Having read Brad Peniston’s story, Who Moved The Newkirk Viaduct Monument, before it was published, and seeing the incredible amount of research he put into getting its full story, I knew that some contemporaneous photos were absolutely necessary. That one of the oldest pieces of public art in the city, designed by Thomas Ustick Walter no less, lies in ruin under an overpass next to the most famous railroad trunk in the country, is a little mind boggling and a lot Philadelphian.
I count myself among those who had only seen it from a passing train, knowing little more about it than what I’d read in Sara Kelly’s “I Wanna Know” column in the Weekly over a decade ago and a bar conversation about it with Necessity For Ruins penman Chris Dougherty.
Getting down to photograph it, under the 49th Street Bridge passing over Amtrak and Septa in Southwest Philly—it’s the left you make off of Woodland when you’re going to Bartram’s Garden—requires a little climbing, balance, and hope that those high flying trains stay on the tracks. (One kindly conductor even honked hello to me—how polite!) Once you’re there, you can’t help but think, “damn, this oughta be somewhere people can see it.” Like, for example, the Grays Ferry Crescent. The current Grays Ferry Bridge, which passes directly over the Crescent, is the grandchild of the crossing for which the monument was built. Though the monument was originally placed on the west bank, this east bank location seems appropriate enough. Or, as Brad mentioned, the Bartram’s Mile portion of the Schuylkill Banks is coming down the line eventually. Relocating it here would keep the monument on its proper west side, while serving as an immediate nod to history in a new park. We can all agree that either of these places seems more suitable than the current trackside plop stop.
Until either of these things happens, the Newkirk Viaduct Monument remains on the side of the railroad tracks, just under 49th Street in Southwest Philly. These photos were taken this morning, Wednesday, March 13th.