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Centennial Exhibition and Expansion of Fairmount Park System

The Centennial Exhibition of 1876

Occurring between May and November 1876, the Centennial Exhibition, the first major World’s Fair held in the United States, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Roughly 10 million people visited the Fair during the six months that it was open. Fifty countries participated and over 180 structures were constructed on 250 acres in West Fairmount Park. The designer of the Exhibition’s landscape was Herman J. Schwarzmann, a German-born architect and member of Fairmount Park’s staff. Several of the significant buildings constructed for the Exhibition were demolished after the fair ended; these included the Main Building, which was 1,880 feet long and covered 20 acres and Machinery Hall, which covered 14 acres. Horticultural Hall, which occupied the grounds of the present-day Horticulture Center, was demolished in 1955.
Today, there are several reminders of the Centennial landscape in West Fairmount Park. These include Memorial Hall, the Centennial’s Art Gallery, now home to the Please Touch Museum; Ohio House, the only remaining building of the original 25 state buildings; two small Centennial outbuildings, home now to the Sakura Pavilion of Shofuso, the Japanese House in Fairmount Park; the Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain near the Mann Center for the Performing Arts; and, Centennial Lake, a large man-made lake along Belmont Avenue.

The Expansion of Philadelphia's Park System

Between 1888 and the mid-1920s, the park system in Philadelphia expanded from the initial parks under the management of the Fairmount Park Commission (Fairmount Park, Wissahickon Valley Park and Hunting Park), to include several large watershed parks located throughout the city: Cobbs Creek Park (1904), Pennypack Park (1905) and Tacony Creek Park (1908). Several larger parks located in neighborhoods were also acquired by the City during this time, including: Bartram’s Garden (1888), Burholme Park (1905), Fisher Park (1909), Morris Park (1911) and League Island (now FDR) Park (1914).
Accessing the existing and recently acquired parks were problems for the city’s residents in the nineteenth century, as the majority of the population lived near the Delaware River. To solve this, park planners sought ways to connect residents with park land. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, connecting Center City to Fairmount Park, the Cobbs Creek Parkway, connecting West Philadelphia to Cobbs Creek Park and the Roosevelt Boulevard, connecting Hunting Park to Tacony Creek Park and Pennypack Park in the Northeast, were completed, thereby allowing better access to parks within the Fairmount Park system.
The expansion of Philadelphia’s park system during this time period was primarily the result of the advocacy of the City Parks Association (CPA), founded in 1888, who worked tirelessly for additional park acreage to be acquired. In addition, the CPA was involved in Philadelphia’s burgeoning recreation movement, advocating for the acquisition of Starr Garden and Happy Hollow Playground.