Originally called Northeast Square, Franklin Square was renamed in 1825 to honor Benjamin Franklin.The square, measures to be 632 feet north to south and 543 feet east to west .Although designated as a public square in the earliest city plan, Northeast Square was slow to develop, due in part to its marshy land. Its earliest use was as an open common for pasturage and as a site of horse and cattle markets.
By the early 1740s, the First Reformed Church had begun construction of a church nearby and lacked room for an adjacent cemetery. The nearest sizeable tract of open land was Northeast Square. The original cemetery lot measured 306 feet but was the boundaries were enlarged several times throughout the century.
In about 1776, a brick powder storage house for military supplies was constructed in the northwest portion of the square. Viewed as a safety hazard due to the development of the surrounding area, the it was relocated. It was subsequently used to store oil for street lamps in the square and in the surrounding neighborhood. In the 1810s, site was used as a horse and cattle auction site. In the 1830’s the cemetery closed and the city renovated the space for use as parkland. In 1838, the city administration decided to make use of the public area so they commissioned a marble fountain to be built in the center of the square with wrought iron railing surrounding it and curved paths running throughout the square.
The mid to late nineteenth century was a time when the square was at its
prime as it was located in the heart of one of Philadelphia’s exclusive
residential neighborhoods. The park was the province of the elite of the city. Ladies with parasols would stroll the paths and would be joined on the weekends by their husbands and children. However during the Depression, the square became a retreat for the unemployed, derelicts, and the homeless.
In 1915, excavations took place for the installation of a new sewer line. In the course of this
excavation, several graves were disturbed. During the excavations for the Benjamin
Franklin Bridge Plaza in the early 1920s, additional human remains were discovered.
In 1925, a water main was constructed through the square. In the course of this excavation, three human skulls were uncovered in the western part of the square. During a sewer excavation in the square in 1976, two skulls and other bones were uncovered, as well as two gravestones The most significant modern disturbance to the square was the construction of two subway tunnels and a station in the 1930s.
The square to current date includes few remnants of its former appearance. The walkways that are left are graveled, not paved, and the fountain in the middle is surrounded by a graveled walkway. There is a brick restroom structure on the southeast side of the fountain just off the walkway. A
monument describing the Old First Reformed Church burial ground that once covered the eastern half of the square is located on the northeast side of the walkway surrounding the fountain. To the east of the fountain are a serpentine brick wall and a cement circular area surrounding a
monument honoring park police, city police, and the fire department.There is a semi-paved seating area on the west side of the square and a small playground. Diagonal paths lead to the corner of Franklin and Race Streets, the corner of Sixth and Race Streets, and to the northeast and northwest corners of the square. The rest of the square is grass lawn interspersed with trees.
Franklin Square is presently surrounded on all four sides by heavy traffic flow. Its northern boundary is the embankment for the Vine Expressway which leads to Interstate 95. Traffic on the expressway and on I-95 is visible and audible from the square. Crosswalks are few and far between, which makes getting across the bounding streets difficult.
On July 31, 2006, after a multi-million dollar renovation, the once dilapidated park,
was restored to green space where families and visitors could safely gather. Existing features were renovated and new features added to make the 7.5 acre park a new attraction for the City. Unlike other squares, Franklin Square has set hours.
Part of the $6.5 million dollar renovation, primarily funded by a state grant, the centerpiece of the restoration was the historic fountain. To ensure sustainability, a foundation named “Franklin for the Fountain” Name a Brick Campaign was developed in which all profits goes toward future operations of the fountain. One of the highlights of the Square is the Philadelphia Park Liberty Carousel. As the only one in the city of Philadelphia, it is a draw for the young and old. There is a charge of $2.50 to ride. Two playgrounds were added to accommodate the visitors and neighboring daycare centers. Equipment was installed to coordinate with two different age groups; one for toddlers (2-5) and the other to older chlider (5-10). Park benches were also installed as well as special turf around the playground for safety. Another highlight of Franklin Square is the 18-hole Philadelphia themed mini golf course. There is a charge of $8 for adults and $6 for children. Throughout the Square there is refreshing green space with abundant trees. Once Upon a Nation added over 153 shrubs, and 60 plus trees along with 2 picnic areas. In the summertime, the Square is used for extended hours so to provide additional safety, over 30 Franklin Fixture style lampposts were installed as well as 24 hour security. Additionally, as part of the renovation, the bathrooms received a complete makeover, adding to the comfort of the patrons of the Square. To accommodate visitors the square offers food vendors, crafts and merchandise kiosks.
In an effort to keep visitors coming to the Square year round,
organizers have successfully promoted many types of events such as farmers
markets and other special holiday events. In 2009,
it was reported that the Square received over 750,000 annual visitors.