One of the things I’ve loved about living in Philadelphia the past 9 years is witnessing the transformation of the city. In the Fairmount neighborhood, where I’ve lived the last 6 years, one of the most obvious transformations is, without doubt, the beautification of the Eastern State Penitentiary grounds. There, surrounding the remains of a the first true penitentiary in the country, is a lush, beautifully maintained garden. Run by volunteers at Friends of Eastern State Penitentiary Park, the garden is really a hidden gem in Philadelphia, exquisitely maintained by volunteers from the neighborhood.
There’s a private, member-only garden on the east side of Eastern State Penitentiary, but you don’t have to go inside to enjoy the garden. It’s clear that the volunteers also devote a lot of time to the entire perimeter, with a lush variety of plants.
If you do want to go inside the member-only section of the garden, you’ll be confronted with a locked gate. If you happen to be there on a day when members are out working on their patch, they will probably let you in.
Inside the private garden, it’s really cool to see the exterior of this once terrifying space converted into a beautiful and usable garden. It’s actually quite a bit larger on the inside then you would imagine from the outside, with a winding path, a large sand pit (for kids?) and picnic tables.
It’s also slightly more elevated along the garden then you might expect, up a good 5-7 feet above street level. And because it is so expansive, without any really tall buildings in the way, you actually have a great view of the Philadelphia skyline.
So there you have it: the Eastern State Penitentiary Gardens. One of the hidden little gems of Fairmount, and all of Philadelphia really. If you get the chance to stop by on a rainy summer afternoon, don’t miss it!