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Forgotten Philly square gets a facelift

Splendor restored, carousel added, to Park just north of Independence Mall
Franklin Square
Many of Franklin Square's Liberty Carousel's animals are modeled in the unique Philadelphia style.George Widman / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Until just recently, if you asked the average Philadelphian how to get to Franklin Square, you'd likely be met with a blank stare. The park just north of Independence Mall had been virtually forgotten — until now.

A revamped and revitalized park opened to the public on July 31, after three years of work by a historical group that hopes to add another landmark to a district full of iconic sites.

But with two playgrounds, a carousel and a miniature golf course, this spot will be a bit more lighthearted than the monuments and museums that surround it.

"After a full day of enjoying history as they only can in Philadelphia, people will be able to go to Franklin Square and play," said Amy Needle, executive director of Once Upon a Nation, the group in charge of the project.

The group, which specializes in telling Philadelphia history through colonial re-enactors, sees the square as a perfect opportunity to tie together several centuries of the city's past.

The 7.5-acre plot of land on the northern tip of Philadelphia's historic district is one of five squares in William Penn's original plan for the city. Since its construction in 1682, it has been used as a horse and cattle market, burial ground, ammunition storage center, military drill ground and, finally, a city park.

"William Penn always intended Philadelphia to have green space, and over history the city has reclaimed the square in one way or another to do that," Needle said.

But the once-elegant park fell off the city's radar screen in the late '70s, and its marble fountain was dry for about 30 years.

Part of the $6.5 million Franklin Square restoration project, primarily funded by a state grant, was designed to revitalize the park's vintage marble centerpiece. The fountain will be at the cross-section of four new landscaped paths and sport a 15-foot center stream.

The rest of the square's new features fan out from that central point, so that visitors walking out from the fountain in any direction will pass an attraction.

Two playgrounds lie to the southeast, one designed for young children and one for big kids.

To the northeast sits the "Liberty Carousel," which will take riders on a lilting ride past scenes of the city. The design of some of the ride's horses recalls Philadelphia's heritage as a carousel-making powerhouse. The city was headquarters to the world's three biggest carousel fabricators in the late 19th century, and many of the Liberty Carousel's animals will be modeled in the unique Philadelphia style.

And directly north of the fountain is the whole city of Philadelphia — in miniature.

Between models of the two rivers that frame the city, the Schuylkill and the Delaware, is an 18-hole mini golf course, where players guide their balls through some of Philadelphia's most recognizable icons. Guests will putt around the Rocky steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, swing at the Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture and aim for the crack in the Liberty Bell to land in front of Independence Hall.

Franklin Square will also be home to a memorial to fallen Philadelphia police and firefighters, food and craft vendors, and a number of benches where visitors can sit and take in the new landscaping.

The park will be a convenient place for tourists to cap off a day of sightseeing because, open until 9 p.m. daily, it will be accessible up to four hours after other attractions in the area close their doors.

It will also be a new green space for Philadelphia residents to enjoy, said Bill Zumsteg, who oversees the construction for Once Upon a Nation.

"The square's placement bridges the historic district to the community," Zumsteg said, noting that the entrance at Seventh and Race streets would be an opportune way for residents who live or work in Chinatown to get to the park.

Once Upon a Nation, of course, isn't missing the opportunity to get some of its storytellers out to tell the square's history.

"People can come and listen to stories about crafting in the square, and people who like more modern entertainment will have something to do, too," Needle said. "This is a chance to celebrate all of Philadelphia."

If You Go...

FRANKLIN SQUARE: Opened July 31 just north of Independence Hall, Philadelphia. Enter at Sixth and Race or Seventh and Race streets. Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. year-round.

LIBERTY CAROUSEL: Open until Sept. 4, with possible offseason hours. Adults, $3; children 3-12, $2; children 2 and under, free.

PHILLY MINI GOLF: Open until Sept. 4, with possible offseason hours. Adults, $8; children 3-12, $6; children 2 and under, free.

OTHER FEATURES: Two playgrounds, Franklin Square fountain, tents with colonial and community artisans, memorial to fallen Philadelphia police and firefighters, concessions and merchandise kiosks, Once Upon a Nation storytelling bench, and picnic areas.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: or 215-629-4026.