History: Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
Quaker Philadelphia 1683-1776
New volume 2012-11-21 17:33:18 description
Surviving Strands of Quakerism
Of the original thirteen, there were three Quaker colonies, all founded by William Penn: New Jersey first, Pennsylvania biggest, and Delaware so small Quakerism was overcome by indigenous Dutch and Swedes.
The Society of Friends
New volume 2019-05-23 17:20:54 description
The former estate of John and Lydia Morris is run as a public arboretum, one of the finest in North America.
Morris is the commonest Philadelphia name in the Social Register, derived largely from two unrelated Colonial families. In addition to their city mansions, both families had country estates. The country estate once belonging to the Revolutionary banker Robert Morris was Lemon Hill, just next to the Art Museum, where Fairmount Park begins. But way up at the far end of the Park, beyond Chestnut Hill, was Compton, the summer house of John and his sister Lydia Morris. This Morris family had made a fortune in iron and steel manufacture and were firmly Quaker. Both John Morris and his sister were interested in botany and had evidently decided to leave Compton to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a public arboretum. John died first, leaving final decisions to Lydia. As the story is now related, Lydia had a heated discussion with Fiske Kimball, at the end of which the Art Museum deal was off. She turned to her neighbor Thomas Sovereign Gates for advice, and the arboretum is now spoken of as the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. It is also the official arboretum of the State of Pennsylvania. To be precise, the Morris Arboretum is a free-standing trust administered by the University, with the effect that five trustees provide legal assurance that the property will be managed in a way the Morrises would have wished. In Quaker parlance, Lydia possessed "steely meekness."
A public arboretum is sort of an outdoor museum of trees, bushes, and flowers, with an indirect consequence that many museum visitors take home ideas for their own gardens. Local commercial nurseries tend to learn here what is popular and what grows well in the region, so there emerges an informal collective vision of what is fashionable, scalable, and growable, with the many gardeners in the region interacting in a huge botanical conversation. The Morris Arboretum and two or three others like it go a step further. There are two regions of the world, Anatolia and China-Korea-Japan, with much the same latitude and climate as the East Coast of America. Expeditions have gone back and forth between these regions for a century, transporting novel and particularly hardy or disease-resistant specimens. An especially useful feature is that Japan and parts of Korea were never covered with glaciers, hence have many species found nowhere else in the temperate zone. Hybrids are developed among similar species found on different continents, and variants are found which particularly attract or repel the insects characteristic of each region. The Morris Arboretum is thus at the center of a worldwide mixture of horticulture and stylish outdoor fashion, affecting millions of home gardeners who may never have heard of the place.
As explained by the curator of The Morris Arboretum, there are a few other ferneries in the world, but the Morris has the only Victorian fernery still in existence in North America. That doesn't count a few shops that sell ferns and call themselves ferneries; we're talking about the rich man's expensive hobby of collecting rare examples of the fern family in an elaborate structure. That's called a Victorian fernery. The one we have in our neighborhood is really pretty interesting; worth a trip to Chestnut Hill to see it.
Although our fernery was first built by the siblings John and Lydia Morris, it was rebuilt at truly substantial cost by the philanthropist Dorrance Hamilton. It is partly above ground as a sort of greenhouse, and partly below ground, with goldfish and bridges over its pond. Maintaining an even temperature is accomplished by a complicated arrangement of heating pipes. The temperature the gardener chooses affects both the heating bill and the species of fern that will thrive there. You could go for 90 degrees, but practical considerations led to the choice of 58 degrees. The prevailing humidity will affect whether the fern reproduction is sexual or asexual, a source of great excitement in 1840, but survivors of Haight-Asbury are often more complacent on the humidity point.
There are little ferns, big ferns, tree ferns, green ferns, and not-so-green ferns; the known extent of ferns runs to around five hundred species. Not all of them can be found in Chestnut Hill, what with humidity and all, but there are enough to make a very attractive and interesting display. For botanists, this is a must-see exhibit. For the rest of us, it's probably the only one of its kind we will ever see, a jewel in Philadelphia's crown, and shame on you if you pass it by.
