Laurel Hill grant paves way for new Kelly Drive entrance

 Laurel Hill Cemetery (Steven Ujifusa/For NewsWorks)

Laurel Hill Cemetery (Steven Ujifusa/For NewsWorks)

The Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery in East Falls has been awarded a $200,000 Preservation Implementation grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. The grant will support the restoration of the pedestrian entrance that once existed at Laurel Hill Cemetery’s high-profile Schuylkill River façade.

When the cemetery was founded in 1836, its property line extended to the river banks. Visitors often arrived at Laurel Hill via steamboat, disembarking at one of the cemetery’s designated docks to soak in the site’s abundant history, nature and art. With the founding of Fairmount Park decades later, Laurel Hill was forced to relinquish its property along the river to the city.

While Kelly (East River) Drive now serves as a permanent barrier between the cemetery and the river, its proximity also affords opportunities for access and exposure that would otherwise not be possible. In addition to substantial daily commuter and recreational use, dozens of major sporting events take place along the drive, Schuylkill River Trail and on the water each year that together attract thousands of athletes, spectators and tourists from around the world.

“The Pedestrian Access Restoration Project will be the most significant undertaking to occur at Laurel Hill in over a hundred years,” said cemetery Superintendent, Bill Doran, who has worked at the site for more than a quarter century. “Its potential to impact our visibility and visitation is tremendous.”

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage has awarded $940,000 to eight 2013 Heritage projects. The new entrance gates and stairs at the corner of Hunting Park Avenue and Kelly Drive will make the cemetery and its resources easily accessible from the Schuylkill River Trail, and will be further supported by interpretive signage and new educational and recreational programming. 

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