New life for Wissahickon Hall

Something’s been missing in the historic building on Lincoln Drive and Gypsy Lane: cops.

Erected in the 1850s, Wissahickon Hall is a city-owned property with a roomy balcony and a striking view of the creek. From the ’70s until 2008, some incarnation of the Philadelphia Police Department has been located there.

Most recently, it was home to the 92nd District. Anyone who motored by the building in the past four decades has come to associate it with a fleet of cop cars. But in 2008, budget cuts forced the 92nd District to disband, and the building fell vacant for the next two years.

Come January, Wissahickon Hall will finally have a long-term tenant again. The city’s Urban Forestry Division will move in, and use it for offices.

This follows several months of structural repairs. In 2008, a tree collapsed onto the building — causing damage to the rooftop and rear. Since then, the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation wholly replaced the roof, added new gutters, repaired the stucco walls, painted both the inside and outside according to a historic analysis, and fixed brick paving in the courtyard.

It’s a victory for conservationists, as Wissahickon Hall is one of only two remaining structures that were part of a series of inns and “roadhouses,” or bars, along the gorge in the 19th century.

At the time, Wissahickon Hall had a hotel, ice houses, a carriage house and many horse sheds. It also served waffles and catfish to its guests. According to a Germantown Courier article, locals once caught 3,000 fish in a single night in the creek across from the building.

In 1868, the property became part of Fairmount Park. It was station house for the Park Guard from the early 1900s to the 1970s, when the police moved in. When the 92nd District moved out in 2008, that marked the end of the city’s park-based police districts.

Thanks to a solid foundation, it didn’t take long for the city to repair Wissahickon Hall and find it new tenants.

“We mostly did cosmetic changes,” said Christopher Palmer, director of operations at Parks & Recreation. “We were lucky to start out with a very functional building.”

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