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Tree Walk Through Greenwood Cemetery

A lot of the rural folks who happen to wander into Frankford notice that we sure do have a lot of trees for a city.  Yes we are arborally blessed and this Friday, if you are available at about 2PM, you might want to take a walk with an expert on trees to see what we really have here.

Dr David Hewitt from the Academy of Natural Sciences will be leading the 5th in a Series of Tree Walks on Friday November 4 at 2:00 PM through Greenwood Cemetery, possibly also Oakland Cemetery, if time allows.  The plan is to meet at 930 Adams Ave Philadelphia, PA 19124 (the house on Adams near Ramona).

If you haven’t been to Greenwood since it has been restored, come on out.  It is much different than what you may remember from a few years ago. Sounds like great exercise on a fine Fall afternoon.

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  1. The Knights of Pythias Greenwood Cemetery had been designated historic in the year of Our Lord 2000.

    The following text and photo (photo not present for this post) were distributed and read aloud at the May Meeting of The Northwood Civic Association held on Tuesday May 25, 2005 at the St. James Lutheran Church on Castor Ave. and Pratt st. in Philadelphia Pa. 19124.

    This “pamphlet” was submitted to the Philadelphia Historic Commission this and placed in the K of P Greenwood Cemetery file.

    Composed 05/13/2005 by Fred Maurer & Joe Menkevich:


    Between the dates of July 25, 1781 through December 31, 1792 – Doctor Benjamin Rush began eleven and one half years tenure here in Northwood, by having a Vernacular Federal house built.

    This is where he practiced farm husbandry. Rush planted trees and gardens in his 76-acre estate, which is now Greenwood Cemetery (Long ago, it was also known as “Cottage Farm”).

    Recently, members of “Friends of Greenwood Cemetery” discovered many unreported and little known facts.

    During his tenure here in Oxford/Frankford, Dr. Rush had an ongoing correspondence and partnership with his Byberry born and life long contemporary Judge William Cooper on land speculations.

    In 1784 Rush acquired a tract of forestland to create sugar maple plantations in Loyal Sock Creek, Wyoming Pennsylvania.

    Not so coincidentally, the time frame in which Dr. Rush had owned “Cottage Farm” here in Frankford, runs parallel with that land purchase, and runs concurrently with his writings and experimenting with the feasibility of maple tree plantations for the purpose of sugar production as a national economic development, and as a means to reduce slave labor in the sugar cane colonies.

    The Quakers in 1788 promoted the manufacture of maple sugar to protest the use of cane sugar made by the slaves of the West Indies. New Englanders, including Thomas Jefferson, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Judge William Cooper and George Washington favored the Quaker’s protest.

    Dr Benjamin Rush wrote on July 10th 1791 in a letter to Thomas Jefferson:

    “I am led to expect that a natural part of the general happiness which heaven seems to have prepared for mankind will be derived from the manufacture and general use of maple sugar. I cannot help contemplating a sugar maple tree with a species of affection and even veneration, for I have persuaded myself to behold in it the happy means of rendering the commerce and slavery of our African brethren in the Sugar Indies as unnecessary as it has always been inhuman and unjust.”

    Thomas Jefferson was so taken with maple sugar that he had a grove of maple trees planted at his home, Monticello.

    During the Civil War maple sugar use, was used by the North as a protest against the South. The South produced most of the molasses and all of the sugar cane using slave labor.

    Northerners refused to use it and insisted on using maple sugar instead. By the year 1880 Cane sugar and maple sugar equaled in price.

    Some members of the “Friends of Greenwood Cemetery” believe the whole forest within Greenwood (Which was also deemed historic by the Philadelphia Historic Commission and supposed to be under their protection) merits a tree study, as there are many large and old maple trees of different varieties, all of which produce sweet sap capable of conversion into syrup.

    The tree featured in this picture appears to be one of the oldest with a circumference of 14.5 feet, a diameter of 4.5 feet and approximately 55 – 60 feet high.

    The International Society of Arboriculture has an established set of guidelines that may easily place the age of the largest Maple trees within Greenwood around the tenure of Dr. Benjamin Rush.

    The “Friends of Greenwood Cemetery” hope to rally the pride and conscience of the Frankford/Northwood community into collectively demanding preservation of this rural Cemetery, including the landscape design of natural habitat, endangered tree plantings that not only have the possibility of National Historic Significance, but also the probability.

    This community must hold the Philadelphia Historic Commission responsible for total preservation of the grounds and the landscape as promised during the designation.

    In the meantime while Government officials fiddle, such old trees are hazarded by local developments.

    Those developments include an on-site incinerator that will pollute the ambient air with heat and noxious fumes from solvents, radioactive isotopes, and heavy metals, including mercury and preparations products that will change the air quality of the natural habitat that fostered a forest in our midst.

    Past history has proved, that over time sulfuric acid rains and down draft air pollution does damage to grave markers and prevents trees from releasing oxygen thus causing them to die.

    Such a proposed industrial use, like a crematorium will affect not only Greenwood, but also adjacent Oakland, Tacony Creek Park with its Federally protected watershed as well as Northwood’s air quality.

    At the present, many species of birds enjoy our maple shade trees including over-circling hawks that prey on rodents.

    Does it all end there? Is that all that is left of our good Doctor? NO!

    The memory and efforts of fellow Northwood neighbor, Doctor Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, promoter of maple sugar manufacture and use as a means to end slavery, will not be denied, buried and forgotten in Greenwood!

    Look at the tree in this picture with pride and ask yourself:


    [as a foot-note & post-script, several Northwood Home-Owners won the fight against against the Crematorium & Industrial development. Today there is no crematorium.

    However, as the years rolled on – Cancer Treatment Centers of America took control of the property and restored the Rush House; but they also denuded most of the old growth trees without reserve. There are almost no trees left in Greenwood Cemetery].


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