Print of an image scanned from an original at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania of the entrance to Cresheim Valley Drive at Germantown Ave. Photo (with 3 small girls) dates from about 1910 when the pergola was about one year old. Courtesy of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy.

by Lori Salganicoff

Chestnut Hill’s green landscapes, lush gardens, public parks and renowned architecture earned the neighborhood the distinct designation of “Philadelphia’s Garden District” by Mayor Rendell in 1997. The trees, flowers, and small parks that adorn our Germantown Avenue main street contribute immensely to its attractiveness as a “destination” commercial corridor – one of the most beloved community features to residents and visitors alike.

The Conservancy’s Fall 2018 Discovering Chestnut Hill tour and lecture series highlights “Public Spaces Special Places,” and kicks off this Saturday, September 15 with a stroll up Germantown Avenue from the Cresheim Valley Pergola to the Conservancy’s Native Plant Garden.

Plant-loving community members from organizations caring for these special places will describe their history, the work being done now, and plans to strengthen and connect them to each other and to adjacent trails.

We will begin at the Cresheim Valley Pergola, where Carl Shaifer and Larry Schofer of Chestnut Hill Rotary will describe the history of this lovely community gateway, and Rotary’s recent renovation work there.

The Houston, Woodward, and Henry families originally donated the pergola and watering trough at the intersection of Cresheim Valley Road and Germantown Avenue in 1909, as well as land to extend Fairmount Park along Cresheim Valley. Chestnut Hill Rotary renovated the park in 2005 as a public service to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the founding of Rotary International. The much-celebrated 2015 renovation work by Rotary was simply their latest contribution to the site.

Several years ago Chestnut Hill Rotary also contributed $40,000 to Friends of the Cresheim Trail for a feasibility study to embellish the nearby train trestle and create a seven-mile trail spanning two counties. Susan Dannenberg of Friends of Cresheim Trail will provide an update on that exciting project on Saturday.

Friends of the Cresheim Trail have built a sustainable, natural surface trail within Fairmount Park. We will hear about the Friends’ current work on a new section of the Cresheim Trail, to begin at the train trestle to connect multiple communities in Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties along seven miles of primarily abandoned railroad rights-of-way.

Saturday’s tour will continue with Emily Daeschler of the Chestnut Hill Garden District Fund guiding us, with a stop or two, up the Avenue from the Pergola. The Garden District Fund is the group, with community and business district help, that we have to thank for the 70 light post flower baskets, 90 flowering pots and whiskey barrels, and dozens of window boxes that seem to magically appear on Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike each spring.

The Garden District Fund was founded as a nonprofit 18 years ago to enhance the physical beauty of Chestnut Hill, initially focusing on planting and lighting the Chestnut Hill Baptist Church. In addition to Spring flowers and greening, the group decorates the Avenue with lights and greens every holiday season, added park benches and restored and lit the War Memorial, redesigned and maintains the blooming Mediation Park across from the Memorial, brought improvements to Cliff Park, and helped support the installation of the Outdoor Reading Garden behind Chestnut Hill Library. Most of the “Pocket Parks” along Germantown Avenue are cared for by the Chestnut Hill Garden District Fund.

But not all. At Hartwell Lane we will stop to hear from Jack Leaming about VFW Post 5205’s ongoing care for Buckley Park. This Park, dedicated in 1973 as a memorial to a young marine killed in the Vietnam War, was created by the Chestnut Hill Community Association and friends of PFC Charles J. Buckley. Buckley Park was one of the first memorials in the country to honor Vietnam veterans, and was located at a park where Buckley and his siblings would play as children.

With other park histories and plans to be shared as we walk up the hill, our Tour will finish at the Chestnut Hill Conservancy with a tour of our native plant garden by conservancy board member, and master gardener, Carolyn Adams. The Native Plant Garden was dedicated in 2009 – created by the Conservancy, Friends of the Wissahickon, and many others – to provide a native demonstration garden so that area residents could see and learn about Wissahickon-native plants.

Over refreshments at the Conservancy, Anne McNiff of the Chestnut Hill Community Association will describe the Chestnut Hill Green Space Initiative, which seeks to coordinate the restoration, maintenance and expansion of the commercial, residential and public green spaces in the Chestnut Hill community.

The initiative includes representatives from the different organizations and individuals who are currently doing work here in the community with and around the many and varied green spaces. Initially convened in 2014, the “re-treeing” of the business corridor of Germantown Ave. and Bethlehem Pike quickly became a priority. Since that time over 70 trees have been planting.

The second phase of the initiative was the forming of a Chestnut Hill tree-tenders group that works closely with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to plant residential trees. This group’s efforts are on-going resulting in over 200 trees planted on residential streets throughout Chestnut Hill.

The committee will now turn its efforts to a short list of priorities that has Chestnut Hill’s pocket parks at the top of the list. The group will be looking at the development of plans to deal with a myriad of issues such as continuity in signage, ongoing maintenance and upkeep, and infrastructure needs.

Want to join the tour and learn more or perhaps get involved in these efforts? Visit the Chestnut Hill Conservancy’s website at or contact me at Tickets for the walking tour are $10 for members, $20 for non-members.

Lori Salganicoff is the Executive Director of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy