Historic Houses

Black History Walking Tours in Fairmount Park

by Grace Romo on October 4, 2023

This October, Fairmount Park Conservancy wants to highlight the history of Black Philadelphians in East and West Fairmount Park by leading hikes, tours, and interactive conversations with experts in the neighborhoods’ past. Here are 3 historical tours you can take this month! 


Walking in William Still’s Steps: Guided Hike & Community Conversation

Join Fairmount Park Conservancy and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on Saturday, 10/7 from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM for a special hike and conversation in honor of  William Still, the Father of the Underground Railroad. This 3.5-mile loop hike in West Fairmount Park will visit several places of historical significance, some with connections to the Underground Railroad, followed by a conversation on how public historians can expand and support narratives of 19th-century Black Americans in Philadelphia. 

The hike will feature immersive experiences led by historic storyteller and “Conductor” Dee Patterson of UGR3DAY Underground Railroad Experiences Inc. and Gilletta “Gigi” McGraw, portraying free Black woman Cornelia Wells. 

The walk will begin at Ridgeland Mansion’s barn at 10:00 AM and return there for lunchtime discussion. The 3.5-mile loop hike will visit places of historical significance, some with connections to the Underground Railroad. Stops include Ridgeland Mansion (c.1762),Boelsen Cottage (c.1684), Belmont Mansion (c.1742), and physical remnants of the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, which was a means of clandestine conveyance for freedom seekers in the mid-19th century.

Following the hike is a panel discussion and community conversation with historians Emma Lapsanksy-Werner and Andrew Diemer, moderated by Justina Barrett of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The $15 ticket includes a boxed lunch provided by Joshua’s Catering


-Guided hike only: Free RSVP

-Guided hike + community conservation and lunch: $15

-Community conversation and lunch (no hike): $15

Register for the hike here


Discover Strawberry Mansion: Neighborhood and East Park Walking Tour

Fairmount Park Conservancy and Judith Robinson, longtime Strawberry Mansion resident and historic preservationist, lead an easy-to-moderate 2.5-mile walking tour on Sunday, October 22 at 10 AM to learn about the past, present, and future of Strawberry Mansion and nearby East Park. Take in history about the neighborhood’s time as an 18th-century rural retreat, to its 19th-century industrial boom with a proliferation of factories and rowhouses, to the 20th-century that experienced a demographic shift from a primarily Jewish enclave to an established African American community. 

Strawberry Mansion has always had a close connection to the park. In fact, the neighborhood is named after a prominent place in the park, Historic Strawberry Mansion. Similar to Parkside on the other side of the Schuylkill, Strawberry Mansion is where the city grid meets the green space, buffered by a boulevard of grand homes and apartment buildings facing the park. Judith will highlight the neighborhood’s history as a hub of cultural activity — the home to artists such as Henry Ossawa Tanner and Dox Thrash, musicians such as John Coltrane and Meek Mill, and community groups such as Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, the horse riders who inspired the hit movie Concrete Cowboy.

The tour departs from the Boxer’s Trail Gateway and begins with the colonial homes that first defined the area and then visits a variety of important park sites such as the Dell Music Center, the Medicine Man statue, the old concession stand, and the recently installed horseshoe pits. Next, Judith will lead the group down 33rd Street, East Park’s parkside promenade to see B’nai Jeshuran synagogue/Cornerstone Baptist Church, Mander Recreation Center, and the John Coltrane house. The tour will end at The Discovery Center at the Strawberry Mansion Reservoir.


Pay what you can- $10, $15, or $20

Register for the walking tour here!


Parkside Past, Parkside Present: Neighborhood & Centennial District Walking Tour

Follow Fairmount Park Conservancy staff and Michael Burch (science educator, community organizer, and founder of the Parkside Journal) for a special walking tour of the Parkside neighborhood on October 28 at 10 AM to learn more about the area. The easy-to-moderate walking tour departs from School of the Future and highlights the Parkside neighborhood built during the 1876 Centennial Exhibition and stops at specific monuments like the Smith Memorial Arch, Christ Community Baptist Church that was built from an old synagogue, Philadelphia Stars Negro League Memorial Park and mural, and more. 

Parkside is the neighborhood that runs along West Fairmount Park. Similar to Strawberry Mansion on the other side of the Schuylkill, Parkside is where the city grid meets greenspace, buffered by a boulevard of grand homes facing the park. Much of the Parkside neighborhood was built during the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. Originally populated by German-Americans and Jewish immigrants of Russian descent after World War II, the Great Migration coupled with “white flight” transformed Parkside into a predominantly African-American neighborhood, which it remains to this day. In 1983, community organizers had the neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its cultural legacy and many fine examples of Victorian architecture.


Pay what you can – $15, $20, or $25

Register for the walking tour here!

For more upcoming events by Fairmount Park Conservancy, click here.

Photography by Albert Yee.