There are over thirty arboreta in the Philadelphia region, and one of the oldest and largest is located in Delaware County. The 650 acres of the Tyler Arboretum, adjoining 2500 acres of a state park, create a rather amazing wooded area quite close to heavily settled urban Philadelphia. The Arboretum is located on land directly deeded by William Penn, but it was privately held until 1940 and so is not as well known as several other arboreta of the region. The early Quakers, it may be recalled, often disapproved of music and "artwork", so their diversions tended to concentrate on various forms of natural science. The first director of the Tyler, Dr. John Wister, planted over 1500 azalea bushes as soon as he took office in the 1940s. They are now seventy or eighty years old, quite old and big enough to make an impressive display. Even flowering bushes seemed a little fancy to the original Quakers.
The interests of the earlier owners of the property were more focused on trees, especially conifers. The property contains several varieties of redwoods, including one impressive California redwood, said to be the largest east of the Mississippi. High above the ground, it splits into two main branches, the result of depredation by someone cutting the top off for a Christmas tree. So a large area near Painter Road is enclosed by a high iron fence, containing most of the conifer collection, and warding off the local white-tailed deer. Several colors of paint are to be seen high on many prominent trees, marking out several walking trails of varying levels of difficulty.
And then there are large plantings of milkweed, providing food for migrating butterflies; near a butterfly educational center. There are large wildflower patches and considerable recent flower plantings around the houses at the entrance. Because of the, well, Christmas tree problem, several houses on the property are still occupied.
The only serpentine barren in Delaware County is located on the property; we have described what that is all about in another essay. As you would imagine, there are great plant and flower auctions in the spring, conventions of butterfly and bird-watching groups at other times. The educational center is attracting large numbers of students of horticulture these days, and photographers. Flower gardens and photographers go together like Ike and Mike.
It's a great place for visitors, for members who are more involved, and for those with serious interests. With all that land to cover, some ardent walkers have enough ground to keep them regularly busy. Becoming a volunteer is a sign of serious interest, and that group is steadily growing. For a place that traces back to William Penn, it's slowly getting to be well known.
|American Chestnut tree|
RECENTLY, John Wenderoth of the Tyler Arboretum visited the Right Angle Club of Philadelphia, bringing an astounding account of the triumph, near-extinction, and revival of the American Chestnut tree. The Tyler Arboretum, and this man, in particular, is at the center of the movement to rescue the tree, although the modern Johnny Appleseeds of the movement seem to be a Central Pennsylvanian named Bob Leffel, and a geneticist named Charles Burnham. Together, they had the vision and drive to enlist a thousand volunteers to plant seedlings in Pennsylvania; and there are many other volunteer groups in other states within Appalachia. About 45,000 Chestnut hybrids have been planted, surrounded by wire fencing to protect the new trees until they grow too tall for deer to reach the leaves. Here's the story.
In 1904 it was estimated that a fourth of all trees in the Eastern United States were American Chestnuts. The tree typically grew to eighty feet before permanent branches took over, so the shading and tall pillars of tree trunks gave the forest a particular cathedral-like distinctiveness, much celebrated by such authors as James Fennimore Cooper. The wood of the American Chestnut tree is rot-resistant, so it was favored by carpenters, log-cabin builders, and furniture makers. It once was a major source of tannin, for leather tanning. The nuts were edible, but it has been a long time since they were available for much eating. The chestnuts you see roasted by sidewalk vendors are primarily Chinese Chestnuts, which actually come to us from South Korea. The Buckeye, or horse chestnut, produces a pretty and abundant nut but is too bitter for most tastes. For whatever reason, a fungus was first discovered to infect the chestnuts of the Bronx Zoo in 1905, attracting the attention of Teddy Roosevelt and his Progressive naturalist friends, but to little avail. The fungus (Cryptomeria parasitic) enters the tree through cracks in the bark, flourishes in the part of the tree which is above ground, leaving the roots undisturbed. Ordinarily, when this sort of thing happens, the roots send up shoots which keep the tree alive and flourishing. Unfortunately, the abundant deer of this area quickly nipped off the shoots as they appeared, and finally, the trees died. It took only a decade or so for this combination of natural enemies to wipe out the species, and today it is unusual to see lumber from this source. The forests of Chestnuts have been replaced by other trees, mostly oaks. The Chinese chestnut, however, proved to be resistant to the fungus, even though it does not grow to the same height.
