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Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Archive

The primary goal of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Archive is to help preserve park and recreation resources and provide information to the public and department staff.

The Archive provides researchers with a record of the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation system. It documents the history of park and recreation property. It also documents  the people who have helped shape Parks & Rec and its land. While the Archive focuses on a variety of aspects of history, its strength truly lies in the documentation of the Parks & Rec’s architectural history. This rich history can be discovered through maps, photographic images, and written materials. 

An archive of 10,000 documents

The Archive grew out of the working documents of former Fairmount Park Commission staff and engineers. Its estimated number of archival documents is over 10,000. The collection was slowly built over a twenty-year period by the long-time park historian John McIlhenny, as well as by former Recreation Department staff members. The Archive is especially important in understanding the architectural and landscape resources of the park system. Most notably, the collection contains hundreds of original architectural and landscape drawings from the 1876 Centennial Exposition held in Fairmount Park.

You can find the following types of documents in the Archive:

  • Books: Primary and secondary source information that ranges from general park department information to specific site information.
  • Current Reports: Working management documents such as historic structure reports, cultural landscape studies, archeological studies, and planning documents.
  • Fairmount Park Commission Annual Reports: Documentation of the yearly actions of the Fairmount Park Commission from 1869-1998 (collection excludes the years 1900-1912 and 1998-present when no reports were written).
  • Department of Recreation Annual Reports: Copies of selected excerpts from 1952-1967 Department of Recreation Annual Reports along with various books, guides, and manuals from the early 20th-century detailing recreational development within the city.
  • Fairmount Park Art Association Annual Reports: Documentation of the yearly actions of this important sister organization and a significant portion of the sculpture history of the park.
  • Fairmount Park Engineering Records: 230 field survey books, 20 engineering journals, 25 daily log journals kept by senior engineers, and hundreds of pieces of correspondence relating to land acquisition providing unprecedented information about the initial formation of one of the country’s oldest and largest urban parks.
  • History Files: Book excerpts, brochures, correspondence, genealogies, newspaper clippings, reports, specifications, and studies that document the history of sites and activities within the Philadelphia park system.
  • Sculpture Files: Documentation and photographs of public art within the park system.
  • Photographs and Prints: Engravings, lithographs, paintings, photographs, postcards, stereo-views, slides, and other types of print that aid in the understanding or documentation of property within the park system.
  • Maps and Drawings: 3,000+ original drawings, blue prints, blue lines, Mylars, photo-lithographs, reproductions and tracings of elevations, maps, plans, renderings, sketches, topographical plans, etc. that document the acquisition and development of property within the park system and surrounding areas.

To explore our archive, use our helpful finding aids.

Visits to the Archive are by appointment only.

Make an appointment