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Fairmount Park's WWI Memorial Grove

Saving Hallowed Ground met last week with representatives from Philadelphia's Parks & Recreation Department to discuss a new partnership centered around the World War I Memorial Grove in the Belmont Plateau section of Fairmount Park. Initially planted shortly after the conclusion of the Great War, the World War I Grove is one of many memorial trees and groves planted to commemorate the service and sacrifices made to the war effort. With more than 300 trees dedicated in the original plan, this memorial grove is likely one of the largest of its kind.

Saving Hallowed Ground Board Member, librarian, and genealogist Barbara Selletti found the article above, from 1921, which discusses the initial proposal of the grove. The site we visited last week is the second one discussed above, near Belmont Mansion. In the original plot of the grove, hundreds of trees are dedicated to individuals who died in the war, while others are dedicated by institutions—Girard College, American Legion posts, churches, and others—dedicated trees collectively to their members.

Some of the original dedication plaques remain, and Saving Hallowed Ground had the opportunity to see some of these in person last week. These plaques were affixed to cement markers installed at the bases of the trees. Although many of the originals no longer remain, those that do offer a tantalizing glimpse of how the grove may have looked after its initial planting.

"James Barnes Arnott. Private US Marine Corps, 8th Co. 57th Reg. Killed in Action, October 4, 1918, Champagne Front, France."

"Francis Leo Caville. Private. Co. A, 109th Inf., 28th Div.

It's interesting to note that all three of the men memorialized above held the rank of Private, indicating the extent to which this memorial grove was an effort to honor the sacrifices of all members of the Philadelphia community, not just officers and leaders. While plaques were spread among the hulking, hundred-year-old Oaks throughout the Belmont Mansion area, a more easily recognizable memorial formation exists near the center, with a ring of trees around a flag pole.

Over the coming months, Saving Hallowed Ground will be working with Fairmount Park and other local partners to document, restore, and commemorate this amazing living memorial to World War I as we continue with our Centennial initiatives. City partners will map remaining trees, allowing us to gain a better sense of how many of the original trees still remain. Following that, we hope to approach a variety of local partners to plant new, Centennial trees through our Memorial Tree Program to supplement the grove, likely re-dedicating them to individual's from the original plan whose trees no longer exist. Finally, we plan to begin exploring the possibility of acquiring a state historic marker to formally recognize this incredible site.

We look forward to providing you with more updates soon!

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