After many futile but well-meaning efforts to save the trees by foresters, friends of the American Chestnut tree turned to geneticists. The goal was to transfer the fungus resistance gene from the Chinese Chestnut to a few surviving American Chestnuts. It took six or seven generations of cross-breeding to do it (four generations of seedlings, then crossing the crosses, then weeding out the undesirable offspring), but eventually, the Tyler Arboretum was supplying truckloads of seedlings to the volunteers to plant in likely places. It's going to take many years for the seedlings to grow in sufficient numbers to make an impact on our forests, and eventually on our carpenters, but that effort is underway with gusto. If anyone wants to volunteer to join this effort, there appears to be room for plenty more people to help.
Richard Romm, a rising historical scholar with a special interest in early Philadelphia, recently educated the Right Angle Club in the history of the Schuylkill Fishing Club in the State in Schuylkill, and was immediately accepted into membership. Of the Right Angle, that is, which is an old club by some standards, but scarcely a hundred years old in the eyes of the really old, old clubs.
The State in Schuylkill is an eating club, originally a fishing and eating club, apparently organized around the annual shad run up the river. The clubhouse, or Castle, was moved several times, in response to damming of the river, and is now located on the grounds of, or adjoining the edge of, Nicholas Biddle's estate on the Delaware River called Andalusia. One by one, the Atlantic Ocean rivers of America have been dammed and their annual shad migrations brought to an end, except through the city of Richmond, Va, so there was little point in moving The Castle to follow the fish. It remains, overlooking Delaware in spite of its name.
There seems to have been several name changes, the most important of which was to change the Colony of Schuylkill to the State of Schuylkill for obvious reasons. Originally, the Castle was roughly opposite the falls of Fairmount on the West Bank of the Schuylkill at about Girard Avenue; thus, from 1732 to 1822 located on Baron Warner's property called Eaglesfield. In 1822 it moved to Rambo's Rock (the Rambo family is said to be the oldest European settler family in Pennsylvania) opposite Bartram's Gardens, then finally in 1887 to Andalusia, Nicholas Biddle's country estate. The club was founded in 1732, and dates of movings are possibly hazy, possibly somewhat because of the reluctance of club officers to return the calls of inquiring historians. The State in Schuylkill claims to be the oldest organized men's club in the world, an honor contested by White's in London. The roots of this argument are found tangled in the vital issue of whether their age should be based on the formal organization of the clubs, or on the establishment of the coffee houses which housed the original clubs. Four books are said to have been written about club history, but we depend here on Mr. Romm.
There is also an unclear relationship with Chief Tammenend, possibly traceable to the shad run, but in any event to the Indian chief depicted with William Penn in the paintings by Benjamin West and Edward Hicks. May 1 is St. Tammany's day, growing into the fancy that he was the "Patron Saint of America", before a branch of the nation-wide Tammany association opened in New York and sort of tarnished up the name. Other traditions of the Fishing club have to do with wearing Mandarin hats, possibly having to do with the export of ginseng which was once abundant in our colonial suburbs, with a return cargo of Chinese dishware. All of the cooking is done by official citizens of the club. The quantities of food are remarkable; one 19th Century menu listed eleven pounds of meat per member. The club drink is a punch, the famous Fishhouse Punch, widely recognized to be rather strong. Its inventor is reputed to be Edward Shippen Willing, on the occasion of the first visit to the clubhouse by women guests. The quantity of alcoholic beverage at these events is especially remarkable in view of the Quaker origins of many original members of the club, but not necessarily of the guests. Among the various guests were Generals Grant, Meade, and McClellan. Dinner begins with two traditional toasts: to George Washington, and to Captain Sam Morris. Washington was appropriate enough, having a history of drinking a bottle of Madeira every day at lunch. But Sam? Captain Sam the Quaker?
