Fostering Healthy Neighborhood Relations and Strong Community Ties

By 1996, both the Brown and Corinthian areas were overgrown with weeds and had become a dumping ground for trash and a magnet for prostitution and drug use. The sidewalks on both sides were also in serious disrepair, and it was impossible to walk on the northern or eastern sides of the prison as the weeds had grown through the cracks in the concrete reaching to over 6 feet high.

Around 1994, neighbors began organizing to clean up the land and develop an inviting community space. Subsequently,Friends of Eastern State Penitentiary Park (FESPP) was formed as a nonprofit corporation to develop and maintain Eastern State Penitentiary Park.

Our success in turning a trash-strewn, weed-infested lot into the Brown Street lawn, the beautiful trees along the sidewalk on Brown and Corinthian and the Corinthian linear garden from 1996 – 2000 relied heavily on our Philadelphia Urban Resources Partnership (PURP) grant and the cooperation it fostered with the City of Philadelphia and area businesses. But the park would never have happened without the hard work of the volunteers from the surrounding community.

In 1996, FESPP began the annual Earth Day planting with the students of Bache-Martin Elementary School. Each year, students eagerly participate in the planting and beautifying of the garden at Brown and 22nd Streets, across the street from the school.

In 1998, FESPP sponsored our first major fundraising event, the 5K race. This 5K road race, held in October, is a USA Track & Field sanctioned race through Fairmount and historic Girard College. The event raises funds for the high cost of maintaining the park.

Since then, FESPP began the annual Urban Beach Party. Held on the Brown Street Lawn, this annual “start of summer” celebration invites community residents to come out and enjoy food, music and games at the park.

The Play Pen, one of FESPP’s most successful initiatives was built during 2004 and 2005 across from Bache-Martin and has been a huge success for the students as well as the children in the local community. Within the past few years, several trees have been planted around the play pen.

In the past few years, FESPP worked hard on plans for the Corinthian Gardens that include public gardens, garden recreation areas, natural garden playscape, raised garden beds, garden walk and individual garden plots. The first garden plots were assigned and planted in spring 2014, bringing much needed life and color to the east side of the Penitentiary.

FESPP depends entirely on individual donations and grants to maintain the park and make improvements. Our mission is to develop and maintain Eastern State Penitentiary Park and to foster good neighborhood relations and strong community ties between Fairmount, Francisville, and Spring Garden