Friday, June 21, 2013

Philadelphia Parks: Matthias Baldwin Park

This is the first in an occasional series.

Philadelphia has a number of incredible public parks and spaces that are well-known, like Rittenhouse Square and Fairmount Park, and boasts of gardens with worldwide reputations in its periphery, like Chanticleer and Longwood Gardens. And yet some of the greatest horticultural surprises in this city can be found in the tiny, lesser known spaces and places tourists might never find. I was passing through the featured park today and wanted to share it with everyone, so that's what I'm doing. I'll continue to share little Philadelphia green spaces when I'm inspired to do so.

Matthias Baldwin Park, formerly known as Franklin Town Square, is a 2-acre public park in the Franklintown or Spring Garden neighborhood of Philadelphia, depending on who you ask.

Photo courtesy of

The historical marker reads, "Baldwin Locomotive Works. For years the nation's leading locomotive manufacturer, it exported products worldwide. Established here by Matthias Baldwin in 1835, it was an early example of integrated industrial organization, employing more than 15,000 workers. Its 39 buildings encompassed 17 acres and transformed the area from a rural estate to one of the city's first factory neighborhoods. Relocating to Eddystone in 1928, ceased production in 1956." 

The manufacturing buildings are long gone, but now residents and passerby have this small but well planned park to enjoy.

From the east side looking west

What first struck me about this park when I started to visit it years ago were the terraces. Some of them seem to be only a few inches above one other and yet the perennials worked so well together. None of the plants overwhelm or grow taller than the ones behind them. Everything behaves exactly as it should! And though the terraces themselves and many of the plants are not that tall, you can't see the opposite side of the park from any point, lending a nice bit of privacy for those sitting on benches or lounging in the grass.

In fact, I didn't learn until writing this blog post that the terraces are actually part of a public art installation titled "Connections", created by Athena Tacha. The design was first proposed in 1981, the final plans submitted and 1986, and the terraces were first planted in 1992, as seen here:

Photo from the artist's website,
Some of my favorite trees as little babies!!

And now look like this:

Photo (by Jim Fennell) from the artist's website.

Well I feel all educated now, don't you?

Moving on.

From the north side looking south

Though the plants are the star attraction for me, the views of the skyscrapers in Center City (Philadelphia's downtown) don't hurt.

I love the contrast of traditional flowers (echinacea, roses) with this yucca (an uncommon plant around these parts).

The park is bordered by a chain-link fence on its northern and southern sides, but a lot of clematis were planted against the fences, leading you to notice the masses of purple rather than the fences themselves. I've never seen clematis like this - they're incredibly full and lush.

Breaking up the terraces here and there are these rock towers. There are several (you can see them all in the aerial photos above) and they're such a pleasing vertical line after looking at the horizontal lines of the perennial terraces.

My blog header photo was even taken here last spring:

There you have it - Matthias Baldwin Park. I hope you enjoyed my nickel tour and mini-history lesson in one. If you ever find yourself in Philadelphia, I hope you'll take some time out to enjoy the public art cum flower gardens in this great green space.  


  1. Very nice garden - cities really need these spaces. It makes such a difference in the quality of life. I lived in Center City in the mid-80s, I guess before they really started beautifying a lot of the outer areas of the city.

  2. Beautiful-I'm really impressed by the plantings and how well-maintained it looks. And yes, I do feel more educated now.

  3. Sarah - It sure does make a difference! Also, I'm not sure if you've been back since the 80s, but if you haven't I think you'd be really surprised at how the city has changed (for the better).

    Jason - Thank you!

  4. I've visited this park many times and never imagined how amazing it looked from above. Thank you for the aerial views!

    1. My pleasure, but I didn't take them - just linked them from the artist's website. Still, very neat to see what we can't usually see on the ground.