|Free Quaker Meetinghouse, Fifth and Arch Streets|
Somewhere in this tradition are allusions to the Free Quakers, Quakers who abandoned the peace testimony to fight the British. There is also the tradition of hostility to British rule which antedates the Revolution and may have some connection to the fanciful contention that their little state was not really part of Penn's colony. Captain (of the City Troop) Sam was a stalwart, possibly the sole founder, of the Gloucester (N.J.) Fox-hunting club. The history is passed down that 22 of the original 26 members of the First City Troop were members of the fox-hunting club, and many if not most were Quakers. The first "Governor" of the State in Schuylkill was Thomas Stretch, but the second Governor, from 1766 until his death, was Captain Sam. He was repeatedly referred to as the life of the club and held in the highest esteem by all. He was "read out" of the main Quaker Meeting, not so much for his drinking as for his flouting of Quaker belief in pacifism. He reputedly led a saber charge at the Battle of Trenton and was a leader of the City Troop in that revolution within a revolution at James Wilson's house, which rescued at least four future signers of the Constitution from a mob of militia which momentarily turned Jacobin.
Naturally, descendants of Quakers on both side of this uproar have been reluctant to say much about it. But somewhere within the history of Samuel Morris must be some important clues about the 18th Century splits within the Quaker Church, to say nothing of the revolt of the three Quaker colonies against British rule.
Teddy Roosevelt's friend Gifford Pinchot is credited with starting the nature preservation movement. He became a member of the Governor's cabinet in Pennsylvania, so Pennsylvania has long been a leader in the formation of volunteer organizations to help the cause. Sometimes the best approach is to protect the environment, letting natural forces encourage the growth of butterflies and bears in a situation favorable to them. Sometimes the approach preferred has been to pass laws protecting threatened species, like the eagle or the snail darter. Sometimes education is the tool; the more people hear of these things, the more they will be enticed to assist local efforts. The direction that Derek Stedman of Chadds Ford has taken is to help organize the Habitat Resource Network of Southeast Pennsylvania.
The thought process here is indirect and gentle, but sophisticated; one might call it typically Quaker. Volunteers are urged to create a little natural habitat in their own backyards, planting and protecting plant life of the sort found in America before the European migration. If you wait, some insects which particularly favor the antique plants in your garden will make a re-appearance, and in time higher orders like birds that particularly favor those insects, will appear. The process of watching this evolution in your own backyard can be very gratifying. To stimulate such habitats, a process of conferring Natural Habitat certification has been created. In our region, there are over three thousand certified habitats.
Of course, you have to know what you are doing. Provoking people to learn more about natural processes is the whole idea. For example, milkweed. That lowly weed is the source of the only food Monarch butterflies will eat, so if you want butterflies, you want milkweed. For some reason, perhaps this one, the Monarch is repugnant to birds, so Monarchs tend to flourish once you get them started. After which, of course, they have their strange annual migration to a particular mountain in Mexico. Perhaps milkweed has something to do with that.
If you plant trees and shrubs along the bank of a stream, the shade will cool the water. That attracts certain insects, which attract certain fish. If you want to fish, plant trees. And then we veer off into defending against enemies. The banks of the Schuylkill from Grey's Ferry to the Airport are lined with oriental Empress trees, with quite pretty purple blossoms in the Spring. These trees seem to date from the early 19th Century trade in porcelain (dishes of "China" ) on sailing vessels. The dishes were packed in the discarded husks of the fruit of the Empress tree, and after unpacking, floated down the Schuylkill until some of them sprouted and took root. Empress trees are certainly an improvement over the auto junkyards hidden behind them. On the other hand, Kudzu is an oriental plant that somehow got transported here, and loved what it found in our swamplands. Everywhere you look, from Louisiana to Maine, the shoreline grasslands are a sea of towering Kudzu, green in the spring, yellow in the fall. It may have been an interesting visitor at one time, nowadays it's a noxious weed. So far at least, no animals have developed a taste for Kudzu, and no one has figured out a commercial use for it. When an invasive plant of this sort gets introduced, native habitat and its dependent animal life quickly disappear. So, in this situation, nature preservation takes the form of destroying the invader.
