Franklin Square

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PA)

Franklin Square is a family-friendly park in Philadelphia named after Benjamin Franklin.

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- Gary Reed

Discovering Franklin Square in Philadelphia

Take a wander around Philadelphia's Historic District, and you will undoubtedly stumble across Franklin Square, a historic public park filled with family-friendly attractions and green space. The park was created as part of a wider vision to fill Philadelphia with five open-space parks. However, its development was hindered by marshy terrain and a turbulent history, including a stint as Philadelphia's "skid row."

Despite these early struggles, Franklin Square has been revived in recent years, culminating in its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1981. Today visitors are greeted by a whole host of attractions, including the Parx Liberty Carousel, Philly Mini Golf, and SquareBurger, all centred around the restored fountain.

The History of Franklin Square

Early Years

North East Publick Square, as it was originally called, owes its existence to Philadelphia's founder, William Penn, who envisioned a green space at the heart of the city. Established in 1682, it served various purposes over the centuries, including a cattle pasture and a horse and cattle market.

In 1741, a portion of the square was leased to the German Reformed Church for use as a burial ground, which stirred controversy among Philadelphians who were opposed to burial in what they believed should be a natural space. Despite protests, the cemetery remained in use until 1835.

Franklin Square
- Tom Ipri

Transforming Franklin Square

Throughout the 19th century, it served multiple functions, including storing gunpowder during the Revolutionary War and hosting military drills during the War of 1812.

In Philadelphia Benjamin Franklin championed many issues from sanitation reform to environmental conservation. As a result he has been honoured by many structures across the nation's landscape, including Franklin Square, which was renamed in his honour in 1825.

But it wasn’t only a name that transformed Franklin Square in the 1820s. William Rush and Thomas Birch carried out an entire redesign of its appearance seeking to increase the park’s natural elements in a more organised manner.

20th Century Decline

In the early 20th century urban developments, such as the construction of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and the Vine Street Expressway, began to encroach on the peacefulness of Franklin Square. As a result less people were using the park. Neglect and economic downturn further deteriorated the square, and it wasn’t long before it became a refuge for the homeless and a site for illicit activities. By the mid-20th century, it had become known as the city's "Skid Row park", referring to its impoverished nature.

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- Ed B

Reviving Franklin Square Once More (21st Century)

In the early 2000s, funded primarily by a state grant, Historic Philadelphia, Inc. refurbished the 7-acre park, restoring the central feature, the fountain, to its former glory. The fountain is a marble masterpiece dating back to 1838 and sources its water from the Schuylkill River.

Alongside the restoration project, new family-friendly attractions were added, including a carousel and mini-golf course. The reopening in 2006 marked a turning point for Franklin Square, reclaiming its status as a good place to go in the city.

In recent years, new housing and commercial spaces have been built around Franklin Square, and there are plans to reopen the Franklin Square Station, closed since 1979. As of 2020, the station is scheduled to reopen in 2024, which highlights positivity and optimism for investing in the square’s future.

Inside the Franklin Square

Family-Friendly Attractions

One of the highlights of Franklin Square is its family-friendly attractions, perfect for visitors of all ages. You might think the Philly Mini Golf course is like any other mini-golf course but no. This one will take you on a miniature journey through Philadelphia's iconic landmarks, as each different green has replicas of famous sites such as the Liberty Bell and Boathouse Row.

Or hop aboard the Philadelphia Parx Liberty Carousel, where timeless racehorses like Afleet Alex and Smarty Jones come to life in classic carousel fashion. The immersive journey continues at the Once Upon a Nation storytelling bench, where costumed performers recount tales of Franklin Square's history.

Franklin Square 1
- Katia Strieck

The Light and Water Show

Following Franklin Square’s $2 million renovation in August 2019, the marble fountain revealed a dazzling new feature — a light and water show that captivates visitors every day. The choreographed displays run every half-hour from noon to 2:00 pm and from 6:00 pm until closing.

Bolt of Lightning

Legend has it that Franklin Square has ties to Benjamin Franklin's famous kite and key experiment of 1752, although the accuracy of this claim actually remains debatable. Nevertheless, the square honours this legend through Isamu Noguchi's towering stainless steel sculpture, "Bolt of Lightning," erected in Monument Plaza in 1984.

Honouring Philadelphia’s First Responders

In 1976, Franklin Square became home to the Living Flame memorial, a tribute to the city's fallen police officers and firefighters. Centred around Reginald E. Beauchamp's sculpture, the memorial serves as a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made by these brave individuals. Additionally, the memorial houses the Fallen Heroes Support Fund, offering assistance to the families of fallen first responders.

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Chinese New Year is often celebrated at Franklin Square - R'lyeh Imaging

Philadelphia’s Four Other Squares

Penn Square

Centre Square, now Penn Square, was named for, you guessed it – Philadelphia's founder, William Penn. Once a popular spot for relaxing and recreational activities on the outskirts of town, Penn Square now houses the City Hall.

Logan Circle

Northwest Square, or Logan Circle as it became known, has come a long way since its creation. It began life as a pasture and burial ground, much like Franklin Square, although it also went on to become a site for public executions. Despite these humble origins it has emerged as one of Philadelphia's most remarkable spots.

Renamed for James Logan, William Penn's highly-praised secretary, the circle features the Swann Memorial Fountain at its centre, a masterpiece by Alexander Stirling Calder. The fountain delights visitors with its display of water arcs and intricate sculptures of turtles, nymphs, and angels.

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Swann Memorial Fountain at Logan Circle - Ira

Rittenhouse Square

Transformed into the upscale Rittenhouse Square, Southwest Square was named for colonial scientist David Rittenhouse. Surrounded by high-end establishments, the square is actually a very peaceful place to retreat to in the city. It also hosts various cultural events, from art exhibitions to flower shows. So it is very good at fostering a sense of community.

Washington Square

Formerly known as Southeast Square, Washington Square is a tribute to the nation's first President, George Washington. Steeped in history, this square showcases Philadelphia's revolutionary past. From the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier to the nation's first book publisher, Washington Square contains a lot of historical landmarks.

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Washington Square - Ken Lane

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Franklin Square Questions


What you need to know

Franklin Square
200 N 6th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
39.955673, -75.150146
Tips before you visit