Hunting Park, which is worth a visit, is a wide open area of green comprising about 87 acres in North Philadelphia, and while it has certainly changed through the years, it has always been filled with plants. Originally part of the James Logan estate (that included nearby Stenton), this particular parcel was sold in the early part of the 19th century and soon thereafter there was a racetrack here that was active and running up until the mid-1850s, when the land came to the city to be used as a park, and by 1937 Hunting Park had a “music pavilion, tennis courts, a lake, and a carrousel“.
In 1872, the park came under the Fairmount Park Commission, and it stayed there until 2009, when the combination of the Fairmount Park System with the Department of Recreation made what is now Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, a department in the city that manages thousands of acres of natural lands, playgrounds, and much, much more, including Hunting Park.
The lake there (mentioned above) was a wading lake, a lot of it less than knee deep, depending on the depth of your knees, and pretty much all of it below the waist, given that it was a “wading” lake, and it was huge – as can be seen in the aerial photo here, the lake stretched about a block and half’s length north to south, and about the same, roughly, from east to west, forming somewhat of a boomerang shape, pointing towards the west, with a smaller pool, perhaps for smaller children, at the northern tip of it. You can further get a sense of its size by the aerial photo here, from 1939. Also note from the 1843 map here that the site where Hunting Park is now didn’t have much in the way of streams or creeks running through it, which says that the lake most likely wasn’t a dammed waterway, but was more likely simply a large expanse dug down until groundwater was hit and that then filled the pond. The pavilion at the crook of the boomerang’s elbow, on its east side, is still there, but the lake is not.
There is a magnificent tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) just to the west of where the lake once was, and across the way from where that pavilion still stands:
Given its size, this tree was mostly likely there when the lake was – shading bathers from the summer sun, and providing brilliant red foliage in the autumn to give a vivid signal of the end of the swimming season.
Now there are playing fields there, where the lake once was, and a swimming pool, too, at the lake’s historic center, and on a warm summer day those fields will be filled with people, playing soccer, playing baseball, and watching others do the same, and just enjoying being out of doors. At the southern part of this area, next to the baseball field, is an old cedrela, or toon tree. It’s roughly the same size as ones growing along West Vernon Rd in Germantown, along the former border of where Meehan’s Nursery used to be, and the one in Hunting Park may well have come from Meehan’s, as they were a major tree supplier in Philadelphia, and also they sold Cedrela trees from 1896 onwards and through to the 1910s, as a look at their catalogs (many of which are in the PHS McLean library) shows; and they were pretty excited about this tree in 1905, writing that it is “Such a good plant that we intend to make a great feature of it as soon as we can grow a stock large enough to meet the demand its merit will create.”
In the 19th century, William Saunders, partner of Thomas Meehan (proprietor of the eponymous nursery, mentioned above), laid out a design for Hunting Park, and there are trees there still that look, from their size, to be from that time, and therefore perhaps from his design. There’s a huge sugar maple, for example, just to the east of the community garden, in the western part of the park, and oaks, including scarlet, red, and white, in the southern section of the park, all of which look to date from the late 19th century based on their heights and widths.
And there is even a tree that pretty clearly pre-dates the park itself – a willow oak that’s pretty hard to miss, given the sign pointing right at it:
This sign, similar to the one pointing towards the Buist Sophora in Southwest Philadelphia, points to this Quercus phellos:
It’s enormous, as you can tell from the apparently tiny people who are at the base that are, I can tell you, all over 5 feet tall, and some a fair bit more than that. Based on its size, we can pretty confidently say that it dates to the mid, if not early, 19th century, if not before, and it has accompanied the historic building (at the very southwest corner of the park) through the centuries, and through to today.
Across Roosevelt Blvd from the park is the Logan Triangle, a site where houses once were. This development was built in the 1920s, on top of what was once the Wingohocking Creek (or see here) but has now all been filled in and covered over. However, it wasn’t filled in sturdily enough, not strongly enough to hold the houses built above it, and in the 1980s houses tragically exploded, and the city, along with the Logan Assistance Corporation and the federal government, worked towards relocating the nearly thousand households impacted by this and removing most of the buildings that were there, and about 16 blocks there are now open green space – some butterflies fly there (e.g, sulphurs, that we saw on the 25th of August 2013), and there are open fields that look like rural fields, and also a bit of short dumping where people have left their trash for others to clean up after them, and the area today forms a curious counter image of green space to the park, Hunting Park, on the south side of the Boulevard. (These kinds of problems have also occurred elsewhere in Philadelphia: in Wissinoming, Mill Creek (in West Philadelphia), and Roxborough and Wynnefield)
From J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott’s History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884:
“The Wingohocking (Winge-hacking) is thought to mean “a good place for planting.” This stream is also called “Logan’s Run,” because it flows by Stenton, the country seat of of James Logan, Penn’s secretary; it rises near Mount Airy, and the Tacony in Montgomery County.”
As a side note – upstream from here, as the Wingohocking flows (underground, today), is where Charles Willson Peale‘s house once was (it is now part of LaSalle‘s campus), and there was beryl, a gemstone, there, too: “This mineral is found on Mr. C. Peale’s farm near Germantown” (Isaac Lea, “An Account of the Minerals at present known to exist in the vicinity of Philadelphia”, Vol. 1, Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, December of 1818) [and for more about some plants that grew along the headwaters of the Wingohocking in the 1920s, see within here: https://growinghistory.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/paulownia-tomentosa-the-empress-tree/]
If you walk over to Logan Triangle from Hunting Park, and you decide to go via Old York Road, perhaps to walk over the ground where the Excelsior Brick Works was (as can be seen in the 1895 map here), take a look just a little bit to the east, just south of the Boulevard, and you’ll see the apple tree that Joe Rucker discovered there recently, and if you’re there in late summer or early fall, you can eat the apples off of it, too (just be careful of the poison ivy growing on and near it)
To read about some other parks in Philadelphia, see here:
And for further reading about Hunting Park…