The 80s and early 90s: Local activists inspire a non-profit
The Quaker Meeting House opposite the burial ground at Germantown Avenue and Cambria Street was built in 1887 to replace the first Fairhill Meetinghouse 1703-1887. Quaker attendance had shrunk by the mid-20th century, so Green St. Meeting decided to sell both meetinghouse and the burial ground.
The buyers had agreed to maintain the grounds, but by the late 80s, drug dealers had taken over burial ground and neighborhood. The burial ground became overgrown and filled with trash, and dealers stashed weapons and stocks of crack and other drugs. The author Steve Lopez described the neighborhood as “The Badlands” in his book Third and Indiana, and the name stuck.
In the early 90s, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting received a call from Elizabeth Gutierez, a neighbor on Cambria St. asking the Quakers if the site was theirs and if they would come back to clean it up. Peaches Ramos and other neighbors began a campaign to push off the drug dealers. They organized shifts to stand outside day and night to keep dealers from working at the corner of 9th and Indiana.
Margaret Hope Bacon, a biographer of Lucretia Mott and member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting called her friends to come help clean up the 4.5 acre site. They formed a committee, then a non-profit corporation, and were able to raise the money to buy back the burial ground by 1993.
The 90s: Reclaiming the land, rebuilding the neighborhood
Dozens of Friends from Meetings all over the region met monthly in good weather for two years to cut brush, prune trees, pick up trash, weed and collect damaged headstones. They were determined to restore the burial ground to its former peaceful beauty. By 1995, the land had become manageable enough for regular mowing.
Quaker volunteers and Peaches Ramos, the 9th St. block captain connected with the new police Staff Inspector, Thomas Nestel. Neighbors were extremely hesitant to speak to police out of fear of retribution from the dealers, so Ramos took Nestel door to door to meet residents and ask for their help. With this partnership, Operation Sunrise was able to clear the open air drug market from 9th and Indiana Streets. Several crack houses in the neighborhood were condemned and torn down
The neighborhood activists and the newly formed Fair Hill Burial Ground, Co. joined forces with local law enforcement. When vandals repeatedly stole sections of historic fence and sidewalk bricks, HFH president Mary Anne Hunter and neighbors of the burial ground went to court to prosecute them.
The Historic Fair Hill Board and volunteers had become a close knit group, mostly Quakers, some descendants of those buried at Fair Hill. Mary Anne Hunter, Baird Brown, Pamela Moore, Linell McCurry were board officers and managed the organizaion. Signe Wilkinson, Margaret and Allen Bacon, Michael Marchino raised money. Donald Little, Jim Glackins, and Ed Jordan focused on the grounds and history. Charles Woodson, III, worked with the City Managing Director’s office. Eugenia Burgos, a retired city employee, built and maintained relationships within the neighborhood.
The 21st Century: Building programs for the future
In 2003, after ten years of restoration, volunteers and neighbors celebrated the 300th anniversary of the Fair Hill Burial ground with re-enactors playing the parts of William Penn, Lucretia Mott, and Robert and Harriet Purvis. In 2004 the board hired Jean Warrington as part-time program director. They began to consider how to put this precious place to work to honor the great reformers and activists buried here.
Their mission to carry forward the work of the Quaker reformers buried at Fair Hill was based on the will of George Fox, the Founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Fox had been given the land by William Penn and his will said that the land would be used for a meeting house, a burying ground, and a garden and grounds for children to play and grow simples (medicinal plants). With this in mind, the organization started a garden program for local children in the open section of the grounds. Over time they turned empty lots around the grounds into more vegetable and fruit gardens.
In 2006, Fairhill Burial Ground participated in a ‘Shared Prosperity” project of stakeholders in the neighborhood, coordinated by the Village of Arts and Humanities and funded by Wachovia Bank. The neighborhood needs assessment found a need for more green spaces. Fair Hill stepped up to help with community gardens and replanting of street trees. They saw that gardens produced more than vegetables. They were a way to bring people together and re-weave community trust and cooperation.
Since the youth were key to the revitalization of the neighborhood, the Quakers asked the schools how they might be of service. The schools asked for books. Fair Hill asked Quaker schools and Meetings for gently used children’s books, and thousands were donated every year. By 2015, over 30,000 high-quality children’s books had been donated to Fairhill schools and children. A few years later, Historic Fair Hill began to send literacy volunteers to neighborhood elementary schools. The literacy program currently has 20 reading volunteers going weekly to Julia deBurgos School.
In 2009, the board hired Gerry Fisher as ED and in a planning process changed its name to Historic Fair Hill. Gerry Fisher oversaw the completion of the Indiana entrance with cobblestone drive and brick oval. Each year, the gardens grew, and more neighbors participated in community building events. With the beautiful, five-acre greenspace as an anchor, neighbors fixed up their houses, the city began to build on the vacant lots, and property values increased. New developments such as the Evelyn Sanders townhomes of the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, Hannah House, the Warnock Senior Housing Center, and Philadelphia Housing Authority offices have moved to the neighborhood.
Miriam Fisher Schaefer, treasurer, served as interim ED followed by Brandi Levine ED from 2013-15. HFH became the 16th site in the Historic Germantown consortium and HFH moved into a small office at Historic Germantown at 5501 Germantown Ave.