But where is Charles Darwin in all this? The survival of the fittest would suggest that successful aggressors are generally fitter, so evolution favors the victor. Perhaps swamps are somehow better for being dominated by Kudzu, pollination might be enhanced by killer bees. At first, it might seem so, but if the climate or the environment is destined to be in constantly cycling flux, diversity of species is the characteristic most highly desired. For decades, biologists have puzzled over the surprising speed of adaptation to environmental change. Mutations and minor changes in species seem to be occurring constantly, and most of them are unsuccessful changes. But when ocean currents change, or global warming occurs, or even man-made changes in the environment alter the rules, we hope somewhere a favorable modification of some species has already occurred standing ready to take advantage of the changing environment. Total eradication of species variants, even by other species which are temporarily better adapted, is undesirable. In this view, the preservation of previously successful but now struggling species is a highly worthy project. The meek, so to speak, will someday have their turn, will someday inherit the earth. For a while.
|St. Lawrence Seaway map|
And finally, there are variants of the human species to consider. To be completely satisfying, a commitment to preserving "native" species in the face of aggressive new invaders must apply to our own species. Surely, a devotion to preserving little plants and insects against the relentless flux of the environment does not support a doctrine of driving out Mexican and Chinese immigrants at the first sign of their appearance, like those aggressive Asian eels plaguing the St. Lawrence Seaway?. Here, the answer is yes, and no. For the most part, invasive species are aggressive mainly because they find themselves in an environment which contains no natural enemies. If that is the case, fitting the newcomers into a peaceful equilibrium is a matter of restraining their initial invasion long enough for balance to be restored through the inevitable appearance of natural enemies. So, if we apply our little nature lessons to social and economic issues related to foreign immigration, the goal becomes one of restraining an initial influx to a number which can be comfortably integrated with native tribes and clans. In the meantime, we enjoy the hybrid vigor which flourishes from exposure to new ideas and customs.
In the medium time period, that is. For the long haul, if the immigrant tribes really do have -- not merely a numerical superiority -- a genetic superiority for this environment, perhaps we natives will just have to resign ourselves to retreating into caves.
Over thirty Quaker retirement villages scatter through America, more than twenty in the suburbs of Philadelphia -- "under the care of the Yearly Meeting", as their expression has it. But for some people, community living seems unattractive. It does not speak to their condition.
For one thing, it may not be affordable.
Or the style of may seem too fancy, or too plain, for some tastes regardless of cost. The increasing emotional rigidity of growing older is a factor; by the time people get to be seventy-five, they had better make this decision or forget it. Plenty of people are hale and hearty at ninety, but they establish pretty firm ideas about the sort of person they want for neighbors while they are still in the workforce. Quite often it's just a habit, people have lived in their home for several generations and cannot imagine another neighborhood, lifestyle, or environment. This is home, and they intend to die there.
So, to address this need, or market, a group of Quakers conceived of a retirement village without walls. Live in your own home and someone will come to oversee things, will know what to do if there is an emergency, and may eventually make the decision for you that you absolutely must go somewhere else. All of this is wrapped within an insurance vehicle, to recognize the fixed incomes of retired people, the inevitability of terminal illnesses, and the occasional risk of monumental medical expenses. At present, about 1600 people in Philadelphia are enrolled in the unique plan of Friends Lifecare at Home, making it one of the largest retirement communities in the country. The organization receives universal praise for its imaginative responses, as well as the dependability and high quality of the people it sends out to the homes of subscribers. Friends Lifecare is a pioneer, and it is gradually weeding out the ideas that didn't work and adding new features that were not originally contemplated. One of its greatest challenges is the need to adapt to unexpected and uncontrollable changes in the Medicare program. Slashes in the Medicare program could bankrupt Friends Lifecare, and even sudden windfalls like the Medicare Drug Benefit create management problems. There can be no doubt that one element of trust exists for which there is no substitute; Philadelphians know that the invisible support of the community and its Quaker core is behind them. If anyone can possibly preserve a moral commitment to the elderly, it will be the Quakers.
