America. To this day, Mennonites make pilgrimages to Rittenhouse Town and to the Germantown Mennonite Church where William Rittenhouse is buried.
David Rittenhouse, William’s great grandson, was born at the homestead in 1732. A self-taught mathematican, astronomer, surveyor, and engineer, Rittenhouse was a friend to Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin. He was one of the leading American scientists of the eighteenth century, second only to Benjamin Franklin.
In the Battle of Germantown during the Revolutionary War, Washington commanded that every one of his officers and soldiers “have a piece of White paper on their Hatt,” to identify them as part of his army. There being no other source of paper in the immediate area, it would appear very likely that the “White paper” the soldiers used was made by the first papermill in America.
Historic Rittenhouse Town (HRT), a nonprofit organization that began as the Friends of Historic RittenhouseTown in 1983, is committed to the site’s preservation through research, restoration and high-quality educational programming. Historic Rittenhouse Town was instrumental in registering Rittenhouse Town as a National Historic Landmark District in 1992. HRT partners with the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Wissahickon Restoration Volunteers on restoration projects, and with the FOW in maintaining nearby trails, cleanups, and storm water management near Rittenhouse Town. The FOW sponsors a Guided Walk there. Don’t miss the magnolia grove at Rittenhouse Town when they blossom in spring!
Written by Betsy Wallace, FOW Trail Ambassador
Bockius, Susan. “The Economy of Germantown; Early Mills,” West Mt. Airy: Yesterday and Today, November, 2014 (Article 18). Available at: http://www.wman.net/the-economy-of-germantown-early-mills/
Cassel, Daniel. The History of the Mennonites, by Daniel Cassel (1887 or 1888) (original book in the Princeton Theological Seminary Library) (1887 or 1888). Available at: https://archive.org/stream/historyofmennoni00cass/historyofmennoni00cass_djvu.txt
Charles II, 1662: An Act for preventing the frequent Abuses in printing seditious treasonable and unlicensed Bookes and Pamphlets and for regulating of Printing and Printing Presses, Statutes of the Realm: volume 5: 1628-80 (1819), pp. 428-35. Available at: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=47336
Contosta and Franklin, Metropolitan Paradise, Vol. 1 & 2, Saint Joseph’s University Press (2010).
Frame, Richard. “A Short Description of Pennsilvania[or], A relation of what things are known, enjoyed, and like to be discovered in the said Province [presen]ted as a token of good will[to the people] of England” (1692), Reprinted with an introduction by Horatio Gates Jones, Oakwood Press (1867), pp 13-17; 22-25. Available at: https://archive.org/details/ashortdescripti00jonegoog/page/n8/mode/2up
Froom, Burt. “Pastorius and the Founding of Germantown,” West Mt. Airy: Yesterday and Today, October, 2014 (Article 17). Available at http://www.wman.net/pastorius-and-the-founding-of-germantown/
Green, James. The Rittenhouse Mill and the Beginnings of Papermaking in America, The Library Company of Philadelphia and Friends of Historic RittenhouseTown (1990).
Hutchinson, Peter. “Part Four: The Press in Colonial America,” A Publisher’s History of American Magazines – Background and Beginnings (2008), pp. 20-24. Available at http://themagazinist.com/uploads/Part_4_Colonial_Printers_and_Papers.pdf
PENN University Archives and Records Center, “PENN PEOPLE – David Rittenhouse,” Available at: https://archives.upenn.edu/exhibits/penn-people/biography/david-rittenhouse
Reese, William S. “The First Hundred Years of Printing in British North America; Printers and Collectors,” The American Antiquarian Society (1990). Available at: https://www.abaa.org/member-articles/the-first-hundred-years-of-printing-in-british-north-america-printers-and-c
Ruth, John L. “Willem Rittinghuÿsen as Minister; A Steady Presence in an Unsteady Context,” in Rittenhouse Town, A Journal of History, Vol. 3 No. 1, (2006): pp 20-58.
Yamin, Rebecca. “Invisible RittenhouseTown – Stories from Archaeology,” in Rittenhouse Town, A Journal of History, Vol. 3 No. 1, (2006): pp 7-19.
