SEEING HISTORY — THE REMAINS OF A HISTORIC WHARF

May 4, 2017
Joel Fry

If you explore the boardwalk at Bartram’s Garden, it will take you along the shore of the Schuylkill River. At one spot, you can observe old timbers in the water. We asked Bartram’s Garden curator, Joel T. Fry, about them and told us a fascinating story — they’re from a wharf that sat there 175 years ago, during the era of Ann Bartram Carr and husband Robert, who both ran a greenhouse operation and garden business here. Next to the wharf was a boathouse that was built in the 1890s — 125 years ago from today.

Wharf

Remains of Bartram’s Wharf, ca.1840s

Says Joel, “Those timbers are the remains of a wharf—most likely a steamboat wharf constructed around 1840, during the Carr generation at the Garden. That shows up as ‘Carr’s Wharf’ on maps of the 1840s and 1850s. There used to be more preserved timber, probably two or three additional layers of timber, and great deal of inner-gravel fill has washed away in recent years.”

Another part of the story is about a boathouse. Joel continues, “Around 1890, just before the park at Bartram’s Garden was first opened, a public boathouse was built adjacent to that wharf. The City of Philadelphia leased public-rental boathouses at various locations along the Schuylkill. One was built at Bartram’s Garden, and we have two of three photos showing part of the building. It operated renting out small rowboats for a year or two, but then the business seems to have folded. Probably the river was too polluted and/or there were not enough customers to make it a successful business. The boathouse was demolished sometime after 1900 and there is no trace of the building now.”

“There was probably a long history of wharfs on the Bartram property, but there is very little hard data to document when, or where they were built. There was considerable fishing for shad in front of the garden, but how that operated we don’t know—from boats, from nets or perhaps lines from the shore There are lots of wood posts and pilings along the whole river front, and some stone features, which might be other docks or wharves. No one has systematically studied the tidal riverfront, or mapped the pilings and timbers.”

“The vintage photo at the top of the page is from the Spring of 1892. It shows the wharf and then-new boathouse that was built immediately adjacent.”

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