Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park

A successful city is comprised of cultural institutions, events, restaurants, history, and livable spaces. Most importantly, it's made up of people, people who take pride in the city and work to maintain a small corner of that city. Many individual people preserving the beauty of small corners make a unified grand city. This article is about the history of that group that protects and enhances our neighborhood outdoor living room, Matthias Baldwin Park.

We have an early article on the website about the history of the Park (here). There is also an overview of the Park's genesis as part of the Franklin Town Development Project here and here. This article gives the history of the Friends group itself.

The photos below show the Park in 1991. We had a Park then, but there was no Friends group because there were so few people surrounding the Park. The Hamilton Townhomes were built in 1974 and were mostly owner-occupied, but the high-rises including Buttonwood Square (now City View), Museum Tower, the Watermark (then the Fountains at Logan Square East), and One Franklin Town were rental apartments. As a rough generalization, the long term emotional and financial investment in a neighborhood resource is stronger among owners.

In June of 1991, after the Park was finished but before the official dedication, an event planner who lived in Museum Towers was hired to have a coming-out party for the Park. A fundraiser event with local restaurants selling their wares was to have 25% of proceeds donated to "The Friends of Franklin Town Park," although that event is the last that anyone ever heard of that Friends group for 16 years.

Invitation for the food festival in June of 1991.
In the lower right is a mention of the Friends of Franklin Town Park, but as best I can tell, this was an event organized from the top down rather than a grass roots event. The event organizer was a professional event planner rather than part of a grass roots Friends group. Reportedly 2,000 people attended the event and $1500 was raised.
The Franklin Town Park was formally dedicated June, 1992.

On a cold November evening in 2007, neighbors of the Park got together to resurrect the Friends of Franklin Town Park, a group to work with Parks and Recreation to salvage the run-down Park. By 2007, lights were broken. The retaining walls and park benches were falling apart. Many trees and plants had died.


Committees were appointed. The Planning Committee (Sandy, Mel) was to investigate obtaining an historical marker for the Baldwin Locomotive Works, explore options for the barren strip of land behind the fence on the south side of the Park, and also work to obtain better lighting in the Park. A Community Committee was to make plans for integrating the anticipated residential growth around the Park and work with the City to solve the homeless situation. A Clean-up Committee (Frank, Mary, Mel, and Seamus)  was formed to organize volunteer litter pick-up events.

Sandy obtained an Employer Identification Number (EIN) and Paul did the paperwork necessary for the Friends to get non-profit status in 2012. Plans were drawn up to increase membership.

The Friends first president, Seamus Kearney, supervises a clean-up and replanting effort in 2008.
That year saw a significant repair and replanting of the Park.

One of the early successes for the group was in securing the State historical marker that is now in the northwest corner of the Park on 19th Street. Sandy Owens did the research and paperwork to get the authorization for the marker. At that time the Friends of the Park had copious enthusiasm but little money. The Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and its vice-president and Park neighbor Dennis Boylan, came through with the money to purchase the marker.

Invitation for the State  historical marker dedication in 2009.
The text on the marker is the bottom paragraph.

The early Friends also tried to get the community more involved with the Park. Yearly picnics were held every year from 2008 to the present, the last few in conjunction with Parks on Tap.

The Friends of Franklin Town Park also worked to get the name of the Park changed. The major impetus was to acknowledge the business that really defined this neighborhood's post-Bush Hill years. Another major reason: 40 years on, a simmering resentment against the Franklin Town Development, which leveled the area and then put building on hold. The "city-within-a-city" announced in 1971, to be completed in ten years, had stalled after the demolitions, leaving plenty of surface parking available. The Friends were successful in this renaming effort, and in January 2011 the name of the Park was officially changed to Matthias Baldwin Park (or for those of us on a last-name basis, just Baldwin Park).

Notice the name change at the top of this flyer. 2012 would be the second year for the picnic under the new name.
Original member Paul Shay in front of the Shawmont Rail Station in Roxborough, a Philadelphia neighborhood along the Schuylkill River.
Built in 1834, and scheduled for a makeover, it is the oldest existing rail station in the country. It was on the Reading line to Norristown, although the Pennsylvania Railroad built a parallel line within feet of the Reading line, and that Pennsylvania line became the Schuylkill biking trail.
Original member Frank Feingold poses mid-bike ride in front of the State historical marker at the top of the old Belmont inclined plane railroad, of which there is evidence on the ground there. The inclined plane was built in 1832 on the west side of the Columbia Bridge, also built that year. The incline was bypassed in 1850.
The Simpson House retirement center is in the background.

Matthias Baldwin Park 

423 N 19th St 

Philadelphia, PA 19130

Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to preserve the Matthias Baldwin Park

© 2018 Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park