Young, David. “A Little World of Its Own: Notes from the Blue Bell Hill Oral History Project,” in Rittenhouse Town, A Journal of History, Vol. 1 No. 1, (2000): pp 13-19.
Zellers-Frederick, Andrew A. “At the Other End of the Field: The Battle of Germantown in the Wissahickon Valley,” in Rittenhouse Town, A Journal of History, Vol. 2 No. 1, (2002): pp 10-19.
This 48-acre forest and meadow habitat was created as part of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation’s Meadow Creation Initiative (2001-2013). The meadow was seeded with native warm-season grasses and wildflowers, while nesting boxes for bluebirds and kestrels were installed to further enhance the wildlife habitat.
Kitchen's Lane Bridge
Livezey House/Glen Fern
This historic house (ca. 1700), also called Glen Fern, was purchased by Thomas Livezey in 1747. He operated his adjacent gristmill as one of the largest mills along the Wissahickon Creek and within the Colonies. The adjacent dam (ca. 1700) was reconstructed during the Depression by federally funded Works Progress Administration (WPA) stonemasons.
Monastery House & Stables
On a bluff above the Wissahickon Valley, surrounded by but unseen from the houses and busy streets of Mount Airy in northwest Philadelphia, lie the 18th-and 19th-century buildings of a farm and milling complex that has occupied the site since before 1750: the Monastery Complex. The farmstead has architectural, historical and cultural significance. Since 1995, the Boarders and Stewards of the Monastery (BSM) has leased the property from the Fairmount Park Conservancy, and has carefully preserved and maintained this 270-year-old historic property, while continuing the long tradition of horseback riding and carriage driving in the Wissahickon Valley.
The Monastery Complex comprises five historic structures:
- The Monastery Mansion that dates back to 1747,
- The barn dating to the late 18th century,
- A millworker’s house on Kitchen’s Lane, built before 1848 with its own
- Small barn
- Spring house
This farmstead is a rare surviving example of the 18th- and 19th-century way of life in Philadelphia, and is all that remains of Kitchens Mill, a once thriving water-powered manufacturing center, along the banks of the Wissahickon Creek. The 1747 house is a well-proportioned and elegantly crafted example of a Philadelphia Georgian farmhouse. The main barn is a prototypical Pennsylvania bank barn (see details below.) The five buildings are situated in their original setting above the steep slopes of the Wissahickon. Horses and sheep continue to live in the two barns and graze in the pastures, offering visitors a vivid reminder of early agricultural Philadelphia in the heart of our metropolis.
The Monastery derives its name from members of the Germanic group, the Church of the Brethren, many of whom led a monastic life near the property. They first settled in Germantown during the 1719, and built a log building for meetings on the hill overlooking the Wissahickon Creek, near or on the present-day Monastery house site. By 1739 the Brethren began to disagree on theological issues, so that many of them moved to the Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County, or to nearby Germantown. In 1747, Joseph Gorgas, a member of the sect, and a miller, built the house still standing on the site, using local Wissahickon schist. The house was referred to as the “Kloster,” meaning cloister or monastery, although the house was probably not used for that purpose. The Georgian farmhouse is unusually large, with three and a half stories and 17 rooms. When it was built, it was as grand as any mansion in Germantown.
The Wissahickon gorge with its 100 foot high slopes and rapidly moving creek was an ideal source for more than 35 water-powered mills. In the early years there was a saw mill at this site at the end of Kitchen’s Lane, then a grist and corn mill, and by 1818 a paper mill, and later still, a flax and twine mill. After the house, barn and mill changed hands many times it was bought by the Kitchen family in 1852, hence the name Kitchen’s Lane. They operated a woolen mill. William Gordon Kitchen’s family sold the mill property in 1873, and the house property in 1898 to the Fairmount Park Commission.
The house on Kitchens Lane, built before 1848, was owned by Christian Dauphin whose occupation is unknown, but may have been a millworker. It was later occupied by workers from the Gorgas/Kitchen’s Mill. A spring house is a few steps from this house as well as a small stable that now houses sheep. The stable, called “The Three Ponds Barn,” looks to have been renovated in the early 20th century with interesting rounded columns making a porch.
