In this quarterly column, we take a look at how famous Philadelphia attractions, landmarks and even some low-key destinations have changed over time. Today, one of the best Philadelphia parks: Franklin Square in Historic Old City, which apparently used to be a hop, skip and a jump from Philly’s own red light district.
Originally named North East Publick Square, Franklin Square was one of five city parks planned by William Penn in the late 17th century. In 1825, it was given its current name in honor of Benjamin Franklin, who is rumored to have conducted his famous kite-and-key experiment there. Those enchanting details were a mere afterthought in the 1920s. During that time, the park was considered an area of ill repute, surrounded by a collection of bawdy taverns and even a red-light district located due west of the grounds. Haughty types turned up their noses at the area, even going so far as to nickname it Philadelphia’s Skid Row.
In 2006, Historic Philadelphia took over management of the park, eventually restoring the gorgeous 19th-century fountain and bringing in a slew of flashy attractions. Today, families pile in to take a twirl on the Parx Liberty Carousel or play a few rounds of minigolf on a course bedecked with tiny versions of famous Philadelphia landmarks such as the Liberty Bell, Elfreth’s Alley and the Ben Franklin Bridge. On-site restaurant SquareBurger serves burgers, hot dogs and the signature Cake Shake—a sinful concoction blended with Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets.