According to legend, Native Americans met William Penn under an elm tree at Shackamaxon, the site of present day Penn Treaty Park, just north of Penn’s Landing. Traditionally, the encounter included words of friendship and maybe the purchase of land. While such a “Great Treaty” meeting may never have occurred, it symbolized the desire for peace on the part of both the Delaware (Leni Lenape) Indians and William Penn.
The significance and imagery of this legendary event were once known and honored worldwide. “It was the only treaty made by the settlers with the Indians that was never sworn to, and the only one that was never broken” wrote Voltaire, contrasting Penn’s treaty with the Lenape Indians with most others that had been made in the colonization of America.
The “treaty elm” was honored as a visible reminder of the Commonwealth’s founding until it was toppled by a storm in 1810. In 1827 the Penn Society erected the obelisk which sits on the site of the celebrated tree.
The site became part of Fairmount Park in 1894 and was gradually encompassed by industrial Philadelphia through the middle of the 20th Century.
View historic images of the park:
The Park Today
Today, virtually all of the surrounding industry has disappeared and Penn Treaty Park now sits in the heart of Philadelphia’s redeveloping riverfront. Significantly enlarged during the 1980s by annexing a neighboring former industrial site, the park is now several acres and enjoys some of the best views in the city. Penn’s Landing, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and the City’s high rise buildings can all be seen from one location. Children can play on newly installed playground equipment. And, close by the working river, you can watch ocean freighters and local tugs wend their way along the shipping channel close to the park’s shoreline.
Image: William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians by Benjamin West