Friday, August 16, 2013

The Future of Pier 53 Offers a Chance to Explore Your Past

Latest rendering of Pier 53 (via PlanPhilly)

Renderings of the future plans for Pier 53 (Washington Avenue Green) were recently released through the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation. The new image offers a glimpse in to the bright future of the Pennsport waterfront while reiterating the goal set forth by the DRWC of keeping the stretch of land from Pier 53 through Pier 70 as a wildlife trail full of lush vegetation with the ability to "touch the water."

Back in April, you read on this very blog that Washington Avenue Green was "the beginning of something big" - not only for Pennsport but for the development of the waterfront in general. The brilliance of this project lies in the fact that it's much different from the Race Street Pier and is being treated as such. The natural habitats that have developed along the water are important and deserved to be showcased and preserved. However, the exciting part of this project will be how it blends this natural landscape with its fascinating past and how it tells the story of the immigration station once housed on Pier 53 - a place where nearly one million immigrants first came in to America.

That's where Susan McAninley and the Friends of Washington Avenue Green come in.

Susan, who is heavily involved in the Friends of Washington Avenue Green, is developing a project that looks to fuse the majestic natural environment of the Delaware River with the rich history of Pier 53 as an East Coast hub of immigration. The goal is to spark a connection to the personal story of the people who came through Pier 53 and set up roots in the nearby neighborhoods.

"The history of the Pier is the history of Philadelphia" explained Susan. "Pier 53 has been kept intact  because non-native plants have planted their roots firmly into the rubble that had been used as fill when the pier extension was first built about 140 years ago. Residents of the nearby neighborhoods reveal that same adaptability, continuity and tenacity, and this should be celebrated."

Through the Pier 53 Project, Susan (in conjunction with the DRWC) is looking for help from nearby neighbors who believe their ancestors may have come in to America through the Port of Philadelphia.  After an "immigration list" is compiled, research will begin at the Historical Society of Philadelphia to determine precise information of the ship, the year, and the steamship line of each person on the list. From there, participants will fill in a more detailed family history of their ancestors  to help solidify the neighborhood connection to the pier. To further add to the experience, an "identification tag" representing a single name on the immigration list will be created and subsequently given to visitors of the newly developed Pier 53.

Rendering of Southern Wetlands Park - Pier 53 to Pier 70 (via DRWC)

The recent renderings of Pier 53 combined with its natural habitat and fascinating history make the all encompassing Southern Wetlands Park an exciting chapter for the waterfront in Pennsport. Given the recent housing boom, the emphasis placed on making Pier 53 a destination for future generations of Philadelphians (and visitors of the city) is extremely important to the continued growth of the neighborhood while providing a beautiful amenity to those who already call Pennsport home.

Looking to participate in the Pier 53 Project?
Please contact Susan McAninley directly at or visit their Facebook page. Participants and volunteers are needed.