When the Fairmount Park was first formed in the 1850s and 1860s, the City of Philadelphia appropriated farms and mills along the Wissahickon Creek, and sought to return the area to a bucolic and natural setting. They therefore set about tearing down 18th-century farmhouses, barns and mills. Only a handful of buildings along the Wissahickon were preserved: the Monastery mansion, the barn and the mill worker’s cottage among them. The Monastery barn, also constructed of local Wissahickon schist was a “bank barn” with an earthen ramp leading up to the second floor for delivery of straw, hay and equipment to be stored in a dry area for the horses, cows, pigs and other animals.
From 1900 to 1914 the Monastery house and grounds were rented out to the Kitchen’s Lane Golf Club, in an effort to have a tenant so the house did not deteriorate. Later the Fairmount Park Commission started placing park employees in houses, and some Park Guards lived in the house and Park Guard horses were stabled in the barn. Over the years, the Monastery Complex deteriorated through neglect, and in 1968 one of the Fairmount Park Commissioners was in favor of demolishing it. It was saved through the efforts of Charles Woodward and Judge Harold Saylor. Friends of the Wissahickon had a key role in the restoration and upgrading the building.
The Boarders and Stewards of the Monastery (BSM), a nonprofit charitable organization, began leasing and caring for the property in 1995 with the Fairmount Park Conservancy taking over most of the care of the Mansion in 2008. At present, the barn is rented by; Kitchens Lane Stables, and the main house and the millworker’s house are rented as residences and Three Ponds Barn is rented for sheep. These rents and fees for horse boarding, combined with donations, make the complex financially sustainable.
The BSM, with the support and oversight of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, are responsible for preserving the historic structures of the complex. Equine activities are fundamental to the history and identity of both the Monastery Complex and the Wissahickon Valley in Fairmount Park. In fact, Forbidden Drive got its name from the successful 1920 campaign by horse riders and drivers to forbid automobiles from driving through the Wissahickon Valley in favor of recreational uses which we all enjoy today.
When the main barn needed to be repointed, conservators from the Fairmount Park Conservancy analyzed the different mortars used over the years to learn the original composition of the mortar, and instructed the masons on the proper composition. Materials were collected locally to create the mortar. The color chosen to paint the woodwork on the barn was guided by historic preservation considerations, and consulting with other historic sites with similar buildings. Farmers from the 18th and 19th century were, out of necessity, driven to practical and economical solutions. Iron oxide red paint could be made from materials found on the farm, and this color was duplicated.
At www.MonasteryStables.org, there is more information about history and activities at the Monastery Complex, along with an opportunity to donate.
Written by Liz Jarvis and Paula Siry Directors, Boarders and Stewards of Monastery Stables; edited by Diane Garvey, Trail Ambassador. Photos Courtesy of the Germantown Historical Society
The source of much of this material is the paper, “A Brief History of the Monastery of the Wissahickon” (although it is not brief, 54 pages) by Melissa V. Johanningsmeier as an Independent Study for Dr. Roger Moss at the University of PA.
“Metropolitan Paradise: Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Valley, 1620- 2020” book by David Contosta and Carol Franklin.
Red Covered Bridge
Originally built in 1737, this is the only remaining covered bridge in the Wissahickon. The bridge was restored in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and again in 1999 with funds from the Fairmount Park Commission (now Philadelphia Parks & Recreation). Download your own Thomas Mill Bridge paperfoldable here!
Sarcophagus Water Trough
You truly never know what you’re going to find in the Wissahickon! As you walk upstream from the parking lot at Ten Box toward the Blue Stone Bridge, at a little past half the distance look for the small remnant of a Roman Sarcophagus nestled against the rising hillside. It is easy to miss.
In the summer of 2000 Donald White of the University of Pennsylvania came across the remnants of a Roman sarcophagus. While he was walking his dogs, their sniffing exploration along the side of lower forbidden drive called his attention to what looked like an abandoned refrigerator. On closer inspection he found the carved marble structure.
Fairmount Park’s Historic Preservation officer produced the old photo and information. The location is known as McFarland Springs. It supplied water to the sarcophagus which was given to the park as a watering trough for horses. There is no record of the donor or why this valuable antique was placed at this location. The sarcophagus, carved from white marble is 69” long, 26 “ deep and estimated to have been 28” high. Its back and ends were left plain indicating the sarcophagus was designed to be set in a niche or against a wall. The center had a bust of a woman with a hair style popular in Roman art of the late 2nd or third centuries. An oval sea shell hinged at the bottom may accompany a rolled up papyrus scroll.
