Local writers explore Fairmount Park in new book

The long and fascinating history of Fairmount Park is hitting bookshelves with “City in a Park.”

Written by freelance writer James McClelland and Temple University professor and author Lynn Miller, the book features more than 150 photos chronicling the 200-year-old network of parks that originated in the 19th century as a civic effort to provide a clean water supply to Philadelphia.

           “We’ve both been Philadelphians for a long time, more than half a century,” Miller said of his and McClelland’s reasons for wanting to write the book. “Naturally, we know something about the parks. We’re fascinated with what we did know. James proposed the idea of the book about four years ago to me and at first I was cool to the idea. But when we talked about it, I realized it was a really rich subject and I would get a good deal of pleasure learning more about it.”

McClelland and Miller said the book is a great opportunity for Philadelphians to see how the park has evolved over the years and discover some of its more unique qualities. 

“Most people think of Fairmount Park just as that patch of land along the Schuylkill,” McClelland said. “In fact, it has grown to 11,000 acres today and also includes a lot of community parks. There’s a lot to discover in the parks.” 

“The Water Works itself is like nothing else in the country, still preserved and restored,” Miller added. “The park houses, strictly by coincidence, were all built a century before the park was started and no other park in the country has this kind of collection of wonderful 18th-century country houses. They’re open to the public and they’re terrific. And we have more public art in Philadelphia than any other city in the country.”

Besides inspiring readers to discover more about the parks, McClelland and Miller hope the book will inspire people to push for increased funding for the city’s parks.

“Philadelphia was low on the totem pole,” McClelland said about Philadelphia’s park funding compared to other major cities. “And that has changed dramatically. The parks get far more money than they used to get. It’s a great opportunity to keep supporting the park, even with small amounts of money.”

“The last chapters of the book were in some respects the biggest pleasure to write because that is where we really discovered the parks are far from dying out,” Miller added. “They are, in fact, being renewed in spite of the fact that there are always funding problems. We now have long-term goals like we haven’t had before, the city does, and we give Mayor Nutter considerable credit for his attention to the parks.”

James McClelland and Lynn Miller host a signing for “City in a Park” 5 p.m. Dec. 1 at Barnes & Noble, Rittenhouse Square, 1805 Walnut St. For more information, call 215-665-0716.