Each week in February, we’ll be publishing new routes that highlight Black histories and futures in motion around Philly. This ride series is an adapted-for-the-pandemic-times version of the Black History Month group rides we’ve held in previous years in partnership with Indego.
Week 1’s route takes you through Fairmount Park and West Philly. The full route is 18.5 miles, perfect for a big day on the bike, but we designed it so you can also break it up into two ~9 mile loops, one through Fairmount Park and the other through West Philly. All versions of the route start and end at the Art Museum, but feel free to start and end wherever makes sense for you!
Read on for some more in-depth info about each of the stops along the Fairmount Park part of the route (details about the West Philly loop are here). This is a totally free event, we’re just asking for your info so we can keep track of how many folks are participating.
Fairmount Park Loop
STOP 1 – HATFIELD HOUSE: Originally a farmhouse constructed circa 1760 near Hunting Park and Pulaski Aves, the Hatfield House is the only all-wood historic house in Fairmount Park. As of 2019, Fairmount Parks Conservancy began work to support the house as a community hub that is welcoming for all and centers the neighborhood’s Black culture and history through art exhibitions, community events, collaborations with local artists, teachers, and entrepreneurs. The legacy of MLK Jr. is currently being honored at the Hatfield House, with artist Victor Bunn’s large-format portrait on display on the porch all month, plus a virtual tour of the house and artist talk with Bunn on February 4th.
STOP 2 – WHY WE LOVE COLTRANE MURAL: Why We Love Coltrane is artist Ernel Martinez’s interpretation of Coltrane’s legacy: the Philadelphian inspired an entire generation of jazz musicians and changed the world of music forever. He is an important reminder of the power that one individual can have in their community. As of summer 2020, the mural is mostly blocked by new development in the adjoining lot. Read more about plans to relocate the mural and community perspectives on the preservation of history.
STOP 3 – BOELSEN COTTAGE: Boelsen Cottage is the oldest surviving structure in Fairmount Park (believed to have been constructed between 1678-1684). The cottage was a critical stop on the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, but you won’t find that information on the Cottage’s Wikipedia page or even on the Fairmount Parks Conservancy’s site.
Cornelia Wells — a self-liberated woman who also purchased her daughter’s freedom — was given Boelson Cottage as her residence. According to Janice Sykes-Ross, director of the Underground Railroad Museum at Belmont Mansion: “It ended up becoming a place where runaways, when they were coming up the river on ships, would get off. And then from there, come over to the Boelson Cottage. And then from Boelson Cottage, Cornelia Wells would take them to the Belmont Mansion as a place of safekeeping until they were able to either integrate into the Philadelphia society or go further north.” You can listen to or read Janice’s full interview about Cornelia and the Boelsen Cottage here.
STOP 4 – BELMONT MANSION: The Belmont Mansion houses the Underground Railroad Museum, highlighting Philadelphia’s role in the 19th-century network that helped enslaved folks escape to freedom. In the early 1980s, Audrey Johnson-Thornton noticed the decayed mansion during a drive through Belmont Plateau. She started researching and learned it was a stop on the Underground Railroad, then founded the American Women’s Heritage Society to fight to protect and restore the mansion in 1986. AWHS is recognized as the first African-American women’s organization to become stewards of a historical landmark. If you want to really dig in to the history of Belmont, Johnson-Thorton’s book Crown Jewel of Fairmount Park: Belmont Mansion is available from Temple University Libraries.
STOP 5 – 44TH AND PARKSIDE PARK: Home to the Philadelphia Stars from 1936 – 1952, 44th and Parkside Park is now the site of to the Negro League Memorial & Mural. Black Philadelphia artist Phil Sumpter made the memorial’s 7-foot bronze centerpiece of a Negro Leagues player, as well as many other works that commemorate Black folks in history. Watch They Said We Couldn’t Play: An Oral History of the Philadelphia Stars to learn more.