Every Picture Tells a Hidden History of the Wissahickon

Maura McCarthy, Executive Director, Friends of the Wissahickon


A joint photo exhibit by FOW and the Chestnut Hill Conservancy. Open business hours through early 2018 at FOW’s offices, 40 W. Evergreen Ave. Call 215-247-0417 to check for open times.

Preserving vital natural space is a shared responsibility of Friends of the Wissahickon and the Chestnut Hill Conservancy. To that end, the two organizations have shared a productive partnership since 1990, when they jointly formed the “Conservation and Façade Easement Program” for Chestnut Hill, surrounding communities and the Wissahickon watershed. Easements, or donated development rights, are one of the strongest preservation tools we have.

By encouraging landowners to voluntarily limit future development of their property, easements help protect the vast network of adjacent privately held green space, which is essential to the health of the Wissahickon and Philadelphia’s water supply. The program controls surface water runoff, promotes natural drainage and protects native flora and fauna. 

One project involved the acquisition of a conservation easement to preserve more than 8 acres of open watercourse in Chestnut Hill. Located near the headwaters of East Brook, which feeds Swan Pond at Morris Arboretum and is a tributary of Wissahickon Creek, the area is one of the few remaining stream valleys in Philadelphia with an intact watercourse, interrupted only by road crossings. The valley and stream running through it are important natural resources in Chestnut Hill, contributing to the ecological health of the neighborhood and the Wissahickon watershed. The easement protects the property from development and ensures that it will remain a forested vegetative stream buffer in perpetuity. 

To date, the Conservancy, formerly the Chestnut Hill Historical Society and the nation’s first urban accredited land trust, and FOW have facilitated the permanent conservation of more than 140 acres of open space in Chestnut Hill. 

During our 90th anniversary year in 2014, when FOW embarked on a major renovation of the historic Valley Green Inn, which we steward, we called on CHC’s expertise to identify and catalog found objects. For a time, FOW and CHC even shared office space: In 1993, FOW moved into the upstairs office at the then-Chestnut Hill Historical Society, and donated the FOW archives to the organization. FOW has since moved, but its archival materials remain.

Now you can see some remarkable photos from those archives in a gallery show we’re pleased to be mounting jointly with CHC in celebration of its 50th anniversary. The specially enlarged images and background information that make up “Hidden Histories of the Wissahickon” allow you step into the rich past of Wissahickon Valley Park — and Philadelphia itself. You can see the exhibit, which opened in September, at FOW’s office at 40 W. Evergreen Ave. during normal business hours through early 2018. 

Even if you think you know the Wissahickon, I guarantee you’ll discover something in this exhibit that will give you fresh insight into all the history and nature the park has to offer.

For more information about Friends of the Wissahickon, visit www.fow.org.

There may not be oil wells in the Wissahickon any more, but the vistas at left remain familiar looking today — except for the ice-skaters.