"…the Botanick fire set me in such A flame as is not to be quenched untill death or I explore most of the South western vegitative treasures in No. America." John Bartram, 1761.
19th Century illustration by Howard Pyle. No known portrait of John Bartram exists.
John Bartram (1699-1777) was a third-generation Pennsylvania Quaker, born in nearby Darby imbued with a curiosity and reverence for nature, as well as a passion for scientific inquiry. Bartram purchased 102 acres from Swedish settlers in 1728, and systematically began gathering the most varied collection of North American plants in the world.
A self-taught man, Bartram had the quintessential "can do" American spirit that continues to inspire us today. His travels – by boat, on horseback, and on foot – took him to New England, as far south as Florida, and west to Lake Ontario. He collected seeds and plant specimens, establishing a trans-Atlantic hub of plant exploration through his exchanges with London merchant Peter Collinson. Plants from Bartram’s Garden were exchanged with the leading minds and patrons in Britain. In 1765, Bartram was appointed the "Royal Botanist" by King George III.
At home, Bartram founded the American Philosophical Society with his friend Benjamin Franklin. His garden was a source of inquiry and pleasure for luminaries like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. His seed and plant business thrived, with lists appearing as early as the 1750’s in London publications. His international plant trade and nursery business survived him and thrived under the care of three generations of Bartrams.
Following in his father’s footsteps, William Bartram (1739-1823) continued to explore and discover native American plants. An important naturalist, artist, and author in his own right, William traveled the American South from 1773 to 1776 under the patronage of Dr. John Fothergill. William’s book, Travels, was first published in 1791 in Philadelphia and was eagerly received by a European audience hungry for information about wild American landscapes. His drawings and meticulous observations about the people and plants he met made Travels an instant classic in naturalist literature.
From 1810 onward, Ann Bartram Carr (1779-1858), a daughter of John Bartram, Jr., continued the family garden. Ann was educated by her uncle William and inherited his skill for illustration and the family passion for plants. With her husband, Colonel Robert Carr (1778-1866), the international trade in seeds and plants continued. During the Carr era, the garden was enlarged and, at its peak, featured ten greenhouses and a collection of over 1400 native plant species and as many as 1000 exotics. Financial difficulties led to the sale of the family garden by the Carrs in 1850.
Andrew Eastwick (1811-1879), a wealthy railroad industrialist, preserved the historic garden as a private park on his estate. At his death, the expansion of the city and the movement of industry threatened the garden. A campaign to preserve Bartram’s Garden was organized by nurseryman and writer Thomas Meehan (1826-1901) in Philadelphia and Charles Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. The City of Philadelphia took possession in 1891. Descendents of John Bartram created the John Bartram Association in 1893 and today, the site is managed by the Association in cooperation with the City of Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation.
Bartram’s Garden is one of only a handful of identified prehistoric locations in Philadelphia. Archaeological evidence has been found that the Garden was occupied seasonally by Native Americans as early as 3,000 BCE. Objects found during digs include stone artifacts, flakes from tool production, and fire-cracked rock. These objects are available to view in the John Bartram Bowman Special Collections Library by appointment.
Beginning in 1648, a 1,000 acre tract of land that included Bartram’s Garden was settled as an outpost on a New Sweden colony on the Schuylkill River. This land, known as "Aronameck," was eventually divided along natural boundaries and creek valleys, and further small clearings developed in the later 17th Century, including a piece which become the site of John Bartram’s farm and garden.
54th St and Lindbergh Blvd
Philadelphia, PA 19143
What it is now:
For lifelong learners and those inspired by the Bartrams, the John Bowman Bartram Special Collections Library houses one of the most complete collections of writings, genealogical information, books, and photographs by and about the Bartrams and their garden. The library features rare books and herbals from the Dr. Philip George Collection, many of which would have been in John Bartram’s personal library or read by him.
Among the holdings is John Bartram’s own copy of Linnaeus’ Genera Plantarum given to him by Dr. Gronovius of Leiden in 1743. John in turn gave this volume to his son William in 1755 and it is inscribed with both their names.
The library also contains a selection of reference books about Philadelphia history and 18th and 19th century gardens and botany out-of-print books on the Bartrams and transcriptions and/or copies of published editions of Bartram correspondence, diaries, journals, drawings, plant lists and catalogues, tax and census records and estate papers. In addition the collection contains the complete archive of the John Bartram Association activities, correspondence, annual reports, minutes, memorabilia, and garden guides, as well as technical reports and architectural drawings/specifications/plans documenting restorations, repairs and archaeological surveys of the site. A growing number of partners keep Bartram’s Garden vibrant through an ongoing series of programs and events to provide meaningful connections with our community.
New in 2012: Community Farm and Green Resource Center
A 3.5 acre farm and greenhouse will be unveiled on a former ball field and tennis court at Bartram’s Garden. This joint initiative increases access to local, organically grown food to Southwest Philadelphia residents, promoting self-reliance and a deeper relationship with the land and our food. Bartram’s Garden has 45 acres of garden and park to inspire journeys large and small. Bring a picnic or rent the Eastwick Pavilion for your family reunion. Catch fish from our dock, take the kids sledding on a snowy day, or bring your binoculars to catch sight of migratory birds. Any way you choose, the Garden is a place of respite, discovery, and renewal. Academic Field Trips for schools, camps, and community groups serve students from pre-K to high school. We offer inquiry-based lessons in nature, art and history and meet Pennsylvania and National Science Foundation academic standards.
Little Explorers is a monthly garden adventure for toddlers (ages 2-4) and their caregivers. Programs include crafts, snacks, performances, and an exciting exploration in the garden.
Homeschooler Days homeschooled students, ages 5 – 13, and meets monthly with morning and afternoon sessions to choose from. This year’s topics range from botany to colonial cooking, from navigation to creating music from birdsong!
Family Discovery Days are offered during spring and summer breaks and are open to children ages 5-13 and their caregivers. These fun and educational programs coincide with our summer Homeschooler Days. We also offer weekend ice cream and cider making tours in the summer and fall respectively, and family programming during special events like Philadelphia Honey Fest.
Children’s Birthday Parties at Bartram’s Garden feature engaging activities for children of all ages in our legendary landscape. Our historic buildings provide a unique and memorable setting for celebrations for children of all ages.