1.14.2012

A Historic Neighborhood


One of my clients at work operates the Civil War 150 Road Show, which is a very cool portable exhibit showcasing the Civil War from Pennsylvania’s perspective. The traveling exhibit makes over 20 stops a year and will run from 2011 to 2015. When it stopped in Philadelphia last year, at Franklin Square over the Fourth of July weekend, I took my kids and we reveled in the artifacts and displays.

It turns out that my neighborhood has a very strong Civil War connection. Satterlee Hospital, located around present-day Clark Park, was the Union’s second largest hospital, and opened on June 9, 1862, almost 150 years ago; it treated over 60,000 soldiers and had a remarkably low fatality rate, given the unsanitary conditions of the time. Also, a number of Civil War soldiers are buried at Woodland Cemetery

To say my neighborhood is historic is an understatement. I was fascinated by this write-up by the University City Historical Society about the neighborhood’s history and evolution. Did you know, for example, that Clark Park was once used as a reservoir? That explains the “bowl” that you find there today, a one block by one block depression in the middle of the park. (The next time you take an epic sled run down one of the slopes, put out of your head that that bowl area was also once used as a dump.) I was particularly tickled by references to iconic architectural styles represented by certain buildings that exist to this day (like the 4200 block of Spruce Street and the 200 block of South 42nd Street), and by the connection between transportation infrastructure and real estate development (ferries made possible the construction of large mansions for rich Philadelphians seeking to escape Center City’s oppressiveness, and then trolley lines led to the construction of homes for the working class).

I knew, when I first came out to Philadelphia for undergraduate studies in 1991, that I was coming to a city steeped in history. Who knew back then, though, that the neighborhood where I would settle and raise a family would be so rich in such things?

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