Located on Northwestern Avenue between Germantown Avenue and Forbidden Drive near Chestnut Hill College. Northwestern Stables was originally built in the early 1900s by a group of very wealthy and influential Philadelphians: Edward T. Stotesbury (President of the Fairmount Park Commission, an investment banker and at the time, one of the richest men in America), Eli Kirk Price II (Vice President of the Fairmount Park Commission whose grandfather helped establish the park in the late 1860s), John Pierpont Morgan (banking titan that helped finance and reorganize troubled railroads and owned stock in ⅙ of America’s rail lines), and John Sargent Price (original stable landowner, brother of Eli, avid equestrian, carriage driver and animal lover). These men stabled horses owned by more prominent residents such as the Houston and Strawbridge families.
The advent of the automobile soon surfaced, decreasing the need for equine
related transportation and created the need to start paving the trails on Germantown and Bethlehem Turnpikes. In 1921, Stotesbury proposed that all park roads become paved including the Wissahickon Turnpike, which was a scenic 5.3 miles along the Wissahickon Creek. This created much protest by the locals who launched a “Save the Wissahickon” campaign. Over 1,000 people rode on horseback along the Wissahickon and were supported by 12,000 spectators. Their outstanding citizen advocacy efforts defeated the proposal and the Wissahickon Turnpike became Forbidden Drive.
The stables eventually became a facility to be run by a community organization and not an individual and in 1929, began providing private boarding services and offered riding lessons. It has also served as housing for the Philadelphia Police horses and training center.
In the 1990s, Northwestern Stables allowed Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) volunteers to keep their tools there. ”Words cannot describe what a special experience it was to enter the stable in the early morning, when the stalls hadn’t yet been cleaned, and the whole place wreaked of horse by-products – especially on a hot day!…Moving to the Pole Barn (the new FOW workshop), a few years ago, was a HUGE day in FOW History!” exclaimed long-time steward, David Bower.
For nearly 100 years, the Wissahickon Valley has celebrated the Wissahickon Day Parade, in late April, as a result of the earlier protests. Horseback riders and carriages assemble at the stable and then march down Forbidden Drive in celebration of equestrian activities, the Wissahickon Creek and the preservation of this historical trail.
Written by Kimberly Quinn, FOW Trail Ambassador
- Chestnut Hill Historical Society
- Interview with David Bower, FOW Trail Ambassador
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania – hsp.org
- Francis Burke Brandt “The Wissahickon Valley within the City of Philadelphia“, pp 36-37. Published by the Corn Exchange Bank 1927
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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.