Of the three statues in Wissahickon Valley Park, Tedyuscung is the one most visited. (The other two are Toleration and Henry Houston.) It is a limestone statue of a crouching Native American with his hand to his brow looking west. It stands high up on what is known as Council Rock, by legend where the Lenape would hold their tribal meetings. It was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Henry, two prominent Philadelphians, in 1902. It is not accurate in depicting a Lenape warrior because the headdress is that of a western Plains Native American. It is not an original statue either. The sculptor J. Massey Rhind, who also did the Henry Houston statue, sculpted a Saukiog brave in a similar pose and dress for the Corning Fountain in Hartford, Connecticut. J. Massey Rhind was not alone in his inaccuracies because at the turn of the century, this was how Native Americans were usually portrayed. Tedyuscung was not the first statue of a Native American to be placed on Council Rock. The other two were made of wood. The first was donated by Joseph Middleton , the president of the Wissahickon Turnpike in 1856. The second was placed by Ruben Sands and was actually an advertisement for his Indian Rock Hotel on Forbidden Drive near the Rex Avenue Bridge. Patrons at the hotel would hike up to the statue for recreation, just as we do today.
The statue stands 15 feet high and is made of hard limestone so one might wonder how it made it onto Council Rock. On inspection you can observe that the statue is made of 4 pieces. They were lowered by winches from the road above and assembled on Council Rock. At the dedication of the statue, which was an event attended by the elite of the city and even by the governor of Pennsylvania, a presenter referred to the statue as “Tedyuscung” and the name has persisted. It has been said that the Henrys and the sculptor, J. Massey Rhind, did not intend to have the statue represent an individual Native American. It was to commemorate the movement of the Lenape out of the area and west, in the direction the statue is looking.
So who were the Lenape and where did they go? And who was Tedyuscung?
The Lenape were the original inhabitants of southeast Pennsylvania, their distant ancestors coming to the area from Asia via the Bering Strait twelve to eighteen thousand years ago. “Lenape” means original people. They are also known as the Delaware. English settlers named the Delaware Bay after the governor of Virginia, the third lord Del la Warr, Thomas West, and the Lenape who lived along the banks of the bay and river came to be known as the Delaware. The Lenape territory extended from New York to Maryland and also included New Jersey. The Lenape probably never actually lived in the Wissahickon, but hunted and fished here and farmed in the surrounding lands. Their economy eventually became dependent upon the Europeans because they could trade the pelts of the animals they hunted for tools, cloth, guns, gunpowder, and liquor, among other things, which they came to value highly. Although William Penn’s agent purchased land from the Lenapes, they did not understand the concept of owning land. According to C.A.Weslager in his book The Delaware Indians “To the Delawares, land was like air, sunlight, or the waters of a river-a medium necessary to sustain life. The idea of an individual exclusively owning the life-giving soil was as alien to their thinking as owning the air one breathed…”
The Lenapes were out of this region by the late eighteenth century. They left not only because the Europeans moved into the locations their homes once occupied, but also because the herds of wild animals they hunted to trade for goods had been depleted. They moved north and west and eventually were pushed all the way to Kansas and then Oklahoma and Ontario where some Lenape live today. But Lenape can also be found closer to Philadelphia, especially in the Easton area, the descendents of intermarriage between Lenape women and European men. Although it is uncertain whether any Lenape artifacts have ever been found in the Wissahickon, we have many reminders of their presence in the names of places that were derived from their language. The name Wissahickon comes from two Lenape names ”wissauchsickan” meaning yellow colored stream and “wisamickan” meaning catfish stream.
So who was Tedyuscung and what happened to him? Tedyuscung probably was never in the Wissahickon although he did travel to Philadelphia many times. He was born in the Trenton, New Jersey area in about 1700. His family lived among white people and adopted some European manners, such as clothing fashion and the use of metal tools. He spoke English although he could not read it. At age 30 years he moved with his family to the Forks of the Delaware (where the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers meet ), now the Northampton area, where he became a spokesman for the Lenape who had less familiarity with white people. He was not a chief by lineage, but was quite eloquent and at one point declared himself the king of 10 nations, which were the six nations of the Iroquois, three Lenape tribes and a related Algonquian tribe. Not everyone recognized him as their leader, especially the Iroquois. As a spokesman, he was at different times involved with negotiations between the French to the west and the native Americans who sided with them, the Iroquois to the north, and the Quakers and Anglicans in Philadelphia.
