The Emlen Street Ruin: History

Ferreting out the history of the Emlen Street ruin from my last post took a little bit of work, but what really ended up breaking it for me was a bit of luck brought on by this week’s warm weather.

The City of Philadelphia has its own online map site, which has filters for park trails, among other things.  While looking for a suitably nearby trail to enjoy on a warm spring afternoon, I noticed that the trail passing by the Emlen Street Ruin was marked.  While Google Maps doesn’t have a good overhead picture of the ruin–theirs was taken after the trees had started leafing–the city site showed a nice overhead view of the ruin.

When I switched the view from Aerial Photo to Road map, a name was suddenly revealed:

The Ruin has a name–a real name you can plug in to Google and get decent search results for.

While I still haven’t found any information about when the Barn burned down, I did discover that the original barn building dates to around 1812–the modern bathroom facilities were a more recent addition.  The cottage which the barn belonged to began as a six-room farmhouse, but around 1890, Henry Houston had it expanded to a 25-room summer retreat for working girls from the city (at that point, West Mount Airy was still quite suburban, and it had been positively rural when the cottage was first built).

Information on the barn is still scarce, and I haven’t yet been able to find out when it burned, though some evidence suggests that the destruction of the bathrooms may have come some time after the main building burned.  At least as recently as the 1970’s, there was a swimming club called the Devil’s Pool nearby for which Buttercup Cottage served as a sort of gateway entrance, and according to the few forum posts I found on the topic, the barn ruins already existed then (and were used as a party spot for the local teens).  That, unfortunately, is where my trail went cold.  I’m glad to have discovered some of the history of this place, but there’s still more to know.  If you have any leads, let me know in the comments, and for my part, I will be sure to post any more information I can find.


About Hilary B. Bisenieks

Hilary B. Bisenieks (Biss-en-yex) n. 1. An author of fact, fancy, and opinion based out of Oakland, CA. 2. A graduate of the Creative Writing program at Warren Wilson college and Mary Robinette Kowal's Short Story Workshop. 3. A man unable to be trusted to update basic biographical information with any regularity. View all posts by Hilary B. Bisenieks

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