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Moving Lincoln

The City of Philadelphia has the largest urban park system in the United States. Fairmount Park, the centerpiece of this network, was created in the 19th Century along both sides of the Schuylkill River. It extends from Spring Garden Street north to the Montgomery County border at City Avenue. The Park’s original purpose was the protection of the Schuylkill, the City’s main supply of potable water at the time, from encroachment related to development and pollution. The Park remains intact today as a resource for recreational users.

The Schuylkill River through the Park is a major venue for rowing activities and competitions. Many rowing clubs are based in Boat House Row, which is a collection of boating club buildings along the east side of the River, just north of the Fairmount Water Works. The Water Works has some history of its own as the City’s first facility for pumping river water for residential use, dating to the 1800’s. It has been renovated to non-operating historical status.

At the southern end of Boat House Row, one will find a statue of Abraham Lincoln, our nation’s 16th President. The statue is located at the intersection of Kelly Drive, Sedgley Drive and Waterworks Drive. Kelly Drive, the major north-south spine through the portion of the Park on the east side of the Schuylkill River, was formerly known, appropriately, as East River Drive. In 1987 it was renamed to honor one of Philadelphia’s more prominent families, members of which include Grace Kelly, the late Princess of Monaco, and a popular Philadelphia City Councilman and one-time Olympic rower, John B. “Jack” Kelly Jr., who passed away suddenly in 1986. Waterworks Drive was known as Aquarium Drive until 2001, and its name reflected the Philadelphia Aquarium, which was located adjacent to this road. The Aquarium closed in the early 1960’s. The name change reflects the location of the restored Water Works.

In 2001, the Kelly/Sedgley/Waterworks Drives intersection was slightly realigned from what loosely resembled a traffic circle to a conventional four-legged intersection. The project was handled by the City of Philadelphia Department of Streets and its design consultant, Urban Engineers Inc. While this intersection work was in and of itself not very notable, what made it interesting was that the Lincoln statue had to be moved to permit the removal of the circle. The statue formerly sat in the center of the oval in the intersection. It was moved just over fifty feet to its new location in the southeastern quadrant of the intersection.

The statue itself has historic significance as the first known sculpture of Lincoln, created in 1871, six years after his assassination. The statue was presented to the City by a group which commissioned it. The City, in turn, considered several possible locations for it, but could not agree on one. A final decision was made to place the statue alongside East River Drive, where it remained for the next 130 years.

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