Tedyuscung desired a place where the Lenape would be allowed to settle and pled his case saying, “ I sit there as a Bird on a Bow; I look about, and do not know where to go; let me therefore come down upon the Ground, and make that my own by a good Deed, and I shall then have a Home for ever…” Tedyuscung and his people never found that home. They moved to what is now the Wilkes- Barre area where he died in a fire in 1763, thought by some to have been set at the request of the Connecticut British who moved into the area shortly after the last of the Lenape left.
Today the Friends of the Wissahickon are the caretakers of the statue that commemorates Tedyuscung and the Lenape. In 2002, to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the placement of the statue, the FOW, together with the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust (now the Fairmount Park Conservancy) and the City of Philadelphia, cleaned and restored it. The FOW is continually active in caring for the statue.
Tedyuscung remains one of the favorite destinations for visitors to the park. For those not up to climbing to the statue on the White Trail, there is a sign on Forbidden Drive beneath the statue, just north of the Rex Avenue Bridge. From there you can see Tedyuscung in the winter and early spring before the leaves on trees obscure it. Our statue pays tribute to the Lenape who were forced out of their homeland.
Written by Debbie Hoellien, FOW Trail Ambassador
Contosta and Franklin, Metropolitan Paradise, Vol.2, Philadelphia:Saint Joseph’s University Press (2010), pages 295 and 297.
“Lenape.” Sigal Museum. 342 Northampton St., Easton, Pa. Feb.2,2020.
DePaul, Adam. “Lenape History/Culture.” FOW Trail Ambassador Meeting. Cathedral Village Classroom, Phila. Oct. 17, 2019. Lecture.
Sher, Dena. “The Indian,” Friends of the Wissahickon Newsletter. Fall 2002.
“The Indians of Pennsylvania: Overview” Explore PAHistory.com. Stories from PA History. Retrieved 4/23/2020.
Wagner, Bruce. “Our Iconic Indian Statue,” Friends of the Wissahickon Newsletter. Summer 2010.
Wallace, Anthony F.C., King of the Delawares:Teedyuscung 1700-1763, New York:Syracuse University Press (1949).
Wallace, Paul A.W., Indians in Pennsylvania, Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (2005).
Weslager, C.A., The Delaware Indians: A History, New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press (1972).
West, Sarah. Rediscovering the Wissahickon, Philadelphia:Westford Press (1993).
Ten Box & Washington's Rock
Built about 1940 as a shelter for Fairmount Park guards, Ten Box had a telephone and a wood or coal stove. During its early years the Wissahickon was watched over by the Fairmount Park Guard by car, foot, and horseback. The Guard maintained a number of call boxes identified by number along the length of Forbidden Drive. The building at the juncture of Forbidden Drive and Lincoln Drive, known as ten-box, is the only remaining call box structure and no longer functions. A bicycle concession was once located at this box. The Fairmount Park Guard was disbanded in the 1972. The FOW Structures Crew has since maintained and improved structure.
There were 3 prongs to the Battle of Germantown October 4, 1777: (1)Along Germantown Avenue – focusing at Cliveden, (2) In Wistar woods where Lasalle College and Germantown Hospital is today, and (3) the lower Wissahickon.
The Wissahickon was one location of several squirmishes on that historically significant day. They occurred at the mouth of the creek and possibly near Hermit’s Lane Bridge. About 300 Hessian Jaegers were encamped along Schoolhouse Lane. General John Armstrong’s patriots were on the opposite side of the creek. There was a vigorous exchange of fire holding the Hessian forces in place and protecting Washington’s retreat. Armstrong’s men were the last of the patriot forces to leave for Schwenksville and later Valley Forge.
During 1777-1778 much spy activity occurred in the Wissahickon. The Mills were a military target because they supplied grain to the patriot forces. Two guerrilla bands carried information about British activity in Philadelphia to Washington at Valley Forge.
