History and Research
Honoring shared histories
Bartram’s Garden is located in Lenapehoking, the homeland of the Lenape people.
In addition to the Lenape and unknown indigenous communities, this land has been home to early Swedish colonists, Black families and individuals, the family of Philadelphia railroad industrialist Andrew M. Eastwick, and botanist John Bartram and his descendants.
The botanic garden established by the Bartram family in the 1700s has been preserved and was designated a public park by the City of Philadelphia in 1891. The intentional preservation of the Bartram family’s history unintentionally preserved histories that preceded, coincided with, and succeeded the family.
We are still working to uncover and illuminate the complex and intertwining histories embedded in this land.
Explore our History
The Black families and individuals who shaped Southwest Philadelphia in the 1700s and 1800s.
History & Timeline
History of the Land and River
Bartram’s Garden is the site of Philadelphia’s oldest excavated findings. Archaeological evidence reveals that the Garden was occupied seasonally by indigenous people as early as 3000 BCE. There is no way to determine who these people were, as there were many waves of migrations over the millennia, but we can speculate that they relied upon the river and nutrient-rich tidal wetlands as a reliable source of food. Fishing would have been significant, especially during large seasonal fish runs, as well as hunting mammals and birds in the marshland and harvesting marsh plant resources like wild rice, spatterdock, sagittaria, arrow arum, and cattails. Objects found during digs include stone tools, ceramic vessels, fire hearths, and pit features. These objects are available to view in the John Bartram Bowman Special Collections Library by appointment.
Today, our neighborhood is still referred to as Kingsessing, a Lenape name likely dating from around 1500 meaning “place where there is a meadow” or “boggy meadow.” A village known as Arronemink was located on the banks of the Tidal Schuylkill within Kingsessing, at the mouth of what is today known as the Mill Creek. A possible meaning for “Arronemink” is “place where the fish cease,” which may refer to the presence of natural waterfalls in the area; it was alternatively spelled “Aroenameck and “Arromink.”
During this period, the Lenape were not the only native or First Nations people to live in the Delaware Valley. Algonquin peoples may have been present, and Iroquoian-speaking groups were common, particularly to the west in the Susquehanna Valley and north towards what is now New York. By the 1640s, the Lenape had largely abandoned this area and relocated to the east bank of the Delaware River, due to the almost-yearly wars of the Susquehannock and Iroquois, sometimes also called the Beaver Wars.
Beginning in 1648, a 1,000-acre tract of riverfront that included the land now known as Bartram’s Garden was settled by the Swedish as “Aronameck” or “Aronameck Plantation,” a colonial outpost in New Sweden. The ethnic population of Europeans in the colony was probably less than half Swedish, also including people of Dutch, Finnish, German, Danish, French, and English descent. Unlike most European colonists in North America, the Swedes maintained a friendly and cooperative association with the remaining Lenape in the region, with some settlers learning the Lenape language. The Swedes engaged in the fur trade, which was beneficial for the Lenape people, and they provided some political stability against the encroaching Iroquois.
Aronameck was eventually divided along natural boundaries and creek valleys, and further small clearings developed later in the 17th century, including a piece that became the site of John Bartram’s farm and garden. The Bartrams held the property for three generations, from 1728 until 1850, when Philadelphia industrialist Andrew Eastwick purchased Bartram’s Garden from John Bartram’s granddaughter Ann Bartram Carr and her husband, Colonel Robert Carr. Eastwick reportedly loved Bartram’s Garden and vowed to preserve the botanical gardens and historic buildings, hiring as head gardener the English nurseryman and botanist Thomas Meehan, who had previously worked at The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
After Eastwick’s death in 1879, his descendants faced pressure to convert the full site for industrial use, which would likely have been very profitable for them but would have destroyed the gardens entirely. Instead, Meehan collaborated with Charles Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston on a national campaign to preserve the site for public access. It succeeded! In 1891 Bartram’s Garden became part of the Philadelphia public park system. The non-profit John Bartram Association was founded in 1893 by John Bartram’s descendants to support the city’s management of the site.
