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
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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.