Ultimately, the commitment is not so much to 1600 subscribers as to the notion of finding out what works. Life expectancy has extended by three additional years, during the past ten; that's a joy, but it's a problem to finance. The optimum size of the organization is also an unsettled question. Although this program is relatively large by comparison with individual retirement villages, it may not be large enough to have spare capacity to cope with influenza epidemics or record-breaking spells of bad weather. Since it's the only one of its kind, it is vexed by the popularity in ever-widening geographic areas. It must grow to some reasonable size in one area before it can spread its resources to another. By the same reasoning, it must have a reasonable number of prosperous subscribers if it is to accept even a limited number of poor ones.
The idea of creating a seamless partnership with the residential-type retirement villages is certainly attractive, but Friends Lifecare must be careful to avoid becoming too much of a life raft for other people's problems. When the resale price of residential housing rises in a housing bubble, people wish to cling to a rising investment. During the same economic period, the entry and rental price of residential villages also rise. With a great many uncertainties that are specific to this pioneering effort, it is hard to know what policies to develop to insulate the lifecare environment from speculation in the mortgage and housing markets. Or, right now, high-rise apartment development. All of this creates a need for clear minds in the governance, determined to see and acknowledge difficult reality. If anyone can do it, Quakers can.
|The Library Company of Philadelphia|
Jim Greene is the librarian of the Library Company of Philadelphia, and one of the leading authorities on James Logan, the Penn Proprietors' chief agent in the Colony. Since Logan and Ben Franklin were the main forces in starting the oldest library in America, knowing all about Logan almost comes with the job of Librarian. We are greatly indebted to a speech the other night, given by Greene at the Franklin Inn, a hundred yards away from the Library.
Logan has been described as a crusty old codger, living in his mansion called Stenton and scarcely venturing forth in public. He was known as a fair dealer with the Indians, which was an essential part of William Penn's strategy for selling real estate in a land of peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, Logan was behind the infamous Walking Purchase, which damaged his otherwise considerable reputation. Logan must have been a lonesome person in the frontier days of Philadelphia because he owned the largest private library in North America and was passionate about reading and scholarly matters. When he acquired what was the first edition of Newton's Principia, he read it promptly and wrote a one-page summary. Comparatively few people could do this even today. It's pretty tough reading, and those who have read it would seldom claim to have "devoured" it.
Except young Ben Franklin, who never went past second grade in school. The two became fast friends, often engaging in such games as constructing "Magic Squares" of numbers that added up to the same total in various ways. For example, Franklin doodled off a square with the numbers 52,61,4,13,20,29,36,45 (totaling 260) on the top horizontal row, and every vertical row beneath them totaling 260, as for example 52,14,53,11,55,9,50,16, while every horizontal row also totaled 260 as well. The four corner numbers, with the 4 middle numbers, also total 260. Logan constructed his share of similar games, which it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the colonies doing at the time.
Logan and Franklin together conceived the idea of a subscription library, which in time became the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1732. The subscription required of a library member was intended to be forfeited if the borrower failed to return a book. Later on, the public was allowed to borrow books, but only on deposit of enough money to replace the book if unreturned. We are not told whose idea was behind these arrangements, but they certainly sound like Franklin at work. More than a century later, the Philadelphia Free Library was organized under more trusting rules for borrowing which became possible as books became less expensive.
Logan died in 1751, the year Franklin at the age of 42 decided to retire from business -- and devote the remaining 42 years of his life to scholarly and public affairs. He first joined the Assembly at that time, so he and Logan were not forced into direct contention over politics, although they had their differences. How much influence Logan exerted over Franklin's plans and attitudes is not entirely clear; it must have been a great deal.
It's worth a visit to Bartram's Gardens, if only for the astonishment of finding a very large farm and stone Quaker farmhouse within a few blocks of our largest medical center, a stone's throw from the biggest oil refinery on the upper East Coast. And located on the edge of a neighborhood that is, well, past its prime. The trees on the farm are centuries old, so walking around the grounds imparts the feeling of being hundreds of miles from civilization when in fact you are only a hundred yards away from streets that are very urban, indeed. When you turn in certain directions, an occasional skyscraper peeps over treetops, and down the meadows, at the farm's dock on the leafy-banked Schuylkill, you can see oil storage tanks across the river, just a long shot with a 2-iron away. Look upward, to see the upper half of shining towers of Center City.
