Bartram History: A River Walk in 1884

Bartram’s Garden curator Joel Fry recently came across a written anecdote about our area from 1884. Arthur Bliss, a physician, wrote a book called Blockley Days: Memories and Impressions of a Resident Physician 1883-1884, and within he describes a simple walk by the Schuylkill River in 1884. Joel analyzed the document and was able to extrapolate some information about the Bartram property from these writings. Says Fry:

“Bliss described walking Feb. 22, 1884 from the Blockley Hospital (roughly the modern UPenn hospital complex), down the Darby Road and past Gray’s Ferry. The Episcopal Theological Seminary that Bliss mentions was between 50th and 51st along the east side of Woodland in the 1880s. So the ‘long lane‘ he and his companion ‘V’ [another resident doctor in the hospital] turned down towards the river might very likely have been either the Bartram/Carr/Eastwick entry lane or Hay/Gibson lane (partially preserved in modern Vodges Street).

“Looking across the river, he says he could see the refineries (Point Breeze) and two huge grain elevators (Girard Point), and then across the south Philadelphia marshes to see ships on the Delaware. He then walked back, ‘going down a railroad track towards the City’ – that was probably the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore. The ‘handsome mansion, built in English-manor style‘ on a knoll above the river might then have been the Eastwick house—if he was walking along the railroad bed, Bartram Hall would have been on the right—but that probably means he walked down Hay Lane/Gibson Lane to the river, so below 56th Street. The mansion with windows closed and boarded up, and many places plastering fallen from the walls, sounds like the Eastwick House in 1884.

“Interesting he says there was a large sign facing the railroad ‘which threatened all the law’s penalties upon anyone who ventured within the high, briar-covered stone wall enclosing the estate.’ That very much sounds like the Eastwick estate, and several similar accounts from the 1880s say there were no trespassing signs all over the estate, but people were always sneaking in. Andrew Eastwick died in 1879, so the estate had only been abandoned for five years in 1884—so quite an exaggeration on the decay and neglect.”

“Even when the Bartram Park was opened in 1891, the rest of the surrounding Eastwick estate was fenced off with no trespassing sign to keep people out of the vicinity of the Eastwick mansion.”


Top Image: James Fuller Queen (1820/1821–1886) painted Grays Ferry Looking South in 1858 depicting steamboats and barges on the Schuylkill River, with a marsh in the foreground. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

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