Touring Philadelphia's Western Regions
Philadelpia County had two hundred farms in 1950, but is now thickly settled in all directions. Western regions along the Schuylkill are still spread out somewhat; with many historic estates.
The Main Line
Like all cities, Philadelphia is filling in and choking up with subdivisions and development, in all directions from the center. The last place to fill up is the Welsh Barony, a tip of which can be said to extend all the way in town to the Art Museum.
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Philadelphia County had two hundred farms in 1950 but is now thickly settled in all directions. Western regions along the Schuylkill are still spread out somewhat; with many historic estates.
The Art Museum sits on an acropolis called Faire Mount, where William Penn planned to put his home. Fairmount Park, and hence the countryside, begins here and extends on both sides of the Schuylkill. It was once the industrialized terminus of barge traffic, but was restored to parkland as a water purification project in the Nineteenth Century after agitation by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The area was briefly a vast Civil War encampment, then the site of the 1876 Centennial, remnants of which remain. Its inner loop including the historic houses in the park is interesting enough to make a tour of its own; on this trip we just skirt the area.
To begin the outer more general tour, go west over any one of the several Schuylkill bridges, turn right on 33rd Street in the general Drexel University/University of Pennsylvania area, observing many ancient mansions of a once-elegant place to live. Go past the Zoo, then up Belmont Avenue through the Centennial Grounds to City Line Avenue. Our first destination is Harriton, the original house in the Welsh Barony, called Bryn Mawr when it was built. Be sure to use a good map to find this large but hidden estate. It was the home of the first Secretary of the Continental Congress and its architecture set the style for the whole Main Line.
From here we carefully follow a map to the Barnes Museum in Merion. After acrimonious debates and clearly against Dr. Barnes' wishes, the vast collection of French Impressionist art is being moved to a new home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Before it goes, you still have a chance to see the original concept in its intended setting.
From here we take a circuitous route to Germantown to see America's first suburb, with the Chew Mansion that cost Washington the battle of Germantown, Grumblethorpe, Stenton, and Schoolhouse Lane. A side trip to Temple University to see some portraiture if there is time, then down the Wissahickon Creek past Rittenhouse Town, eventually down Kelly Drive past the Schuylkill Navy, and over to the Art Museum (or alternatively the Water Works) for a nice lunch.
Originally published: Monday, April 09, 2007; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019