Since the 1890s, both the site and the organization have grown. Land reclamation and environmental mitigation efforts have restored natural spaces that were once originally part of the Bartram family’s estate but were developed for industrial use in the 19th and 20th centuries. For instance, today’s 17-acre hillside Meadow was reclaimed in 1987 after serving as the site of the Warner Company, a cement factory, from 1925 to 1977. Many of the skyscrapers and highway bridges you can see across the river were constructed with concrete manufactured right here. Similarly, although both archaeological and documented history reveal that this riverfront’s tidal wetlands have been valued for millennia, today’s 1.5-acre freshwater Tidal Wetland was created in 1997 and restored and expanded in 2013. The Sankofa Community Farm and the Greenhouse Complex were established on underutilized recreational fields in 2011, and the Bartram’s Mile Trail opened in 2017.
Timeline of Key Events
10,000 BCE: End of Pleistocene Epoch (Ice Ages)
3000 BCE–1550 CE: People gather here seasonally as hunter gatherers, later with introduced agricultural staples by 800 BCE.
1500-1758. Site referred to as “Kingsessing” and “Aronameck,” likely indicating Lenape presence in this area.
1648: Aronameck Plantation established here as part of New Sweden.
1728: John Bartram purchases 102 acres of farmland and 10.5 acres of marsh in Kingsessing.
Around 1733: Bartram begins correspondence with English merchant Peter Collinson, who encouraged his trans-Atlantic plant and seed business.
1735: Bartram makes first recorded plant-collecting trips to “the Jerseys and Schuylkill mountains.”
By around 1750: Bartram’s Kingsessing estate has expanded to three adjacent tracts totaling nearly 300 acres.
1753: His son James Bartram receives control of one farm, while Bartram combines and retains control of the other two, totaling about 140 acres and including the botanic garden.
1773: His son John Bartram, Jr. takes over management of the botanic garden and farm at Bartram’s Garden.
1790-1810: Census records list a single unnamed free Black individual living at Bartram’s Garden.
1791: Another of Bartram’s sons, William Bartram, publishes Travels…, recounting his journeys through the American South in the 1770s.
1810: John Bartram’s granddaughter Ann Bartram Carr and her husband, Colonel Robert Carr, assume management of the Garden, enlarging its capacity as a commercial nursery.
1820-1840: Census records indicate an unnamed free Black family living in the Carr household.
1838: First railroad cuts through the Garden, connecting to railroad yards to the north and south.
1850: Andrew Eastwick purchases the Garden and hires Thomas Meehan as head gardener.
Late 1860s: Oil refineries and petro-chemical industries established along Tidal Schuylkill River.
1891: The City of Philadelphia assumes management of the Garden and opens it as a public park.
1893: Descendants of John Bartram found the non-profit John Bartram Association.
1896: Eastwick’s mansion, Bartram Hall, burns down.
1923-1926: Property put under control of the Fairmount Park Commission (now known as the City of Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation); first restoration of the Historic Bartram House.
1960: Bartram’s Garden recognized as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
1980: John Bartram Association assumes management of the Garden, including restoration of the botanic garden and the beginning of education and interpretive programming.
1987: The 15-acre tract of land formerly owned by the Warner Cement Company is converted to the Meadow.
1997: Tidal Wetland along 56th Street restored.
2000: Dock constructed at the north end of the Meadow.
2011: Sankofa Community Farm founded in partnership with Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Philadelphia Orchard Project, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and University of Pennsylvania.
2013: Tidal Wetland along 56th Street enlarged and reconfigured.
2016: Restoration of the Ann Bartram Carr Garden and Historic Bartram House.
2017: Bartram’s Mile Trail opens. Eastwick Pavilion erected.
2021: Dock expanded.