The farm property as it now stands dates back to 1728, but the site marks the earliest beginnings of the city, nearly a hundred years earlier. The river curves around this hill then snake on down to Delaware through flatlands which were originally swamps ("wetlands", as they say). The hill is as far downriver into malaria territory as the Indians were willing to go, so the Dutch traders had to sail upriver and dock there in order to take thirty or forty thousand fur pelts back to Holland each year. One thing or another has been dumped on the swamps for three hundred years, and the oil companies found it a cheap place to buy enough land for their refineries, close to four or five railroads near Bartram's place, and with access to the high seas. Right now, most of the oil comes from Nigeria, emptying two or so supertankers a week. There has to be enough storage capacity to take care of delays caused by bad weather on the Atlantic, and there has to be access to railroads and highways to carry the finished product away. The rest of a refinery is just thousands of miles of metal pipes, gleaming in the sun.
Sun Oil is trying to be a good neighbor, turning more and more of the area over to nature preserve, as chemical engineers have learned how to work in a smaller space with fewer employees. The banks of the lower Schuylkill are now mostly grown to shrubs and trees, concealing from boat travelers the rather extensive dumps of old auto tires and similar refuse. It's a placid winding trip, increasingly coming to resemble what the Dutch traders once encountered. Especially in May, when the Palomino or Empress trees are in purple bloom. It seems the Chinese packed their porcelains in dried Palomino seed pods, and the discards have grown up to quite a nice display. Logan Square is filled with such trees, quite artfully pruned and maintained; just imagine several miles of the river lined with them, and you can see why the Tourist Bureau is excited about the potential. If you have been to San Antonio you know the potential of an urban river ride, which in this case might go all the way up to the Art Museum. Given enough public response, you can envision two or three-day barge rides from New Castle, Delaware to Pennsbury, with side trips up past Bartram's to the Waterworks. Right now, trips are comparatively limited by the tides, with a few trips a year down from Bartram's to the refineries, and a few more up to the river to the Art Museum. They use floating docks, and permanent docks will need to be built.
Originally, the crude oil came from upstate Pennsylvania, near Bradford, and was the main source of the dominance of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Baltimore and New York were also the beginnings of transcontinental railroads, but their freight cars came back empty. The upstate Pennsylvania oil gave the PRR a dominant edge by supplying cargo for two-way revenue.
When George Washington had to retreat from the Battle of Brandywine, the armies had to cross the wetlands, and the river, to get to Philadelphia. Washington got there first and burned the boats after his army got across. He knew, but the British probably did not fully realize, that the first place to ford the Schuylkill was at Norristown. When the British finally got that far, Washington was waiting for them, but a fall hurricane came along and soaked everybody's gunpowder before there could be much of a battle. Unfortunately, Mad Anthony Wayne was unprepared for a nighttime bayonet charge, and there was still quite a slaughter.
You can't wander around John Bartram's house and gardens without getting the impression of considerable wealth. Bartram was interested in botany, becoming the most eminent authority on plants of the Western hemisphere, a very close friend of Benjamin Franklin, and probably the main force behind the creation of the American Philosophical Society. But although Bartram was a hobbyist, he was a shrewd businessman, selling curiosity plants to Europeans, and commercially improved fruits and vegetables to local farmers. There are still some Bartrams around Philadelphia, with a strong Quaker air about them. Around 1850 the place was sold to a zillionaire railroad magnate named Eastwick, who fixed up the place in the high style he learned building the railroads of Russia for the Tsar. The mansion has been torn down, but the stone farmhouse, stone barn, stone sheds, stone outbuildings, stone everything -- endures, like many of the curiosity trees and bushes. Well worth a visit.
Adam Levine, the author of a new book about the Philadelphia public garden scene was recently the featured guest speaker at the Franklin Inn. He's a charming person, and has given us a great book.
