Walking Tour of West Fairmount Park

Memorial Hall and surrounding area (HABS PA,51-PHILA,265B–34, Jack E. Boucher, Photographer, April 24, 2003)

Almost two months ago now I posted my proposal for my Digital History final project and I’ve finally wrapped it up. First of all, here it is!

I was steered toward StoryMap.js as an alternative to my original Omeka concept (for several reasons) and it was a really good decision. The StoryMap format is designed for a linear tour like this and works pretty smoothly on mobile devices. While I wasn’t able to incorporate the original map artwork as I had planned, I was still able to include an image for each stop and some text. One unexpected perk of using StoryMap was that it uses Open Street Map and several enterprising individuals have mapped lots of hidden Fairmount Park stuff (old trolley paths, hiking routes, etc) onto the map. So if you are the urban explorer type, use Open Street Map the next time you’re venturing around Fairmount Park!

I think the power of walking tours is that the act of walking triggers different types of sensory learning and spacial reasoning. For instance, I learned during an Irish Literature course at Goshen College that James Joyce’s Ulysses makes more sense if you’re walking while reading it. We accomplished this by having two walkers flank a reader, guiding them as they read aloud.

By connecting various sites in a linear path, the tour makes some sense of what might otherwise simply be scattered dots on a map.

While the original WPA walking tour is great–and I plan on following a couple of the tours myself–it is woefully out of date,  and includes relatively limited pictures. Plus one of my goals for this project was to get this sort of a tour in the hands of folks whose primary tool is the smartphone. StoryMap achieves that and allows me to draw from public image sources to craft what I think is a pretty good tour.

One of my favorite things about the final product is that there are a whole lot of things included in the 1937 tour that aren’t there anymore, despite their seeming timelessness. The number of sculptures that have been relocated out of Fairmount Park would put many other city parks to shame. We often think of bronze and concrete as permanent, but they aren’t, and this tour is a sharp reminder of that. I hope that people who embark on this tour find themselves mulling how quickly the built landscape (and at this point all of Fairmount Park is built) can change. There used to be a lake that’s no longer there!

Omeka exhibit

This post is brought to you by my Digital History class and my determination to show my soft underbelly by putting early drafts of ideas on the internet. In class we’ve been tasked with assembling an Omeka-based exhibit, and I took the opportunity to think about my research paper from slightly different angles. My exhibit is essentially a collection of photos, old and new, of three of the villas in Fairmount Park, with brief histories of the sites and analysis of their preservation stories to this point. Check it out: http://tedmaust.omeka.net/exhibits/show/fairmounthouses/fairmounthouses

Digital History Project Proposal

I’ve reached the point in the semester where I need to have a good idea of what I’m going to attempt for my final projects and papers. So here is my (ambitious) proposal:

Belmont Mansion in stereo

I want to use the 1937 Federal Writers Project city guide to Philadelphia (or more likely simply the walking tours of Fairmount Park) as a jumping off point for a digital map similar to the Mall Histories project. Among the resources I hope to geolocate are Historic American Building Survey (HABS) images and drawings as well as stereoscopic views of Fairmount Park that are part of the New York Public Library’s online collections. I might also include contemporary photos to highlight attractions that weren’t present in 1937, such as public artworks and graffiti. The mansion called “The Cliffs” was not included in the 1937 guide, likely because it is off the beaten path, but its fire-damaged, graffiti’d shell is a major draw for urban explorer types, and before and after images could be really interesting. Continue reading “Digital History Project Proposal”

Research Notes: Chamounix Mansion (Hostelling International)

Having made my way through some of the pile of scholarship on Historic House Museums, I made a foray into Fairmount Park on Wednesday to visit the Chamounix (SHAM-ah-nee) Mansion, which has operated as a hostel since 1965. Abbe, the hostel’s steward, and Andrew, the manager, showed me around the place and then we had a really nice conversation about Philadelphia, historic buildings, Fairmount Park, gentrification, and the Church of the Divine.

Because I’m trying to learn some Google Map APIs, here’s a map of where Chamounix is located in Fairmount Park:

A photo from the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust (now the Fairmount Park Conservancy) after restoration work completed 2006-2008.

Built in 1803, the mansion has been a summer-home, a year-round residence, a concession stand, a boarding house, a raceway, residence for a park employee, and a condemned fire-damaged shell before it found its current purpose.

[Check out PhillyHistory.org’s collection of images that show the condition of the mansion in 1962*]

Continue reading “Research Notes: Chamounix Mansion (Hostelling International)”