Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Boost history with 'Liberty Trail'

Posted on Tue, Aug. 26, 2003

Boost history with 'Liberty Trail'
A connector of Philadelphia sites would guide visitors and benefit the city.

By Bruce Andersen

This has become apparent since Philadelphia's new Constitution Center opened and Independence Mall has been redeveloped: The city needs an integrated plan to lead visitors to all of our historic treasures.

Simply put, we need something akin to Boston's Freedom Trail to guide history lovers from Independence National Historical Park along Market Street to City Hall.

Many visitors know a little about Philadelphia's Revolutionary-era history, but many do not know how our historic sites relate to one another or that some are outside Old City. There also are significant sites from later periods, such as the industrial revolution, that deserve attention and recognition.

The Center City District, the private-sector group that promotes activities and businesses in Center City, runs a series of tours as part of Walk! Philadelphia, and local attractions are listed in guidebooks. But more is needed. The city needs a cohesive plan to market all of the historic attractions as a package; it would help them benefit from tourism, particularly the lesser-known sites. Creating a history trail also would solidify the base upon which tourists could plan their visits.

The Freedom Trail is a focal point of Boston's tourism. Visitors from around the nation and the world spend several hours walking through the heart of the downtown business district, following a trail of red bricks and red painted lines. The three-mile trail connects 16 sites in Boston National Historical Park, including old churches, government buildings and burial grounds. It also links to the Black Heritage Trail, which recounts the early history of Boston's African American community.

It's not uncommon for visitors to spend a full day exploring the Freedom Trail, stopping for lunch and souvenirs. The economic benefits they leave behind there and elsewhere in the city are significant: $11 billion a year.

Philadelphia can reap similar benefits. Our city also has a compact, walkable downtown that is full of colorful neighborhoods with historic buildings, cemeteries, churches and exhibits. We just lack a connector.

We could call it the Liberty Trail and make the primary path red brick, with secondary loops in white or blue. It could be put on the eastern side of Market Street and Old City and anchored to the west by City Hall. It could include colonial and revolutionary history as well as the history of the industrial revolution.

The Liberty Trail could tie together all those wonderful destinations that currently are, or seem to be, separate - the Constitution Center, Independence Hall, City Hall, Reading Terminal Market, the Loews Hotel (the former PSFS building), the Union League, the Masonic Temple, and even our newest piece of architectural history, the Kimmel Center.

Two loops could be added to the main trail, one that takes visitors to the Gloria Dei Church and Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, and another along Market Street to Reading Terminal, the former Wanamakers building (now Lord & Taylor) and City Hall. Loops could be added to promote specific neighborhoods such as Society Hill, Germantown and Chinatown.

The Liberty Trail could promote locations critical to the development of the city and the nation. These self-guided trails would help visitors understand the people, the events, and the ideals of Philadelphia throughout the last three centuries. It would place history alongside the existing, progressing, evolving city.

A small investment in the way the city presents itself could bring a windfall - not only in economic prosperity, but in goodwill from visitors.


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Bruce Andersen lives and writes in Philadelphia.

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