He draws to our attention that the Philadelphia region is pre-eminent in the garden world, and has been so for several centuries. While it is true that Philadelphia has a mild enough climate to be suitable to two climate zones, the early settlers came from a region of middle England that has been a garden center since Roman times. And they were Quakers, uncomfortable with the outward show in buildings and furnishings, but flowers were innocent instruments of the display. Although Chanticleer was created by a Pennsylvania German family, the great centers of public gardens are mostly traceable to the influence of Quakers, and the du Pont family. Since one or two years of neglect will ruin almost any garden, the essence of great gardens lies in the ability to survive.
|The Horticultural Society|
In fact, the Philadelphia area contains hundreds of gardens which have decayed and virtually disappeared. The Horticultural Society is at the heart of garden preservation, financed in large part by the annual flower show, but even that thriving organization is hard pressed to do justice to the vast areas that need tending. Woodlands would be an example of an area needing tending, and Friends Hospital is an object lesson. When that venerable institution was sold to sharp pencil types from out of town, the Azalea gardens on the grounds were closed to visitors, except for two hours a year. It makes you tremble to imagine how long this famous azalea collection will probably survive. Meanwhile, Germantown's famous gardens are maintained in a minimal way, stretching the resources of the owners who have more urgent demands to meet in their buildings and furniture. Indeed, it is hard to name a really outstanding garden within the city limits, with the exception of the Morris Arboretum, which barely makes it within city boundaries. The area back of the Art Museum along Boathouse Row makes a brave attempt in the spring, but it's a pale reminder of the glory which used to be seen in East Fairmount Park, especially at Lemon Hill, Stenton, and Cliveden. Stotesbury is just a relic.
Gardens have moved to the suburbs. Chanticleer, the Morris Arboretum, Longwood Gardens, Nemours, the Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore, West Laurel Hill, The University of Delaware in Newark, Cabrini College in Villanova, Haverford College Arboretum, Temple University's Ambler campus, and the Trenton Sculpture Gardens on the old fairgrounds -- all would demand mention in any list of outstanding gardens in America. But only a few of them aspire to the standards of an outdoor sculpture garden, where the goal was to surround each piece of sculpture with a garden in such a way that only one sculpture could be seen at a time. Now, that was gardening on the grand scale.
Hidden in a regional garden scene is the seed merchants, starting with John Bartram and famous under the Burpees, which make gardens possible. After all, there has to be a place to find these things. Perhaps the catalog stores, like Wayside Gardens, are the hope for the future. Every shrub or tree transported from a nursery takes up a ball of topsoil along with the specimen, and the appearance of nurseries around the periphery of a city is usually the first step in the development of housing projects. If there is an investment of topsoil in every garden, perhaps we ought to think a little bit about the way we let the investment dry up and blow away.
|Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley William Klein Jr. ISBN-10: 1566393132||Amazon|
At the furthermost corner of Fairmount Park, the former estate of John and Lydia Morris is run as a public arboretum, one of the two or three finest in North America.
Around 1840, there was a brief worldwide craze for ferns, related to the exciting discovery of their complicated reproductive process. Only one Victorian fernery still exists in North America, at the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia.
A 650-acre Arboretum next to a 2500-acre state park makes for a lot of nature walks and bird watching, as well as a gazillion azaleas and tree specimens. The only serpentine barren in Delaware County is located there.
American Chestnut Trees
Scarcely a century ago, American Chestnut trees were a quarter of all trees in America. Now, they are almost all gone, but a thousand volunteers are trying to rescue them.
State in Schuylkill Fishing Club
Unless you listen to some quibbles from White's in London, the Schuylkill Fishing Club of the State in Schuylkill is the oldest organized men's club in the world. And even if that exception is admitted, it's the oldest men's club in America. It's no secret, but it's very private.
Increased foreign trade, especially to Asia, has brought us some new plant types. Lacking natural enemies, they are taking over.
Friends Lifecare at Home
Philadelphia Quakers run over twenty retirement communities for the elderly in their region. One of them is a virtual village, one without walls.
Logan, Franklin, Library
James Logan and Benjamin Franklin were at the opposite ends of the social scale in Colonial Philadelphia and were to adopt strongly differing political views. But each recognized the intellectual power of the other, and they were fast friends.
John Bartram's Garden
Bartram's farm dates back to the earliest days of Philadelphia, and it's still much the same farm, right in the midst of urban.
A new book has arrived, describing the 90 great public gardens of the Philadelphia regions, and discussing the best 40 of them in detail.