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Fairmount is a neighborhood in the North Philadelphia area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The name "Fairmount" itself derives from the prominent hill on which the Philadelphia Museum of Art now sits, and where William Penn originally intended to build his own manor house. Later, the name was applied to the street originally called Hickory Lane that runs from the foot of Fairmount hill through the heart of the neighborhood. The area is sometimes referred to as the "Art Museum Area," for its proximity to and association with the Art Museum.
Today, definitions of the boundaries of Fairmount vary. The broadest definition of the boundaries of the neighborhood place it between Vine Street to the south, Girard Avenue to the north, the Schuylkill River to the west, and Broad Street to the east. This definition encompasses the adjacent neighborhoods of Spring Garden, Franklintown, and Francisville.
A more intimate definition of the neighborhood, and the one most commonly used, places the boundaries at Fairmount Avenue to the south, Poplar Street to the north, the Schuylkill River to the west, and Corinthian or 19th Streets to the east.
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A handful of European settlers farmed the area in the 17th century, 18th century and early 19th century, when Fairmount was still outside Philadelphia's city limits. Prominent city families established countryseats there as well, including Bush Hill, White Hall, and Lemon Hill, the last of which still stands overlooking the Schuylkill. Fairmount was originally in Penn Township, which was subsequently divided, putting the future neighborhood in the newly created Spring Garden District until 1854 when it was incorporated into the City of Philadelphia.
During the American Revolution, British soldiers occupying Philadelphia built defensive works starting on the hill of Fairmount and continuing several miles along a line just south of present-day Fairmount Avenue to the Delaware River. Their purpose was to prevent American troops under George Washington from attacking them from the north - the only side of the city not protected by water.
Signs of urban expansion appeared in the early 19th century, when three large, innovative, and internationally recognized institutions were located in the district. The first of these was the Fairmount Dam and Water Works at the foot of Fairmount hill. Beginning in 1822, the Water Works used waterpower to pump water from the Schuylkill River into reservoirs on the top of Fairmount hill, from where it flowed by gravity into city homes and businesses.
An engineering wonder, it was also an architectural and scenic attraction. Its buildings, which included a restaurant, are among the earliest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the United States. Protection of the municipal drinking water that the Water Works pumped was the impetus for the purchase of lands along the Schuylkill that later became Fairmount Park, one of the world's largest municipal park systems. Charles Dickens listed the Water Works as one of the two things he particularly wanted to see while in Philadelphia.
The other was Eastern State Penitentiary, less than half a mile away on Fairmount Avenue. The prison opened in 1829 , the first prison in the country built specifically with the intention of reforming rather than simply punishing criminals. The prison's hub-and-spoke layout was also a first, and became the model for hundreds of prisons around the world (it was often called the "Pennsylvania Model"). Its unique system of solitary confinement for all prisoners did not, however. Intended to provide prisoners relief from the overcrowding and squalor of other prisons and give them time to reflect on their crimes, it led instead to intense despair and sometimes insanity among the inmates and was roundly condemned by Dickens when he visited.
In 1831, these two innovative institutions were joined by a third: Girard College. This school was founded in accordance with the will of Stephen Girard, possibly the wealthiest man in America at the time of his death. Himself an orphan, he wanted to create a model institution for educating poor orphaned white boys at a time when universal public education did not yet exist.
The executor of Girard's estate was another prominent and wealthy Philadelphian, Nicholas Biddle, former US Secretary of the Treasury, who commissioned the building of Founders Hall in honor of Girard. The Hall is the first example of true Greek Revival architecture in the United States and is, like both the Water Works and Eastern State Penitentiary, a National Historic Landmark. In 1968 Girard College entered the nation's awareness again when the United States Supreme Court altered Girard's will by striking the words "poor, male, white, orphan" and set a major precedent for equal access to education for all Americans.
These three institutions were built when Fairmount was still a rural suburban district of Philadelphia. Beginning in the 1830s, the city itself began to grow beyond its original boundaries, and a mixture of homes and factories sprang up on the district's southern fringes. The Baldwin Locomotive Works, the nation's largest maker of locomotive engines, was located on the southeastern edge of the future Fairmount neighborhood and was a major factor in development of the neighborhood south of Fairmount Avenue in the 1840s, 50s, and 60s.
