Washington Square Park
Washington Square, originally designated in 1682 as Southeast Square, is an open-space park in Center City Philadelphia’s Southeast quadrant and one of the five original planned squares laid out on the city grid by William Penn’s surveyor, Thomas Holme. It is part of both the Washington Square West and Society Hill neighborhoods. In 2005, the National Park Service took over ownership and management of Washington Square, through an easement from the City of Philadelphia. Washington Square is now part of Independence National Historical Park.
During the 18th century, the Square was used to graze animals and for burials by city’s African American community and as a potter’s field, much like the park of the same name in New York’s Greenwich Village. During the Revolutionary War, the square was used as a burial ground for citizens and troops from the Colonial army.
After the Revolution, victims of the city’s yellow fever epidemics were interred here, and the square was used for cattle markets and camp meetings. Improvement efforts began in 1815, as the neighborhoods around the square were developed and became fashionable. In 1825, the park was named Washington Square in tribute to George Washington and a monument to Washington was proposed. This monument was never built but served as the seed for the eventual tribute to soldiers of the Revolutionary War. The Curtis Building sits to the north of the park, a remnant of Philadelphia’s publishing industry.
Washington Square was the site of the first human flight in the Americas in 1793 when Jean Pierre Blanchard ascended in his hot-air balloon from the Walnut Street Jail.
Main article: Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier
During a 1952 renovation of the square, it was decided that, instead of the original proposed monument to Washington, a monument to all soldiers and sailors of the Revolutionary War would be built. The monument was designed by architect G. Edwin Brumbaugh.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorial is located within the square. An unknown number of bodies remain buried beneath the square and the surrounding area; some are still occasionally found during construction and maintenance projects.
By Michael Angelina
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