Dubbed the Newkirk Monument, it was installed by the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad near their new bridge at Gray's Ferry. Nearly a century later, the marble sculpture stood along the tracks that would become Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line. Largely hidden from public view, it eroded there for decades.
In 2016, the Monument was rescued through a joint effort between public and private organizations, which moved it to a place of honor along the Schuylkill River Trail.
Here is its story.
By 1927, the Newkirk Monument was surrounded by the railyards that had grown up along the Schuylkill River near Grays Ferry Avenue.
Around 1930, the Monument was moved one-eighth of a mile westward, to the site of the Pennsylvania Railroad's demolished Gray's Ferry Station. Its new location was by Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line, just north of the 49th Street Bridge in Kingsessing.
Some of the inscriptions remain clear after 17 decades of wind and weather.
Others are worn past legibility.
Few saw the Monument except sharp-eyed passengers and vandals.
In March 2013, Hidden City Philadelphia proposed that the Monument be moved to the planned Bartram's Mile park along the Schuylkill south of Grays Ferry Avenue. City planners received the proposal with enthusiasm. In summer 2013, they approached Amtrak officials, who quickly vouched their support for moving the obelisk to a more public space. The Monument was drawn into the Bartram's Mile vision.
Over the next three years, various government and non-profit organizations worked to bring the idea to reality. Among them were the City of Philadelphia's Parks and Recreation department, Amtrak, Schuylkill River Development Corporation, Fairmount Park Conservancy, Andropogon Associates, and more.
On Nov. 18-19, 2016, the George Young Co. carefully moved the Monument to its new home along the Bartram's Mile.
The Newkirk Monument offers us a direct connection to the early days of railroading and industry in Philadelphia. It is also one of the oldest public artworks in a city famous for them. It was designed by Thomas Ustick Walter, who went on to build the dome and wings of the U.S. Capitol.
"Who Moved the Monument?" (March 2013, Hidden City Philadelphia) reveals why the Philadelphia, Wilmington, & Baltimore Railroad chose this bend of the Schuylkill River for their crossing, and where the Monument was first set up.
"The Monument Men" (July 2014, Hidden City Philadelphia) examines the lives behind the 51 names inscribed on the Monument. Some of the executives, engineers, and contractors were immigrants, others the scions of families long established on American shores. Some could be fairly judged hero, others knaves. Their ranks included a pioneer of U.S. railroad construction, one of Philadelphia’s largest landlords, and one of Maryland’s first Jewish elected officials.
In 2012, Philadelphia officials began planning to turn eight acres of former industrial land into a park. Dubbed Bartram's Mile, the project will extend the Schuylkill River Trail pedestrian-and-bike path south from the Grays Ferry Avenue Bridge to Bartram's Garden. Preliminary plans include areas for "industrial archaeology" displays — a perfect new home, we thought, for the Newkirk Monument.
With the Monument safely in place on its new concrete foundation along the Schuylkill River Trail, construction continues on the surrounding Bartram's Mile section, with a dedication planned for spring 2017.
If you love railroads, Philadelphia history, or historic preservation in general, consider sharing this page — with your friends, your neighbors, your book group, your model railroad club, your Philadelphia history walking tour, or your Thomas Ustick Walter fan club.
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