The plaque on Washington’s Rock commemorating the October 4, 1777 Battle of Germantown was installed by the Pennsylvania Society Sons of the Revolution.
Written by Sarah West, FOW Trail Ambassador
Douglas MacFarlan, The Battle of Germantown, Germantown Crier Volume 4 No 3 1952
Francis Burke Brandt, The Wissahickon Valley, Corn Exchange National Bank, 1927
Chestnut Hill Local article, Dec 13, 1990 Helen Moak, Jefferson Moak, Sioux Baldwin p 73
Sidney Earle, Fairmount Park, the Parkway, the Wissahickon up to 1950, in secured history collection at Logan Circle Branch of the Philadelphia Library
By Barbara McCabe
Barbara was the FOW Newsletter Editor and spent 20 years running Philadelphia Parks & Recreation’s Stewardship program as their Director of Strategic Engagement.
Like many sites within the Wissahickon, the Toleration Statue has a rich history attached to it. Erected in 1883, the marble statue of a man in Quaker clothing is situated on a ridge on the eastern side of the Park just north of the Walnut Lane ridge.
Standing atop Mom Rinker’s Rock, the nine-foot-eight-inch statue has the word “Toleration” carved into its four-foot-three-inch base. Believed to be a likeness of William Penn, the statue’s title reflects the Quaker beliefs of liberty and conscience, which Penn espoused.
The statue, which was created by late 19th century sculptor Herman Kirn, was brought to the site by landowner John Welsh who is reported to have purchased the statue at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Welsh, a former Fairmount Park Commissioner and U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, donated his land to the Park prior to his death in 1886.
Mom Rinker’s Rock, the schist outcropping on which the statue is perched, can trace its name back to the American Revolution and a patriot known as Molly or “Mom” Rinker. As the story goes, the British troops, who were encamped just a few miles away in Germantown, took little notice of the old woman as she sat on the rock peacefully knitting. They didn’t realize that Rinker inconspicuously was dropping balls of yarn containing messages about British activities onto the ground below. Watching from across the creek, the Green Boys of Roxborough, an irregular band of supporters of American independence, would retrieve the messages and relay them to General Washington in Valley Forge.
As the years passed, Mom Rinker became the stuff of legend with various storytellers casting her as a witch who used the rock as a launching pad for her nightly broomstick rides. “From this rock towering over the dark waters of the Wissahickon, she nightly mounted her broomstick and set off on her weird flights,” according to a narrator named Mr. Meehan who was quoted in The (Philadelphia) Record in 1901. “But, one night, whether owing to excessive indulgences in the witch’s revels or to some other cause, instead of soaring from the rocks, she fell — the sharp crags dashed the life out of her — and the waters of the creek toyed with her lifeless body.”
While the Toleration Statue is considered one of the “greatest monarchs” in the Wissahickon, the statue, which is visible from across the creek on Forbidden Drive, attracts fewer visitors than the more accessible Tedyuscung statue. However, with a little perseverance, the statue can be reached from both the Orange Trail, which runs directly beneath the statue, and from Park Line Drive in Mount Airy above.
A small, unmarked trail off the Orange Trail – about a quarter mile south of Kitchen’s Lane – leads up to the Toleration Statue on the ridge above. The statue can also be accessed from an unmarked trail off Park Line Drive in Mount Airy. Walking into the Park from Park Line Drive, a path leading downhill to the left leads to the site of the Toleration Statue on the right.
(The historic information for this article was derived from the Chestnut Hill Conservancy & Historical Society’s Wissahickon Collection.)
Valley Green Inn
Centrally located within the park, this inn is the last remaining roadhouse of the many that once lined Forbidden Drive. Built in 1850, it was sold to the Fairmount Park Commission in 1872. Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) has been the steward of the inn since 1937 and rents it for use as a restaurant.
Walnut Lane Bridge
Be sure to check out our Creekside Classroom for videos, presentations, and other fun stuff!
You probably don’t need us to tell you how special Wissahickon Valley Park is. It’s 1800 acres provides habitat to wildlife, refuge & recreation to over a million visitors per year, and protects the drinking water for one third of Philadelphians. The park can’t take care of itself, however. It needs responsible park users and stewards to keep this special place clean and sustainable for generations to come.