Fairmount continues to be one of Philadelphia’s most desirable neighborhoods owing its location near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, its famous “Rocky Steps” (immortalized in the 1976 Academy Award film, “Rocky”) and its new Perelman Annex, Fairmount is located at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a broad 1.5 mile tree and flag-lined avenue that connects City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This stretch is known as the “Museum District” since most of the city’s cultural attractions and museums are located here. Along the Parkway are the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia’s Central Library, the Franklin Institute of Science, the Academy of Natural Sciences and the soon to be relocated Barnes Museum. The city’s panoramic skyline is best viewed from the steps of the Art Museum. Street parking is currently a problem due to the high demand for real estate in the neighborhood.
Based upon the famous Champs-Élysées in Paris in its design and owing to its ability to hold vast amounts of people, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is also where most of Philadelphia’s large outdoor events, parades, concerts, and races are held.
Behind the Philadelphia Museum and along the Schuylkill River are the historic Fairmount Water Works and picturesque Boat House Row. These 10 boathouses and rowing clubs host several regattas each year. Kelly Drive parallels the river and winds through scenic Fairmount Park. Atop one of the bluffs overlooking the river is the historic Lemon Hill Mansion.
Eastern State Penitentiary located on Fairmount Avenue has become another main draw for the neighborhood. Tours of this historic 1829 facility, now abandoned, are offered. It is also annually converted into a massive haunted house during the Halloween season and because of its resemblance to the Bastille, it has become the focus of Philadelphia’s Bastille Day celebration. The local restaurants join the Penitentiary in this fun event. Actors reenact the storming of the Bastille. The crowds on the street outside the Penitentiary exchange taunts with a costumed Marie Antoinette. After her shout of "Let them eat cake!" a shower of Tastykakes, a local Philadelphia brand of cupcake, is dropped onto the crowds. She finally surrenders and is “executed” by a mock guillotine.
The neighborhood’s Fairmount Avenue contains many diverse restaurants, bars and shops. Fairmount Avenue is the dividing line between Fairmount and the Spring Garden neighborhoods. Spring Garden has many large houses built for the managers of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, other professionals, and brewery owners which date back to the 1840s. Green Street is particularly impressive and recalls the area’s past and proud industrial legacy.
Fairmount’s homes were generally smaller row or town houses and the residents were generally working class. Here row houses were interspersed with lumber yards, coal yards, lime yards, iron foundries, bakeries, dry goods stores, as well as several wagon works and stables. Many of these were built in the second half of the 19th century to support small factories and later the large breweries that located there in the late 19th century and reached their zenith in the early 20th century. One of these breweries with its many ancillary buildings has been painstakingly preserved and turned into fashionable condominiums. Of architectural note is Aspen Street’s “Centennial Block”.
Irish and German immigrants and their descendants made up the most significant part of the population of Fairmount. In 1839, St. Francis Xavier Church (and its elementary school in 1922) was built to serve Catholics in the community, while a variety of Protestant churches, particularly on the eastern end of the neighborhood, served a variety of denominations. St Francis Xavier Church and school continues to serve the community located at 24th and Green Streets, its spire being clearly visible from the steps of the Art Museum. Early in the 20th century, Polish and Ukrainian immigrants moved into the neighborhood where they became a significant presence in its northernmost sections. St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, serves those communities today. St. Hedwigs, a Roman Catholic church for Polish Catholics, closed in 2005 and was demolished in February 2007.
Infrastructure and government
Fairmount enjoys a multiethnic mix from all socioeconomic strata. Its southern half has become increasingly gentrified in recent years, with newcomers to the city settling in the neighborhood for its proximity to Center City.
As of the census of 2000, the racial makeup of Fairmount, Spring Garden, and Francisville is 65.23% White, 24.24% African American, 3.93% Asian, and 4.09% from other races. 7.63% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
The population of Fairmount grew by 3% between the 1990 and 2000 censuses.
Fairmount is zoned to schools in the School District of Philadelphia.
Fairmount is divided between two attendance zones for Kindergarten through 8th grade :
The neighborhood Catholic grade school is St. Francis Xavier School.
All residents are zoned to Benjamin Franklin High School for high school but many residents attend Roman Catholic High School or Roxborough Public High School located in the Roxborough section of the city.
- Cruickshank, Dan (2008). Dan Cruickshank's Adventures in Architecture. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-297-84444-0.
- "Post Office Location - FAIRMOUNT." United States Postal Service. Retrieved on December 4, 2008.
- "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- "Welcome to Bache-Martin School." Center City District.
- "Welcome to Laura Wheeler Waring School." Center City District.
- "Where the Graduates Go" (Waring). Center City District.
- "Where the Graduates Go" (Bache-Martin). Center City District.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fairmount, Philadelphia.|
- Fairmount Civic Association
- The Neighborhood of Fairmount
- Fairmount CDC
- Fairmount Area Business Association